By Anindita Baidya
Anand, Gujarat, India
Illustration: By Prodipto Roy
Anand, Gujarat, India
Illustration: By Prodipto Roy
So what? The yet-to-be married would question! Love will anchor you, what does Sambhar have to do when there is love? It has to. The married friends may agree.
I am Meenakshi, A Tam-Brahm (Tamil Brahmin) born in Tirunelvali, nurtured within a joint family, nourished with love, care, Karnatic music and Sambhar. Do not misunderstand me; I do not go about talking about my caste and religion to everyone I meet. But for the benefit of the story, I have to.
Well, after completing my BA in my home town, I proceeded to Mumbai for an MA and then my life changed forever.
There I met Shubhro, an aspiring Bengali architect and fell in love with him. And married him. So do I say, “Aur khatam ho gayee story?” No Friends, my story begins here.
Before the wedding, I often visited Madhu and Keshav, my friends, who were already married. I shared my deepest secrets, wildest dreams and worst fears with them. I also remember saying, “Shubhro and I think alike. We have no difference, except for the difference in food taste.” Madhu warned, “Wait and see how that difference proves to be a larger than life one!” I ignored her. Love will sail us through, I convinced myself!
After the marriage, I visited my in-laws’ rural household at Bardhaman. Relatives from far and near arrived to meet the MADRASI bahu.
“I am not from Madras, you see!” I tried to explain, “I am from Tirunelveli!” To that, the elder ladies said, “Oi holo...” which translated literally, implies, “It is all the same, dear!” but the attitude was more of, “Who cares...” and I was hurt! But then, to them, Madras was a Geographical area in the south India, which contained in itself, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra...whatever. And residents of these areas, Madrasis.
But the younger generation listened to the interesting stories of my hometown and the young girls were interested in the herbal paste I used for bath and the saris I wore.
My palate was in for a shock, for sure. I have been a pure vegetarian throughout my life and here I was in a household where not one vegetarian meal could be thought of. If I chose only dal-chawal, there was the fish head in the dal and if I chose curry, I found shrimps with bottle gourd.
But my considerate in-laws helped me tide over those days and took extra care to prepare special vegetarian dishes for me but in that one month at Bardhaman, my tongue started tingling for tamarind taste.
Back in Mumbai after the holiday, I was on my own to cook whatever I liked and live as I wanted to. Or so I thought!
I was by then getting used to share a bed with another person; I was also, after a few protests getting used to Shubhro waking up in the morning and switching off the fan before leaving the room! He would often forget, he explained, that there was someone else in the room too!
My culinary skills were ready for the new challenge. So day after day I would prepare the best of Sambhar, rasam, curries but I also noticed that day after day Shubhro’s appetite was decreasing.
The cat was let out slowly. He did not enjoy Sambhar, he said. Ok, so I cooked Sambhar for myself and made dal for him, but he wanted Masoor dal, he said. So I had to cook two different dals.
I had decided to be a full-time home manager and thus took over the entire job of managing the household and kitchen on my own. So, Shubhro, once a great cook, as claimed by him, had to remain out of my work-station.
So began our new life with our new journey. I could not figure out why he wanted that sugar and cardamom in the potato curry and he was shocked to find that the spinach was put into dal, he wanted it dry, he said. Now that I had the control of the kitchen, my Shubhro craved for fish, which by default was not brought in.
Gradually my work space was expanded to accommodate Shubho and his fish. He was not much of a meat-eater and about eggs, I had no problem in boiling one or two for his breakfast which satisfied him. But fish was an integral part of his life and now that I was also an integral part of him, he was faced with difficult choice to make!
My wise mother-in-law once narrated a small piece, in praise of the favourite Ilish (Hilsa) and Bengali’s love for it. She said according to them, “The Himalayas lie at the summit of the earth, on Himalayas, sits the Lord Shiva, from his head (summit again) flows The Ganges and on the Ganges is the Ilish.” So, teh Ilish is above all; above caste, creed, religion, sex. Thank you ilish for delivering the message of equality among us.
This piece of wisdom dawned upon me and I thus welcomed the fish inside my kitchen. After all, Shubhro had never had a meal without fish and how could I expect him to do so, now?
So, gradually peace was restored. He of course enjoyed the idli-chuntney as much as I loved the loochi (Poori). When I would be down with cold and flu, Shubhro would prepare a hot rasam and pamper me! But he could not develop any affinity for my humble sambhar and I continued running for life whenever the fish was fried in the mustard oil. That was double offence: fish and mustard oil.
There were some other differences which we never spoke about to each other too. I would often wish that he would read with me, Eric Segal, after dinner and he remained stuck before my Sauten, the television. I sulked for a few days and when I confronted, he said, how he wished I watch the Indiana Jones series sitting by his side! Oh, both of us had hidden wishes which never was vocalised.
“Shout at each other but don’t sulk!” Madhu and Keshav adviced us and we complied.
So amidst our agreement on quarrels, dislikes, differences, we also discovered how similarly we thought about our future, how alike we were in thoughts about what our children should watch on TV and we had no differences while deciding that both his and my parents should be with us at their old age. We shared the same passion for music, only if, he said I could understand the Rabindra-sangeet he sung for me, I wished he understood Thiruvasagam lyrics but we enjoyed music so Tagore or Thiruvasagam, both of us drowned ourselves in them.
And the roads we treaded may be similar to the ones most of the couples have done but for us, it was for the first time. Two weeks later, we will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. We have two beautiful angelic children. My daughter is a prodigy in Karnatic music while my son does the honours for his dad, cooking up the best of fish-dishes. He aspires to be a cook, he says.
No I do not eat or cook fish yet. But I love this fish-eater (No not a cat) called my husband. And he continues disliking sambhar till date.......