A whole month has gone by and P&P has been deserted. The dust of negligence has settled on the menu; the archives have developed strain with being shifted to the backburner so very often. This morning, however, marks a change. And no wonder, it’s Mahalaya.
In my mind, the last set-of-weeks is clubbed into one big, unpalatable blob. A lot has gone into its making – sleepless nights, piles of work, irritable moods and a constant crunch for time. Not a recipe I would ever like to re-experience. There is something, however, that tells me I will have this dish shoved down my throat again. But until the time comes, I am all set for delicious Durga Puja fare, beginning very soon.
Mahalaya marks the end of Pitripaksha and the beginning of Devipaksha. Simply put, it squeals –“Durga Puja is here in less than a week!” When I was younger, I would wake up at the strike of dawn and tune in to Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s awe-inspiring recitation of Mahalaya. I would hum “Bajlo Je Tomar…” when the song came and spend the rest of the day jumping around in glee. Today, back home after that blob of a time, I couldn’t manage the dawn thingy. But, I was delighted to discover that the charm of the day lingers on still…resplendent with the glory of former days and warm with the promise of delight.
Today, the air is fragrant with hope (not to forget, err, the whiff of gastronomic wonders). Understandably so, considering the Goddess is visiting her home, complete with her family. For a few days that pass by quicker than sand off the fingers, we will deck up in our finest finery. We will lick our fingers as we dig into cutlets, momos and biryani. We will click pictures of the fairy lights and tap our feet to the music in the winds. And before we know it, winter will wrap her snow-white hands around Delhi.
Here’s wishing everyone a Shubho Mahalaya. Please lend me a hand in warding the evil of neglect off my darling P&P.
He walked past the board every morning. It was on the way to work, standing in all its freshly-painted, large-visual glory. He would stare at it through the corner of his eye, as his car halted at the traffic light, and then proceed to indulge in a breakfast of vegetable patties in the cafeteria. The food-vendor ensured he made them with extra oil and potato, just as he liked them best.
It had been several years since he had joined his current company as a software engineer. He wasn’t keen on jumping onto the management bandwagon; the truck seemed way too full anyway. Coding still enthralled him and he beamed when he solved even seemingly mundane problems in innovative ways. Back at home, his parents would sigh. How do you manage to sit at your desk job every day and not grow plump? He would laugh about his amazing metabolism. The truth – his ever growing err, tyres, and slightly protruding belly – remained hidden under well fitted clothing.
“I think I will skip the gulab jamun, tempting though it looks.” His brother-in-law made a rather sorrowful face as he pushed the tray aside.
He had always been a funny man – too uptight with his dietary regulations. “Really, calling you to meals is pretty useless.” He sighed, picking up the rejected gulab jamun happily.
“Diabetes, no less. Add to that a serious cholesterol problem. I cannot afford to play around with these credentials.”
His wife nodded furiously, glaring at him. “It wouldn’t do you harm to adopt that kind of policy. Anyway,” she shook her head, “you don’t get any exercise.”
Really, when the two got together, he almost felt as if he was back in school.
Come to think of it, he used to live a ‘healthier’ life. Every evening after school, he would rush to the cricket ground. The green grass would get tremendous thrashing until one day they disallowed playing in the park. In college days, he had even joined a gym. But those muscles never shaped and his enthusiasm waned after a fortnight. But it was primarily after starting work that exercise was erased from his schedule. Packed hours and insane deadlines, after all, don’t go well with fancy buzzwords such as work-life balance.
These days he had heard, there was a solution for every ailment. Even for the dreary cancers and tumours which had destroyed several households over the ages. Modern healthcare brought to people cure and care, and packaged with insurance and sensible savings, in a manner affordable for the masses. Amidst such advancement, the problems his sedentary life posed seemed too trivial to acknowledge.
The brother-in-law was ill. He lay prostrate in a hospital ward, a tiny potted-plant lying beside him on the mantlepiece.
“A sudden cardiac arrest,” his wife sobbed, “while he was peacefully watching television.”
“How is he now?” he asked hesitantly, unwilling to look her in the eye. If the brother-in-law with his school-boyish dietary regime and impossible restrictions could fall prey to trouble, he was a prey asking to be hunted. He saw his wife continue to sob and put a comforting arm around her shoulder. The nurses were busy, so were the hands of the large clock on the wall. Much of the world continued to swipe in and out of offices, cognizant of only the evening and the weekend to come. He, however, was on leave today.
The next morning, his car stopped by the board again. The road was abuzz with rush-hour traffic, cars honking away to glory. He took out his appointment diary and a pen from the bag.
“Billion Hearts Beating” he wrote. This morning, instead of using the quiet morning hour to delve into an oily breakfast, he would call for an Apollo Health Check Up.
Isn’t chocolate an aphrodisiac? Mansi distinctly remembered several people on the television screen who swooned at the sight of it. Some licked it off their fingers; others went weak-kneed when offered chocolate ice-cream. She was sure he would adore the éclair and the brownie. Layered choc on top, vanilla cream within. Ah! With every bite, he would delve deeper into her.
It had been quite a while since she had been eyeing him. “So you eye guys?” a girlfriend had sniggered. “Like randomly?” “Of course not.” She had made a prim face. “Only if they are very cute.”
The deal with this guy was – he was far too quiet. The only time she saw him was when they shopped for supplies at the local mart. It was a coincidence – a bloody good one – that he chose Fridays to shop for potatoes and tomatoes. Now, she would hop out on Fridays mostly to avail of the pre-weekend deals. One kilo meat, one lump of onions free. You get the picture. She wondered what made a cute guy like him spoil Friday evenings making small talk with the acne-cheeked counter-girl.
“Look, if this has to go somewhere, better ask him straight.” Her cousin had advised. She was the family’s relationship expert, having gone through a substantial number in her prime. “Just ask him out for coffee. You are way too laidback. Why don’t you try the outfit I got last anniversary?” Mansi smiled politely. Remembering her cousin’s anniversary outfits wasn’t a pain. What was a pain was labelling the greeting card she would have to send out on those occasions. What on earth was the latest guy called? Mansi now went with ‘Happy Anniversary to you and your partner’. Safe and sweet.
Anyway, following up on expert advice, Mansi had trudged along to Camp and was now at Kalyani Bakery. She did not wear the recommended outfit as it showed more than it hid but personally, she thought she looked fine. One look across the street and there was no sign of him yet.
“Could you come to Kalyani Bakery today?” she had asked around the same time the previous week. “I actually need advice on …ordering a cake for my cousin. I wouldn’t know how it was for I stay away from fats.” “Fats?” was his first word to her. Queer. Considering she wasn’t even fat anymore. “Yeah. I am a no-sweet person. And new to this place.” Small fibs couldn’t matter much could they? He had nodded (or had he?) and with a half-smile, picked up his bag of tomatoes. Come to think of it, she had been impulsive enough to invite an anonymous mart-man for a cake-advice date.
A one hour was up. Couples had come in and they had gone. With pastries, desserts and passionate smooches in mind. Kids had jumped in and parents had followed. A German Shepherd had also had his fun playing with a rum ball. Mansi felt enraged. If refusal it had to be, why hadn’t he said as much the last time? She could have put the week in something other than futile anticipation. It was a different story that she still was ‘fat’. And probably more acne-infested than the girl at the counter of the mart. But, hey, wasn’t chocolate an aphrodisiac?
Five minutes later, Mansi sat with a black forest cake, a chocolate éclair and a dark brownie. Six minutes later, she turned to someone tapping her back. “Looks like the cousin was famished.” laughed her mart-man, even as Mansi made hurried facial corrections with a tissue.
Food, I have found, is an enormous help when it comes to combating mood swings. And falling in love with food is one of my newly acquired gifts.
As a child, I was the model kid in the block. You know, the one who never badgers you for a chocolate or a lollypop. Or a samosa or a panipuri. Or a burger or a pizza. It’s another story that we lived in an age when Pizza and Facebook hadn’t conquered minds. But anyway, you get the point. So whenever a mama or chacha would drop by with goodies for the baby, the baby wouldn’t be too happy. Those were the occasions when you’d be required to sample the food so that the guest could be sure you’d liked it. And I had very proper notions about eating. The quintessential no chaat-no fried-no sadak-ka-khaana school.
Even in my growing up days, food remained a very mundane chore. Meal times were something you had to get done with. Yes, they gave some scope for family conversations but in a small family like ours, that has never been a point at contention. Granny would be ready with my lunch when I returned from school and I would eat and do my homework simultaneously, often forgetting what I had eaten the moment I finished. Granny of course, loved the arrangement, considering she could overload the plate with karela and palak and I wouldn’t lift an eyebrow. So basically, the taste or the fulfillment factor of food is something that has always eluded me. I never knew it existed.
In the past two years however, I have discovered new territories. Thanks to Pune’s novel scenarios that forced me to meet the ‘taste’ in food – or the lack of it – I have now realized what I had been missing. It helps that the man is an out-and-out foodie who can stand anything but tasteless khaana. I am now well versed with the delights that lie in freshly cooked kababs, in good, hot soup and in the roadside dhaba that sells sponge dosas. I adore panipuri and like them spicy and soft and no longer do I turn up my nose at the pakoras that the perspiring bhaiya diligently fries.
Now, whenever I feel blue and nothing seems to change that colour, I try my best to reminisce and capture the whiff of good-old Pune and get Granny to cook me a nice new recipe. She obliges, only to groan when I drag her to a rigorous work-out session.
I have a Pizza Lover colleague at work. Oh you have one too? I guess there are plenty of them roaming around the floors of air conditioned malls and independent outlets that serve baked bread with onions and mushrooms. At work, I have a Chicken Fanatic (who’s taken to cashing in on my Bengali eating habits like a fish takes to water), a Vegetarian Snob who is okay with egg for it is the new pure-grass thing and even a Cad-M Cad-B freak. (they are sinful chocolate drinks which are proprietary to Maharashtra, I think) So one fine day the originally from Delhi dude had a birthday and as luck would have it, he was struck with a dose of seasonal illness.
We did toy with the he-played-hookey-to-avoid-treat idea. It isn’t financially nice paying for a dozen starving stomachs especially when you are not exactly on till-death-do-us-apart terms. To confirm/un-confirm our fears and to give him some birthday evening company, I went along with a friend to say Happy Birthday.
As the evening shaped out, we ended up having pizzas at Dominos (Close to the all new Pantaloons outlet on Senapati Bapat Road, I am sure they are enjoying the new found strategic advantage).
Initial Arguments We Made For/Against the Plan:
“So much cheese goes into them… it will coagulate my throat!”
“Some spice and some things nice go a long way in curing a sore throat.”
All convinced and prepared, we feasted on a good number of pizzas, a box of garlic bread and a bottle of free Coke. The Chicken Barbeque in the order satiated my chicken fanatic friend and as for the birthday boy, he has never failed to admire the finesse of a well made pizza.
“Pizza Hut is better though,” he said seriously, “they have a more subtle technique of mish mashing the ingredients.”
“I am sure.” I replied, sipping some of the free Coke. “I am a little low on pizza gyan though.”
“In Delhi,” he went on, “they make the pizzas more rounded and crispier. Even without the double burst of cheese, you feel all fuzzy inside.”
The two of us nodded furiously, having a go at the cheesy dip the Domino’s people had thoughtfully (and not without extra charges) added to our order.