Hunger Games-II

Paqnipuri

From ‘Current Noon’ to ‘Colitis’

He would first take the reddish-black balls. The half-marble size globules would then be bathed in two different kinds of salt. A reddish salt that had a milder, sweet taste. Followed by a blackish salt that we called ‘current noon’ (current salt). One had to just take a dot of the black salt and touch it at the tip of the tongue. A severe acidic current used to pass through the tongue and then the entire mouth. What lent it the severe acidity or what really was the composition no one knew, but the salt had some kind of orgasmic pleasure to all of us girls standing in the queue. The reddish-black pellets called “Hojmi” are normally meant to ease a troubled digestive system but loaded with suspicious-looking salts they hardly had any good properties left except to add to the glitter of hungry pairs of eyes surrounding the “Hojmiwala” (Hojmiseller).  Post-school hours and just before the school-bus would ‘pom-pom’ their horns for the final call, we girls would surround the ‘best man in town’ – the Hojmiwala, clutching our little coins. Popping a ‘Hojmi’ in my mouth I would momentarily transcend to a different world which was sweet and sour and more sour and more sweet. The malice of the school hours – the punishment for undone homework, the incomplete class-work, the little tiff with best friend – would all be over with the divine tangy touch!

There was another hawker who used to sit within the school premises during tiffin hours. He had a black tin trunk where his wares used to lay assembled – sugar candies resembling cigarettes; multicoloured sugar candies that used to pop-out of the little opening in the mouth of the Joker drawn on the cover, black colored ginger candies and then he had his special ‘home-made’ chips. I am not sure how the chips laden with salt and generous sprinkling of red chilly powder could catch the fancy of little girls but it was the super-selling item of the vendor!

Being on the costlier side, I would venture to buy from him only on special occasions like a birthday or a friend’s birthday. For me, the ‘Hojmiwala’ was the guardian angel in disguise who would generously supply umpteen quantities of Manna at a mere cost of a one or a two rupee note.

It was for him that my love affair began with the food sold on the ‘other side of the gate’. What began with ‘Hojmi’ and ‘Current Noon’ gradually transformed into umpteen number of items. After college hours I would drag my friends to taste the variety of items outside the college gate. So one day it would be the sweet mango pickle, the other day it would be a special mixture of potatoes and boiled peas tossed in tamarind sauce. The ‘Fuchka’ (‘Golgappa’ /’Panipuri’ as it is normally called in the other parts of India) was my Marijuana; the cheap ice-creams made of coconut and milk was my Hashish…..My love affair with food multiplied over time. The day time used to be spent sampling food items, the nights were spent in food-blabbers while deep in sleep. “Somme morrre salt pleaaaasee”….”Mmmm…niccceee….sommeee morrree tamarind wattterr”.

My friends – Panchali, Paromita, Manasi, Madhurima, Aniyanta- were my compatriots – a few willing; the rest unwilling. By the time I completed my college I had tried out every kind of items – from junk food to healthy green-coconut juice- in and around the vicinity. Many a times I had chosen to walk a few extra miles just because I had invested my bus fare on food!

And all this without giving a thought to the junkyard where I was dumping my junk…..till the junkyard was overloaded. It was a day towards the end of the final year of my college. I hadn’t attended college that day. The day had begun with a severe stomach ache so I had decided to skip college. In the evening I made a phone call to my friend Panchali – only to know that she too was suffering from a similar stomach ache. All along the rest of the call we only discussed about the possible culprit for our ache. Timid and soft that she was, she was one of those who was always unwillingly dragged into my food experiments!

What began as a day’s call continued for three long months! The pain wouldn’t subside, neither would the phone calls.

“Today I was alright in the morning hours and then around afternoon ‘it’ began again”

“Yeah, yeah…same here.”

“A bit towards the right. Like a screw being pushed within”

“Yeah, yeah…same here…same here…only towards the left”.

No doctor, no medicines, no home-made remedies would work for us.

We would miss classes, be depressed most of the time and wait for each other’s phone call to discuss about ‘it’ – the stubborn tummy ache.

With passing days the level of our imagination crossed every limit possible – from ulcers to tumours – we had every range of discussion possible.

All the doctors would look at our tummy – press here, press there but not be able to identify the disease at all.

Being already engaged to be married, I even wrote a ‘goodbye note’ to by fiancé and kept it with my friend – to be handed over to him ‘in case of an eventuality’.

I do not know how long this mortal suffering would have continued till my mother decided that enough was enough. And so did my friend’s mother. All they did was to chalk out a diet plan and force it upon us. So, the tangy sauce was replaced with a near-transparent fish cooked in as less oil as possible. The variety of fried goodies were replaced with boiled veggies. And a total curfew was installed on our ‘just trying out some snacks’. What the doctors couldn’t do in three mon ths, they nearly managed in three weeks. And the doctors ultimately concluded that all that I had was a case of mild Colitis.

My ‘goodbye note’ was finally replaced with my wedding card and our phone bills became lesser. But if you feel it was a lesson well learnt towards healthy eating then ha ha ha ha. My friend Panchali and I still call each other pretty often and the discussion mostly veers towards either of the two topics – food or tummy ache!!!

PhotoSource: Wikipedia

 

Hunger Games-I

rosogolla

Okay, yeah, this is a misnomer. It has nothing to do with the series of ‘The Hunger Games’. It is about the hunger games we play in our daily lives. Basically, it is about the little tales surrounding food.

Family Trails….

It is normally believed that there are two types of hungry people in this world: one who eat for the body, the other who eat for the soul. Sadly, my genetic traits have clubbed me to the latter half of the population who live to eat. But, trust me, this is not just because of me. It has been there – in the DNA of my family – for ages and nano centuries perhaps. Our festivals, gatherings, arguments have always been around food. The farthest tale I can recall is that of my grandmother’s ‘food stories’. In the lazy afternoons she used to narrate about the huge quantities of food that used to be prepared and gathered for family functions during those times. When refrigerator was an yet-to-be-heard word, foods in huge pots, buckets and bowls used to be kept under the high cots. The servers had to tactfully take a portion from one corner of the utensil and go about the serving business. In one such event, my food-lover grandmother and her sister kept a keen watch on the array of food items on display under their cot.

“Given a choice, which one would you eat first?”, my grandma asked.

“The one with the fish and the red gravy”, grandma-young replied.

“I would start with the meat. And then the sweet. And then the curd”, grandma’s excitement wouldn’t ebb away – as she kept pointing to one food item after the other, sitting from her high seat on the cot.

And suddenly there was a noise. A crash, bang – followed by another bang.

The next discovery was done by my grandma’s mother – two young girls bathed in gravy of different hues. Her shrill voice alerted the others. The two pre-teens were then fished out of the tons of gravy, smashed pieces of fish and meat, blobs of curd – all of which had mingled into a single mass of utter disaster.

Stopping at this, my grandma would have a hearty laugh.

“ So excited were we both about the food, that we had hardly noticed when we had come precariously close to the edge of the cot – till both of us fell head-long into the bucket full of food”.

With a grandma as this, it was no surprise that my father was equally obsessed about food. Though there are many tales around his food obsession –one takes the cake –literally!

It was the wedding of one of my aunts. A huge wedding-cake had been ordered. A wedding cake was a novelty item those days. And being the younger among his umpteen sisters and cousins, my father had the privilege of being the closest to the grand wedding cake. His little eyes marvelled at the number of marzipans shaped into wedding shoes and wedding bells that adorned the cake. So, while the entire wedding was on, his little fingers crawled time and again to reach out to the edible ballet shoes, bells, flowers. Finally, when the cake was no longer the centre of attraction he even peeled off the cake icing, stuffing those into his mouth as much as possible.  Things would have gone unnoticed, if he hadn’t begun complaining about tummy ache just moments later. What began as a mere whimper due to a tummy ache, gradually converted into a night-long howlathon –interspersed with unending visits to the loo and bouts of severe vomiting.  The elders would have been left clueless if the half-digested shoes, distorted bells and petal-less flowers had not tumbled out of his tummy.

From that day on, during every marriage ceremony, one of the sisters or the other used to be deployed to keep an eye on my Dad – lest he repeated his feat!

There are some things you cannot escape, even if you wish to. And the ‘hyper-active hunger DNA’ continued to swish down to us too. And by us it would normally mean three of us – my brother, my cousin brother and myself. Every year during Christmas, a local doctor and family friend , Dr.Paul, would be invited to have lunch at our place. It was almost like a ritual that he would arrive with a huge earthern-pot full of spongy, white Rasgullas – the quintessential Bengali sweet delicacy. Considering the number of family members, the number of Rasgullas would be about fifty or more. Dr.Paul would only have fried Luchis (Poori) and Alu Dum for lunch so mother, grandma and aunts would be busy fishing out one fried Luchi after the other, while my brothers would do the same with the big pot of Rasgullas – kept in one corner. Turn by turn they would scoop out one sweet after the other – wiping their mouth intermittently. By the time Dr.Paul would finish washing his fingers, my brothers would have made way to some hidden corner of the room. Post the guest-session, my grandma would bring out the pot of Rasgullas only to discover a lonely piece floating unwillingly in the pot full of sugary syrup – in the company of an ant or two. No amount of searching would find the two-some and they would reappear only when things would have been forgotten and forgiven in the festive spirit!

But this habit of ‘help-thyself’ has brought in many an embarrassing moment as well. In one such occasion, when the newly-wed cousin of mine came for her first post-nuptial visit, like a good, typical Bengali family we served him a plateful of sweets. It is part of the custom to present a plate over-flowing with a variety of sweets to the new son-in-law. And like any other shy groom, my brother-in-law exclaimed that it was way too many for him.

“Why don’t you guys join me?”, he offered politely. Given this sort of an offer, normally we would help ourselves to half a piece or so. But to my brother, it was a green-signal to gate crash. Smiling ear-to-ear he picked up the largest piece. Being the youngest, his brashness was greeted with an indulgent smile by my brother-in-law.

“Hey, take some more”, he offered.

The flood gates were now open……one after another he kept on picking up the best sweets of the plate.

One of us rolled our eyes, the other winked, someone else gave him a mild nudge, my nervous aunt began to sweat visibly. But there was no stopping the monstrous DNA. My brother-in-law watched helplessly as his youngest trouble-maker was on a all-out-eat-all spree, leaving very less on the plate meant for the guest. In order to prevent further dent to the damaged reputation I finally managed to give him the hardest pinch.

His mouth overloaded with sweets, he managed to cry out, “Wha aa yo phinshin ma?”

“Why don’t you go and wash your fingers now?”, I yelled .

Having achieved three-quarter of his goal, he now didn’t mind the cleansing and happily obliged – much to the relief of the family and the guests!

So, these days when I discover the upper lips of son laced in cream, the sticky fingers of my daughter or nibbled-and-then-reshaped pudding, I smile to myself. And inspite of their vehement  denial and violent shaking of their heads, I can still guess the name of the cat which stole the milk! Well, we really cannot escape what runs in the family, can we?

(And you thought, this is it? More food stories to follow…..)

Pic Courtesy: Pixabay