Way back, nearly a decade ago, when I was living in a hostel a four hour bus journey away from home, the three most coveted things in order of coveted-ness were food, handwritten letters and food. The 5:45am bus from Tezpur to Guwahati, while offering its usual service of carrying passengers, sometimes also had the heavy responsibility of delivering goodie-bags lovingly packed by mothers to their eager kids living pathetic lives in hostels. Forgotten documents, birthday gifts and most importantly, home cooked food; all wrapped up in a precious package that was made a thousand times more precious if it was a surprise. My mother aced at surprising me, and she had this uncanny ability of knowing exactly when I needed one, more than when I wanted one.
It’s been ten years since that day; I am married now with a little baby girl of my own, and just a week ago, when sudden change in plans meant instead of going back from Guwahati to Tezpur I was traveling back to Dubai with the husband, I insisted that my parents come to Guwahati to see us off. So while Ma-in-law was busy preparing for the husband’s arrival, and asked him what he wanted to eat for dinner the night he arrived, my Mamma asked me what I wanted her to bring for me. It was a no-brainer really, and when I said “Chicken, the dry one with tomato ketchup” she said “I knew you would say that!” That’s how mothers are I guess.
Last Saturday, when my parents arrived in Guwahati for a family lunch and to say goodbye until we met again, after the obligatory Bihu gifts were exchanged my mother gave me the casserole of chicken, a kopou phool from our garden for Miss Munchkin to wear on her head, and a ziplock bag filled with togor and gutimali that smelled like spring and my childhood and happiness all rolled into one. But I homed in on the chicken, forgetting the fact that I was at my in-laws and not alone in my hostel room. And that first bite… That first bite transported me to simpler days when everything was made better just by a morsel of good food. Actually scratch that, I still believe everything is made better by good food. The chicken miraculously tasted exactly the same; of tomato ketchup and Mamma’s love and sheer delight. After a single taste we rushed out for our lunch but I lovingly saved all of it for dinner, and this time, sharing it with the husband and the brother-in-law, it tasted infinitely better.
Something about that chicken made me realise just how intimate the act of cooking for someone is. And how selflessly loving. When you cook with someone in mind, you put in your heart and soul in it, and hope that it tastes good and that they like it. Like a true blue soul cook, I believe that one can earnestly taste love in food. Which is why, even if I were to cook the chicken in the exact same way with the exact same ingredients it still wouldn’t taste the same. Because a mother’s love remains unconditionally same over decades, the food tastes the same. Rocket science, am I right?
In other news, I celebrated my first Bihu with my in-laws after four and half years of being married, and with all the bells and whistles too. Going shopping for paator mekhela sador, helping Ma-in-law make pithaguri by grinding rice in the urol, visiting the neighbourhood naamghor on New Year’s Day… Even the near compulsory jetuka, although in my case it was mehendi in a cone that my loving Ma-in-law got for me. We got baby girl’s ears pierced, which was what the family lunch party was for really. Turns out in Barpeta, where my in-laws are originally from, getting a girl’s ears pierced is cause for celebration, with a big party thrown and the whole village invited. Miss Munchkin and I also experienced a 7.02 earthquake that hit us right before Bihu and while she is too young to be scared of it, I was petrified, and the first thought I had after I was done blanking out was that the husband was still on the flight about to land in Guwahati and if something were to happen to us I wouldn’t even get to see him. Now that bit about living in Assam I don’t miss at all.
So we are back in Dubai, again unexpectedly so, and so far Dubai has been nice and pleasant (more pleasant than Delhi at least) and the best thing it had to offer me so far was home delivered dum biryani that came in a clay pot sealed with dough, that melted in the mouth and tasted brilliant washed down with a Bud. Miss Munchkin has been a surprisingly well behaved toddler with an unlimited supply of energy, and wolfing down strawberries like there’s no tomorrow. I only hope someday she will recall my cooking with fondness the way I recall my mother’s, and while I hope life doesn’t treat her bad in any way, I am a realist, and I know that some days will suck, and the only thing I can do is pray she will find comfort in a single morsel of home cooked food the way I did. Or do even now, as a matter of fact.