As we grow up, it’s hard to not notice how everything we touch is filled with memories. We visit new places in search of newer memories, only to find ourselves in front of a ruin or a monument reeking with the scent of an irretrievable time. We long for familiar days, wishing somehow that by visiting the same places, we’ll bump into the same shadows and relive times lost but never wholly processed.
Mumma recollects a time when she used to miss school, only because she wanted to devour parantha and achaar (pickle) made by her Beeji (grandmother). Papa recollects a time of fervent cricket practice followed by gobhi parathas and achaar made by my Dadi.
I, too, recollect a time when I used to come back from school. Almost magically, the dreary time of tolerating summers in an Indian school used to be placated by the soft namak-aijwain (salt and cumin) paranthas made by mumma.
It’s as if our generational connection is solidified by these very simple yet specific labours of love, often provided to us by the women in our life.
Think about lousy festival nights, every nook and cranny brimming with a person you love, relatives flooding in and out of the kitchen holding a drink or two, nibbling on shami kebab or dahi puchka made after careful consideration of everyone’s palate. Your mum has taken out her special porcelain and elaborately dressed it up on the dining table. Perhaps, as an extension of her love or as her ability to weave out order from any kind of chaos.
Come to think of it, if not formed, this is how relationships are sustained and strengthened over time.
“Whenever I used to visit my Nani in Lucknow, she used to make bottles of nimbu sharbat- a kind of like a syrup made up of half sugar and half lemon juice. Before she passed away, she made around three to four bottles and sadly, there’s only one left now. I hope I can remake it every time I go to Lucknow,” my friend Aarna reminisces.
Remembrance is peculiar, and in fact essential, as it’s the only way we don’t lose our sense of belonging.
Everyone’s concerned with the history of the larger kind, but what about histories governed by individualities? The stories of our ancestors that reside within all of us but are rarely remembered because of their triviality within the larger scheme of life. Stories that help us cherish hands decorated with unconditional love. Hands that caress our tired heads and feed us, not to satiate but to nourish and nurture us with all the love they can afford to give.
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The roadside Dhaba on a monsoon afternoon or the overpriced bakery to impress your first love, packs of noodles made in the dead of the night before a major exam or diet-shattering desserts ordered on evenings replete with laughter and vulnerability. Our life moves on not in a linear fashion, but in fragmented bits, compartmentalised and often associated with material things like food.
This relationship of memory is often interspersed with such instances where food evolves into a love language, tucked into an intimacy that’s known only to those people.
My friend Pearl affirms this realisation with an intimate memory.
“Biryani will always remind me of papa because it was the only dish he enjoyed cooking. I’m not just talking about any biryani, papa used to make the yummiest, most filling and flavourful chicken biryani. He would get out the biggest Punjabi family kadhai possible as if he was going to feed the whole neighbourhood (this is true in parts, we did send some over to our friends every time.
Papa would usually cook it for dinner so we used to wait in excitement the whole day. The first hour of the process would be pure chaos. My favourite bit was when papa would leave it to simmer for hours and the fragrance would fill the entire house. It takes me back to a time when my biggest priorities in life were watching ‘kya mast hai life’ and eating mango after dinner. He still does cook biryani once or twice a year, but I don’t think I take out the time to fully notice and sit with the simple pleasures of life anymore. Also, I am a vegetarian now,” she tells me, as she reflects on her childhood.
Love and food go together; they just do. The immense power that food holds might lead some people to believe that it’s only when people start to cook for you, attempt to do so, or simply order your favourite noodle soup at the end of a tiring day, they truly start to value and adore you.
There’s something so simple yet deliberate about the act of cooking.
It encapsulates all senses. The sensation of the most innocent touch, measuring out ingredients, leaving out certain bits keeping in mind the preference of the person you’re cooking for – this is when you truly realise that love is as love does.
Come winter, mumma takes a week out of her routine to put 20kgs of achaar. The dinner table becomes a drying station, the entire house fills with the aroma of oil and masalas. That’s my signal that the season has changed.
She always makes way more than needed, so that all visitors go back with a taste of her love and affection in exchange for a two rupee coin.
It isn’t an earning as much as it’s a spell of protection around that affectionate relationship.
Nani used to wake up at 4 in the morning to make her special karela (bitter gourd), stuffed with fragrant masalas and deep-fried with a thread tied to secure it, making it taste anything but bitter. Despite having a packed work-day ahead of herself, she woke up diligently just because she knew how much my dad wished for a breakfast made by her tender hands.
The act of feeding yourself or another person, to cherish our bodies with care and utmost consideration is an act of empowerment in itself.
We all have different equations with the food we make and consume. For some of us, it’s a hassle that needs to be done with. While for others, it becomes a quiet and peaceful part of their day that they truly look forward to.
We have different relationships with the food that we sustain our bodies with. All too often, we view our bodies from a third-person perspective, subjecting them to loathsome remarks and disdained gazes.
In such times, I hope we’re able to remember the hands that fed and nurtured us unconditionally. I hope we remember to view this relationship as fluid and not a reflection of your worth.
I hope we’re able to take a few quiet moments out of our day. Slowly chop our vegetables over an old song or two, boil a flavourful broth, add all the spices we need, or simply order a take out; sit in sublime tranquillity and truly value the beautiful body we’ve been blessed with.