Only Twenty Years Too Soon

February 9, 2011

I’ve always had a sweet tooth – Amit likes to say all 32 of my teeth are sweet, but he’s wrong; I only have 30 teeth, because I haven’t got my wisdom teeth yet.

I’ve always pandered to my sweet tooth too. After all, why not? It’s not bad for health unless you’re diabetic. In fact, I’ve always enjoyed all manner of unhealthy food. I’ve never been the type to exercise self-restraint just for the sake of it. True, one doesn’t want to end up looking like the backside of a bus, but apart from that little consideration, I don’t see any reason not to enjoy all the good food that one reasonably can. I’ve always been reprimanded by my father for adding too much salt to my food. Again, my point of view was, if I like it, why not? I don’t have high blood pressure, and apart from that, it does no harm.

For almost my entire life thus far, I’ve been the epicurean type: if it tastes good, eat it.

I always maintained (mainly to Amit, the only one who was interested) that when the doctors told me it was time to stop feasting, I’d stop. But the thing is, I didn’t seriously expect this to happen till I was well into my 50s. When all is said and done, I wasn’t wolfing down vast quantities of cholesterol-rich stuff; I wasn’t drinking like a fish or smoking like a chimney (I don’t smoke). An occasional overdose of red meat, a weekly (or more often fortnightly) mug of beer, a bit of chocolate (or some other sweet) every day doesn’t do too much harm. I didn’t believe in overdoing the good stuff unless there was an occasion to celebrate. On the whole, I was moderate in my excesses, if you know what I mean. If there were such a thing as a moderate epicurean, that would be me.

So when I claimed airily that I could “stop any time,” I spoke with the confidence of one who knows that “any time” would not happen for probably another twenty years. I guess you just shouldn’t tempt fate that way.

Along comes this bloating that takes away all the simple pleasure of good food for well over a year. And then, when I’m thinking I’ll do just about anything to get rid of this bloating, along comes the solution in the shape of a gluten-free diet. Hang on, I mean a lactose-free, gluten-free diet.

The other day, I was walking along Brigade Road and Church Street, being assailed by sights and smells from every direction. On any other day (I mean, in my pre-gluten-free days) I wouldn’t have noticed a thing. Now, all I could see was things I couldn’t eat. My stream of consciousness went something like this. “Pani puri. Drool. Oh, can’t eat it. Chicken roll. Yumm. Oh, can’t eat it. Bakery. Sigh. Full of stuff I can’t eat. Chinese! Nope. Can’t eat it.” As if all of that wasn’t bad enough, it was slowly sinking in (again) that I not only “can’t eat it,” but actually, “can’t ever eat it. Never again.” At last I noticed a peanut seller. Oh, great! Something I can still eat, at last!


My stern resolve, my iron will, my steely determination was all put aside for my birthday last week. Chocolate cake in generous quantity and a most welcome mug of beer went down the hatch in short order, followed by a couple of meals out since, which were largely but not entirely gluten and lactose free. And I’m still paying the price for those indiscretions. Which is fine, because it reconfirms the evidence in support of gluten intolerance as the root cause of my problem. But not so fine, because it also reconfirms the “never again” aspect of all the things I can’t eat.

This is almost as profound a change in my life as getting married or having kids. For me to turn into a strictly dal-rice kind of person, unwilling to try new things, scared to eat out, fussy, picky and full of questions about “what’s in it, what’s it made of, is it besan or maida, is it cornflour or maida, are you sure it doesn’t contain any maida whatsoever?”… it’s going to take some getting used to. Even worse, to be the kind of guest that people worry about… “What can I make that she can eat????”  I so don’t want to be that kind of guest.

And of course I’m not the slightest bit happy that I having to rule out virtually every unhealthy item from my diet now, instead of 20 years later like it should be.

But at least I can say this much: while I could, I enjoyed food to the hilt. There are no regrets on that account. All the same, it feels like it was too little and it went by too fast. Now the question is, will the sweet memories of all those delicious, melting, magic moments be enough to sustain me through a lifetime of dal-rice?

Health. Food.

September 9, 2009

First of all, I’m not going to crib about my diet and talk about how much I love everything that’s sinful, including food. Let’s just take that as a given.

The point is, if there’s one thing in which I don’t want the twins to end up like me, it’s my attitude to food. I want them to grow up to have a balanced and healthy attitude to food. I want them to be unfussy eaters, who will try anything once, will like most things, will have stomachs lined with lead, will thrive on bland, homemade, stale food as much as on oily, spicy, toxic street food, and through it all will achieve a balanced diet with a good proportion of dal, carb, fruit ‘n’ veg, dairy and non-veg.

And, of course, I hope they will always enjoy cakes and ice creams, but will never be cursed with an insatiable sweet tooth.

Is that too much to ask???

While the twins were at home full time, we made sure they got only healthy food. Their milk, curd, butter, and cheese came out of a packet of some kind, as did bread and cornflakes, but just about everything else they ate was fresh. They got fresh fruit and vegetables and enjoyed most of it; and fresh meat and chicken as well. They got no soups or juices out of a packet. They got no chocolates, no sweet except for what I sometimes made at home, no biscuits, no chips, practically no packaged foods at all. I did give them frozen peas, but they never liked them, though they loved fresh peas. Smart kids.

(Of course, I must clarify, to quell those rising eyebrows, that when I say ‘fresh’ food, I mean the ingredients are fresh as opposed to frozen or preserved. The food they get cannot not always be described as fresh, but I do usually impose a 48-hour limit; anything cooked more than 48 hours ago lands up in the trash can. That would be me.)

So right up until they joined ‘big’ school this June, they rarely had access to junk food like biscuits, chips, soft drinks, chocolates, toffees and the like. In playschool, they sometimes got a chocolate, but it wasn’t very often, and, back then, sometimes I just grabbed it from them and distracted them for a few minutes and they’d forget all about it (after shedding a few indignant tears).

Now, of course, it’s a different story. If they get goodies at school, they usually eat them before I get there (smart kids), but if they still have them on hand, it’s not as if I can just take them away, distract the kids and they’ll forget all about them. Oh no!

For one thing, they have my number. They don’t trust me at all when it comes to chocolate – and with good reason; if only they knew how many of the chocolates intended for them have landed up in the dustbin (me)! Now, if I tell them to put their sweets in their bags, they protest loudly, and when they finally comply, they keep a sharp eye on their bags. The whole way home, a small part of their memories are dedicated to the stored chocolate. As soon as we reach home, they start to ransack their bags looking for their chocolate. At which point, I usually take it away from them and keep it on top of the microwave – within eyesight, but, mercifully, still out of their reach. The deal is that if they eat their lunch like good girls (without throwing their food around and generally driving me crazy), then they will get chocolate. They don’t yet know that they shouldn’t have to negotiate for something that’s rightfully theirs… But that day is not far off.

One day Tara was too sleepy to gracefully complete her lunch, so I put her to bed sans chocolate. Mrini, however, said to me assertively, “I don’t want sabzi, I don’t want chicken, I don’t want dahi, I want only chocolate.” So I gave her hers.

Three hours later, Tara woke from her afternoon nap, and, still groggy and rubbing her eyes with both fists, said to me, “Mama, I want my chocolate.”

Well, I gave it to her – with Mrini looking on and saying “Taya, ha-piece-ha-piece,” as sweetly as she could. I told Tara that Mrini had already had hers, but she promptly broke her chocolate in half and gave it to Mrini regardless. It’s absolutely heart-warming to see her do that without any hesitation or prompting… especially considering that Mrini rarely returns the favour.

So distracting them and hoping they’ll forget about it just won’t work any more.

Still, they do get quite a lot of chocolate in school some days. It kills their appetite for lunch, and I doubt it does their teeth any good. And I really don’t want them to develop as much of a sweet tooth as I have. I don’t know whether not getting a lot of sweet at this age actually helps to develop a sweet tooth, or whether being denied it helps to avoid getting a sweet tooth; but it just seems like in this respect less must be better. So whenever I can, I still surreptitiously reduce the quantity of sweet that they actually get. Very sneaky and mean of me, no doubt, but that’s what parenting is all about, isn’t it?

What I really started out writing about though, is, why do all school birthday treats have to be packaged foods? I know that not all parents have time to bake up a storm like I did – and it is a lot of work – but can’t you do something simple and homemade? Or else send fruit? Or something that’s not food?

I’m a great fan of eating out and even of eating packaged food, but for these tiny tots, I still feel that the less packaged foods they get, the better. At least with homemade stuff, you have a better idea of what’s gone in it and how much of what and whether it is likely to be allergenic or not; and also, you have better control over the hygiene conditions. But most importantly, it’s the only way to minimise kids’ exposure to chemicals like preservatives, flavouring agents, and the like. Shouldn’t we be thinking of that for at least a few years?

I know – they’re three years old, I should just let go. We do the best we can at home and I should just let go of what’s beyond my control. And I will. But, when they come home with three or four different bits of chocolate and a commercially made cup-cake each, I just wonder.

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