I do not remember when I ate my first meal! I am sure nobody does!!
But I realised it is a big ceremony to feed a child its first meal when I went to Guruvayur temple in Kerala. I saw some families had brought their children to the temple for this ceremony. I am sure that in my case it would have been a simple ceremony at home; my mother would have called a few relatives and neighbours [in the fifties neighbours were part of your extended family] and done it without making it look like a ceremony.
My first memory of eating my meal is of eating my dinner. We stayed in a big house that had an ‘outhouse.’ It was a colonial design house where the kitchen and store room were placed separately by a courtyard, and away from the main house which had large dining, living and bed rooms. I remember that every evening my mother would sit with me on a zula [swing] and feed me my dinner which comprised curd rice and an occasional papad. She always sang two Marathi songs, both of which are not available these days. These songs introduced to me to the music world and created very strong association with certain tunes as I realised later.
She sang very well, but she would hum it on the swing. One of the songs was ‘Ja saang laxamanaa saang raam-raayaalaa.’ The song is about Sita’s desertion by Ram. Laxman takes her away from Ram on the latter’s orders and Sita tells Laxman her message for her husband with a heavy heart. In the song Sita gives her message. I never knew why mother never sang a happier song, but I developed utter disrespect for Ram which I am unable to shed even today.
The second song was ‘Tuzhi ni mazhi preet jashi re devharyateel jyot.’ This was a nice song, which she hummed so well. Two songs were perhaps enough to complete my dinner.
Several years later, when I was in college, I heard a Hindi film song with a strikingly similar tune. I discovered it was ‘Dil aaj shaayar hai, gum aaj nagma hai…’ from Gambler. After my mother passed away, I once overheard this song being played at a restaurant. I entered it and sat there listening to it with tears in my eyes. The tune had taken me several decades back. I relived a few past happy moments.
This association with music has stayed with me. Just as a film has a sound track my memories have a song track! And sometimes they have flavour of the food.
There is a mall behind my house, and sometimes I go to the food court there. I do not remember when I went there first and when last! There is something “clinical” about this place.
The area is brightly lit; it has four TV screens and one big screen that shows the live sports program –cricket, or football or tennis. It is a large area, people everywhere, it is so crowded. People are moving with shopping bags in hand. Confused by the choices Food court seems to offer.
I take a round of various counters to see ‘what is available!’ KFC counter has the bespectacled man, Colonel Sanders, smiling at me…. I always thought that he made fun of me for my being a vegetarian. No, no, I must be wrong. He seems to grin nervously as KFC sells vegetarian stuff now!
Kailash Parbat, Subway, Baskin Robbins they are all there; I have also discovered that ‘Panchavati’ which is supposed to serve authentic Maharashtrian cuisine is run by people who cannot speak Marathi. [Raj, Uddhav….C’mon, last bastion is falling…. what are you doing?]
After much survey I stand in queue at Madras Mail which serves South Indian food. Standing in queue to pick up my food always makes me feel like a beggar, but in Food Court you have no choice, beggar or otherwise. The reason why it is called a ‘Court’ is that, I suppose, those who go to a court always return empty handed. ‘Ek Dosa’ I order. ‘Masala ya Sada?’ the counter girl asks. ‘Masala’ I reply. I know they specialise in quantity, one food item is good enough for me, it makes my dinner.
‘Your number is 55 sir’ says the girl on counter and asks me to look for neon sign that displays the number when the order is ready. I have paid money by now. I wonder why dosa should cost 79 rupees. I mean I am not saying it is exorbitantly priced, which it is, but why should it be priced like a Bata shoe? I retreat to me seat. Now I keep looking at the neon sign every two minutes. Bata shoe and food have something in common I discover; the former bites me while I bite the latter! I smile at this funny discovery and think if people watch me sitting and smiling alone, they will think I am a mad man. No. Nobody is looking at me, I am safe!
Nobody is watching TV although sports program is on. A little boy is crying because presumably he has not yet been given ice cream, and he gets it too. That is because his parents do not want to be disturbed. The boy finds his way to Baskin Robbins through a maze of chairs.
I am convinced that this is a place for the young couples. The place is so noisy; the music is loud and western, it makes conversation difficult if not impossible. I do not understand what music they are playing; there is so little difference between modern day music and noise.
A housekeeper is moving with his trolley among diners. Nobody cares I feel. Why should anyone care? I ask myself. The young man at a table in front of me is putting his hand around her waist; who is here for eating a good dinner?