Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Search and Seize Missions of my Childhood

My last post about my pickle mania reminded me of my brother’s childhood food fantasies. D took a broader approach than I did, and had a weakness for anything that could be eaten straight out a packet outside of mealtimes. This broad test gave him a very wide catchment area, and captured everything from sweets, biscuits, chocolates, chips and Indian snacks of the “mixture” or “namkeen” variety (as they are variously known in India). It was easy enough for my mother to emerge triumphant in my debate with her over pickle. She simply decided not to buy any more of it. With D, it was different. There was The Problem of the Unexpected Guest, which all Indians reading this will fully empathise with. You had to have a reserve of some snack or the other for The Unexpected Guest, who could come waltzing in through the front door at any time of day. To rush out at that time to the nearest grocery store for some tidbit to serve Him or Her or Them would be embarrassing, and so it was crucial to have a reserve of such goodies at home. D’s view on this was slightly different; he was the sovereign arbiter of the destiny of all goodies at home. The Unexpected Guest did not even feature in his scheme of things.

My brother spent most of his childhood playing a complicated game of hide and seek with our mother. If this evokes a cute image of a mother and son pair playing hide and seek on a sunny Indian afternoon, please banish it from your mind immediately. The subject of the hide and seek game was all the assorted items that fell within his food catchment area.

It started with Mummy returning from grocery shopping with one or more treats meant to be reserved for The Unexpected Guest. She would then proceed to hide them in various obscure corners of her kitchen. On an afternoon when D had nothing else to occupy him (and there were many, many such afternoons. In fact, now that I look back, my childhood seems like an endless series of such afternoons), he would strategically wait for my mother’s afternoon snooze, stealthily pull out a chair from the dining room and perch himself on it to inspect the kitchen for any hidden treats. Much as I enjoyed treats, especially of the "stolen" variety, I did not share his zeal for search and seize missions. I'd throw a few ideas his way, but would invariably get bored and give up after a few minutes. He, on the other hand, would happily spend the better part of an hour carefully inspecting the kitchen, sniffing out goodies.

I have a vivid memory of a particularly successful search and seize mission. We had a very large rice container that innocently occupied a spot under the kitchen table. It may have been desperation or a strong sixth sense developed over hundreds of similar search and seize missions that drove D to dig through it. I remember him squatting next to the rice container, aged around 7 or 8, shiny eyed and victorious, with one arm deep in a mountain of rice, and another one holding up some hidden goodie that he had just unearthed from the container. Mummy of course, looked distinctly displeased after her snooze that day. She was a bit of a sore loser. We never did congratulate her, but I think my brother and I both secretly admired her for this brainwave. We realised that the enemy was a lot more formidable than we had initially thought. Our innocent little steel rice container as a weapon of war. Who would have thought?

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