Love is one of the purest forms of human emotions. There are different ways of expressing love; however, the most creative is through food. So many beautiful memories are created over food. The art of making food as per someone’s taste requires not only skills but also time and patience.
In India, mealtime is family time. It begins with the ritual of praying to the almighty, where we thank him for providing the food on the table. In most households, preparing the meal for the family falls on the mothers or the grandmothers. They take a keen interest in deciding on a menu that is healthy and prepared as per everyone’s taste. Here, I must mention my grandmother, who was an excellent cook. She was a living example of someone whose only love language was making food for others.
My earliest memory of her was when I was hardly five years of age. I remember her making my favorite sweet dish and feeding me with utmost love and care. She was the one person in our family who knew everyone's likes and preferences regarding food. I remember her spending a significant part of her time in the kitchen preparing different types of dishes for us. Festivals were more remarkable as she would make unique dishes related to that particular occasion. She had an innate love for feeding people, and whoever visited our home could never leave without being fed by her. I still don't understand how she did it. For me, cooking is a means to satiate my body's needs and others who depend on me. I must admit that I haven't inherited much of her skills. With a fast-paced life and work deadlines, I don’t have much time or the energy to cook extensively. Occasionally I indulge in experimenting with new dishes for the sake of my son, who is fond of food. However, there are days when I don't feel like cooking, and I order food from outside.
However, with my grandmother, it was an entirely different story. She could slog in the kitchen without getting tired. In my country, we have a phrase called "Athithi Devo Bhava," which means guest is like God, and my grandmother lived by that line. She would welcome guests with a smiling face any time of the day. Here I must mention an incident that occurred when I was around nine or ten. My grandmother's sister-in-law visited us with her family. They had brought along their maidservant, who sat separately far away from us. That girl was not more than sixteen years old. Once my grandmother finished serving the guests, she called that girl to the kitchen and made her sit on a mat. There she served her all the delicacies she had prepared for the visitors. That girl was taken aback and was hesitant to touch the plate. Evidently, she wasn't used to such a kind of treatment. Nevertheless, my grandmother sat with her and fed her like any guest. Later that evening, when I asked her why she gave such special treatment to a servant, her reply amused me. She said that whether someone is rich or poor should not determine how we treat them. Neither should we discriminate against someone based on their profession, skin color, religion, etc. Anyone visiting her home is a guest, even if that person is a servant. Needless to say, my grandmother had a heart of gold, and she spoke only one language, which was love.
My grandmother expressed her love towards anyone through the food she made. She created culinary delights with whatever ingredients she had at home. However, sometimes she would be very selective about the items when we would expect guests. If some dish required something special, she wouldn't compromise on it. I have often seen my grandfather visiting the market two or three times because he had forgotten a particular ingredient, and my grandmother wouldn't go for anything less. Once a hilarious incident occurred. I was then in the fifth standard and had just returned from school. I found my grandmother in a very grumpy mood. On enquiring, I learned that my grandfather had forgotten to get “Kewra Essence,” an essential ingredient for making Biryani. For those who don’t know, Biryani is a type of flavored rice made with meat or vegetables. It so happened that my grandmother was expecting her brother’s family that evening. She had repeatedly reminded my grandfather to get that ingredient, but he forgot. When he went back to the shop again, it was closed. To my grandfather's bad luck, it didn’t open in the evening, and the other shops did not have what he was looking for. “Beg or steal, I don’t care, but I want kewra essence,” my grandmother gave him an ultimatum. My poor grandfather had no choice but to locate the shop owner’s home and request him to open his shop and give him that unique substance he had been searching for desperately. This incident resulted in one good thing. My grandfather started being more attentive to my grandmother’s shopping lists.
My grandmother hailed from a town called Rajshahi, now a part of Bangladesh. At that time, it was called East Bengal and was a part of India. This was much before India got its independence from British rule. Those days girls were married off very young. My grandmother was hardly seventeen when my grandfather visited her for the first time. It is believed that my grandfather's family had traveled all the way from Calcutta, which is in West Bengal, India, to Rajshahi to ask for her hand in marriage.
My grandmother's father was a renowned barrister of Rajshahi. He had much wealth at his disposal and ensured that his family's needs were always taken care of. Since he was fond of food, he was keen that all his five daughters learned the art of cooking from a very young age. So despite having cooks, he would encourage them to prepare a meal for the entire family from time to time. My grandmother picked up this art very well. While growing up, I heard from my grandfather that when he visited her place with his family for the first time, it was my grandmother who had prepared the lunch for the guests. Needless to say, my grandfather was bowled over by her culinary skills and didn't take much time to give his consent for the marriage.
It's at times difficult to imagine someone so dedicated to her art. Even at the age of eighty, her frail aging body and ailments didn't stop her from cooking some dishes for the family. On days when she felt weak, she would just sit near the kitchen and instruct my mother or aunt on some recipes. She had to participate in some way or the other.
My grandmother is no longer, but she resides in my heart amongst all the beautiful childhood memories. She was a wonderful human being, kind and generous. She loved and served her children and grandchildren till her last breath. I feel I’m lucky and privileged to have known her in this lifetime.