Monday, March 01, 2010
Dear Rushina, Food and friends
In my stay in Delhi so far, I’ve made it a point to visit as many of my friends here as possible. Some old some new, some lost and now found, our reunions have been wonderfully invigorating. One special woman who was on top of my ‘to meet’ list was my friend Shilpi’s mom. I first met Shilpi’s mom in Mumbai when she came to visit her daughter last year. Aunty cooked for us. Fluffy silken rotis, voluptuous dal makhni and tender delicately spiced paneer curry and I was won over from my first bite! Though Aunty is more comfortable conversing in Hindi and I in English, food was the common language we spoke and we got along famously.
So I called her when few days ago and made plans to visit. Meeting Aunty again and that too in her impeccable home, we continued our conversation about food. In true Aunty style, she whipped up some dal and paneer curry in a flash and served it with her fantastic rotis. She also served me this utterly delicious thing called Dahi Bhalla and then some cool kheer for dessert. The food was comforting, interesting as was our conversation. She mentioned a moong dal halwa which sounded very interesting and I hope to try it the next time I visit her. So with this visit, I was able to strengthen a new relationship.
I also discovered that old friends of mine were in Delhi as well. While planning to visit my old students and my cousin in JNU, a very old friend of mine called saying she was also on campus doing her PhD. Emeni and I were roommates in college. And yes, food played a very important role in our relationship as well. I came down to JNU last night to stay the night with her and was greeted with chicken and pork curry. We sat and ate to our hearts content and reminisced till 4am over cups of green tea.
As I plan to meet another friend tonight for dinner at her place, I cannot help but think how important food and shared meals are in my life. One very important cultural lesson my father taught me is about sharing food. When I was 13, we went for a village feast where everyone was eating from wooden plates in the open. After we’d eaten, I walked with my father as he met with people. When we got to one villager, eating to his heart’s content, my father sat down in front of him and began to pick food from his plate as they spoke. Odd thing, as we’d already eaten, I asked my father about it later. He explained that through this act of sharing, he had tacitly conveyed to the man that he was his equal and friend, and declared to the village that this man was his friend. Famished foodie that I turned out to be, this was perhaps one of the most important lessons I learnt from my father.
This is why I chose to attend the Sekrenyi festival celebrations organised by the Angamis (my tribe) in Delhi. A traditional festival of purification, it is a time for the community to come together and feast, among other things. In this personally difficult time, I couldn’t think of a better way to belong and heal than by sharing a meal with my people.
I hope you are enjoying your Holi in Mumbai.
Lots of Love,