Growing up, life was full of mysteries waiting to be unraveled. The wedding feasts I used to attend represented one such enduring mystery. The dictionary meaning of “feast” had led me to expect a lavish spread of dishes, while actual experience was utterly at odds with that expectation. There were quite a few dishes, but the course that was served first and which overwhelmed everything else was rice and saaru (rasam). Everything else served later was in small quantities. A young boy with a small tummy, a habit of eating slowly and an ill-developed strategic approach would easily get overwhelmed by the feast. He would find, as I did, that the meal he had at the feast was less rich than the what he consumed on an average day.
Let me illustrate this point for my North Indian readers. How would you like it if you were lured to a feast and served copious amounts of dal with rotis, and when you were almost sated, minuscule amounts of paneer butter masala and malai kofta were plonked on your plate? The wedding feasts I attended were like that.
I grew to adulthood without the puzzle being solved. I learnt to cope by consuming less saaru, eating faster and by developing a better appetite. In time, as the cares of the world began to weigh down on me, mysteries that challenged me during my boyhood receded from my consciousness till the debates over Sainath’s and Utsa Patnaik’s assertions that the poor are consuming less food brought back the memories.