Amma is quite the social beetle. Her students love her. Local cats come to visit her with their kittens or cronies when she returns home after long trips. Random babies at railway stations leap at her with their outstretched flabby baby arms. The other day we found an extra Parippu Vada in a takeaway parcel from the hospital canteen. I believe that the Vada was a token of love from the canteen staff whom Amma had won over on the night we both barged in there after working hours, begging for dinner. Hospital meals sometimes taste surprisingly good. Maybe because when you’re the bystander, they come as a relief after long hours of running around. Or if you’re the patient, you must be getting better and finally ready to graduate from Kanji to Appom and Motta Curry.
Most of you must have a favourite meal, right? A simple lunch from a one room dhabha in the middle of nowhere because you’ve been made to pull over from the highway to make way for MK Stalin’s convoy. An unexpected kind invitation for lunch and the world’s best buttermilk when you’re taking a break from your field research, feeling dehydrated and don’t have the energy to drag yourself to the shop at the village square for a glass of chilled fruit beer. A special candlelit dinner with your cat that is the least interested in you or the mashup cake you made for it with your favourite pastries and brownies. Yes, the cat is a metaphor. I don’t think you should let your real cat binge on brownies. Most of these are fictitious situations (No, they are not. I’m just kidding. They are. No.). My favourite meal is somehow a hospital meal.
Once a geology professor friend of Achan got all of us excited and we went on a fossil hunting trip to Ariyellur, near Trichy. The place used to be under the ocean thousands of years ago and you can see fossils- sea shells and bones of sea creatures scattered here and there and embedded in stones and rocks though the ocean is miles away now. We did not see huge fossils but these bits and pieces of pre-history were exciting enough. Anyway coming to the crucial point. I got a shoebite from my boots. When I was waiting at the railway station to catch the train home, a stray puppy skipped across happily chasing a cockroach and licked my injured foot on the way. My parents freaked out and decided to take me for anti rabies shots on returning to Trivandrum.
At the hospital the docs gave me a test dose of antibodies. Two minutes later I exclaimed, ‘Oooh rashes!’ and passed out. I think I woke up two hours later with IV drips attached to my hand. And there in front of me was Achan, with a plate of dosas and hot piping chicken curry from the hospital canteen. It tasted like a new lease of life. I don’t remember much from afterwards. I think I was dragged across the parking lot to the car. But never before or since has food tasted so good and purposeful.