Sunday, August 20, 2006
FOOD! FOOD! FOOD!
A WORD OF CAUTION: names of many dishes are transliterated ones(from tamil).So if the reader is not familiar with them he/she can assume it to be good food
I was looking right down at my plate kept on the mess table.It was a sick feeling that failed to get out of me and many of my other vegetarian friends.Yes this is one of the BITS,Pilani messes .I remember my school days when my mother served piping hot sambar and rasam with a large variety of vegetable side dishes.Sundays meant a morkozhambu or a vaththakozhambu which most tamils relish.
The situation seemed to get worser by the day.We could bear with our mess food at the beginning of a semester but that last tinge of hope vanished as days passed by.My mother would give me a call everyday.One day she would say she enjoyed a good meal of porichakozhambu,curd rice with pickle.Another day she would mention Kozhukattai.I could have burst to tears but sat there without options.The management did not budge even an iota regarding this mess ‘phenomenon’(obviously one needs good food for studies to go on smoothly).Big ladles served us unlimited food that we loathed to the core.I aptly recalled S.T.Coleridge’s poem ‘Rime of the ancient mariner’ which had those golden lines ‘water water everywhere not a drop to drink…..’
It was not the same case with the north indians(affectionately called CHOMs-for CHappathi Oriented Meins).They munched away chappathis like anything and enjoyed the dreaded grub(supposed to be better than the other day menus but beware it will knock out the wits out of a person).Here again nostalgia.I recalled excellent south Indian payasams,about a dozen like the navaratna payasam,semia payasametc whenever they provided us with a sweet which was not a sweet at all.
One of our friends was elected as the veg sec. of the mess and we got a ‘kootu’(a south Indian dish) for atleast twice a week that we could eat with satisfaction.Even this came under danger when some choms protested for having this item for the menu.Lots of poor souls were between the devil and the deep sea.(hunger and mess food).They had to be content with a big bar of Cadbury’s and a cooldrinkfor lunch on days when the mess drove away people with its characteristic smell.
Horror would await us in the morning for the breakfast.Anything that was provided meant no good as it would be too oily or would taste shit.Idly,dosai ,vadai and others like adais were awesome at home.
Many of my non-vegetarian friends did not seem to face any problems for I think it is in their nature to freely admit anything and everything through their oesophagus. We
Would get the threat of our lives by simply seeing one of their plates right opposite to ours. They exclaimed “here non veg is cooked better than the veg”.I am a person who respects our culture and if the old masters had practiced something(vegetarianism for instance),they meant it. ‘DHANWANTRI’-a general health book says that chemicals, especially adrenaline that are secreted in an animals body due to its fear of death at the time of butchering, stay in the flesh even afterwards.The chemicals have a similar effect on humans after entering the body as meat.
I recalled my filling experience at Hotel Saravana Bhavan ,Delhi at the beginning of the semester before our journey to Pilani from Delhi.(This journey is for 5 ½ hours with a break at a roadside Dhaba.Effectively, my lamenting began with the journey itself).’good food’-that was the last time I could see chutney varieties,pongal and many other south Indian varieties.People in Pilani rarely seemed to know what a coconut was.
The places that happened to be our saviours once in a while from the ruthlessness of mess food were C’not( a small place inside BITS campus named after the original cannought place in Delhi) and the IC(Institute Canteen).Though I wasn’t as conservative as my mother regarding food,I found that I could not survive on naans,kulchas,paneer butter masalas etc. that were available in c’not.Due to my request a small well-packed box arrived the following week.It was from my mother.I was so thrilled to open it and find sealed packet of pulikaachal and savouries like mixture,thattai etc. inside it.i thought “phew!this is how one has got to survive in a place known for its notorious weather and even more notorious food”.
Food is an essential part of any culture and hindu literature abounds in it.Right from the Bhagavat gita to Vedanta desikar’s ahara niyamam-a 21 verse tamil work which gives guidelines about foods that are to be accepted and rejected.Often I remembered the temple prasadams that were warm,tasty and gave a feeling of completeness of visiting temples.
‘Fruits’-that was what my amma advised me to make up for the everything deficient diet.I thought that was a lot better idea than my father’s,which was to swallow sea-cod pills and vitamin tablets day after day.One thing that made me calm was a situation that existed in one of the Tamilnadu colleges.They had to return the banana leaves after washing them after a meal.(students resorted to tearing of leaves to avoid this).
I was in my train after the semester and eagerly awaited my destination(Chennai) while I wondered how we were forced not to follow our tradition and to sacrifice all our rights to eat good food to obtain a B.E.[hons.] degree!