It is a hot afternoon in the ‘70s, and we are at the Chembur market. My mother had pulled my sister and me along for a round of miscellaneous shopping.
Chembur market, a very crowded place, was a one-stop area for everything you could think of – greens, veggies, school books, coffee powder… There were special South Indian stores for items not available in the general stores and South Indian magazine shops for our weekly reading. Basically, everything under the hot Bombay sun.
There were numerous eateries along our way to keep the two girls distracted. Our mother – like all mothers - had the ability to act like she hadn’t noticed our pleading looks. But when we kept persisting, and she couldn’t evade the stares any longer, she came up with questions like:
‘Do you know what kind of water it is cooked with?’
‘Do you want to get cholera?’
‘Do you see that guy’s fingers? How dirty they are! And yet you want to eat that?’
To be honest, my sister and I were willing to risk a bout of cholera to get some of those goodies into our tummies, but we had a feeling that reply wouldn’t go down too well with our mother. So we kept quiet and trudged obediently along… until we reached the sugarcane juice vendor.
My mother was too tired to argue by this point, so she decided that cholera was something she could live with. The three of us chose not to dwell on the vendor’s nails, which were blackened with dirt and almost completely dipped in the jar of juice.
‘One-full, two-half!’ my mother said to the sugarcane-wallah.
Wherever we went, whatever we bought, it was always the same – ‘one-full, two-half’. The same thing would happen when we went out with our father. He would order two Gold Spots or Mangolas – one for him and the other spilt between the sisters.
One-full-two-half was the norm in many middle-income families like ours, where parents didn’t want to disappoint their kids, yet didn’t have money to splurge on them.
Our home had a constant flow of guests and relatives, and my mother was always cooking in huge proportions. Our guests spanned various categories – relatives, family-friends, father’s Rotarian friends, sometime our uncle’s friends from Chinmaya Mission (all sanyasis but of assorted varieties, from South Indian to American to Italian…). Regardless of who it was, we would all eat sitting cross-legged on the floor in a large circle.
Maybe this trait in my parents - treating everyone equally, with no one being any less or more special in their eyes - endeared them to so many and made them all feel at home.
To this day, the one habit we sisters continue to follow is to eat everything on our plates -absolutely no wastage. Something that was drilled into us by our parents.
When my roles changed, and I became a mother, I tried to continue the same good practices –but they boomeranged L
When my elder son was 5 years old, he once refused to finish his food and was coming up with various excuses. I started telling my usual horror stories of how children in Somalia don’t have anything to eat, and that the food that he wasted could feed two kids there and so on…
He finally force-fed himself, and threw up everything. Probably, he didn’t have the courage to tell me that the food didn’t taste good that day. Needless to say, he and his father kept wailing at me that whole day. That was the end of that Somalia story.
On another occasion, I was shopping at a market in Bangalore with my friend and my second son who was then 8 months old. We stopped at a popular juice shop, Ganesh Juice, at Jayanagar 4th block. I just ordered 2 mango shakes (both ‘full’ of course 😊), not counting the little one.
But I realized it was a bad idea when my glass was three quarters empty, and I had not even started drinking it. I had misjudged the little fellow. My friend, the shopkeeper and the others there were giggling at my predicament and the burping little boy.
Food brings up a lot of memories - all of them good.
Being a family of foodies, food is always the key ingredient at every get-together.
Every wedding we go to is strictly rated by the quality of the food served. While having breakfast, we plan lunch. And at lunch, the day’s dinner is decided.
Now it is time for Diwali and sweets.
Growing up we saw our mother preparing many different types of sweets and snacks in huge boxes, over 4 or 5 days. The three of us sisters, and a few other kids from our building, would sit around in the kitchen and help her. It was indeed a lot of fun.
Now when I see her fingers weakened by arthritis, it is hard to believe that these same fingers put together all those massive Diwali feasts over the years…
My parents were made for each other- Appa liked to invite people over, and Amma enjoyed cooking for everyone. A formula for a happy, simple, content family.
Will their daughters ever be able to measure up to their generosity and open-ness? We are trying!
This Diwali, lets Waste Not, Want Not. Have lots of sweets - do not take the fun out of the festivities by counting calories. You can always compensate for the overdose of sweets post Diwali, by doing pushups, planks and crunches until it hurts!
Happy Diwali everyone, and warm wishes for safe, fun-filled and responsible celebrations!