I don’t like rice.
Yeah, I know – sacrilege! Bring out the pitchforks! As a South Indian I should be consuming it by the handful, disguised as dosa and puttu for breakfast, drowned in curd and sambar for lunch, and soup-style kanji for dinner. It is the holy food of our sainted ancestors. It is the green in our wallet and the brown in our toilet.
Thing is, I think it sucks. I don’t mind it so much when it’s pounded into another form – although! Yo, puttu! Why must you settle in my stomach like lead? Really tasty, sawdusty, good-for-bowel-movement-I’m-sure lead – but rice on its own tastes kind of cold and sour. Maybe it’s psychological but that’s always how it hits my taste buds. Bleh, I say.
This means I’m that fifth-columnist of Onam, the Benedict Arnold of the Cauvery, the traitor of Madurai, the Brutus of Kuchipudi that the true believers have always warned against. Whatever. You’re still not making me eat that stuff.
Unless I’m offered some, that is. What? I’m not going to march into someone’s house and sniff at their food. If they cooked rice and want me to eat it, I’ll bloody well eat it. If I can drink lassi to be polite (it came at the end of a very nice Jain meal and took me within two. seconds. of projectile vomiting. And there was an end to my dairy-related nobility for all time), I can choke down some rice.
It’s not that bad. Just, you know, not my favorite thing. It’s like fish – kittens of the sea have nothing to fear from me at all, but if one were to end up on my plate, it’s going to win a one-way ticket to my tummy all the same because that would be the polite thing to do.
In my family, my freakish refusal to chow down on this beloved bounty of our janma-bhoomi when offered a choice is seen variously as an eccentricity, uppity nonsense and an outrage. Especially when it is seen that I will eat our ancestral food only if it is untouched by curry.
That’s right, people of the world. I like virgin rice. For those of you not in the know, this means I’m a pervert.
My aunt, a much more indulgent version of my mother with plenty of freakish dietary habits of her own, is probably the most sympathetic. Instead of spending hours railing against the tastes of a toddler with a princess complex and a stubborn chin, she figured out a solution early on – she cooked the rice till it was almost glue, poured the leftover broth on top of it and served it with either chicken or shrimp, both fried to the consistency of rubber. Tasty, burnt, caramelized, beyond-hope-of-reanimation or reincarnation rubber.
I have no idea why I love it so much. Maybe it’s because she fed me herself – an indulgence my own mother would have laughed to bits – or maybe it’s just that good. The closest I can recommend to you sad people without access to my auntie and her delicious kitchen is eating sticky rice with Hibachi Yakitori. Kinda unusual and not really the same but I think of it as a second cousin.
To my mother this is all nonsense. And that’s easy for her to say because she doesn’t give a damn. After nearly forty years of life with three very picky eaters, she couldn’t care less who was eating what in which way as long as everybody was eating something without chewing her ear off. I believe most mothers come to this position sooner or later in their lives. The rest can be found sedated in their rooms.
It is my father who is most offended by my tastebuds. It’s as though he sees it as a judgment on his parenting. Like I grew up into a wheat-chewing foreigner while he was busy at the office.
“We are South Indians,” he tells me patiently. “We eat rice. Look at your mother. Look at me. Look at your grandparents. Your uncles and aunts. We eat rice.”
“That’s nice,” I reply, struggling for the same tone of “Listen Retard” that he achieves without even trying. “But I don’t want it. Thanks.”
Because it never hurts to be polite. Eventually, after days of his inspecting my plate and passing occasionally silent yet potent judgment on it, I finally bow down and load my plate with rice. You’d think that’d make him happy. That would be a “no”.
“What are you eating with that? Let me pour this fish curry over it,” he says helpfully.
“Thanks,” I say politely as the fish stare smugly back at me from the curry (speaking of, whatchu staring at sea-kitty? I’m not the one chewing your bones. Fish are unjust). “But I don’t want any.”
He blinks at me. “But we live on the coast. We eat fish. I eat fish. When your mother isn’t being a religious fanatic, she eats fish. Your grandparents ate fish…”
Oh lord. Take me now. Finally, because I do not feel strongly enough about fish to stage a satyagraha against it, I give in and spoon some of it dutifully onto my plate where it stares at me with its cold fishy eyes some more. STFU, fish.
“What is this?” comes my father’s voice on cue.
WHAT, GODDAMMIT? “Yes?” I ask politely.
“Why aren’t you eating more rice?”
I look at my plate which has the exact same amount of rice my mother eats for lunch. I look at my father’s plate which has roughly triple the amount. “I’m fine, thank you,” I tell him.
“For such a big body, you must eat more,” he informs me kindly.
Sure, Daddy, calling me a giant tub of lard is going to make me head right for that big bowl of carbohydrates on the table. I glare at him.
He looks at me with complete innocence. By a complicated set of elimination and deduction (okay fine, Ma told me) I realize he’s been leafing through my mother’s magazines and is now worried I might have an eating disorder.
Oh, for the love of…!! No. I just don’t like rice.