Shanti

Here is a story of community life in India. Since the day I was born, a number of vendors came to our door to sell goods (primarily food). There would be a vegetable seller, biscuit seller, idli-vada seller, and a fisherwoman amongst many who I have seen at our door selling their goods to my mother. They knew my family and were aware of every event in our house, up until I got married and eventually moved to the US.

One amongst them was Shanti- the fisherwoman. I have never seen her give a sales pitch. She just decided what my mother should buy that day and told her so. She would also throw in a few extras. Of course I have seen my mother bargaining with her and always walked away from the transaction feeling she got a good deal.

Fast forward 27 years. I married a vegetarian. Rohini had never cooked or eaten any non-vegetarian food in her life, though a year prior to our marriage she did learn to eat fish during her dance tour of Europe and Canada. During our dating time she realized that we were a home of foodies and eating fish was a key part of our family’s joyful moments.

In the meanwhile Shanti had handed over her business to her daughter-in-law Shalini. During her first visit to our home after our marriage, Shanti came equipped with all the information about Rohini’s vegetarian background. She gave a whole plate full of fish and shrimps to Rohini and told her to put it aside in the kitchen and that she would return after she had sold all of her fish for the day. An hour later, she came to our house, taught Rohini how to clean fish and shrimp and also how to cook. Since that day Shalini helped Rohini not only learn how to clean and cook fish but also to enjoy eating it herself. The tradition of selling and buying fish at the door step was carried forward one generation down. Instead of me, it was now our daughter Isha who would stand by the door while mom was told what fish she should buy for the day.

Today we google for recipes. There are fewer memories of the ritual of learning to discover new recipes.