As many of you know, I recently conducted a Food-Based Writing Workshop. One of the pieces I’d written for that workshop to share with my students as an example of a Fiction Short Story arising from a Food-Memory, was a story that’s very close to my heart. I thought I must share it. So here goes! Relish…
(title courtesy one of the workshop attendees, think it was Ratika)
Ever since Kartik was a young child, he loved food. Naturally then, when he was shipped off to boarding school in grade six, all of eleven, he sorely missed home. Such was his obsession with food, that it was perhaps less his parents, more the food, that he craved. See his growing up years he’d been lucky to have been lavished with all kinds of yummy dishes, from traditional Marwari classics like gatte ka saag, matar kachauri to even a few western ones like brownies and pasta courtesy of the maharaj at home; as well as continental delights like the sublime Chicken Stroganoff and delectable, fluffy, runny omelettes, thanks to frequent trips to the Rambagh coffee shop that his mum would indulge him in. His was a fairly forward, modern family which resulted in unabated experimentation with all kinds of foods, vegetarian and non vegetarian.
Now, suddenly lodged in this glorified jail called the Doon School, he felt trapped, thwarted, deprived. He heard countless tales of how his friends’ mums were planning to pamper their kids with all manner of culinary extravagance when they’d get home for their debut vacation. Kartik too, dreamed of the same; of fresh baked brownies, perfectly crisp on the outside, soft like a cloud on the inside, each bite, a little piece of heaven!
The fateful day finally arrived. His first term at school done and dusted, the buses were lined up on one of the school grounds. As if stairways to heaven, the boys boarded the quite smelly, unkempt barges. But their poor upkeep didn’t warrant a single thought, because the mind was clogged with one thing alone – home food!
As soon as Kartik arrived home, quick hugs with his folks, he ran to the kitchen to meet his beloved resident-chef, Bhaglu. He was nowhere to be found. And just then, his parents delivered the greatest blow, one that shattered all the built up dreams Kartik had harboured for months, in one swift stroke – Bhaglu, that most loyal genius of cuisine, had passed away! Kartik fell to his knees. He was bidding adieu to two – to a much respected staff member, and to his food-filled holiday!
Kartik’s parents tried their best to lift his spirits. Assured him that a replacement for Bhaglu was being sought with urgent efforts. That they’d take him out for a meal each day, any place he wished to go. That he’d even be taken on holiday for a week to a destination of his choice, that they assumed he’d choose on the basis of the kind of food he’d want to explore. Nothing worked though. See the problem was that Kartik’s mother had never been a cook. She’d hardly even entered the kitchen except to give the odd instruction. In his mind, and heart, Bhaglu was her replacement. And now, he was gone.
Two days passed, he moped and wallowed around the house, listless, lifeless. Seeing this, and perhaps sensing the real reason behind his strife, Kartik’s mother decided to take matters into her own hands. She returned one afternoon with a batter-mix to make brownies, a particular favourite of her son’s.
Kartik lay sulking in his room, his mother’s plan unbeknownst to him, when he got a waft of the oven being preheated, cake batter being mixed. The familiar aroma of that divine mixture ensconced all his senses, his mind was in a state of flux. He felt compelled to investigate. “who is making brownies, have mum and dad found someone in place of Bhaglu?” There was a hitherto unseen spring in Kartik’s step as he leapfrogged towards the kitchen. And what he saw there made him much more ecstatic than he thought in his wildest – it wasn’t a new cook but his own mother, whom he never expected would cook, hard at work in the kitchen for her darling son. They exchanged a knowing, thankful, teary-eyed glance as Kartik sat right there, frozen, admiring. After all, Bhaglu’s void had been filled by none other than his own mum, what could possibly be better. His plans were back on track. He’d have a fantastic time at home and upon his return to school, would be able to share stories with his mates about whose mum cooked what. He felt at peace but excited all at once. Batter mix ready, it was placed inside the preheated oven and the mother-son duo waited together with baited breath. As the dough rose, so did their spirits. Mother and son, had become one. United in their eternal bond, bound by food!
Kartik said, “just 2 more minutes mum.” His mum began to put on her oven mitts, started to reach for the oven door, and BANG!!! A loud explosion, batter splatter all over, the brownie mix had exploded, as if with it, lighting the onlooking duo’s very lives on fire and burning them to the ground. What went wrong, nobody knew!
Kartik’s mum was inconsolable. She feared the absolute worst. From this debacle, there was no return. She had managed to inadvertently wreck not just the intended brownies, but also her son’s heart in the process. As a fearful Archana was scared to even look towards Kartik, a hand touched her trembling fingers. It was Kartik who said, “mum, I love you, thanks for trying!”