One day, I asked my mother what her favourite dish was.
Nothing, she replied.
“But there must be something. Everyone has a favourite”, I persisted.
“Nothing, you silly child”, she replied. Mummy in her usual no-nonsense way had dismissed an important question about herself.
But her answer just caused more questions to pop up. I thought about what she said over and over again at dinner time. She served fried fish, eggplant curry and rice for dinner. The fish was fried crisp, that you could hear it crack as someone bit into it. Daddy liked his fish crisp. The eggplant was one of my favourite vegetables. And rice was a staple. So what was her favourite part of the meal?
I went to bed that night with the words playing in my head. My dreams were troubled. It must have been early morning 4 a.m. when I finally slept. When I woke up, it was already bright outside. I went downstairs and found my mother as usual in the kitchen.
She placed before me a cup of coffee. Made the way I liked it. Steaming hot. Sweet, thick and frothy on top. Mummy knew everything about my tastes. She knew I could empty an entire bowl of ‘kadala’ dish with my ‘puttu’ for breakfast. She knew her daughter never went anywhere near a bitter gourd and that the last egg puff in the box was always mine. Unwritten rule in the family book.
I knew only one thing about my mother’s preference in food. That she liked her tea cold. But all of a sudden I wasn’t sure if that had been a preference all along. Or was it because she never had the time to sip it when it was hot?
She stood by the stove as I watched, flipping dosas, urging me to eat while the dosa was still warm off the griddle. I had watched her, beside the stove for so many years now – flipping dosas, chapathis or pancakes, frying French toast or stirring curries. Never sitting down with the rest of us.
In all my 28 years, never before did I pause to ask, Mummy what is your favourite dish? Do you like beans? What about beef? Gravy or dry?
She had rearranged her spice preference according to us. Rearranged her appetite according to us. Rearranged her life around ours.
I looked at the spatula in her hand and I pushed my plate back.
“Why don’t you sit down and eat? I’ll make the dosas”, I said.
I knew the answer before she said it. Not now. Not hungry. Dishes in the sink. The potatoes must go into the pressure cooker first. A list of to-do’s before she rests.
She refused to give up the spatula and I am ordered to sit back and ‘enjoy the dosas while they are warm’.
Mummy, today I have a ‘home-sickness’ feeling creeping up on me. Missing you and my kitchen table feasts back home.
And I swear to God, one day I WILL find out that Favourite Dish.