Friday, November 17, 2017

You know when you are home!

Recently I was in a place called Alpharetta for a while. But it did not feel very foreign thanks to so many Indians at my workplace and otherwise. Due to the large number of Indian diaspora, there were plenty of food joints servicing Indian delicacies, even vegetarian ones. But one thing did strike me - how much of your home food you get outside there is always a difference when you eat the same things at home. And this difference is not about the taste, ingredients, or style of cooking - it is about the convenience of eating.

My Telugu friend loves eating his upma mixed into a pool of running sambhar with a quarter of his fingers dipped into it. So, when we had some leftover upma and sambhar, from some other combination, at office lunch, he was more than curious to take it home. When I asked him why would he want to eat upma again, he categorically mentioned that he loves upma and sambhar together with a generous sprinkling of home made idli powder. "At home, we used to have it almost everyday", he added with, perhaps, his taste buds already recalling the taste. 

These are some of those inconsequential moments that instantly connect you to who you are, where you come from, your childhood conditioning, the aroma of freshly cooked food you experience as you return from school everyday, the real you - the one who you were before social finesse and educational grooming changed you into a more universal and sophisticated individual.

And all such moments are very personal and unique for each individual. For some it might be a specific kind of tea, for some it could be having a fireplace in living room.

One of my colleagues always places her desk against a window, since this is how it was all her childhood and merely sitting there and looking outside the window is immensely de-stressing for her. 

Me and my best friend make a point to prepare aloo-parathe at least once, every time we are having stay overs at each other's places. Not that it is our favourite dish or anything; the connect, in fact, goes back to a decade when we were in Bombay and got horrible stuffed parathas. So whenever we used to come home we would ensure we are having our share of stuffed parathas and then it became a kind of tradition. Now it is our way of reliving those wonderful moments without being dramatically nostalgic about them. The moment we say "aloo ka paratha khayegi?", it immediately takes us down that memory lane and remind us of the time which we both accept as one of the best years of our lives.

For one of my Bihari friends, Sattu has the same impact. He will get quite a lot of sattu every time he is back from Patna and finishes it off in no time. He will drink Sattu water, eat Sattu in paratha, Sattu-paste, and everything else Sattu. He is not very generous about it and often skips sharing it with us on the pretense that we have yet not 'acquired' the taste for Sattu.

One of my previous bosses, a Bengali, sweet-lover and a very polished gentleman, Malai-bread was the thing. Whenever his wife was not in the town, he would survive on Malai-bread day in and day out. He would not even whine or complain about the lack of variety in his food. He had a special way of making it, he would put malai on both slices of the bread and sprinkle sugar grains, not the powdered sugar, onto it. It has to be crunchy, he had explained once.

We all have had friends who would die for mundane and basic things like daal-chawal, baigan ka bharta, sooji ka halwa. The reason could not be 'just' taste because there are tastier things available - such longings have more to do with than taste - they connect us with our deeper memories of simpler times, when we used to feel safe and relaxed and more as ourselves - to the place, I prefer to call home.