A minute ago, I wondered what relation I have with food.
For years, I’ve been taught to eat a lot, leave a clean plate, show that you relish the food even if you don’t and always, always compliment the chef, no matter what. These lessons were mostly learned during my annual visits to my native place where the pressure of all the grown-ups prompted my own parents to criticise my table manners for once. Otherwise I would have probably continued to fling my aloo posto at the furniture well into adulthood, I suppose.
Of course, when you visit your extended family after a year of being apart, you are expected to just sit down upon entering and let them stuff you like a Christmas goose. When you visit several families like this in a day because your plane leaves early tomorrow and the list of people to visit isn’t all checked off yet, by the end of it you feel as heavy as the next day’s plane.
I always managed to hold up magnificently to this treatment, though. My mother, a lovely lady, headstrong and stubborn as a mule, always had the good fortune of eating just as much as she wanted to, not less, never more. A married woman can always opt to serve and not eat if she wants to. Hmph. I had no such luck, I’m afraid. Mashis and Pishis would hug me tight into their talcum-powdered bosoms, then pull my plump cheeks and reprimand my mother for not feeding me enough even though I looked like a balloon animal.
They would then proceed to stuff me with their experiments. I had to screw up most of their observations, though, to not hurt any feelings.
As I progressed to my thirteenth year of life and inched my way through a growth spurt, I developed a humungous appetite. I remember there was once this time I didn’t even mind that sometimes Bengalis have this annoying habit of putting fish in absolutely everything. I swear, it annoys the hell out of me now. Just a few days ago I was happily munching through some spinach and vegetable dish when my tongue suddenly brushed against something slimy. With increasing apprehension, I pulled it out of my mouth. On discovering that it was a fish eye, I screamed such a torrent of expletives that my dad threatened to pour Dettol liquid soap in my mouth if I didn’t stop. That might have improved the taste on my tongue, but I stopped anyway. Yes, Bengalis put fish heads into normally vegetarian stuff like dal and subzis. And then give it a whole new fancy name by virtue of the presence of fish brains.
The point is, I used to be willing to eat anything. I thought I would make an awesome Fear Factor contestant because of it. Anything, and a lot of it. I used to watch Man vs Food and pfft at the Man, my head bloated with the surety that he was no match for me. I used to devour fish heads with relish, to the delight of my family in my native place. After gouging the eyes out and sucking them dry of humour (aqueous humour/vitreous humour, I think), I would close my lips around the empty eye sockets and suck out the brains. Excuse me for a bit, I have to vomit.
I’m back. Well, the appetite started mellowing down a bit as I grew older. Strangely, the more TV shows I watched based on gourmet food, the less I wanted to eat. Okay, so maybe it was because gourmet food was not readily available (only because my mum never allows me to cook, I’m sure), but the fact remains that I started standing up for my taste-buds.
The next time I went to my native place, I was confident that I would push away from the hugs of my varied aunties with defiance and firmly say NO to their bullshit experiments.
Imagine my shock and displeasure then, when I found out what they had in store for me this time around. In my absence of two years, all those sickly sweet Mashis and Pishis had transformed into tough, brutal critics. My poor mother had been lured off to someplace else when the aunty-contingent sprung their attack. As they circled around me with judging looks, I could hear their muttered comments. I’m not sure how, it was probably that I was so embarrassed that my brain got rid of them, but I do not remember the comments. Their general nature though, was about how fat I was and how thin I was to become if I ever wanted to attract a mate myself. It is generally considered an effective method of shaming young girls into the arms of unhealthy diets. But I was made of sterner flab.
I ate. And then I ate some more.
Leaving all their unhinged jaws on the floor, I triumphantly flew back to good old Bengaluru and soaked in the pleasure of watching Masterchef not dubbed in Hindi.
Moupi Mukherjee (Mechanical)
Illustration by Prerana Jain (Architecture)