The Gobbler

It was an ann-prashan ceremony that left everyone gaping. Never before had they seen a baby take his first meal with such delight. While some whimpered, some cried uncontrollably, some just ate a speck, some even looked at the bowl with distaste clear in their eyes. But Arjun was different; all the while he had his eyes firmly rested on the food. His mother dipped the silver spoon in the kheer bowl and brought it near his lips. He darted his tongue out, tasted the food and rolled it over the corners of his mouth. The glint in his eyes and the smile on his face conveyed his liking for the kheer. As his mother kept thrusting spoonfuls after spoonfuls into his mouth, he also lurched towards them with great pleasure.

Anjana had heard enough stories from her friends, mother, mother-in-law, chachis, taijis and every other woman she met during her pregnancy that it is not easy to make children eat. “They are used to breast feeding. They throw a lot of tantrums leaving that and starting with real food,” exclaimed one and all. But when she saw Arjun eat his first meal with such delight, she not only felt relieved but also proud. She looked at all other gaping women and wanted to pull up her collar. But she refrained herself from doing that. She just put a kala tika on her son’s forehead and went on to attend other guests.

Arjun’s fondness for food wasn’t just limited to that kheer bowl. He enjoyed his every meal whether it was cerelac, khichdi, sooji ki kheer, or even boiled vegetables; he quickly ate up whatever his mother gave him. At the paediatrician’s monthly regular visits, while the bunch of mothers discussed how fastidious their kids were when it came to eating or how they were worried about their kids not gaining enough weight, Anjana always tucked in a corner. She pretended to be engrossed in a magazine. She did not want to discuss her son’s diet in front of everybody; she had been warned by her mother and mother-in-law that talking good about one’s child can bring bad luck to the child, “nazar lag jaati hai,” they often said. Anjana also did not want to take any chances and hence preferred to keep quiet. But she was perhaps the only mother who came out of the paediatrician’s office smiling.

As Arjun began to grow up, Anjana started to spend a lot of time in the kitchen and on the internet. Soon she found herself running out of recipes for little Arjun. She turned to the world of web for help. ‘Easy recipes for kids,’ she googled almost everyday. Though Arjun never threw tantrums while eating food, Anjana soon began to realise that he becomes hungry again no sooner than he has taken his last meal. She began to find herself in the kitchen almost all the time preparing meals for him. She started doing this happily but started to find it tedious after sometime. Worse was when Arjun learnt to talk. “Ma, I’m hungry. I want food,” he said a zillion times every day. Anjana did not want to refuse him anything for she feared being labelled a ruthless mother. Nonetheless, she had started to fear his appetite. Worse was when they visited their acquaintances; Arjun asked them for refreshments before they could offer them some. He never refused anything. He leapt with joy at the sight of trays laden with biscuits, mithai, dry fruits and other such sundry items. Anjana began to feel embarrassed.

Anjana couldn’t understand where Arjun got his eating genes from. Nobody in their family was such a foodie. She couldn’t be less surprised when in place of cartoons, Arjun liked to watch cookery shows on television. With every show, his demands would increase. She heaved a sigh of relief when he started going to school. Now was her chance to take a break from kitchen and also the school provided meals to the kids. One afternoon she was lazing around when she was disturbed by the ringing of her mobile phone. She chose to ignore it at first but she gave in at the persistence of the caller. “Huhloo,” she barely managed the word out from her mouth. “This is Mrs. Mehta, Arjun’s class teacher. I have been refraining to call you up since past week but now I thought it could not be delayed any longer. The problem is that our school meal seems to be insufficient for Arjun. He takes food from other kids and often troubles teachers for more servings. Hence, to ease out the situation please start sending his tiffin also. Two tiffins would be nice.” With this the line went dead. Anjana was surprised that it took Mrs. Mehta so many days to make this call.

“Arjun, please give your mouth and stomach some rest,” she often yelled at him. But she knew that whatever she said, it would make no difference to him. People asked her often why she did not have a second baby; she could never tell them the truth. There were times when she refused him food. Within minutes she would hear noises from the kitchen and she would find Arjun trying to make himself a meal. She did not want him to get hurt and had to always give in to his demands. Her friends used to tell her about the strange and beautiful dreams their children had while sleeping. But Anjana always kept quiet; she couldn’t tell them that he always dreamt of samosa, kachori, pizza, momos, laddoo and the list was never ending. He did not even say no to green vegetables like the other kids. But surprisingly he wasn’t a rotund boy.

Arjun developed a strange hobby as he began to grow. While other kids collected stamps, notes, coins, he started to collect menus of various restaurants. The walls of his room were not decorated with posters of superheroes or actors. Menus adorned the walls of his room. Cookery books and not story books made neat rows in his bookshelf.

His career option was pretty much obvious to all. All knew that he would become a chef only considering his inclination towards the food. Anjana never even told anybody that she wanted her son to be an architect. She had accepted his obsession for food a long time back. But he surprised her by enrolling himself in an architecture school. “Now hire a cook also for me,” he winked as he told her of his decision. Anjana also did not need another reminder for this. She readily complied.

Once he completed his studies and found a steady job, everybody asked him what kind of a girl he wanted to marry. He just said, “I will write my own matrimonial advertisement.” He showed the draft that to his mother. It read:

‘A handsome 28 year old boy seeks a girl. Caste, colour, religion no bar. No dowry expected. But only daughters of restaurant/hotel owners send in their bio-data!’

Anjana wasn’t surprised.

Shikha Tandon

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