It is almost 10 months since dad went away from our lives. 10 months since each day feels like a burden one is carrying. And strangely, 10 months since I realized what a deep bond I shared with him and food. And how much those memories were intertwined.
I think it all started just after his death while I was still doing customs like a robot. In our household on the 15th day of death, you feed 15 pandits. I recall at that time, all I wanted to do was forget everything and immerse myself in cooking what he loved. I wanted those pandits to eat the food that he would have liked and I wanted to cook it myself. Everyone told me that I should let a caterer do it but my heart and mind wanted something else. In the end on the menu were – kachoris, bedmi poori, aloo ki sabji, paneer, gobhi aloo and kheer. A meal that he would have loved. I recall feeling a strange sense of satisfaction that day. A peace that I hadn’t felt in the last 15 days. It was also probably the first proper meal I was able to eat since the day he left us. Every bite that day felt like he is telling me, it’s going to be fine. Though every fiber of my body knew it is never going to be fine again!
For me food is memories and a lot of my memories are attached to food. Be it my dad, mum, granny or any other person. If I am close to them I have my personal woven web of food & memories with that person. For me to make peace with a person gone, it is as if I have to relive all those memories. I remember 14 years ago when my granny passed away what I missed the most was her food or so I thought at least. But now when I look back at that time, I know I wasn’t looking for food, I was looking for her. I was looking for the familiar taste that only she brought to my life. I wanted that samosa and jalebi together because no one ever fed them to me apart from her. I wanted those aloo paranthas because only she made the best ones. And if only I could bring those things to me, maybe I could bring her along too. That was my silly mind thinking.
But I didn’t expect that with dad because as much as a food lover he was, he wasn’t the one who cooked much. But I was wrong and the past 10 months have been a living proof of it. For the past 10 months, I have been meticulously eating all his favorite foods, some of which I don’t even like.
On the days when I feel lonely, I pour myself a big peg of Chivas Regal (his favorite scotch) and then bite into the chicken curry he used to have along with it. On some nights, I make myself a cup of warm milk which I have detested all my adult life and dad has tried to feed me every night he was around me. And with each food, I relive certain set of memories. They make me cry and then help me make peace with the fact that what I am remembering will only be a memory. With each such food conquered, it feels a bit more peaceful strangely.
A little while ago, my 9 yr son saw the khara boondi raita and said “oh I only know of sweet one, nanu used to get it every Tuesday from the temple. Now I will never get it”. It broke my heart in million pieces. Next Tuesday, I bought some boondi and three of us are sat and ate it along with some tears and some smiles. It was uncanny how we all found peace through that shared bowl of sweet boondi.
In the past 10 months I have realized that in spite of the fact that dad was never the cook at home, he was the person I ganged up with when I wanted to eat something special. He was the person I would call when I wanted that kulcha chola home by the time I reach home after a flight. He was the one I nudged when I wanted someone to send me that Kaju Katli from Delhi. And funnily, I also realized that he used to lean on us too for food. He woud tell mom, mona wants to eat bread roll when he would be craving for some. The past 10 months have been many such realizations and the past month of holidays & festivals intensified beyond my imagination.
To the million things he would make mum cook because he was fasting during navratra. To the jalebi he would bring home every year after Ravan Dahan. To that chaana dal pulao he would love with the imi ki chutney for Diwali dinner. Or even those sweet patasha and sugar toys he insisted that we buy for Diwali pooja. Each moment, each day was spent eating my way through my memories. Eating my way through grief.
With each such food conquered, it feels a bit more peaceful. It feels like one milestone has been crossed in the grief curve. But then there are some foods I have been avoiding because the memories will jostle me way too much. Like green chutney, I haven’t made a green chutney all this year. Multiple bunches of pudina and coriander have been bought and thrown. Some of them my household help turned into chutney that I couldn’t eat but most of it was just shoved into the corner of the fridge till the leaves turned a shade of black like my heart felt like. Green chutney was something he made always. It was something he taught me to make, it is one dish we all associate with him. I am hoping someday I will be able to handle this monster, to cross over and make the chutney he would call tasty too. Till then, I will continue eating through my grief one dish at a time I guess.