Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Food Failure

Are you picky about what you eat? I know a lot of people who are.

My sister is one example. Unlike me, she has spent her initial years in Kolkata but never has a single soul succeeded in persuading her to try Bengali cuisine. Sure, she likes all the fast food they sell on the streets, like those fish chops which are covered with some powder and deep fried, but nothing homely has ever gone inside her mouth, which means no gourd or pointed gourd (potol in Bengali) or bitter gourd (karela in Hindi) or any kind of guard. Most importantly, no fish. If you're not Bengali, you have no idea how strange it is for a Bengali to hate fish as much as my sister does. She says it makes her puke. She actually cries every time we make her try some salmon stew. She does! I am not making that up. She has no problem eating Punjabi or Italian or South Indian or Moroccan cuisine, but Bengali food is a big no-no for her that she can go on having egg omlettes for dinner for, say, three months if we cook Bengali food in the house for that period of time.

My father is a whole different story. he is one of those rare individuals who don't actually crave food. Ever! Ninety per cent of the food out there he can't stomach. He's nearly sixty, extraordanarily fit (finishes Navi Mumbai marathon before me every year), has never been diagnosed with any disease and his sugar and pressure levels are always under control. But his stomach fails him every time. But he loves Bengali food, especially the light, homely food that my sister hates so much. Its impossible to satisfy both of them on the dinner table.

Then there's my mother. She's raised us on healthy food. Throuighout my childhood, I thought Maggi noodles were a delicacy because while other mothers were okay with their kids having it, my mother would never allow us. She started our family custom of having bananas and almonds in the morning. She insisted upon a heavy breakfast and light dinners. But this doesn't mean she can resist chocolates and samosas. In fact, out of all of us, she's the one who is the most drawn to junk food.

And then there's me. Thankfully, God made me a combination of all my family members. I enjoy all cuisines, including Bengali, and I can actually stomach all of them. I take care of my diet and its not as big a struggle for me as it is for some teenagers. I mean, I am okay with buying a fruit during lunch hour instead of whatever they're selling in the canteen. But at the same time, I occasionally give myself the pleasure of all those things which are rich in trans fats and promise to give you heart disease one day. But that doesn't mean I have no problems with food. I have issues in one department and that is quantity. I care about how much food is on my plate. I like heavy breakfast, medium lunches and light dinners. I like to eat every now and then instead of having three very big meals. I hate it when someone force feeds me.

After coming to Kolkata I have realized that how and what we eat is a big determinant of how we live our lives. The lady whose house I live in with my roommates only serves typical Bengali food and she gives salmon twice a day. if my sister were in my place, she would surely have hung herself. A lot of students in my college who've rented places here have to order 'dabbas', that is, get their meals themselves from some supplier.Given the quality of food my oil in these dabbas, my father would surely have ended up in the hospital. College canteens don't exactly sere healthy food either. Plus, there is the temptation of chaat, momos, chocolates, sweets and so on at every street corner of Kolkata. What would my mother have done? And lastly, my landlady likes to dump on our plates about a thousand kilos of rice for every meal. You can't imagine how I'm dealing with that. I've tried complaining, throwing a fit, pretending to be sick, lying about having eaten outside and so on, but everyday the same mountain of rice is served to me on the plate.

Thinking about food has made me realize on thing. We're not cows. We don't eat the same green grass everyday. We're not tigers. We don't eat the same raw flesh for every meal. We're human beings, with the capability and creativity to adopt, create and even mix and match cuisines.We have a form of entertainment that we always choose to ignore and that is food. And also, we've done enough studies to know what food is good for us and how to stay healthy. So go ahead and try to eat whatever is served to you without making a fuss. Try to keep it healthy most of the time so when you're at a place where there's a lot of mouth-wateringly delicious food, you don't feel guilty about hogging it. And most importantly, learn to adjust. You never know where you'll be going and what food you'll get there. So welcome whatever food you get and you'll be happy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Same Old Horizon

From spending my childhood in Delhi to finishing high school in Mumbai to coming to Kolkata for college, its been quite a journey. None of this compares to how much people have to move when their parents work for certain government jobs or the armed forces, but I can say I've learnt a bit from the places I've been to.

The most important thing I've learnt is that no matter where you go people are...just people. You can assign characteristics to the way people speak in an area or the way people dress, but you should probably not do the same for the way people are. So never say Mumbaikars are like this and Kolkatans are like this. At the end of the day we're all just human. We all want the same things. Sure, some of us are good and some of us are as much, but that has nothing to do with the way they live.

Speaking of which, I'd just like to share a few things about my observations regarding the way people speak in the three places I've lived in. In Delhi, every word end with 'iyo'. 'Karna' becomes 'kariyo', 'jaana' becomes 'jaiyo' and so on. You get into a fight with someone on the road and he'll say, "Tu jaanta hai main kaun hoon?' (Do you have any idea who I am?) regardless of whether or they are someone special. But at the same time, old ladies speak in the most endearing fashion, their roots (Sindhi, Punjabi or whatever) seeping into their accent.

In Mumbai, people speak less. Its better if you know Marathi. In local trains, especially in the ladies compartment, there is one frequent question that's asked by the passengers- "Where do you get off?" If you say you'll be getting down soon enough, they point at your seat to ask, "I'm going to take your place once you get off, okay?" So everyday, female passengers strike these seat transfer deals with each other. One I gave my seat to two women and they got into a fight the moment I rose to get off the train. Also, you don't have to look out the window to know when you have reached Kurla. All of a sudden, your train compartment fills up and you hear all kinds of shouts, hoots and yells, and you know you're at Kurla station.

In Kolkata, people talk loud and people talk a lot. I went to an advocate for an affidavit and he told me his name, age, experience and basically his whole life history. Then he boasted about how the best of lawyers trust him for advice and gave his opinion on all the good engineering colleges in the state. I got on a rickshaw with a friend and when the rickshaw puller heard me speaking to my friend in English, he told me about his shattered dreams- that he always wanted to learn English but in his school English classes began in Std. VII and that was the year he had to drop out of school, that he had taught himself to write names in English and compose small sentences but he wants to learn more. Even my classmates talk very loudly, but its not offensive or anything. Its just how they've picked up on the art of speaking.

Now I come to the second thing I've learnt- good friends keep in touch with you. I've lost touch with most kids I knew from school, but I still talk to my good friends. Inf act, my best friend from Delhi still calls me sometimes. So next time I have to move, maybe I'll be a little less afraid of losing out on old friends and look forward to making new ones.

Last but not the least is the poetic truth. Everywhere you go, you have the same old horizon. And just beyond that horizon lies your next destination. So don't be afraid to walk towards it. The horizon's an old friend, after all.