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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Memorable Meals


                                           

The memories came later. The smell came first, wafting over the dust laden pavements, over the impatient cars, over the high-rise buildings . It pushed its way through the closed window, eager to reach me at any cost and then tantalizingly and teasingly it went away, leaving me almost the way it had found me, lazily reclining in the car seat, listening to music. But, slowly, a long buried memory raised its sepia tinted head. The memory was so beautiful that I almost pushed it back, but then like the eternal eve in the garden of temptation, gave in. The smell came back again, stronger and surer, redolent of smoked wood and simmering embers. I smiled at the slice of wasted youth .

Din-i-ilahi Akbar's  Fatehpur Sikri. University students soaking in some serious  history- and Sufi music, just outside Chisti's  dargah on a moonlit night. Food is being cooked on slow burning coal and wood. The  menu? sweet and sour roasted guava chutney, biryani cooked in a clay pot, and raita. Manna  from  heaven. A heady cocktail of  'Khwaja, mere khwaja 'being belted out by a raspy throat ; conversation laced with the impudence, confidence,j oie de vivre of the young ; biryani  cooked to perfection, with just a hint of juice , as if the flavour was so good that its own mouth watered  and the guava chutney in which a tinge of the charred clay had crept in. The smell of food roasted on a 'tandoor' will always be redolent with nostalgic yearning for simpler and therefore, pleasurable, sinful times. 

I am at a dinner being hosted at one of the 5 star hotels dotting the landscape of the capital . Everybody is making marvelous conversation with no eye contact ,because one eye is checking messages on the cell phone ( incase the aliens have landed ? ) and the other is checking what everybody else is checking out. Dinner is announced and a queue starts forming. I am behind a gentleman who has piled up his dinner plate so high that one almost offers him another one. But when my turn comes to start serving i sort of see the reason behind the fellow's seeming greed. There are just too many dishes. I count eight salads, double that number of main course dishes , some Chinese , a pasta station ,breads, rice are ,of course, par for the course. I will not even mention the desserts ( twelve ! ).Three quarters of an hour later I spot the seemingly greedy gentleman. He is still looking hungry. I give a sympathetic smile; because I am feeling the same. It takes the entire ride back home for me to figure out the answer to the question- why hunger in a land of plenty? The paradox arises because of the problem of plenty. Being spoilt for choice one is either not able to make a choice or makes the wrong choice. 

The experience of dining is not limited to only the sense of taste. It is an experience which involves all the five senses. A well laid out table, sparkling glassware, just 'so' food , will only work if the company is  enjoyable. The perfect meal to be perfect does not have to rely on numbers- it just needs to find the right balance of the aforementioned.

 Food has the potential to please all five senses at once — sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Every morsel of food we put in our mouth reassures us that our senses are intact and all is well with the world.  This is what wellness is all about. It is not just satiating the pangs of hunger but to aspire for bliss, hopefully occasionally experiencing ecstasy."

It's a lazy sunday afternoon. I am a guest of a guest at a farm house on the outskirts of Gurgaon. The food is home grown and home made. The house guests ,the hosts and the lunch guests ,all eat together. The heady cocktail of wine, conversation with an eclectic mix of people, and food that is neither over-cooked nor  over the top makes it a memorable experience.
I come back home , satiated, wanting to only curl up in my favourite corner and read. My hand goes out for a book. Unseeingly, absent mindedly I open the first book my hand touches. I read the lines and almost laugh aloud. My husband looks up .I answer his unspoken question by reading out the lines:




"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise now!”

8 comments:

  1. I must say Anju ji that your writing is very vivid. It is often said in the writing classes that "show don't tell", and your writing does exactly that. with every sentence there swims a scene in the mind of the reader. It is really wonderful experience to go through your written lines.

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  2. I am overwhelmed, Neeraj. Thank you,

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  3. The books understand your mood. :)

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  4. How true - plenty is the antithesis of bliss... it is a very heady piece about what stirs the most basic emotions of the human soul - hunger and thereafter satiation. Enjoyed thoroughly!

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    1. Thank you for the great comment- appreciate your thoughts on the post;)

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  5. Written the experience of dining beautifully !

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