Once every week, I speak to my grandmother and our conversations go something like this, give or take a few words, every single time:
Me: How are you, Gran?
Gran: Not well, aches and pains everywhere, that balm you got last time is finished. It worked wonders.
Me: I will get it next…
Gran: Never mind that, have you eaten?
Me: Not yet.
Gran: Why not?
Me: It’s nine o’clock in the morning here. I just got back from…
Gran: Have you at least had tea?
Me: No, I haven’t had the…
Gran: Why not? Is it good to starve yourself like this? If you fall ill, what will your kids and husband do? Make the tea right now, while talking to me. If I was better, at least I could have come there, cooked for you. As it is I am sure you are not feeding those poor kids and that uncomplaining husband of yours properly…
Me: But Gran…
Gran: He never moans. Eats cereal in the morning, when it is so cold outside. You should make something hot for him, like dosas or idlis. It doesn’t matter even if you prepare them using the instant mix. They don’t taste as good, but…at least he’s eating something other than that wet paste every morning…
Me: But he likes cereal, he doesn’t want dosas or idlis.
Gran: And for lunch you give him sandwich. Pah! Two slices of bread and one yam, is that enough for a grown man?
Gran: That thin, pink, thing. You brought it for me once. Tasty. But not filling.
Me: Oh, ham.
Gran: And you only put one slice. Why don’t you give him an omelette, or some rice, something substantial? He has to eat the same thing, day in and day out.
Me: He doesn’t want…
Gran: I know you are busy, darling, but still… You have to make the time. Food is important. Without food, where would we be? When you were growing up, we didn’t have much, and yet I made sure you were all fed, didn’t I?
Gran: And your poor kids. Don’t tell me you have given them that bitter, mighty thing again.
Me: What bitter mighty thing?
Gran: You brought a jar last time you came. Thick like tamarind paste. I thought it would taste tangy, but it was bitter, bitter.
Me: Oh, marmite.
Gran: That’s it. Why do you give the kids that? What about jam? Or eggs? Cheese? Or even yam?
Me: They like marmite.
Gran: Children like sweet things, not bitter. When you were growing up, remember how the three of you used to fight over the chocolates that your uncle got? That time we had no food, now you have plenty and you starve those children.
Me: I don’t…
Gran: Now listen, what are you cooking for dinner?
Me: I haven’t thought…
Gran: Make chicken curry. Grind coconut, tomato, two chillies, one onion, some tamarind. It will be nice. Not too spicy. Or make pork, with that bafat powder I sent you. When was the last time you cooked pork?
Gran: When are you coming here? I need to feed you all, properly. Your family need something more substantial than yam and that mighty thing, I can never remember the name…
Me: Gran, I have to go.
Gran: Bye then. But make that chicken curry, you hear. And eat something as soon as you put down the phone. It doesn’t do to be on an empty stomach.
Food played a pivotal role in my life, growing up. My grandmother was in charge of the kitchen and when we were little if she came to the living room my sister would point to the kitchen and say to her, ‘Go back to your house.’ Every night, we went to bed to the sounds of the hand grinder as she ground rice to a paste for dosas or idlis the next day. As soon as breakfast was over, she would start preparations for lunch, grating coconuts, chopping onions. After lunch, she would have a quick nap, then resume preparations for our evening snack and dinner. This was not just her, though. Everyone in the village was like that and they still are. When we visit, everyone comes bearing gifts of food and invitations to breakfast, lunch, dinner. Where I grew up, food is the currency of love.
So, it is no wonder, of course, that food plays a very important role in Monsoon Memories. There are idlis and dosas, there’s pork and chicken curry, mutlis and chakulis and of course there’s Kuswar- the sweetmeats made especially at Christmas. If you would like to see images of the food featured in Monsoon Memories, do visit my board on Pinterest titled ‘Taipur-Food’- and if I have missed out any, please do let me know.
I leave you with a warning: don’t read the book on an empty stomach.