T’was the day we had whipped up a feast fit for the eyes, and insisted the whole family climb out of pajamas and yoga pants to sit themselves down at the fancy table (this fancy table is usually overrun with the mail, packages from amazon, notes and books). All of this was swept in one great movement to the side room and the room door shut before anything could come tumbling out. The table was found, the food was laid on it, and the chefs beamed. The children had contributed in no small measure with the items on the table and it was remarkable how spacious the table , and the surrounding space was without the debris that usually surrounding this space.
“Too much food!” said the daughter with a little shudder.
“Well! I am going to take my shhrama pariharam after this!” I said, regally rolling towards the feast of the day.
I saw that it was the sweet time to start reminiscing. I told the assembled lot about how their grandfather would talk about food, about his love for appalams and how he would pat his tummy lovingly and reminisce fondly about how in the olden days nobody cared about quantity : Did you know they served ghee in dhonnai-s – little straw cups, cups full of ghee and how they ate rice in those days. These heroes did not flinch when the ladle fulls hit the plate, they took it as a challenge, he said to us in his booming voice, and we used to laugh it at all till I saw it myself.
I remember those days well enough. Maybe my memories are keener for they were formed in the exuberance of youth. One particularly hot afternoon floated into my memory and I burst out laughing. “If Pythagorus had a strong foundation like us, who knows what else he might’ve found? “ I said.
The children looked at each other with that look of amused tolerance, “Uh-oh! Here comes another story within the story!”
I prattled off, whisking them away in one swift gallop on the chariot of time for a quick visit a few decades ago.
The occasion was something, and guests and priests made their way into the old village home. The gaggle of aunts, had been busy all morning in the kitchen preparing one of those meals that don’t fit on stainless plates and require three large plantain leaves on the floor just to get the servings in. 15 different vegetables, fried snacks that take all morning just so they many occupy a small portion on the plantain leaf, along with the main stay of sambhar, rasam and payasam had all been prepared. The corner leaf was given a special name, nuni elai, and the priests and his friends got busy. I sat with my cousins watching in awe. I had read mythological tales of giant-like people eating mountains of rice with rivers of sambhar and ponds of ghee, but I had always dismissed it as myth. I had read the story of Kumbakarna and that fellow who started the Vaigai river after eating so much, a river was required to quench his thirst thereafter.
I suppose till that moment I had never really thought about what it takes to feed folks. How much food does one prepare, and how does one estimate?
Children have an innate sense of wonder in them, a practice we must learn to cultivate just to enjoy our own life. There is a beautiful word, shoshin, that means just that: The practice of looking at things with wonder.
That afternoon, we, the pint sized folks, sat watching the priests fall asleep. Shoshin was shining in our eyes and we went to see how the legendary eaters were doing. We were told the siesta was not called a nap, it was given a name Shhrama pariharam – meaning the respite from the strenuous. It was an apt name, they had gone into the ring of leaves and fought like champions. Every last drop was polished off, every morsel of rice chewed and every fried item belched into the dark recesses of their expanding stomachs.
That afternoon all those years ago, I remember watching the stomachs rise and fall with their gentle snores, remember seeing how the shadows lengthened with time, and how they rolled over before getting up, how they joked that a cup of coffee would help settle their stomachs, and then made their contented way home. We had discussed measuring the height of the stomachs, the length of the shadows and much more, only to be shoo-ed away by the aunts.
I told the children all of this as we sat full, satiated, and laughing at the recollection. Thereafter, I showed them pictures of the South Indian meal. Was this a mythological tale? Or did people really have leaves filled with 50 different items on them? Had I not seen them in my childhood, I might never have believed it myself.
It has been a long time since I sat at a banana leaf and saw the world float by me with huge ladles of sambhar, rasam, copious amounts of rice and spoonfuls of ghee.
“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables