Each of us is born unique, into a moment in time that is altogether different even from the births in our own nuclear set that predate or post-date ours. This physical singularity is a requisite, yet it can be of no consequence. Character, individuality, personality, selfhood — these are our own markers and definitions. These are the traits that showcase our true uniqueness.
The society we are born into, the home that gives us our playground to come of age, the schools we study at, the friends we find in our early years, the habits we form — these are defining markers, too. Imprints associated with us until the completion of our journey. These early associations are most lasting in their informing powers. They never lose their grip on our psyche. Consciously or subconsciously, willingly or as puppets, we come back to them as guiding lights. Not always to our benefit.
Often to our detriment. Habits have that phenomenon. Peculiarities that bring out unfortunate results. Our memories of food are such an association. They are deeply polarising. Our first impressions of certain tastes and dishes can keep us from ever being able to accept healthier versions. When presented with two choices of the same dish — one made with honest and simple ingredients, fresh and seasonal, and the other made with horrid analogous products — the quality of the food will not sway our gustatory memory to accept the better version. Our taste buds are overruled by the lasting impact of those early culinary impressions.
Lifestyle choices can make or break us. They are the key to being mindful and sustainable. Often the choices we make today will haunt us for our entire lifespan. Action today can influence outcomes decades later. Bits and bites we nosh on today can bite us with poor health tomorrow, or save us through healthier outcomes. Chasing fads and diets, getting lost in the rat race that is the darker side of capitalism/materialism and a market-driven economy can steal our mojo from us. Material wealth is as fleeting as the happiness and comforts it brings. Vanishing as easily as vapour. Leaving us as broken pieces of ourselves. Hard to piece together and harder still to please with each fad indulged in mindlessly.
In a world at odds with itself, aimless mindlessness is celebrated and perpetuated by 24x7x365 marketing campaigns. Profiteering by numbing the minds of masses. Questioning and thinking, reflecting and meditating — these are the essentials we seem to have forgotten. Indulgences that ought to be more frequently indulged. Keeping a journal, meditating in the celebration of quietude, walking alone to wrestle with cathartic questions. Investing in a handful of honest and true friendships — these are the gems that help and heal.
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Travel can help us overcome many of the biases — even about food — that life teaches us in our journey from birth to adulthood. Travel helps us open our eyes and broaden our horizons. It teaches us to think beyond the comforting sameness of our familial and familiar grounds. Taking us to the unfamiliar far far away, it helps us find union with our inner self. Discovery of the other brings us closer to our shared humanity. Exploring adventures, we have a greater chance of discovering ourselves. By travelling far and wide, we get the chance to fulfil our soul’s cry of becoming one with the other.
I left home at 18 to go to Mumbai for the study of commercial arts at the Sir JJ School of Art. Two years later, after leaving for New York City to further my studies at the School of Visual Arts, I found myself embracing difference and diversity.
I encountered the hustle and bustle of urban sprawls and independence at a tender age. Food memories, my family’s open table, and my parents’ unflinching love and support of one and all that showed up at our home were my calling card in cities very foreign to my roots. They provided me an entry into circles that might have been impossible to break into otherwise. They brought me friends, fans and admirers at an age when I could have been odd as a person, and at odds with life. My upbringing and my taste buds became solid anchors providing for me in more ways than one. I became a retailer, a consultant, a cooking teacher, then a caterer, and, the next thing I knew, a chef. Later, a restaurateur, a farmer, an author, a photographer. And who knows what’s next.
I have now come full circle, back to Delhi, to my family’s support and open table. I’ve returned with experience and an abundance of blessings, friendships, and wisdom. I’ve come hungry to grow and hone my skills in the motherland, eager to repay the debt I owe to my fortuitous heritage. In Slice of Life, every fortnight in these pages, and weekly online, my hope is that, together, we explore the nuances of life and living. Through my articles and images I hope to make you ask questions more than find answers. In questions we discover the route needed to get deeper into our own selves. In the inner sanctum of our being, we find answers that have been most elusive.
Suvir Saran is a chef, author, educator and world traveller
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