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Sunday Editorial:Gluttony and the good life: the pornography of food!

By Ratnakar Tripathy

 

All roads lead to the mouth!

All roads lead to the mouth!

Yes, I use the word pornography deliberately, since with numerous columns, TV channels, cooking shows and contests, the one single message is – drool and slurrrrp. Real pitilessly grrrreeedy drool that flows down the shirtfront, as shamelessly as you don’t care! The idea is to make you fall for brilliantly photographed images of parathas, kebabs, pasta, quiches and breads. Photos of the bread seem so real you want to run your fingers over the crumbs to feel the wholesome roughness. Pictures of purees make you want to puncture the steam-filled roundness, wrapping within its embrace, dollops of spicy kheema and glop and burp. You can feel the contact between the divine mouthfuls and the palate and the tongue and the outcome – non-stop orgasm, your taste buds leaping inside the mouth like ping pong balls with ecstasy.

Are we talking chicken leg or Angelina Jolie leg?

Yes, I am talking of a typical restaurant guide and the exclamations used by food columnists – ‘yummilicious’, ‘finger-lickingly scrumptious’,  and so on and so forth in a vocabulary of epithets trying to catch up with the deep satisfactions and excitements produced by, well, food! I rarely see anyone use the word good for food. It perhaps sounds more like ‘interesting’ in its Brit sense in the foodie world!

To give my whine a context, as I grew up, the meaning of the word ‘gluttony’ changed at a rapid rate. I remember a family wedding in the 1970s when one of the ‘baratees’[participants] ate so much, he had to be carried to the nearby town and hospitalized. A fog of gloom hung through the wedding ceremony till the doctor declared it to be a case of simple gas! The bony guest, a 5 foot 4 inch runt had apparently eaten close to 70 gulab jamuns and survived the pleasure after a near death experience.

I even heard of this legend the veracity of which I am not sure about – a Brahmin priest who gobbled up 5 kilos of mutton and was made to sit in the village pond for 12 hours to come out alive from this soul-fulfilling ordeal. Legends apart, throw a feast in my village today, and you will find people consuming incredible mounds of rice and purees, all of which will remind you of times when starvation was still a real possibility. So you ate like a python for as long a time to come, as possible. You didn’t waste time chewing, you just put the frog securely inside your alimentary canal and sat flickering your wary tongue at the likely snatcher of your food.

There is a theory of human evolution that claims that the cooking of food enabled us to save on the length of the intestines and the endless energy that goes into digestion. Just mull over the life of the goat next door – it spends half the day grazing and the rest in ruminating, essentially bringing the swallowed food back to the mouth to process it into digested food, before shooting out the little pellets from the other end like a popow-gun. What an idea of a good life!

The balance energy it seems went into our brains. The balance I think went to our taste buds instead, the greedy sense of smell, and sharp eyes always looking out for a good biryani deal. Aren’t our ‘Khau lanes’ a bit like the red light districts of the olden times? Obscene displays of dangling chicken exposed to the soot from the traffic and fish-eyes staring at you from islands in the midst of enormous kadhais! Spinach cruelly pounded into the gravy and turdy cauliflower bobbing above the muck of spicy curry!

Of course I am biased in the favour of home food. Of course I get bored with food cooked at my own home. Which is why I wait for a neighbor or a friend or a relative to invite me. The subtle and the not so subtle shift of taste leave my taste buds un-raped, opening up subtleties not encountered before.

And when I am truly desperate I run to a chaat-stall and try some fire-eating. It brings back normalcy, enabling me to enjoy a sedate meal at home.

And don’t you dare lure me with 5 star stuff and the master chef tales – how many of them, their spouses, children, parents or neighbours eat the master stuff outcomes at all?

No candlelight, city neon is fine. No orchids, the grime on the stall top would do. I’d any day have a chhole kulchha at a Delhi roadside near ITO or a vada pav on the Fergusson College Road in Pune, than be led up the garden path for a lifetime’s experience.

Too often have I been left nibbling disgustedly at the experiences of a lifetime! Dreams of biting into a fresh golden apple from Shimla or a Lychee from Muzaffarpur helped me contain my gum-grinding and tooth-grinding rage at the plush unfairness of life!

What is the moral then if any?

Learn to cook, for others mainly but yourself too. Cooking to sell is okay. Cooking to please is better.

But cooking to make your spouse, child, parent, brothers and friends happy is culture, one of the serious contenders for being the right antonym for pornography.

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