RK Nagar, in his inimitable style of weaves a nostalgic tale of his younger days and his indulgence in food. Why he decided to put a headline for this story as “ The spoiler” only he knows.
It is his story and about him, but as he puts it, he sees “no harm in starting this story with this title for my friend.”
Calling him a spoiler would be a bit too much, but I see no harm in starting this story with this title for my friend.
And the reason is simple. He ‘introduced’ me to non-vegetarianism- not jokes- FOOD!
Yes that is right. Till I met him, I had at best had an occasional egg, mostly boiled while eating out with friends. It is because I come from a strictly vegetarian family. We were not just vegetarian, we were very ‘Satvik’ in the sense that even onions and garlic didn’t make it to my mother’s kitchen.
Of course over time it changed. I vaguely remember that when I was in tenth grade that I first had raw onion with my food at home. It was introduced by my elder brother who was doing his engineering in Gujarat and having raw onion with Gujarati snacks is a must, especially if you have items like ‘fafda’.
I had my first egg when I entered college. I was in pre university and during our practicals of animal husbandry, we had to work on the college poultry farm. Towards the end of the class, we were allowed to buy subsidised eggs from the department sale counter. Since most of us in the class were vegetarian, some of us- more adventurous types, bought an egg, cracked it and gulped the raw egg. So, it was taking nutrition without feeling the taste of the egg. Then came the boiled egg stage at home but it still wasn’t in my mom’s kitchen. I was permitted to boil it in a separate vessel on a stove placed in the farthest corner of the terrace.
But this ritual broke when I came to Anand simply because eggs were not available in the market. I mean they were available but in very limited quantity. The sole seller had perhaps a dozen hens and he got another 50 or so eggs from Baroda- in an earthen matka. His entire stock used to get sold out by 9-10 am. When I asked him why he doesn’t get more eggs from Baroda, his cryptic reply was, ‘that is total demand of Anand. If you want eggs, tell me a day before with advance payment’.
Simply put, if you wanted eggs, you had to go to him the previous evening in good time for him to send a message to his Baroda supplier. It was virtually making a “prayerful request to the hen to lay an egg for you for the next day”. You had to specify the numbers and the time of pick up. If by any chance you were late in picking your order, the eggs were sold away to someone else.
Manibhuvan days at Anand
So, my enthusiasm to eat eggs completely died when I came to Anand. I lost the luxury to have a not so frequent boiled egg too.
And since Gujarati food (as it is there were very limited eating places and they all served similar limited fixed thali) didn’t suit my palate, I wondered how this Spoiler friend of mine from north India had managed to survive. He came from a family of hard core non vegetarians who loved their ‘Khade masale wala meat’. And in Anand where one could barely get eggs, for him eating good meat was a distant dream.
When I moved to share accommodation with him in ‘Manibhuvan’ , one Sunday morning he set on the parapet wall of our balcony in a pose similar to one that village folks take when they go out in darkness for morning adulation. He was unusually quiet, almost pensive. I asked him if he was ok.
“Yes, I am”, he replied. “But then why are you so quiet”, I asked.
“I feel like eating meat”, he said.
“So, what is the problem? You have been in Anand for sometime and you must be knowing a place where you can get meat. Let us go there and you can have your fill”, I responded.
“No, I want ‘khade masale wala’ meat, the type that my mother cooks”. “You don’t get it in restaurants”.
I had only heard of meat and I didn’t know what it meant. For me meat was meat- khada masala or baitha masala or for that matter soyahua masala- was all same to me. I couldn’t help him. So, I asked, “then what do you want to do”?
“I want to cook but I can’t do it in our kitchen as YOU are a vegetarian” was his reply.
“I have no issues with your cooking whatever you want to eat in this kitchen. It is our kitchen and you are free to cook meat. I have friends who are non vegetarians and I have shared table with them on college tours. You don’t have to deprive yourself just because I am a vegetarian”. I cleared.
He was very happy at my reply. He immediately changed into a spotless white pajama-kurta and left on foot for market to procure meat and ‘khade masale’ for his “meal of the year”.
He returned after about an hour and a half in a horse carriage. The way he alighted was a scene to witness, he was smiling from ear to ear, looked very happy almost triumphant.
He kept his purchases on the kitchen platform. There was a bigger pack with about 250 grams of meat and about a dozen small ‘pudias’ containing all the ‘khada masalas’. Again changed, asked me to sit in the balcony and got down to business. It took him nearly two hours to make the long awaited dish with his mother’s recipe.
Since our cook Raoji had cooked our usual vegetarian food while my friend was away in the market, I waited for my friend to finish his cooking so that we could have our lunch together.
Finally he emerged from the kitchen and declared, ‘I have done it, it smells exactly as what my mother’s recipe’ and added, ‘Nagar, you eat first’.
“Why”? I asked. “Because being a vegetarian, if you see me eating meat, you may throw up. I Don’t want to spoil your lunch”.
“Look dear, if I had to eat alone, I would have done it while you were away in the market. I waited for you so that we eat together. Now let us sit and eat. It is Sunday lunch and we must enjoy it- I my veggies and you, your meat”.
As we set down, he waited. He didn’t start while I had finished half a chapati. So, I asked him, “why aren’t you eating? Anything wrong”.
“No, would you like to taste the curry- just a tea spoon, just in case and that will reassure me that I have not spoiled your lunch”.
I agreed, tasted a tea spoonful of curry followed by a small piece of meat- the size of a peanut.
The ‘Spoiler’ had played the trick. Smart cookie. I remained spoiled for the next 30 years.
Wouldn’t you want to know the name of this spoiler? The fellow who made me recall this story- Shailendra Kumar.