Creative Writing – 138
Text taken from ‘The Adivasi will not dance’
Our aunt Panmuni-jhi began to eat regularly in restaurants after moving to Vadodara in 2000. In Bhubaneshwar where she had lived before Vadodara with her husband Biram and sons Hopon and Rabi—she would avoid eating out, fearing infection and stomach upsets. On the days when the family returned late from their village outside Ghatshila to Bhubaneshwar, driving their Maruti Omni on the National Highways 33 and 5, Panmuni-jhi would be too tired to cook. They would then get their dinner packed from one of the roadside restaurants. But so paranoid was Panmuni-jhi about eating restaurant food that her tummy would begin to rumble a warning even before she had put a morsel into her mouth.
Biram-kumang would chide her, ‘You cannot always find food cooked to your standards.’ Biram Soren was a director with the GraminVidyut Nigam, a Central government enterprise which provides electricity to villages. He had been with the company for over twenty years. His job involved regular travel, and he wasn’t very particular about food.
Biram-kumang, a senior officer with Gramin Vidyut Nigam often reproached her for her irrational fear of infection. Biram’s job entailed extensive traveling which had made him indifferent to the source of food.
Panmuni-jhi would say sharply, ‘If I don’t get food cooked to my satisfaction, I will not eat.’
Biram-kumang couldn’t argue with his wife. First, he hated useless arguments. Second, he knew of the high standards which Panmuni-jhi maintained in the kitchen. Apart from cooking the regular dal-bhat and roti-tarkari, Panmuni-jhi would experiment liberally, taking cues from cookery shows and magazines like Vanita and Meri Saheli . She experimented with eggs, milk, semolina and pumpkins; even tomato skins and potato peels. She made idli using only semolina; eggless cakes in a pressure cooker; tomato pickle with a tart, tangy flavour; and numerous items out of rice flour. Rabi was fond of saying, ‘If my mother is given cowdung, she can make pitha out of it.’
Panmuni-jhi had also mastered several ‘fancy’ items available in restaurants and roadside stalls: phuchka, masala dosa, chowmein, chilli chicken and the like. If she came to know that her sons had eaten chilli chicken somewhere, she would make the dish at home and ask them which one was better.
It was little wonder, then, that when Biram-kumang learnt of his transfer to Vadodara at the end of 1999, one of Panmuni-jhi’s immediate concerns was food.
‘What are we going to eat there?’ she wondered aloud.
‘They don’t eat jill-haku in Gujarat, do they?’
Family and friends in Ghatshila were concerned, too. They asked: ‘Where will you live?’ ‘What will you eat?’ ‘Will you be able to manage in such a faraway place?’
Precis [with one third word count]
Panmunni-jhi suffered from a phobia against hotel food. When living in Bhubaneswar with husband Biram, and her two sons, she shunned hotel food fearing infection. Even when dead-tired after a long car ride, she preferred to sleep hungry avoiding hotel food. Later, when in Vadodra, she dropped her hesitation and frequented restaurants.
Bikram avoided arguments with his obstinate, infection-obsessed wife who rigidly stuck to her distaste of hotel food. However, Pannum-jhi was a cooking enthusiast and experimented with recipes with vegetables, eggs, and chicken as ingredients. She could replicate restaurant items like dosa, chowmein etc. She made items such as cakes, and tomato pickle at home. Her sons prided in their mother’s culinary skills.
Pannum-jhi was concerned when Bikram’s transfer order to Vadodra came. She wondered if she could get her choice non-vegetarian foods like jill-haku there. Their families and friends worried too thinking how and where they would survive in the new place. [154 words]