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!!!