Food. Mortal existence essentially revolves around what we get to eat and how. The fortunate ones elevate the exercise of eating to exotic levels of culinary perfection. The less bestowed ones get something to eat only after a day full of rigid toil.
My being a foodie has a lot to do with my family, like I have said in this post. My parents are people who enjoy a simple, home cooked meal with humility and zest.
My earliest memories are playing about with my sister and cousins at my nani's house. Every festival meant going there. My nani would sit down in the kitchen, frying jalebis and malpuas, with the gas cylinder creepily close by. On festival days, she used two gas burners, instead of the usual one on the kitchen platform.
When I grew old enough to be scared of fire and the possibility of a cylinder blast dawned on me (children become aware of dangers sooner than us these days) I told my nani how risky it was to fry mal-puas thus. Everyone in the kitchen laughed me of. Food never fell short in that home. Go there at any odd hour and rest assured, you will find either a complete meal, or some filling snacks coaxed down your throat.
My mother had her mother's passion for cooking. And my father, never failed to appreciate her art. Each morning and each night, he sang passionate praises of how wonderfully she fed us all. He would only get cross if something fell short. Thankfully, it never has. Aaji has to ensure that the quantity is just right, for if rice or dal falls short, my Baba has this indignant fit of anger. He can praise rice gruel as if he's eating Biryani, but he pouts like a child even if a spoonful falls short.
While I am nowhere close the diligence of either my mother, or my aaji, I have inherited the appreciation of good food from my family, and a certain amount of whimsical fancy for cooking. Whimsical, for as my aaji says, only she is a good homemaker who boils her milk every day and makes ghee at the end of the month.
My father has immense respect for anyone who feeds him one complete meal. He says those homes are blessed where kitchens are always full of women happily churning out delicacies for their families. He calls such homemakers 'Annapurna', after the Goddess that ensures bounty of food in any household.
Some days back, when we called many to our home for dinner and I planned a menu so ambitious that even surprised me, Baba was overjoyed. "I am glad you take joy in cooking," he said. "You should take immense pride that you can feed someone. Don't turn out to be like those feminists who take pleasure of renouncing the kitchen. It's not a chore, but a privilege to be able to cook elaborate dinners," he told me.
When I didn't study, my father would chid me and weave this fantastic future scenario. He said if you don't study, the only resort would be to start Annapurnaa tiffin service, and jump up the bicycle wearing a ghaghra to go from door to door to deliver lunch boxes. But no sooner had he said this, he always added, "But I don't even mind if you do that. An honest and cheap restaurant business is a kind of social service."
The laughs we had when Baba started his Annapurna tiffin service story came to my mind when I was reading this blog sometime back. People from all over the world read and try her recipes. Their jubilant feedback after trying some item, even for a third person like me, is heartwarming. Ah, the joy food can spread...