She was a foodie. She was a gourmet food freak, and that’s what she liked to call herself. Once, when a friend had complimented on her figure, she had felt immensely proud to think that her body didn’t reveal the amount of food she always stuffed herself with every time she ate. It was a craving, which when not satisfied in time, made her irritated and angry. This craving for food controlled her mood swings, decided how her day would be, or how her night would pass. And she didn’t mind being the servant of this particular passion of hers.
It was during her teenage days that she discovered that she didn’t just like eating; she absolutely craved and ached for it. First, it was just simply homemade dishes like that her mother, grandmother or her aunt cooked at that time. But in later years, when she started living away from home, in hostel, that she tasted the different flavours of Chinese, Thai and Italian cuisine, though they were not much elaborate in those not-so-posh restaurants in the city. She learnt that she preferred Pan-Fried Noodles over Hakka Noodles and Tandoori Chicken over KFC Fried Chicken. She found out that that the momos of the mobile food cart at the college bus stop were tastier than those at KurryPot where she often dined with her friends. She knew it was only the concoction of sauces and the difference in flavour that marked the difference between a Manchurian and a Szechuan dish. She always smiled a superior smile when she was asked to place the order by her friends, for she was an expert.
She was content and satisfied after a heavy evening meal before she headed off to the hostel. She planned her eating-outs every month, setting aside money for that. She needed a heavy Chinese meal if she was depressed; if she had to study hard for an exam, she needed French fries and potato chips. While watching a movie, she needed dark chocolate or chocolaty ice cream. She wouldn’t accept anything short of it, rather she would give up the task altogether.
But at home, the scene was entirely different.
Her parents were simple people, never dined at restaurants, thus never understanding her passion for food. Her mother only knew that her favourite snack was aloo-parantha and she liked to eat pumpkin seeds deep fried. Her father only knew that on holidays when she was home, the cardboard box in the kitchen shelf was to be stocked with at least a dozen eggs, and mutton was never to be brought home then. They didn’t know the reason why she shouted at them sometimes, or refused to talk with them and most of the disagreements concerned food only. They, on the other hand, blamed her grandfather for her mood swings, totally assured that she had inherited it from him.
She had never tried her hand on cooking. Her parents had never let her; she was the only and very much pampered child to them. Besides, the need for her to cook didn’t arise; her parents never went out of town leaving her alone, and if her mother was sick, her grandmother did the cooking. As for her, she wanted the stage set before actually trying out the thing. She couldn’t make her debut in that soot filled, tiny kitchen of theirs, where her mother sat on the floor to chop vegetables and fish and meat with a curved blade stuck to a block of wood positioned beneath her feet. She viewed cooking as an art, an innovation, a treat to tingle the taste buds. What was the joy in eating if food was thought only as a means to satisfy hunger?
Then the time came when she got a job someplace away from her home, further than the city where she was studying. The job was a turning point in her life, more importantly so, for that was the time from when her passion for food began to grow more fierce. She moved over to this new town, deciding that it was time to rent a place so that she could stay on her own. But the rent (just for two rooms) was outrageously high and it felt a shame to waste money like that, especially when she was earning it now. So, she began looking for a roommate. It would be a good idea, she thought, to share the rent and have company in this new and unknown place. And she began to get terribly excited to think that at last she could use her culinary knowledge and skills (if she possessed) now that she had a place of her own, and she could eat anything she liked, anytime.
Soon enough, she found a roommate. A colleague, older than her by three years, moved in with her, after staying two years in a mess with a few other girls. She liked that girl at work, seemed friendly though a bit serious. The first week flew by; they settled in, furnished the bedroom-cum-living room and the kitchen, bringing in food packed in aluminium foils from restaurants for dinner. The second week, they started eating toast for breakfast and boiled rice and eggs for dinner, and after work they would sit on the floor with paper and pen, making rough charts of their daily household chores. Three weeks later, after everything was settled, they called in a few friends to dinner on a weekend, splurged on basmati rice, chicken and some bottles of beer, and had a great time. She was particularly nervous during the party, it was the first time she was cooking for someone other than herself and she had no idea how it would turn out. Her roommate, it seemed, was an expert cook and a gracious hostess. Their friends left, saying that it was a delightful evening and they would be looking forward for more.
There was no stopping her after that. She flourished her ladle as a fairy flourishing her wand, and out came various mouth-watering dishes. Her roommate was equally contributing to her efforts, teaching her what she didn’t know, and never hesitating to share the extra expenses incurred on the trolley full of packed ingredients they bought from the food section at the mall.
She never imagined that she would be so happy, that she could satisfy her passion for food in such grandeurs’ manner. Those were the most blissful years of her life; she didn’t want them to end.
It was going well until one day she learnt that her parents were planning her marriage. She learnt it too late, the groom was selected, and her horoscope was matched with him. She looked with big, horrified eyes as her mother narrated the signs and elements that matched. She was hardly listening, her mind was elsewhere. What would happen to her dreams of owning a big kitchen, all equipped with the latest and sophisticated designer cookware, crockery and cutlery? What about the scene she always imagined in her head, she in an apron, deftly chopping vegetables with a big knife on a chopping board? She had never once given a thought to how her new home would be, in fact, she didn’t care. But the kitchen had to be according to her specifications. And now marriage was posing as a problem in fulfilling her dream.
She began to feel anxious, and decided it would be better to know about her prospective groom’s family, so that she could remodel her dream (oh no, she could never, EVER, give up her dream). She learnt that it was a small family she was going to be married off to, the groom, his sister, and their parents. That meant she would have to do a thorough study on their eating habits so that she could make plans to preside over the kitchen in her new home. But that wasn’t possible until she got married.
After the marriage dates were fixed, her roommate and some of her friends surprised her by what they called a ‘spinster party’ at a resort. That was the last of her fond memories before marriage, as her life was about to change in a way she always feared.
The marriage day itself was a big fiasco for her; she had to fast till the rituals were over. She felt dizzy and all she was given was cold water to drink. After the marriage, when the bride and the groom had to eat together, she couldn’t swallow one morsel of food, mostly from fatigue and a bit due to anger. She felt bound in her heavy saree and jewellery and make-up, she felt irritated and wanted to sleep. However, her day was far from over. The post-marriage rituals continued till midnight, and it was almost two in the morning when she finally managed to collapse in her bed without bothering to change and all. The next morning, there were more rituals till the time came for the bidaai. In between she did eat, but not much; she was feeling the gradual pangs of sadness as she was about to leave her home forever.
Thus she entered in to a new life, where she knew that she would have to make certain adjustments between her passion and her needs. She realised that marriage was a package deal, now it was her husband and her family that counted with her. She could not go anywhere anytime without a valid reason, had to think about the whole family before she thought about herself. Now she had to cook to feed her family, not just herself. Exotic dishes didn’t matter anymore, her in-laws preferred simple Indian food. She learnt to cook basic dishes, chopping vegetables like her mother in the neat kitchen with tiled walls and an exhaust fan. Going out for dinner with her husband seemed romantic, nothing more. She did brandish her skills by cooking certain exotic dishes sometimes, but only to feel the satisfaction that her family had enjoyed it. Her passion had dimmed; she couldn’t remember her favourite Chinese dish and it didn’t seem to matter anymore.
Now, she blushed when anyone complimented on her figure, her pride long gone. She lectured her children on the bad effects of eating out and on the benefits of eating green vegetables and fruits. Very rarely, but whenever she ate outside, she would order nothing more than fruit salad or soup. Sometimes she had vague recollections of her dream of a modern kitchen, which she quickly shoved aside at the sound of the cooker whistle or over the cries of her children.