Tomato became a comfort fruit way back in college, I think. We used to go to my childhood friend’s house after college (which I detested, by the way) and make Maggi noodles in a chopped tomato and red chilli powder simmer. It was a dish my childhood friend made for us for many years every time we used to take some hours off from our regular lives. Quite honestly, Maggi was never a part of my snacks diet, if I may call it that, except for the time we had it at her house, me having escaped my college and she having finished hers. Her parents welcomed us all, the whole rag tag bunch and we were young and confused and constantly wanting to talk about our lives as if we were going to matter in the large scheme of things. I haven’t had that kind of Maggi since, but I have graduated tomato school to make my own multi-purpose pasta/pizza sauce in this lockdown that I, more often that not, don’t end up using for making pasta. Usually, I spread it on the Saturday morning dosa and pat it down to make a crisp, wrapped crepe, topping it with white butter and a side of coconut chutney.
Food has not been a source of comfort to me, like it has been for so many other people, in this pandemic. I regulate the kind of food I eat at all times because my dad is a heart patient and my mom is now very particular of any excess in our diet and monitors what we eat so that we can avoid a similar disease. I eat junk food outside, on occasion, alone, and I almost never tell anyone about it. It’s a routine I have with myself and all outside food is also now eaten in small portions. Small fries. Small coke. One samosa. Small serving of momos. That’s that. I have not ordered food from a restaurant in one year. On the last day at work, I took TFB to Smoke House Deli in BKC for my birthday treat. I can’t say that the food was anything to write home about specially because I did expect it to be so. I really wanted TFB to have a delicious meal, but now that I look behind on that day, a pall of gloom hung on our city as if something bad was about to happen. It was like one of those scenes in a movie which has a greyed-out tint and ominous music playing as background score. Safe to say that was my last meal outside.
I have always loved the concept of a large dining table with copious amounts of food shared by many people sitting around the dining table. It’s an occasion of prayer for me, to share a meal with many people who, compulsorily, like each other. The revelry of sharing bread and yogurt and perfectly cooked chicken with people you love is my favourite kind of worship. When I was a child, we used to have large dinners at my paternal grandmother’s place a couple of times a year. They always begun well. I remember lots and lots of laughter. But they always ended in a fight with hurt adults and confused children. I hated these dinners. I used to think that when I would grow up, I would write about my extended family and the monstrosity they inflicted on us. I would tell everyone that they were evil and I would shame them. When I did grow up, I realised that many people around me had had unsavoury experiences with their extended families, too. I wasn’t special in my trauma, all of us had it.
So how was I ever going to fill up a large table with food and have people over? I don’t know. Sometimes, I think if I had the “wisdom” I have now in my very early 20s, I would have married very young and had 4 children or so. I would start a very large family, that way I would have my vision of joy, and maybe I wouldn’t be on the path to dying alone that I am now. But that was not to be. We had a ritual with my work friends where we had elaborate lunches. It was my favourite part of our shared experiences together. But even these lunches stopped being warm and compassionate just before we went into this pandemic. So, what was food going to do for me in this global tragedy? I didn’t really know and inspired by cooking trends online I did try to find out. Though, I gave up very quickly for my mother wouldn’t have me using her kitchen the way I wanted it. There were days when I despised eating. It was a chore. It was something I did just to keep myself alive. No comfort food for me, no sire.
Make no mistake, I am no stranger to eating alone. I enjoy it. I’ve done it in various parts of the world and it is my favourite way to looking at the world go by. However, I also love the communal experience of sharing a meal. The absolute lack of it has been a defining chapter in my pandemic story. I reserve the right to tell it and own it. The other day, I was sitting in McDonald’s eating a portion of small fries dipping them in mustard sauce. A young boy was sitting on another table having a whole meal by himself. It made me happy to look at him. I know it’s socially accepted for the entire act to be sad, but trust me it’s not, and we must start acting accordingly.
We’re all now “used” to the pandemic. We have our lives and our home routines and we wholly believe in the stories we’ve told ourselves about the way we live now. It used to bother me our shared, traumatic human experience has become a way for HR teams and corporate leaders to talk about the various hobbies we’ve all undertaken because “we have had so much time now that you don’t have to travel to office”. It doesn’t bother me anymore. I suppose that that’s what happens to human experiences that we want to gloss over — they get turned into a newsletter with a section dedicated to your favourite recipe. Might as well, you know? Or maybe, like I have mentioned before, I have overestimated this pandemic as a shared tragedy. Like I said, this experience has not been a collective one. I am convinced others know better than me and a newsletter is just what we all need.
After the news of bird flu set in, I gave up eating eggs for breakfast and I realised how limited my weekday-breakfast options had become. So, TFB suggested I buy myself a pancake mix and have those for the time being. I did so, and it has been a soft, fluffy success! Now, I make two small pancakes that I eat with white butter, honey, and jam. It’s quite delicious, but I think two pancakes are not enough. I don’t know. I will have to figure out how I will adapt to this change. Meanwhile, I am concerned that the honey we get off the shelves in India is completely adulterated and not good for us. Don’t you think so?