There is huge pleasure in eating. Never mind that your doctor tells you of all the dangers that could, indeed will, come your way if you do not get a grip on yourself. Have you ever stopped to think about all that medical advice, about the fact that this doctor is determined to deprive you of some of the things you like doing over and over again? Ah, yes! You are in your fifties, he tells you. He makes you feel you will collapse any minute and your burial could take place at some point during the day if you do not take his advice. And what is that? Avoid sweets. Don’t take sugar. Stay miles away from eggs. And red meat? Don’t even think of it. And what do you as he pushes all this advice at you? You sit there, with a sheepish grin spread across your face, murmuring polite ‘thank yous’ together with bits of meaningless terms as ‘absolutely’, ‘of course’, ‘you are so right’ thrown in for good measure. You are simply counting the minutes to the time when you will stride out of that room, take a happy leap in the air and go looking for the nearest food joint.
Yes, to be sure, those of us who are excitedly rushing to the end of the fifties have all these health issues assailing us all the way. We cough at the most unexpected moments; that devil of an illness called diabetes threatens to take our breath away; and pressure, of the low and high sort, lurks around the corner to remind us of fast creeping mortality. And then there are the bones. Ten years ago, you could sprint up the stairs to your room or to your office. Today, you wheeze and your breathing is distinctly raincloud-like as you try to climb. Your knees look about to give way, holding out the possibility of your collapsing in a heap right there on those stairs. And the ultimate embarrassment? People young enough to be your children pull you up, making you feel you have truly turned into a relic of a long-gone prehistoric era.
Ageing is something you cannot run away from, no matter how many facials you go for or how much dye, black or flaming red, you use in your hair (if, of course, you have bits of hair yet left to dignify your skull). So we are not arguing that we in our fifties are ageing. All we are saying is that we are rushing to our sixties in the excitement that comes of stepping into teenage, into that stage of life where boys begin to notice how pretty the girls are and girls begin having crushes on the neighbourhood boys. We were boys once and the woman I love to distraction was a girl once. Why must we not be permitted now to go back to that lost world once more and reclaim that moment of thrill and wonder? It was a moment when we ate ice cream, in fact licked it off our palms and arms as it melted and turned into little rivulets all the way down. We went looking, surreptitiously, for the schoolyard tree on which hung an abundance of berries. And once we were sure no one, and we mean the stern-looking headmaster, was around, we had our fill. But the maroon on our tongues gave us away. We came back home with painful red marks on our bottoms, that regular sign of the cane the headmaster used as his weapon against good, well-meaning children like us. What would he know of the taste of berries? He had his Bible. And we had the berries, followed by the whopping sounds of the cane.
That was then. Today, we need to go back to ice cream once more. And not just ice cream. As you stand before all that display of food on the shelves, it is that succulent pudding which once again takes your fancy. You pick out one and then two and then a multiplicity of substantial pudding pieces and have them travel deep down into you. It is pure heaven you inhabit as the pudding touches your tongue; and you almost wish you could take leave of life with that taste of pudding in you. But, then, you wonder if there will be pudding in heaven once you go there. And you know it is heaven you will go to because you have not killed anyone or harmed anyone in any way. Yes, you have loved many women and they just might have loved you — who knows? That surely is no sin. Or is it? The point is that you have always been a colossal admirer of feminine beauty. Who isn’t? Think of Adam’s throbbing heart and suddenly heavy breathing the first time he saw Eve. He was bowled over. And, please remember, we are his descendants.
But back to that pudding. You see, gluttony can sometimes be raised to the level of fine art. And when in one sitting, which basically means half an hour or so, you finish consuming as many as twenty pithas, gluttony appears to be touching a point where it could turn into aesthetics. The point is simple: nothing and no one, and that includes doctors, must come in the way of fifty-something people enjoying their food. Don’t just look at that egg. Pick it up and make sure you savour the yolk. And meat? If fat does not come attached to it, really no purpose will be served by your placing it in your mouth. Of course meat is good. But meat with fat is better. Try it. Your happiness will be of a transcendental sort, enough to propel you into composing poetry.
Have you ever had a repast of hot rice with ghee and sugar? If you haven’t, you don’t know what a good meal means. Ever tried eating crisp, hot parathas with shutkir bhorta? Not a usual item on the table, but it is a most satisfying addition to your breakfast. It adds melody to the workings of your palate.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.