Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Friday, 14 October 2016

I Have a Thing about Food

I have a thing about food. Amazing how old, child-hood hangups hang (sorry!) around. I am not able to waste that last half-spoon of rice at the bottom of the pan, the cold pizza left over from my grand-daughter's evening meal, the beef curry in which all the beef has been eaten and only gravy  (and what a gravy!) is left. Today I shall spend an hour making banana cake to resuscitate two almost-dead, spotted, large, sick bananas. And then I shall worry when the cake is still there three days from now. The life-span of banana cake is inversely proportional to the heating in the kitchen. And my daughter switched the heating on this week when she saw me digging out my winter-socks from the storage box.

   I remember the refugees from the partition of India. How ever did they reach this far South in Kerala? They spoke Hindi and communicated with hand-signals. This, of course was the time of serial starvation in India. I don't think the present generation of whizz-kids, rich on corporate salaries have any idea of what misery that was.
   The ragged, broken families went from house to house, standing mutely in front of the middle-class verandas. I would put my current book down and try to talk to them. All they did was make the universal sign of hunger, fingers supplicating in front of the mouth, eyes beseeching, while the children held on to the mother's clothes. That deluge of starving people carried on through the early fifties and died down very gradually. Now, there are no beggars in Thalassery, though you can still see them in bigger towns. They are locals, not broken families of homeless refugees.

   My grandmother got into the habit of saving the starchy water drained from the cooked rice. This was normally used to starch clothes, but she commandeered it for the beggars. She would take a big handful of rice from the pot furtively and put it into the thick water. She also kept the empty coconut shells to use as bowls for them. Disposable bowls, which could then be burned for fuel.

   One day I came upon my cousin Nani, scraping the bottom of the rice-pot late at night when all the others had gone to bed. It was 1944 and rationing was at its dismal worst. I had been asleep, but when I found her missing in the room, I crawled off my mat and went looking for her. When I saw what she was doing I picked up a wooden spoon to scrape with her. 'No,' she said, 'the neighbours should not hear us. They will know we are short of rice in a lawyer's house.' This was the time when my father was in jail for irritating the British Government with speeches and with leading protest marches.

   Devi, our maid lived next door in a small mud hut. She got the leftovers, all thrown into a bowl and left overnight. Generally bits of Okra, tiny bits of rice and lentils scraped from our evening meals. She took it home to feed her daughter, who was my age.

   So, to this day, I don't take food for granted. I cook too much, so there is no dearth. And then force my family to eat it for another meal, and then another.


1 comment:

  1. We were all taught not to waste food. Not even a grain. All of that has worked into our hips and bellies now.....the habit remains and however bad or unhealthy the food may be, we like to leave our plates clean at the end of the meal.