“But this is not my tiffin…” I often hear these words around dinnertime. You must wonder if I order my dinner from the dabbawalas. Well, I am not so unfortunate. On the contrary, I am blessed to have delicious home-cooked food everyday.
The novelty I enjoy is that in one single week, I eat dinner in four different homes. Surprised, are you? If know about my family, I don’t think you would be taken aback but if you have not heard my dinner tales, then here I go…
I reside in a cosmopolitan city of India with my mother and daughter. And I am blessed to have my mamajis (uncles) reside on the other two floors of this building. It is the biggest boon one can have in a city where more than a million people reside and yet everybody is lonely. My nanaji (grandfather) was from a small town. He was a firm believer in the ancient system of joint family and thus kept the family together with his unconditional love, devotion and constant support. Later, my mamaji took a vow to continue this tradition here, in this city, though with a few alterations to suit everyone’s needs.
Ma shifted to this city after my father’s demise. It began with a simple ritual of only four members from two households having dinner together. My mamaji ensured they had dinner with Ma so that she didn’t feel lonely and also, to exchange notes about the day’s happenings. If they had not initiated this ritual, they would probably have not met each other for days at a stretch inspite of staying in the same building. Isn’t that what happens with everyone in the metropolitan cities?
And it happened with us too. After I was diagnosed with COVID, a few other members too tested positive, one after the other. We decided to stop the common dinner in the best interest of everyone. Hum bhi iss sahar ki bheed mein bhi akele ho gaye the!! Yes, without the dinner ritual, we started feeling lonely too. And that’s when I realised the true importance of this daily custom. I missed my hour of good cheer and the emotional support system.
The dinnertime ritual had started with four members but over the years, others shifted here, me and Aamya, being two of them. We slowly grew in numbers. My mosi (aunt) and my cousin took a conscious decision to reside in the same colony so that they could benefit from this setup. We did question if we could accommodate more members and my mamaji’s stance was always positive. It is his unwavering faith in the ideology that has brought us so far. From four members of two families, we have grown to 13 members across four families and with Zoie as the latest member, the count has gone to 14! All the 14 members have different taste buds. So, the food might not be necessarily to the liking of every member across three generations but we dine together happily. Zoie is the only member who splurges on anything and everything she gets to eat. All the food is to her liking!! And she is loved by every member of the family.
Everyday, we come out of our comfort zones to go to one-of-the-four-houses to have dinner. The work timings are different and some of us do get late. We’ve had cousins/relatives/family friends staying over for few days/months. Though it’s not been easy but it was not impossible to work-out this setup. The best way is to keep it simple. It is neither a pot-luck dinner nor an elaborate meal. And that’s what has kept it workable. The one who hosts the dinner does all the cooking except when we have additional people staying over.
This precious time is not only about having dinner together. It is also about strengthening our bonds and nurturing them. Undeniably, it is about respecting our differences and learning to adjust with the others. It also means that we have ensured that none of us feel lonely in the chaos of this city. I give the credit to my mamaji to start this practice but at the same time I also give equal credit to the ladies of these four homes who have sustained it day after day. Here, a special mention of ma and my mamiji(aunt). Both of them have gone an extra mile to make it work.
Over the years, each one of us has made a conscious effort to meet at 8 pm to have dinner…together. Whenever one of the member falters and persistently gets late, mamaji reiterates the reason for having this dinnertime ritual, “Yeh dinner hum ek saath kyon karte hai? Sirf kahana nahi khaana hota hai. Ek saath samay bhi bitana hota hai”. I totally agree that this ritual is not merely to have dinner. The idea is to have dinner together and spend quality time with one another.
Check, check…I guess, I got carried away with the saga of the dinnertime ritual and forgot all about the ‘tiffins’!! As a reader, you too must have got engrossed to know more about the dinner ritual or were you would still wondering about the tiffins? I personally believe that you were with me. You were inquisitive about the ‘dinnertime ritual’…you wanted to know more about it, isn’t it? Well, there is so much more to share about this unique-workable-heartwarming idea but before we go further let’s give some importance to the title of my blog and figure out the story of the ‘tiffins’…!!
Even though we know the importance of having dinner together and make a conscious effort to be there at 8 pm, lest we get reprimanded but sometimes the work schedules, ill health or sheer laziness doesn’t let us follow the regime. In such a case the tiffin boxes are packed and carried for the said individual(s). Generally, it takes days to return the tiffins/containers to the rightful owner.
And when these boxes are brought back during dinnertime, the ladies try to identify their own and we often hear words like, “you have my orange box…”, “na, na, not this round tiffin, I had given the square one”, “woh ek plastic wala tha na…?“, “but this is not my tiffin…”!! It’s a hilarious scene for the onlooker but a matter of serious concern for the owner. The containers generally reach their rightful owners. If not then the ladies have to let go off their boxes! Yes, ‘let go’ – this is yet another mantra we have imbibed through our dinnertime ritual.
Hmm…now you know all about the tiffins and also the dinnertime ritual! Though the actual ritual takes just about an hour and a half but it nurtures us 24 x 7!! It is much more potent than a prayer! It is a blessing in disguise…and a celebration of life!!