Yesterday, I had brought rice and dal for lunch. While packing, I did not estimate the quantity and brought a little bit more thani could eat. The result was during lunch, I was still eating while others had finished their lunch. Anil sitting besides me was assuring me that its no hurry.He said “Remember the time in your childhood when your mother use to assure you like this”
Anil obviously does not know my mother or he wouldn’t have said that. My Mother is mostly a good cook. She does not enjoy cooking that much to make the choicest of dishes. I can’t blame her too. When we were children, my parents were just starting out and struggling. The budget was a problem and they both had to work extra to progress in life. Cooking after a hard day’s work was not something she appreciated or liked or even wanted. We making a face while eating was something she never appreciated.
However she always made sure that we had nutritious food. That included green vegetables and vegetables that we didn’t like. My brother and I use to take hours to eat and when I say hours we mean hours especially when we had something we did not like. My mother use to check us every 15 minutes to see if we had finished.
We always use to eat while watching TV. It sort of reduced the pain I guess. We use to make a lot of mess while eating. The non-eatable part was removed first. With the concept “Non-eatable” means anything that we find yucky to taste. Like tomatoes in dal, like the spinach in spinach vegetable, like the dry fruits in sweet dish, like the kokum (I don’t know the English name) in dal. All this was removed and the rest was selectively eaten. In short time, a neatly arranged plate would look like a battle ground.
My mother used to call it eating like a hen. Just like a hen eats each grain separately, we use to eat each grain, each morsel of food. Its like each grain, each morsel would go through the quality control before being eaten but then everything would be eaten even though it looked like a long term project. We were thought to respect food and eat whatever is served in our plate. This dictum by our mother was so strict that my brother, father and I never dared to break it. We cribbed, cried, made faces but ultimately eat what was in the plate. Even today, I have to think a lot before throwing something away. That’s why I take less in the first place.
Once when my uncle had been to our house, he did not want what mother had cooked that day. That day me and my brother both spoke the same words to him, “In our house, we eat what is served in the plate. No questions asked.”
Ultimately the values thought were more important that food is god and there are less unfortunate people in the world who do not get even a day’s meal. That’s why we felt real guilty when in spite of trying we just couldn’t eat and had to throw the food. Mom used to get very angry when we use to waste food. If she found food in the dustbin, she would warn us “Next time if I see food in the dustbin, I am going to take it out and feed the same food to you.” Thankfully and fortunately, the day never came but we became smarter, at least we thought we became smarter.
We use to wait till Mom finished her food, then we use to still keep eating till she finished washing her utensils and then we use to throw the remaining into the dustbin hiding the food below the garbage so that my mom does not see it. I guess the strategy worked unless one of us squealed against the other. I guess mom just ignored it.
I had a list of vegetables that I did not like. My brother had another list. My dad eat everything but he was more particular about smaller insignificant things like salt and spices. He made more fuss regarding food, more than us. Sometimes when mom made something that I liked and my brother did not like we use to do an unofficial exchange and the reverse was true as well. That way we did not have to throw anything and the food would be finished. Problem was when mom prepared something that we both did not like.
We had our own different way of eating the unwanted dish. I believed in Shakespeare’s theory “All’s well that ends well”. So I would have the unwanted part of the food first. When I ended my meal, it was always a good feeling. That did had some undesirable side-effects like when eating at other’s(relatives and friends) house, when I finished first anything that I did not like, the host would assume that I liked it very much and would serve me more of the same dish and that is certainly not a good feeling.
My brother was a clever one. He kept the unwanted dish to the end of the meal. Then he would look pleadingly at mom who would take pity on him and allow him to throw or leave that dish. If he was forced to eat it, he would fill his glass of water, look at his plate, and take a big portion of the food, stuff into his mouth and then drink water to wash the food into his stomach without chewing any of it. The idea was to finish it without actually eating it.
As we grew up, we learn to like more vegetables. In fact we learnt to say No to dish we did not like to eat. However still it was difficult to say no when we went to other’s house. Now I can cook and I understand the efforts that go into cooking.
It was not that mom always made dishes we did not like. She makes good chicken dishes. She makes good Diwali sweets. She makes good cabbage curry.
But the best dish she makes and I like is Yellow Toor dal, with rice and alu mutter made in coconot and onion paste with papad. Now that makes my mouth water!