I had been suffering from a temporary bout of writer’s block. For the past few weeks, I had been toying around with various ideas – I even started writing one on the biggest (in scale and production values) and highest grossing (1000 crores and counting!!!) Indian movie, but there has been so many reams written on this one already that anything I write would pale in comparison. A few topical political issues traipsed into my mind, but slinked away quietly. I have decided to religiously (pun intended) avoid any write-up involving politics, since it invariably gets me branded by pseudo liberals as a “bhakt” – even when presented with sound logic and verified facts. Then a recently hosted get-together for my wife’s side of the family, planted a seed of an idea into my mind, which I nurtured into this.
I am married into a Gujarati family (and extremely happy about it), which at most times is delightful, but at others is certifiably quaint! As per Indian traditions one does not marry an individual but an entire family, which is true in my case too. Fortunately, I am always treated like royalty (make no mistake, Gujarati’s always treat their sons-in-law as royalty), and this accounts for my perennially happy state of mind. Gujaratis, and most definitely my wife’s side of the family, love food – irrespective of whether they are eating or feeding, they just love food! There has never been an occasion wherein I visited a relative’s house and have not been treated to epicurean delights – the starters are always delectable and the main course is always an opulent spread. What we ordinary mortals call dessert is something that runs throughout the course of a meal for Gujaratis – sweets can be consumed as starters, main course… and off course! Have you ever travelled with a Gujarati family? Believe me, neither the mode of transport nor location matters – they carry enough food for themselves, co-passengers, attendants, drivers, pilots, for the denizens of the place they are travelling to… and some more. Gujaratis somehow seem to travel with this perpetual fear of a provender apocalypse. You can rest assured that if a Gujarati family is travelling, the bag with victuals will far outweigh other baggage. A Gujarati family will remain relatively calm if an airline misplaces their luggage, but will definitely go ballistic if their bag of comestibles is misplaced! So if you are in the company of a Gujarati, please ensure that you do not make deprecating remarks against food.
The other thing that propels my wife’s side of the family out of stupor is Hindi movies. The family’s WhatsApp group is usually dormant… until there is some discussion on movies (or food). Any mention of movies (or food) and the group goes into an unprecedented hyper-active mode, with debates, arguments, recipes and movie dialogues going viral in the group. My grandfather-in-law, his siblings, and most of his progeny were closely involved in the Hindi movie industry. From the current generation, my wife’s niece works in a well-known actor-producer-director’s company, while another relative is an actress (she starred as one of the main leads in a highly celebrated on-going American TV series). A celebrated South Indian movie actor-director-producer and his actress wife, are very close family friends of ours. When we attended a popular Hindi play recently, the director who has also directed movies, instantly recognized my wife (he had last seen her over two decades back). He fondly recollected the delectable dinner parties hosted by my in-laws on their building terrace which he used to attend. In toto, it is like movies are part of their bloodstream – in fact, there was an uncle who used to joke that if you cut the veins of any family member of the late Vasantrai Desai, you would get film reels spurting out instead of blood! Any family pow-wow becomes a virtual hotspot for exchanging movie trivia and salacious gossip about the movie industry (culinary recipes too!).
In general, this is a community that likes to distribute happiness… and if there are some confectionaries to go with it, the better. I have rarely seen a Gujarati who looks dejected (except maybe losers in the stock market). Their immaculate hospitality skills apart (you will never step out hungry from a Gujarati household), their happy-go-lucky attitude towards life, and extravagance in everything that they do, this is a community that works hard through the week (they also happen to be one of the richest communities in India), only to party harder during the weekends. I am lucky that I am now an honorary member of this culturally rich and gastronomically diverse community.
Over the past thirteen years that I have been married, I have realized that my wife’s family is simply expressing their irrefutable love and affection for me through food. And this has actually humbled me to such an extent that I simply gorge on this food – something that has got metamorphosed as the unchecked growth of my erstwhile waif-like waistline!