Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Girl who loved Food

Sakina was just another seventeen year old college going student. She loved books and beaches and hated sports and thriller movies. Yet she was different from all the other seventeen year olds in the same way every seventeen year old is. We are all similar, because we are all different. She was different because she loved food.

Her love for food went beyond the habitual fulfillment of gastric cravings thrice a day. She dreamt about food, wrote stories on it, became lyrical to the virtues of dessert at night, tried to find a philosophical bent of mind suitable to her rather unusual craving for food. She dreamt of food all day long, when she was eating and when she was not. Even in classes, even while bathing or petting an ugly dirty dog down the road which everyone loves to pet for a reason which evades the Gods, she thought of food.

Dharwad pedas, she’d announce to her friends, are my favourite sweets ever. The feeling you get when you take a bite and the crisp, burnt sugary sweetness fills your mouth and your fingers are coated with sugar which you can’t wait to lick off….that feeling can only be paralleled by reading Zizekian Existentialism. Its cousin, the regular Peda, doesn’t give you that kick, of course. It’s like having jam for your sandwich at morning, when you can’t have Nutella. It’s like reading Artemis Fowl when you cannot read the Lord of the Rings. It’s just way out of Dharwad Peda’s league.

Her best friend could never understand why she should sigh and gesticulate while eating ice-cream. It was vanilla ice-cream, for heaven’s sake. But she could never explain that feeling of bliss she experienced when her overactive taste buds detected something cold…hmm…something sweet…hmm….VANILLA ICE-CREAM - ALERT!! Every spoonful made her so happy, filled her with a je ne sais quoi that it was bound to show. She never did understand how people could eat ice-cream looking grim like it was Physics class, shoving in each spoonful like it tasted like mud. She knew it didn’t. It tasted heavenly!

Thus happy plates of crisp, brown and spicy Gobi Manchurian, paneer butter masala where each white paneer was poetry in itself, pav bhaji flaunting dollops of butter and medu vadas with coconut chutney , so perfect it would make one cry, filled her life. She knew all the restaurants in town, the ones with the best falafels, with heart rending masala dosas and the ones which served delicious delicious pasta, the kind which existed only in fairytales. She lived a blissful life, she certainly wasn’t obscenely thin, but she pulled along. It was a perfect life, she loved food and food loved her unlike most romantic relationships. It was everything she could dream of.

One fine June morning she woke up, not from uneasy dreams or premonitions. Her horoscope for the day showed no sign of potential upheavals in her life. Indeed, it was a normal day, she had to submit an assignment and sit through five hours of Philosophy. Thus she was taken aback, to put it mildly, when she found that she had absolutely no appetite for breakfast.

Let me see now, she tried to reason in her mind, I have no exams coming up. I do not have NSO practice today and I even do not have Physics class. Why then, am I not able to take a single bite of this fluffy white idli decked with sambhar?

No answers came to her mind. She could feel her stomach churning, not with gastric acid, but with dread. Could this be true? She thought. Am I on the brinks of starvation? Am I going to hate food so much, am I suffering from Gastric Writer’s Block? Am I on my way in becoming a size zero model?

The idli and sambhar stared helplessly at her. Do you not love us anymore? Is this how we break up, you and I, after everything that happened between us?

It’s not you, it’s me, she answered. Or maybe it is you which is making me acting thus. Or it is both of us. Or sometimes it is you, and sometimes it is me. Ugh, I don’t know. That is just a convenient line.

But she was rational and logical. After all, didn’t she empty three bowls of carrot payasam last night? Crisp, red, juicy carrots they were, cooked in foaming white milk and seductive cashewnuts. That was normal. This had never happened to her before.
She tried forcing down a piece of idli. She just couldn’t swallow it. It was like her teeth and her jaws and her stomach and her intestines were conspiring against the love of her life. She just couldn’t do it, she drank some water and left.

It was the same during lunch. And today the lunch was brilliant, juicy spinach cooked with tomatoes and bright yellow turmeric stained aloo curry. But she was strangely repulsed by the very sight of it. It was too much for her to take, the very sight of food made her nauseous. She barely ate anything, forcing herself to smile when her friends teased her about going on a diet. She couldn’t concentrate on the general merriness around her, her mind was whirring with thoughts.

Am I working too hard these days? She wondered. Am I too intellectually satisfied to be tempted by something as ordinary as good food? Am I in love? Are my hormones working overtime so as to not let me feel any pangs of hunger? What could possibly be wrong with me?

Atleast, she sighed looking at her stomach. You will be happy with this turn of events, won’t you? This must be like paradise for you, after everything I’ve put you through. And she tried to smile and be happy for her stomach.

But deep down, she was unhappy. She was losing weight, much to the delight of her parents and her stomach seemed to be content too. She no longer dreamt of food during classes, much to the delight of her teachers and she never once raved about Taco Bell opening in her neighborhood. She couldn’t even if she wanted to, it was like something in her was shut tight, lest any emotions spilled out. It was awful, unimaginably awful, way more awful than Basketball practice. It was like she was being punished for something she hadn’t done and she certainly didn’t deserve it.
Is it my karma? She thought. Is it the inexplicable nature of life that all good things must come to an end? Did I steal someone’s dinner once? What did I do, to suffer thus? What? What? She demanded of the world in general and her stomach rumbled in agreement.

She found no answers of course and like every sensible person, tried to take her mind off this horrible predilection. She tried reading Dostoevsky, pretended to be deeply absorbed in politics and espoused Leftism. She tried to involve herself in football matches and pretended to be indignant when Liverpool defeated Arsenal FC. She tried reading overpriced self help books which claimed to help her find her inner energy. In short, she tried everything, but it just didn’t seem to work.

Many years passed, and many things changed. She graduated, she got a job, she drifted from one philosophical bent of mind to another. Yet, deep inside her, as an amateur punner would say, something was eating her up. Pain, regret, confusion and anger, all mixed in a glorious amalgam, ate her intestines. She wasn’t particularly unhealthy, she ate just to keep her alive. But every meal would bring back a barrage of emotions, every spoonful she took reminded her of the time she actually enjoyed that morsel of food. She avoided parties and weddings, ingesting became a strictly functional process for her. She did live a happy life, tinged with many happy events and fond memories. But this void grew in her, refused to leave her alone and constantly reminded her of how beautiful her life was, once.

One evening, she was walking on the streets of Besant Nagar, for the lack of anything better to do. It was a beautiful place, by sunlight, the myriad shops all lit up, shops selling brightly coloured kurtis and pretty bangles which carried an air of self-assuredness. She could see the beach from a distance, the blue sea guarded by a multitude of balloon sellers, hawkers and young couples foolishly in love. She loved this city, this city she now called home, despite its oddness, it was still home to her. It made her very happy, she felt like nothing could possibly go wrong and she lived the perfect life everyone dreamt of.

And then, like it always happens, despair crept slowly and stealthily inside her. It was a beautiful contradiction of feelings, but that’s the way life is. She felt miserable and lonely and all those emotions lifted straight off an American teenage angst book.

To hell with it, she suddenly thought. To hell with my despair and craving for that which cannot be. If I hate food so much, then that’s the way it is and ought to be. Screw my astonishing memory, screw longing and screw this hope for something which isn’t worth it at all. Yes, I loved food with all my heart once, despite impeding dangers of cholesterol. Yes, I have somehow changed overnight. Yes, I am feeling terrible about that. But screw that, because maybe there is something else I could love. Maybe that gigantic void within me has to be filled in with something more satisfying.

And sooner than expected, it was. She developed an almost abnormal liking for Science Fiction films.