Eat, Eat, Eat — Don’t Repeat

My tryst with everything food.

I have always had trouble with food. When I was young, I fussed over chapati, dal, rice, curry. When I grew older, I could not stop obsessing over eating all of it. I remember as a child, my mother would force meals down my throat, saying “eat more!” When I blossomed into a young adult, my mother would say the opposite, “maybe eat a little less?” My tryst with food has always been a running joke in the family. And there have been more than one reasons for it.

  • Incident 1: Being Aware of Public Spaces

I visited home in 2017, after about 2 years of being away. I was elated. Finally, I would get to eat all my favourite meals. My house is in Baroda, Gujarat — famous for farsans, sweets, chaats and everything street food. In my two days home, I ate to my heart’s content. Jalebi? Vada Pav? Khakra, Khamand, Fafda, Dabeli, Patra, Methi na Gota — you name it. So naturally, when it was time to go back to Bangalore — my father decided to bribe me one last time, with the hope that I would extend my trip. The morning of my flight, my father bought something called “Live Dhokla”. I don’t know what was live about it, but it was deadly! It was soft, supple and it almost melted in your mouth. It came with two fiery chutneys. One green pudina and one red garlic.

When it was time for me to leave home, I cried. I knew i couldn’t stay longer, and I knew I would never get red garlic filled live Dhokla in Bangalore. My father, of course, couldn’t watch me cry, so as a surprise, got 2 packets of “Live Dhokla” and 3 packets of red garlic chutney for the road.

For me to reach Bangalore — I was required to change one flight in Mumbai, with a layover of 2 hours. So when I reached Mumbai, obviously “I grew hungry”. After passing through check-in, security and all the other airport rituals, I had exactly 45 minutes to board the flight and feed my hungry soul. I chose a cosy corner and opened the packet of dhokla. There was a shimmer in my eye, maybe a droplet of tear that rolled down my cheek. The minute I opened the packet of red chutney, a strong whiff of garlic nearly made me pass out. I thought to myself “Meh, I am not going to meet anyone anyway, let me enjoy while I have time”.Invariably, I finished some of the dhokla and ALL of the garlic chutney.

If I were to meet my soulmate that day, clearly I lost the chance because I was a mess. A stinking pile of mess. If I moved, I could see an odour trail of garlic behind me. If I smiled, I could see gas leaking from the edges of my parted lips. Hell, even if I blinked I would see clouds of garlic around my face. “No one is going to meet me in this vast airport”, I thought to myself.

But as luck would have it, I realised I left my shawl at the security counter. This meant I had to get up from my seat — near the boarding gate and walk all the way to security. “Meh, the security folks don’t know me, they don’t care if I stink”

I dragged my backpack towards the security. It was a long walk and as I was about to approach the guards, I noticed a familiar face.

Of course! The extremely rich & social aunty who is usually the talk of the town was right there. Waving at me. Waiting to spill out the latest piece of gossip- but this time, it might just be about me. She waved and walked towards me. I waved and walked backwards. She opened her arms to hug me. I almost peed in my pants.

But then I realised that I was just out of college and I did not care about anyone or anything. Let me revel in this rebellion. “Meh, so I stink, she may not want to meet me ever again, I don’t care”

I gave her the tightest hug, and left her with a warm smile. Probably the last smile exchanged between us. She did not comment about anything, but she knew. And I knew. This would be our last meeting. Goodbye gossip aunty.

  • Incident 2: Why Can’t I learn from incident 1?

Fast forward to 2 years later. Of course, I am more mature than my bumbling 20 something self. I am still 20 something, of course. But a more mature 20 something. I have a regular paying job, I have actual friends and a nice house that I don’t pay for.

I am all geared to go for this big meeting. A meeting that could potentially change my life. A meeting that could potentially be the start of a new business.

This was in a different city and I was living with an old family friend. Right before I left for the meeting — they insisted I eat breakfast with them. “No harm in eating breakfast, there is a reason why it is the most important meal of the day” I thought to myself “”

As the lady of the house brought in a nice piping hot crisp dosa, she also brought in — what seemed like aroma heaven for me — a jar of garlic pickle.

I do not know what possessed me afterward. Was it the demon king of food? Was it the god of death? Well, whatever possessed me, had sure signed my death warrant, and really loved garlic. I took one bite at the pungent, white delectable piece of pickle, and I found myself piling on more and more pieces of garlic.

“Hello my old friend” I greeted the odour cloud again. But this time, I did not bring the charm of I-don’t-give-a-fuck with me. Of course I had multiple fucks to give. I was going to go to a business meeting. I panicked. But before I could think of anything, I found myself booking a cab to the venue.

On my ride to the place I frantically called my mother for a solution. She told me to drink some soda. I went straight to a very shady-looking tuck shop, filled with cigarette smoking bozos. I chugged an entire bottle of 7-up, unabashedly belching all the garlic from my system and my mind.

I went for the meeting afterward and made sure I was sufficiently away form the very affectionate lady at the meeting. I did not want any anomalies.

How did the meeting go? You may ask.

Well, she hasn’t really called me yet, so I guess I am waiting for garlic to decide my fate?

  • Incident 3: Maybe I learnt too much from incident 1 & 2

Cut-to, a few weeks after the garlic incident no 2. I am back in the same city. I am very consciously not living with the family friend (I think they are still recovering from the congested gas chamber I left behind me)

I have a bigger, better meeting with a top client. Potential investor, you may say. The meeting is set at 5 pm. At 3:30 I realised that I hadn’t eaten lunch. Food is important. Very important. I paced myself to the local biryani outlet at 4:15. After a round of pre-lunch pep talk with my cousin, I was made to realise how irrational and absolutely career-suicidal my decision to eat an entire bucket of Biryani before a big meeting was! “Eat a sandwich or a light snack!” I was told.

Of course, by the time I could come to a decision as to what sandwich would be less “unappealing”, it was already too late. I did not want to run late for this meeting and I went with my better judgement of not eating at all. “Good, now I won’t smell of any food. At least that is better”.

I went to the designated place, punched my name and credentials in. Soon after, I was escorted to a meeting room where I was told to wait since there were two more people who came in before me, and they had to be met with first. To this day, I thank those two souls who decided to show up before me.

While waiting in the meeting room, I realised that I had underestimated my love for food, and overestimated my capacity to stay hungry. No, no — I did not turn into a hungry chimera and whip up a storm every time a thought about food passed in my head. Boy, I wish I did. But biology and human anatomy are not always in our control. You cannot ignore the basic physiological need for food.

Minutes after entering the room my stomach gave out a loud, clear and pointed groan. No, it was a small spur of grumble. It was a vociferous protest. I felt my stomach rebelling the lack of nutrition it had received. The groan was obvious and growing, while my confidence depleted by the second.

An angel of a peon arrived right in time to rescue this damsel in distress. Damsel, in this case was my clearly very distressed stomach. He came in with a glass of water — and asked me if I wanted coffee. “I will just stink of coffee” I thought “Water should shush the stomach”. I gulped down the glass of water within seconds, only to hear more grumbles and groans echoing in the very quiet meeting room. Clearly, I had to find other ways of placating the stomach.

A few seconds later the protagonist of my life — the peon showed up again. He took the empty glass on the table and sensing my distress, asked me if I would like tea or coffee, again. I leapt at this opportunity. “Some coffee please” and I was instantly greeted with the aroma of nice, hot coffee. As I drank it, I could feel my stomach settle back to place. “Phew!”

How did the meeting go? You may ask

I did not smell of any food, nor did my body make any self-damaging-image-tarnishing-career-crushing sounds. So I would say it went excellently.

Food has been a crucial part of my existence, and not just because it has given me nourishment. But because my tryst with food has taught me several life lessons. Come rain, come sunshine, my struggle with food will remain a constant in my life and it is best to just embrace it as it comes. In the meanwhile, if I had to impart some words of wisdom from all these incidences, it would just be that if you are madly, passionately and absolutely in love with garlic — the way I am — I think you should see a counsellor because this love is a one way street down a very lonely path. You are better off getting over it.

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