Chapter 1: Food And Family
Chapter 1: Food And Family5 mins 10 5 mins 10
“Babaiya has decided to stop eating M&Ms!” Mamma, my mother, Paula Dasgupta, announced as she walked into my bedroom.
“The chocolate?” I asked.
“No, maach (fish) or mangsho (meat) and mod (alcohol),” Mamma replied solemnly.
“What about the third ‘m?’ Medicine?” I asked.
“Ask your Babaiya,” Mamma replied as she sauntered to the sitting room.
Babaiya was fuming as Mamma sat down next to him on the sofa.
“Had your laugh?” Babaiya, my father, Amitava Dasgupta, asked angrily.
“I am laughing at Eminem,” Mamma replied.
“The chocolate?” Babaiya asked exasperated.
“No, the rapper, silly,” Mamma replied calmly.
Food is a powerful weapon in my family. We express ourselves through food. We protest by avoiding cooked food. We shower appreciation by cooking our favorite foods.
“You have a dislocated shoulder,” Mamma warned.
“It is cured now,” Babaiya replied.
“That does not mean you will bake a black forest cake with that shoulder so soon,” Mamma continued.
“It just goes to show how well it has cured,” Babaiya countered.
“The doctor does not care for cake from a patient,” Mamma fired back.
“It does not matter. It is my token of appreciation for him,” Babaiya replied.
We punish by restricting food from the offending party. We celebrate occasions by cooking food with friends and extended family. We remember those who came before us by cooking their favorite food. We pray by indulging the deity with their food weakness.
“Gombhiranathji, our family guru, loved tea,” my grandma used to say.
“Of course he did. When it is the most expensive Darjeeling tea, a lot of people would like it!” Mamma teased.
“Why blame Gombhiranathji alone? Even Sri Sri Guru Ma, grandma’s guru, had a weakness for jalebis every Thursday,” I added.
“Even gurus and gurumas are not immune from good food,” Babaiya replied.
Grandma was none too happy with this conversation and did not eat for two days. We had to apologize just to get her back to the dinner table.
As Babaiya always says, “we do not have blood in the veins; we have food coursing through it!”
With a love of food, comes a love for cooking. As a child, I was introduced to cooking as soon as I was old enough to manage it. It has been both a life skill and a hobby.
“Knead the dough.”
“Add the masala.”
“Careful of the oil splatter.”
“Clean the kitchen table.”
Food and cooking were not restricted to daytime; it would haunt me even in my dreams at nighttime.
“Do I eat ice-cream?” I asked myself. “Or do I leave the ice-cream to melt?” I continued talking to myself, as I stared at the tub of ice-cream melted into a slurry. “Should I boil it so that we can at least have the milk later on?” I reasoned as I tried to control temptation.
My parents were out of town and the power was out, which meant the ice cream was turning back into its original components. Eating an entire tub of vanilla ice cream at age thirteen was a conundrum. As you can see, even my ethical issues as a child were about food and cooking.
It is not just about the food we know; it is also about the food we do not. We love to explore, try out new things, and experiment rigorously. It is also about the volume of food. Our guests dread the amount of food in the spread before them and the amount of food they would be coaxed into eating by Mamma.
Heart attack, arthritis, high blood pressure, and other old age-related issues have not deterred us from our love of food. We have evolved our cooking processes, customizing recipes, and substituting ingredients. Retirement for my parents in 2008 brought more freedom to travel as well as the ability to indulge in food and cooking. Food was still their first love!
Keeping to my Gemini roots, I have phases in my food and cooking cycle. There was a nut-dry fruit phase, an all things smoothie phase, raw food phase, full-on gourmet chef phase—the list goes on and on. Books and food, books about food, and food in books have been an area of interest of mine as far back as I can recall. For me, there was never a time without food and cooking good food, that is until May 2017.
“I cooked doi match for you,” Mamma said excitedly.
“I do not feel like eating it,” I replied.
“What will you eat then?” Mamma asked puzzled.
“I will order from Zomato.”
“And became like a big couch potato!” Mamma exclaimed.
Cooking and love of home-cooked food, now, had a rival for my affections. Ever since I discovered the convenience of ordering through Zomato in Pune, near the western coast of India, my cooking skills had been wrapped, packed, and shipped off to Neverland!
“You enjoyed cooking,” Mamma reminded me.
“I did,” only partially agreeing with her.
“You said it relaxes you,” Mamma continued.
“Start cooking again. It would relieve some stress from your job,” Mamma argued.
“I do not have time. I am working long hours,” I pointed out.
“You have always worked long hours.”
No amount of Mamma’s cajoling or convincing had yet compelled me to start cooking again or eating home-cooked food. Even the exorbitant food bills had not deterred my love of Zomato food.
“You have become a hippo,” Mamma snapped at me.
“A pig,” Babaiya corrected Mamma.
“I cannot wrap my arms around you anymore,” Mamma said with tears in her eyes.
“I can wrap my arms around you,” I replied.
“You will die before me,” Mamma persisted.
Clearly, her fear tactics were not enough to make me start cooking again.
“Only a calamity will force me to cook,” I declared.
“Be careful what you wish for!” Mamma warned.
“Since a calamity is not likely to befall us, I am safe from cooking. Zomato zindabad…long live Zomato!” I continued.
One really does have to be careful about wishes. One never knows when God chooses to grant them. In this case, I am not sure if it was my wish of cooking that got granted or Mamma’s wish of making me cook and eat healthy that came true with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. My inner cooking goddess awakened. Mamma’s messy kitchen nightmares materialized. Has coronavirus been a bother? Has lockdown been a blessing? Either way, it has been a journey to journal about.