My mother always said, “Okra should never see the inside of a refrigerator. It should be fresh when we fry it”. Maybe, that is why we never bought a refrigerator. But I would always see her checking her purse when she passed the store, where we once went to see which refrigerator was the best looking. Okra always had a love-hate relationship in our family. Mom and I loved it, but my dad and sister hated it. I haven’t seen dad for a year now. The last time I saw him, he asked me what I wanted for my next birthday. I said a T.V set would be good. It’s my birthday tomorrow, but he hasn’t shown up yet. I think getting to see him would be better than a T.V set. Anyway, that leaves my sister alone who doesn’t like Okra.
Mom says that our appetite is shared. She always eats only after feeding me and always seems to be full when I eat. I would keep staring at her face when she eats and she would nod and gesture asking me if I want her food. I would end up saying yes and eat it just because I wanted to retain the taste. Those tender pods with their asparagus-like flavor were a real treat. Mom would cut them into 1-inch slices, toss them in cornmeal and salt, and fry them.
I never liked it when someone else made Okra. I can only think of the different ways my mother cooks it. Sometimes whole okra stuffed with masala and sautéed till crisp, sometimes sliced into roundels and deep-fried and turned into raita, and of course, the delicious bhindi anardana which has the sourness of dry anardana plus the sweetness of fresh pomegranate pearls. She then garnishes it lavishly with red kernels and it looked very appealing. The only downside is that it is never enough.
I will be 7 years old tomorrow, so she promised me that she would make the best Okra for dinner today. Earlier, she had to cook it in the light of a lantern, but thanks to my dad, we now have electricity. I could see it better now after it was cooked. I think I liked it better when I saw it in the lantern light — a small shadow falling on it, surrounded by a yellow tint. She sat both me and my sister on a mat on the newly laid earthen floor. The rotis were hot, taken out of the chulha just a while ago. She took turns to feed both me and my sister. This always scared me because what if I wasn’t able to finish on time and my sister would end up getting my share too. And for the same reason, I rarely chewed the food in my mouth. But Okra was different. I knew my sister hated it and there is no way she would end up eating more than me.
I don’t know why I never feel full when the food is something I really like, no matter how much I eat. When my mom started eating, I kept staring at her and she lovingly gestured if I wanted more. I couldn’t say no and she sat to feed me again. I didn’t feel guilty because I knew she will be full if I eat, as we had a shared appetite.
My mom would always drink warm water before she went to sleep. She went inside to drink. I was thirsty as well, but I couldn’t drink because I knew that I was so full that I would throw up if I eat or drink anything else now. I kept looking at her as she drank the water hoping it would quench my thirst too — I ate for her, so it’s better if she drinks for me. But my thirst didn’t seem to vanish. She saw me and gestured if I wanted her glass with a smile. For the first time, I shook my head and said no.