Saturday, May 7, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love* - all at the same time!

After gulping down my last sip of lime juice, I felt I would burst. This lime juice was topped off after a cup of milk-coffee. I knew there was paneer in my tummy now. (I know it's gross, but that's what happens when you mix milk and lime). The barrage of food items had started after a deep afternoon nap. We were on a social visit to some of my uncle's friends. I could not say no and ended up stacking spicy chat, aloo aur paneer ke pakode, coke at one friend, then dhokla and coffee at the next and then chips-and-what-not and lime juice, at the third. Each time I would try to say, "No Aunty/Uncle", they would somehow manage to force me to gulp down more. I could almost imagine them pushing food down my throat using a shovel. "Lo aur khao!"

In India, (be it ANY community) one way of articulating love and respect for your guests is by feeding them. “Atithi Devobhava" - guest is God. But the polite, toned-down way of offering food to guests in the past, has now been replaced by a fervor to feed guests.

On the other hand, the atithi needs to relinquish, eat whatever he had been asked to and pray that his poor tummy will be able to sustain it all. If you are a guest and say no to what your hosts are serving you, their faces go tiny and all scrunched up. So, you have to be a good guest and show your love by munching through everything.

When a poor diabetic person goes to friends and relatives to distribute his daughter’s wedding invitation cards, they try to convince them to take a chooootusa bite out of an array of sweets - (Chalta hain!) not realizing that many such small bites at every house can be more harmful for him! But what to do, we are like that only*!

My dad is super-strict about not wasting food. So on more than one occasion, I have been stuck between an over-enthusiastic hostess and my dad glaring at my plate, knowing I was ready to give up. But I was a kid then and eating yummy, oily, junk food was fun.

It is quite a mind-game. You are offered the first serving. If you say ‘no’ to any of those items, they say, "Taste toh karke dekho! Pinky ki special dish hain". So you have to take it - to make Pinky happy. If you are washing your hands when your dish is being plated up, God alone save you! You need to be around and wary as to how much they serve you. If you finish any item, on your plate, a hawk-eyed hostess will jump up and serve you more of that item before you can say no. If you do get a chance to say no, they will say, "Kyunn?? Achha nahin laga??" Oye?? That's blackmail!

When they load your plate, you have to finish it. If you waste it, it is not only bad manners, but also means "Aapko achha nahin laga!" If you hesitate, (because you are my kind of a person who simply cannot stuff too much at one time, but is able eat more times a day) then they will ask you the most often-used question to embarrass the guest, "Oooh diet, huh??" Arre, I don't have that sort of a capacity, baba!

Sometimes, when I go to places where I know I will end up stuffing myself, my strategy is to convince my host that I have eaten quite well. (Heck, I hope they don't read this!) I have tried this, but failed every time. The next thing I try to do is to sit at such a place at the dining table where the hosts cannot easily access my plate to heap food unless they use a slingshot. And sweets! People just don't believe someone may not have a sweet tooth! I certainly don’t, especially for the ghee-soaked, strong-smelling ones. But I have never been able to convince my hosts.

t gets funnier around your own wedding time. It is a custom for all relatives, friends, neighbours to invite a to-be bride or groom and his/her parents for a meal before the wedding and only the groom and bride after the wedding. Luckily for me, my relatives, friends were generous enough to understand, that it is tough to visit a million places and hence threw me a combined treat. Traditionally, the bride/groom are fed incredibly beyond their capacities, so much so that they develop (a beginning of) chronic health problems around this time. It is supposed to show exuberant love to them, which is lovely. But people, we are a generation conscious of our waist-lines and wedding is definitely not the time when we'd like them to get inflated!

After my experiences, I sat back and gave it a thought. Guess what? I realized that I do the same to my guests! When someone comes over, I feel immensely guilty of not being a good hostess unless I make them scarf up a lot of food. If someone's come over for the first time, I feel obliged to make them hog more - else I may come across as inhospitable. If they refuse point-blank, I do feel a bit disappointed. I hate it when I don't have a range of things to rattle off to offer my guests, hoping they would say yes to at least one. What is it about us Indians that makes us feel like that!


salil said...

nice nice :)

made me remember the times when i have glutted food beyond my capacity....and then fallen ill. :|

and talking of waistlines after getting drunk on food is like driving a car without just doesn't stop.....not even 1.5KM of swimming everyday ;)

keep writing !


vidu said...

Perfect words for the feeling of both the parties (Guests and the Hosts as well)
yea i think its our typical indian culture's effects of which food is an integral and inseparable part!!!!!