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     Volume 4 Issue 23 | December 3, 2004 |

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Slice of Life

This Thing About Food!

Richa Jha

The only time I feel reassured that my son is my child too, not just his father's, is when I see him at his mealtimes; he is a small eater and poor eater, and he eats just enough to be able to hop on to his bicycle, skip three steps at a time, and jump from a rotating swivel chair. When I look at him eat, I see in him an image of myself; I eat to survive and so does he. It goes without saying that The Hubby is the other extreme. As is every one else in his side of the family.

During these Eid vacations, we went visiting my in-laws. From the moment we landed in the city (and even as we were driving home), I could sense disapproving glances from the MIL. I could not understand why she was looking at me so distastefully. My mind spun around searching the universe for all possible reasons: a dirty or chipped toe nail, unkempt hair, creased skirt, mildly faded top, unpolished leather hand bag, or a missing strand of hair from the eyebrow. But it was highly unlikely that it could be any of these this time. Punctilious and fastidious as the matron is, and following years of trial-and-error, I have learnt it the hard way that getting and staying in her good books is more difficult than delivering triplets seconds after one another. These days I don't leave anything to chance and carelessness. So if an acquaintance were to bump into me there, he would certainly do a double take on me.

"What have you done to my son, and now grandson too?" was that a hiss that sounded like a growl? But at least it wasn't anything about me in particular.

"Why ma? Nothing. They look fine to me. In fact, they have learnt to smile a lot more than they used to during our previous visits. Look," and turning to my son I said, "smile beta, smile. Show granny how well you've learnt to smile…"

But my son refused to oblige. The MIL wasn't amused. She usually isn't, so that was nothing new. But my son, my blood, what was wrong with him? Was it the all-pervading sternness that was making him forget his lessons in bonding?

Common son, do it, don't you let me down- the holiday hasn't even begun, I thought as I looked at him with urging eyes. But he calmly turned the other way and seemed distracted with the red-man, green-man at the traffic signal. So, yet another of the family traits was starting to show in him. Would he ever be my child?

"Why are you forcing him to do what he doesn't want to? You modern day mothers will never learn, always pushing children to do the impossible…", the MIL interrupted.
Smiling, the impossible? Yeah, I can imagine, I mused, both amused and horrified at the same time!

"I am talking about their weights," she finally broke her veil of secrecy. Uhh ho! Did this have to come up so early on in the vacation?

"Yeah ma, I agree" I added hastily, trying to talk of possible reasons where no reason would be entertained. But there was no harm in trying. "Your son has put on several extra kilos, what with travelling and continuous eating out, and then the socialising in Dhaka. You know how it is when there are friends all around…". I wanted to say more, but was cut short.

"My son has lost a lot of weight, young lady, and that is what is worrying me. So has this little one. And you look anorexic as always. Have you all been crash dieting?"

Food! Of course. It had to be food. The MIL has always had reservations about my outlook towards food, and there is no way she entertains any difference of opinion on their raison d'etre. And, frankly, there was little I could have said to counter that. Here I was cribbing about the fact that her son was out of shape, and there she saw only skin and bones on him! Is it that difficult for two women to agree on any given matter?

Once home, she said she was taking charge of the two "boys'" meals. Her experience has taught her that precious little can be done with mine. It's not that she's not tried. On my first few visits to her place, she tried to feed me cheese where my system was used to surviving on chalk. Naturally, with disastrous results, both for my system and for the way my hunger neurons reacted at the very mention of the words 'good food'! Those initial attempts having failed, she is now quite circumspect at suggesting anything out of the ordinary for me. Now, as she says, she has given up on me. Amen.

That said, cut to these vacations where I had the most relaxing time I've had in a long time. Her having taken charge of my husband's and my son's most elementary need for survival, I really had little else to poke my nose into. So the FIL and this DIL put our feet up reading novels, listening to music, and discussing world politics!

But that's not what I set out to write about today. It was about how my son finally proved to the world for me that he has traces of me in him. The MIL's experiments with this little one turned out to bear similar results as they had with me several years ago. So while his father was happy gorging (and with such an indulgent mother ever so ready to stuff him with a little more, he must have been on the straight road to Bliss) on sin-laden sandwich pastes, soufflés, risottos, crepes, mishtis, and preparations that looked more like decorations on the massive three-tier wedding cake, my son flatly refused to put a morsel into his mouth. He asked for basic (and reasonably healthy, as healthy as a three year would ask for) food and stuck to it.

Vindication of a mother's view? Who knows? All I know is that we were two mothers there, feeling ecstatic watching our sons grow up the way we wanted them to. Nothing else matters, believe me!


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