Zen Master Shunryu (Suzuki) Roshi has said, “Time goes from present to past.”  Reviewed literally, this might seem illogical as we are conditioned to think that time goes from past to present and from present to future.  However, as we think of and dwell on a particular event from the past, does it not appear in our mind to become alive and be the present?

As the barbecue season kicks off, my thoughts drift back to a particular “cook out” experience.  In 1978, I got professionally acquainted with H in Delhi and over a very short time we became (and have remained) good friends.  I was then dating (my now wife) R and we would often rendezvous at H’s house, as his wife and R had also hit it off together.  One day in early 1979, H landed the much sought “perk” (perquisite) – a company car, a Fiat (before it was renamed Premier Padmini) – the ultimate status symbol in those days!  H had just learned to drive and the four of us decided to drive around 200 kilometres to Sariska, which was declared in 1978 as one of the few prestigious Project Tiger reserves in India.  H was excited to “practice” his driving skills on the two-lane road, which the drivers of overloaded trucks have always believed is their sole domain!

Driving past villages, we stopped frequently to buy fresh vegetables and fruits being hawked by the roadside.  H insisted on buying kheera (cucumber) and mooli (white radish, which has a “bite” when consumed raw).  His wife and R, seated in the back, were entrusted with peeling and slicing these vegetables, smothering the pieces with masala (mixture of ground spices) and serving them up.  H next stopped to look for “country chicken” and eventually managed to select and haggle down the price of two large fowls, which were slaughtered and cleaned by the hawker on the spot.  He was also able to find slabs of fresh butter, onions and a few other ingredients, the most important of these being a bottle of rum and chilled beer.  Out in the countryside with no electricity, we discovered the Indian “jugaad” (innovative solution) for cooling beer.  The vendor had immersed the beer bottles in an earthen pitcher filled with water, allowing evaporative cooling to chill the beer!

We eventually reached the Reserve around noon, paid the entrance fee and drove around inside the reserve but did not spot any wild life, possibly because the animals were in their lairs, staying out of the hot sun.  The Forest Rest House although rustic and with basic amenities, provided a welcome sanctuary.  As the sun went down and the evening acquired a nip, we lit a fire in a pit at the outer edge of the lawn abutting the boundary wall of the rest house.  Fear of unknown dangers lurking in the pitch-dark jungle just beyond the perimeter of the fire’s glow, unidentifiable hoots and sporadic animal calls and rustling sounds from close by trees added to the excitement.  Wrapped in coarse blankets, we sat under a sky lit up with stars close enough to touch, soothing our jumpy nerves with beer as we listened to film songs on a transistor radio, pleased that “paise vasool ho gaye” (“got our money’s worth”).  The rum-soaked chicken, which had been left in the pressure cooker all afternoon in the sun was now simmering in a thick gravy of local spices and onions sauteed in globs of butter, over a smoky open fire.  I cannot recall the time it took to cook the meal, but it has stayed fresh in my mind even after this passage of time.

Later today, the family will gather around the barbecue in our backyard.  Today’s activities will provide the ingredients for memories that will help produce a wonderful repast in the future.  Perhaps our grandchildren will look back and enjoy the experience of letting time go from present to past, again.

“Yahī tañg haal jo sab kā hai ye karishma qudrat-e-rab kā hai

jo bahār thī so ḳhizāñ huī jo ḳhizāñ thī ab vo bahār hai”

[This distressed state of all is (due to) the miracle of God’s Nature

The spring (of youth) turns into the autumn (of old age),

(while) that which had decayed now blooms as spring] – Bahadur Shah Zafar

2 Replies to “Meal-time”

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