One of my fondest memories of my final year of graduation is the lunch breaks! I loved them so much! There were six of us (myself included) who’d bring packed lunches from home. The minute the buzzer went, we’d stuff our notebooks and stationery carelessly into our bags, pull out our lunch boxes and wait till everyone had left the classroom. Then we’d choose one of the desks by the windows and arrange our lunchboxes on the table, buffet style!
Five of us came from Maharashtra. Though our cuisine was the same, each one’s subji and chapattis tasted different, courtesy – the variations in the quantity and the choice of spices and condiments! The sixth member of our ‘lunch group’ hailed from MP. Her cuisine differed from ours and hence offered even more variety! Her rotis, I remember, used to be thicker than our chapattis. She’d also bring more subji than us.
Every day, without fail, she’d exclaim, “Yaar, tum log itni patli chapattiyan kaise kha sakte ho? Aur itni kam subji kha kar apka pet bharta hai?!” (How can you guys eat such thin chapattis? And do your stomachs really get filled on eating such less quantities of subji?!).
Despite our daily assurances that we were indeed eating sufficiently, she’d make us eat large portions of her own lunch.
“Aap sab ke liye hi toh jyada khaana laya hai maine! Chalo, kha lo jaldi se!” (I’ve brought more food just for all of you! Come on, eat it quickly!).
One of my friends would bring chhole atleast once a week. We all loved it so much! On those days, her lunch box would be the star attraction of the ‘buffet’! We’d devour it in next to no time. She’d also bring aubergine subji every now and then. I really detest aubergines so I’d partake of just a bite or two. The others praised it a great deal though! Another friend used to bring various types of chutneys and pickles which would make a very delicious side dish. Yet another friend would often bring dosas and idlis with sambar and typical South Indian dishes. And then there was the friend who’d bring traditional Marathi items like jhunka-bhakri and pithla. My lunch mostly used to comprise of parathas and chutney or preparations of sprouted vegetables or khichdi or pulao. So, many a times, we’d have a proper three-course meal from the mélange!
After about five to ten minutes of silence in which we’d ravenously eat (the tedious and boring schedule would make us very hungry after all!), the conversation would proceed thus:
“Bhaji chaan zaliye ga!” (The subji is really delicious!)
“Thank you! Thank you”
“Fukat swatahala credit nako gheus kalla na! Hi compliment kakun sathi hoti!” (Don’t you dare take the credit for this! This compliment was for Aunty!)
“Ho mahitiye mala!” (I know that, of course!)
Then there’d be a detailed analysis of exactly what ingredients went into each of the items and how those items are cooked. Sometimes we’d have to translate the names of these ingredients from Marathi to Hindi and/or vice versa for each others’ benefit. This was a bit of a humorous experience because we’d make many errors during these translations. The thing is, no matter how well you know any language there always are those words specific to a particular dialect of that language that you’re totally unaware of. So our general knowledge would often increase to a great extent due to these exchanges! The topic would then move on to cooking in general. There would be lengthy conversations about how this cuisine differed to that one and how this food item was much more preferable to some other. There would be discussions on which restaurant offered which delicacy, which place gave really good stuff well worth the bucks spent, which hotels or cafes we simply must pay a visit to (“Tu jaach tithe ekda! Tula nakki avdel!” i.e. “You definitely ought to go there once! You’ll love it!”). On some rare occasions, there would be invitations to pay a visit to each others’ homes to sample each others’ cooking! (“Don’t worry! Me ha padartha changla banavte! Ajari padnar nahis majhya haatcha khallyavar!” i.e. “I really do prepare this item well! You won’t fall ill after tasting my cooking, trust me!”)
Those forty-five minutes were the best part of the day for me! There we were, six girls linked together by an unusual bond; that of having lunch together as though we were a family, not bothering about whose chapatti, whose subji, whose chutney and whose pulao we were eating! All of us came from different backgrounds, slightly different cultures; we had our own tastes, our own preferences! None of that mattered at that time. Often we’d eat those food items that another had brought which we’d normally not eat at home, simply because the other group members would coax us to have at least one bite! I actually developed a taste for many different vegetables due to my friends and I guess, so did they!
Each of us has gone our own way now. We phone each other, message each other and remember each other whenever we come across any of each others’ specialities! I really miss them and those lunch breaks! It wasn’t just the food we were tasting, after all; it was the sweet taste of the friendship that had developed and strengthened during these lunchtimes that we were savouring!
In response to: