S Thatha enjoyed a hearty meal, really enjoyed. After a good meal, you would usually hear him say bhesh bhesh, a complete affirmation of how much he enjoyed the meal. This almost absent minded bhesh bhesh, immediately bought smiles to the person cooking the meal.
As much as he enjoyed his food, he was also fastidious about certain ways of eating. Ways of eating. Did I just say that? Well, it was ways. I never saw him eating mor kozhumbu without a generous helping of coconut oil. Breaking that combination was blasphemy for him. If it was mendhiya kozhumbu, it had to be gingelly oil. Tch tch, he smirked when we substituted the lesser refined oils in cooking. Andha taste varuma!!! Taste dominated cooking and combinations were never to be broken.
So, when he passed through the phase when his heart stopped listening to his taste buds and demanded more refrain, he was most disappointed. Those were days of strained and thin vegetables soups, wheat (aghh, how can rice be substituted), fruits and refined oil dominating his plate. Initial days, he was a party to refrain, accepting what was offered graciously. But then he couldn't survive this abstinence for a long time. After few check ups when the doctor said everything seemed normal, his mind went back to the old ways of eating. One of those days, when we were lazing around, he whisked us to Adyar grand sweets. He said he wanted to buy something for his friend. But we realized that friend was non existent and with his kids not around and grandkids coerced to silence with huge samosas of the eatery, it was his field day. With the looming medical reports thrown to loft and the afternoon soon sinking into evening, we sat in the kitchen, with packets of murukku and other oily assortments. He asked one of us to get a glass (tumbler in his language) of water. Soon, we saw him dipping pieces of muruku in water and saw the oil float away from them. There, he said, now I can eat the murukku. It does not have any oil. See the oil just floated away. After a long time, we saw him smiling and grinning at his new discovery. But this escapade was not to last long. One of teeny weeny, so elated with the grand discovery, leaked the secret outings to his freaked out kids. A mutual agreement of not to oily food and small drops of ghee in piping hot rice was agreed.
But his kids could not stop him from his social outings. Marriage invitations would usually come from his old friends and no one could question his reunion pleasures. I was once taken along for his friend's son's wedding. The marriage hall was huge and the dinning room even bigger. After the customary greetings, he whisked me immediately to the dinning room. Did I see him smelling and taking in the aromas. Well, it might just be my imagination. He sat there, luxuriously surrounded by the aromas, sounds of something he enjoyed the most, eating. He was giving me tips on eating, the combinations.Words such as calories never existed then, and I found myself eating mouthfuls of right combination of food. When we were satiated, he went to give moy (present give in the form of money) in the same invitation cover. I felt it was slightly more valuable than the previous wedding we went together. On the way back home, in between his bhesh bhesh and auto jerks, he said moy we should give after eating. Depending on how much we enjoy and how much we eat. And here I thought moy was giving as a display of affection for the bride and groom. But, thatha had his own ways for enjoying and acknowledging his bhesh bhesh meals. Amen to that...