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Singapore was supposed to be a trip filled with beer and skittles. But thanks to my daughter, it was a lot of bland and healthy but comforting home food!
The unparalleled P. G. Wodehouse has said, “I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”
Singapore! This country has a certain inexplicable feel attached to it. It conjures up the feeling of Indianness in us but it is also foreign enough to attract us. Many are the images it evokes – the awe inspiring and gleaming city of super tall staggering skyscrapers seen in several Indian movies. The the efficiently governed city-state of Lee Hsien Loong. Who can ever forget that this beautiful Lion city which is the setting for several wonderful stories of the famous British writer Somerset Maugham?
And also the fortunes amassed by some of my relatives here way back in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Going a bit further down the memory lane, sometime in the late forties, an uncle in our family had blown up all his savings. He did so by downing many a glass of whiskey on the waterfront there. My grandfather sent him some money to pay for his passage back to Madras (now Chennai)
Well, on our first visit to this island nation of Singapore, we – my wife and I were highly excited. One of our daughters was living there. Thank God, we did not have the trouble of finding hotels for our stay. More than anything else, worry about getting our accustomed vegetarian food. With these pleasant thoughts occupying my mind, our flight made a smooth landing at Changi International airport.
The following day morning I woke up rather late (time difference!) It was a rainy, nippy day.
Nothing to beat the good old filter coffee to start your day! I gladly accepted the cup of (what I thought was) steaming hot coffee my daughter handed me. So, I decided not to swallow and gulp it hastily but draw out the fun and enjoyment of my favourite early morning coffee.
But no sooner did the liquid hit my taste buds, I quailed. It definitely was not coffee, but something else that made me recoil. My daughter Keerthi probably guessed, that something was not alright from all the distortions in my facial expressions.
She suspended her conversation with her Mom to speak to me: “I can understand, Pa. It is the same feeling I had when I first tasted this. This is decaffeinated coffee and very good for health! You will soon develop a taste for this.” Without waiting to hear my reply, she continued her animated conversation with her mother.
The overcast skies cleared up magically as is typical of Singapore weather and a routine occurrence as well in that part of the world. Glancing through my copy of The Straits Time, I eagerly looked forward to having my breakfast, which I consider to be the best meal of my day.
A delicious and hearty breakfast is what I want and you can be assured that I will not be fastidious about the other two main meals – lunch and dinner. I always say that these two meals should be light. But my daughters will never agree with me!
According to them, I eat hearty dinners and lunches and an extra hearty breakfast! So be it, when finally I sat at the table for my breakfast, I greedily attacked the big bowl of Kelloggs Oats with a table spoon my wife had placed before me. Yet again there was this assault on my taste buds.
Controlling my irritation, I asked my wife, “Did you forget to add sugar?” “Hey, what say you?” questioned my wife in return, “I have added two spoonfuls, which is your usual quota.”
“Okay, okay,” I agreed disinterestedly and went about my work on the bland stuff.
Soon enlightenment dawned on me when I entered the kitchen to wash my bowl and spoon. I saw my daughter busy making oats for herself. She was pouring out of conical shaped bottle labelled Milk. But all I could see was some white watery liquid!
“Hey Keerti dear, what is it that you are pouring into your oats? Back home in Chennai we reprimand the poor milk delivery boy for giving us such watery milk and here you are paying good money to buy it!”
“Pa!” she started saying something, but soon my eyes fell on some brown coloured powder, a spoon of which she added to the oats bowl. I howled: “Hey! Now what dear?”
“Pa…” she continued, this time with gentle irritation, pointing to the conical container, “this is fat-free milk and that brown coloured powder is sugar with few calories than white sugar.”
Oh! Now I understand everything – the tasteless oats with its sugarless watery taste. My estimation later on was that about 4-5 spoons of brown sugar equals one spoon of regular white sugar! With the so-called breakfast done, I was back to reading the Strait Times, which I was yet to finish reading.
My thoughts though were elsewhere – yes, you guessed it right- hot lunch. After about a couple of hours, which I thought was a pretty decent gap, I came out of my room. And said a sprightly ‘Hi’ to seeing Keerthi drying clothes on the clothes line which jutted out of the balcony.
“So, what’s for lunch?” Keerthi answered: “Pa, your favourite of course! I am making small onion sambar and raw banana curry.”
“Wow. My darling daughter, good girl,” said I with much warmth.
Having retired recently, I have started taking an interest in the kitchen. I went into the kitchen and started washing a dish here, a tumbler there. Trying to make myself useful but carefully treading the fine demarcation between interference and involvement! Then, as usual, I offered to shred and grate the coconut for sambar.
“That’s alright Dad, I don’t use coconut in my cooking. I remember telling you once when you were in Chennai that I have high cholesterol, just like you.”
Well I, took it in the correct spirit and resigned myself to coconut-less sambar. Just like any other concerned father, I enquired about her cholesterol levels. And suggested she turn more to yoga, walking etc instead of eliminating coconut completely from her cooking. This suggestion of mine did not go well with her. Her taste buds were now acclimatised to this type of coconut less cooking!
Keerthi had, by then, finished cutting the raw bananas into small pieces of just the right size and placed the lot in a non-stick frying pan. I heard her calling out to me: “Pa, can you just pass that to me, the one on the shelf to your right?” She was pointing to what resembled a container of deodorant.
The can had an atomiser and I saw Keerthi spray it, not on herself, but on the raw banana poriyal and suddenly, I realised what was happening there. Yeah, that was all the frying which we were to get for lunch.
What a passage we travelled to – from the bygone days when my Amma would freely lace her curries with coconut oil to my wife’s modest usage of refined oil. And now to this piteous spray, which evaporated as soon as it fell on the hot pan! That said, this was the lunch I had, in place of my eagerly expected tasty sambar and poriyal. This was even more meagre than my breakfast!
So, now I understand the trick behind all these ads which claim to “Lose two kilograms of your weight in one month!” Ummm, the secret of dieting programmes, I suppose.
When you restrict foodstuff of calories, in addition to the direct impact of low calories, it tastes so insipid and horrid we tend to eat less. Given a choice, we may not eat at all. There is a double whammy for you!
It was pretty evident now that my trip to Singapore was not going to be all beer and skittles. Well, did I say beer? It was nearing sundown and my thoughts naturally turned to sundowners. So, I executed what I thought was, a well thought out and mature suggestion suo moto, “Keerthi, I think I will just help myself to some beer and nothing very strong at this time of the day.”
“Pa, remember beer is not good for you.”
“Keerthi, listen, it is low in cholesterol,” argued I. She seemed baffled for a moment but quickly resumed and changed track.
“It is not cholesterol alone, my dear Dad. Just look at your paunch and you will understand what I am saying.”
“Paunch! Did I hear it right? I don’t have any paunch.” Well then – just imagine, to what level a man can sink just to get a glass of effervescence – I continued my argument: “That tiny bit of bulge that you see is the outcome of my weak lower limbs and concave shaped chest. I definitely don’t have a paunch, okay?”
My words were like water on duck’s back! I think you also would have experienced a perfectly normal person suddenly becoming deaf in the midst of an important conversation. My daughter continued her vivid talk with her mother as if she had not heard me! But I was determined to speak up this time.
I too decided to change track from self-derogation to self-pity, “Right since the morning, I have been having all spurious stuff. My coffee is caffeine- free, milk is fat-free or lactose free, sugar too is brown sugar! Wait and see by the end of the day, your Dad will be totally “meal and drink-free!”
I felt that I had brought out my point very well with selection of apt words and addition of well-chosen paraphrase as well – “meal and drink-free father.”
As I looked around zealously at my wife, there was no reaction whatsoever! I wish to tell you here that ever since we boarded the aircraft at Chennai yesterday, my wife has decided to maintain an attitude which is neutral. And it is tilting gently in favour of our daughter. Keerthi got up from her chair, hugged me gently, pulled at my cheeks and said: “Daddy! You are the cutest and best Dad ever. I love you!”
Can you even think of a more ridiculous answer? These words from Keerthi simply touched my heart and melted me. I stopped my arguments and started smiling at my daughter.
How can I express the emotions which swell in me when she hugs me affectionately and says, “Dad, o Dad!” The life which she puts into the word “Dad” deeply creates a stir in me. After all, I am a doting father!
Yes, all uncomfortable feelings were put to rest at the end of the day. Soon my son-in-law came back from work and went to his mini bar. He picked up a bottle of Chivas Regal and a couple of glasses and walked towards me smilingly, “So Papa, how was your day today? Come, let’s celebrate the day.”
Keerthi started to say something but paused a little and possibly on some rethinking kept quiet. She would have probably felt that her words might affect the bonding between her father and her husband.
Excellent guy, this son-in-law of mine! Well, thank God, no one has yet invented alcohol-free whisky!
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Piku
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