Sunday evenings are typically reserved for visits to the in-laws place. My entry is treated like that of a king entering his mansion. As soon as I come in, I suddenly experience a never-before felt cool breeze in the peak summer of Chennai, courtesy a couple of ACs which get switched on when I set foot out of my own house!
Soon after arrival, the madam goes into the kitchen to talk to her mom while I start a conversation with dad-in-law on various topics including but not limited to health, wealth, career etc. Discussions typically veer towards what is going on currently on the TV channel that is presently being watched.
After sometime, tiny sounds (generally heard as “kada-muda”) from my stomach act as alarm bells to the in-laws. These are sounds of the type that are heard from the stomach of a person implicitly starving for a long time in anticipation of a feast; sounds that happen after the feast are reserved for later. A cup filled with three gulab jamuns comes flying at me like a tracer-bullet (word copyright expert commentator Mr. Ravi Shastri)
Thoughts of the word “diet” that had so eagerly arrived on my mind a couple of days back slowly start dissolving in the sugar syrup that surrounds the three large-sized gulab jamuns. Any word of refusal immediately raises eyebrows and low decibel conversations between mom-in-law and my madam asking whether hubby has developed sugar trouble. To ward off any such thoughts, the jamuns are gulped down the throat at the pace they came at. Here, some amount of caution needs to be exercised. If the speed of gulping down is too fast, more jamuns fill up the cup in no time. If it is too slow, frequent voices from inside the kitchen to finish off the sweet-dish interrupt your TV viewing.
Once the sweet dish is over and done with, the TV viewing typically continues for around 3.5 to 4 minutes (basically for the next set of items to get heated inside the kitchen). Then, there is a call for dinner. As I slowly tread towards the dining room, a large table awaits me and the madam. In the center of the table are three dishes that stare at me gleefully with ‘high cholesterol’ written all over them – urulai (potato) roast, fried pappads, and vethakozhambu (tough to explain – in short, a south Indian spicier dish similar to sambhar)
Nice shiny stainless-steel plates, resembling those carrying unlimited extra-jumbo meals in Saravana Bhavan, are placed in front of me. An additional sweet-dish (typically rava kesari or halwa) is served in line with the “start-with-a-sweet-dish” sentiment. Then lands a big mass of white rice: measures such as removing the plate away and use of force to hold up extra servings of rice are outright rejected. Typically, half the plate is filled with rice before you can realize what is happening. The other half is reserved for the aforementioned side-dishes.
A spoon with an extra large capacity to hold the dripping nei (ghee) gently passes over my plate. Within half a second, the white mass of rice is nicely soaked in the same ghee. Then land litres of vetha-kozhambu, and tons of urulai roast and fried pappads.
My History class in school would have ended sooner than the rice in my plate. Mammoth efforts to eat the food seem to all go to waste as I witness a never-ending supply of items in my plate. Desperate measures such as loosening my pant-belt and talking while eating (to let the ingested food digest) seem to just be desperate gimmicks without any success.
When finally I do manage to just about finish the rice on my plate, more rice, first with rasam and then with the customary curd / butter-milk (thayir-saadam) follow in equal quantities with even more side-dishes that literally seem to pop out of hidden corners in the kitchen. My concealing tactics are greatly tested here as I try hiding unfinished portions of the food under half-eaten pappads and potato chips. In parallel, I am constantly reminded of the weight I have lost over the last few weeks (the weighing machine always has a different opinion here) and how I should eat a lot more.
Eventually, after what seems like a patient Dravid inning, it is time to get up and wash my hands. It is not a good practice to meander on at the eating spot without washing one’s hands. But when the food is fully present uptil your throat and your pant belt is not the way it is supposed to be, you really do not have a choice. The 3 meter distance to the wash basin seems like that last mile for the completely exhausted marathon runner.
As I put in that last ditch effort to get up, there lands a plate of freshly sliced banganapalli mangoes. At this point, I cannot even open my mouth to talk, leave alone voice any denial. As the smooth and silky mango slices slowly but surely find their way through the food maze into my stomach, I more or less start thinking on when I am going to regain my capacity to talk and walk!
After the finger-bowl style washing process, I manage to get up, go and sit in front of the TV. As I try to muster up a smile and a nod of the head in response to every question, one can hear appreciation on how the son-in-law is such a nice silent guy. I very silently thank the food that is sitting right till my throat for the gentle remark.
According to our traditional Tamil culture, a glass of milk is essential to round off the day* (see footnote for explanation). At this point, you have totally lost all control of what gets into your system. The milk manages to find its way through the mouth of a half-conscious me. I have already started thinking on whether I would fit into my car door on the way back home and whether the car will be able to take the extra load. After the customary good night and the promise to come same time next week for an even better dinner with more items (like they do usually for next-week show announcements on TV), I walk in a trance towards my car, guided by the madam.
As soon as I get into the car with the madam, thoughts about the impending diet for the coming week to compensate for this food start afresh in my mind…
* - No references of any kind whatsoever exist