I have a ‘weekend husband’ — he is home only on weekends and travels during the week. So, often my son and I have my parents-in-law over for company. They are really nice people except when it comes to planning food, especially when my husband is not in town.
In a family that takes ‘food preparation’ very seriously, a lot of attention is given to each person’s likes and dislikes. Vegetables are spread on the table every morning. Ma and I then discuss the menu at length, and I usually concede with the decision after offering some suggestions.
“Let us make avial,” I declare excitedly. Avial is a dish prepared by cooking a lot of vegetables in hot coconut sauce and then simmering it along with yoghurt. The chunk of the process lies in the fact that we have to gather, clean and chop the vegetables into fine pieces. But, I should have realised that avial is made with a lot of care and is also a top menu grabber on special occasions.
“But Anand is not in town,” offers Ma. This is her way of saying that we can’t make it because her son will miss the opportunity of enjoying it. To say the least, I am not surprised. “Shall we instead fry bitter gourd and garnish it with spices? It’ll go very well with rice and sambhar,” I suggest. This, I reckon, is not a speciality dish. So I assume Ma should welcome the idea.
There is silence and I am almost sure that I have won this time. “Okay,” Ma says after a long pause, “Is it not Anand’s favourite?” she asks. Of course, it is. “But, can we not make the same dish again during the weekend?” I try to reason. After all, it’s not something that is difficult to make, and more importantly, my senses seem to be melting at the very thought of something spicy and tangy.
“Yes. But we can’t eat the same dish again after two days,” she says, squashing my spirits. I desperately try to think of a dish her son dislikes. It’s not easy for a gastronomical lover to dislike some food. The one dish he hates is fried aubergine, which the others don’t like as well, as if to show their solidarity. I like fried aubergines, but that doesn’t help the cause.
“Shall we make mint chutney?” I plead and I hear the magic word ‘yes’. “I tell you what,” she explains excitedly, “We can make a lot of chutney and put some aside for him in the refrigerator.” Well, it is a great idea, and guess what? It is also one of my dear husband’s favourite. I sit down exhausted, having gone through the most rigorous part of cooking a meal — to choose a menu based on my husband’s dislikes. I then have a brainwave. I decide that eating out would resolve the food problem. Perhaps it could also ease my nerves a bit.
“Shall we go out and eat?” I ask. “Oh! It would be too bad to go to Anand’s favourite restaurant when he is not around,” they say jointly. Just at that moment I can picture my husband having a hearty laugh in a swanky restaurant over a business lunch/dinner, and I fume. I decide to persist. “Let’s go to another restaurant around the corner. It’s a nice place with good food.”
“Sounds good,” she says. And for that minuscule second I rejoice in triumph. “We should go there when Anand is around. It would be a pity to eat great food when he is travelling.” In the end, I reconcile to eating mint chutney with rice and beans curry. I mean, it’s not bad food. It tastes fantastic, but still, it’s not fried bitter gourd.
I patiently wait for the weekend. Ma is busy in the kitchen, making sure that she fills the table with her son’s favourite dishes. It’s great to see a mother show her love through her culinary skills. I mean, the culinary skill could probably be directed elsewhere too. I fume.
In the evening, I ask everyone if we can go to the restaurant round the corner. “Remember I was asking you about it during the week? You said we could go when Anand is around. I think we should go there for dinner tonight. It would be a good break for all of us.”
“Yes,” she says. I know I have cornered her and she has to relent. She can’t say no. “I too think we should go. It’s just that poor Anand eats out the whole week. He really needs some homemade food. It’s just round the corner. We can go there anytime.” She ends the debate. Mothers and mothers-in-law are indeed one of a kind. In the meanwhile, I am thinking, perhaps I should make that aubergine fry. Just maybe