There are few people who inspire you to love. When Sai Baba teaches us to love the world, Sri Sri Ravishankar teaches us to love yourself, Romeo-Juliet gave a new dimension to romantic love, Mother Teresa taught us to love the underprivileged. In recent times I added a new person to this endless list-my sister-in-law (Anni). She taught me how to love your favorite food. Her undying love for her all time favorite dish biriyani has always intrigued me and left me thinking-how could anyone love a dish so much?
I got to know about her passion from my mom-in-law, well before my marriage. Whenever she prepares biriyani, she would say,”If Anitha was here…..”. At that point of time I just thought this as a mere motherly love. It was much later that I came to know that it was of course motherly love but apart from that it was my sister-in-law’s unrequited love for biriyani which made my mom-in-law tell these words every single time we talked about biriyani.
As I get to know my new family a little closer I got more news about Anni’s love for biriyani. My Anni is a diehard fan of her mother-in-laws mutton biriyani. Anni learnt to cook biriyani from her. She prepares biriyani almost every day. I heard later on from my brother-in-law(Anna) that she only prepares biriyani well and that now-a-days he is so scared of even hearing this word that he suggest eating from outside whenever Anni gets into kitchen ready to try a new biriyani variety.[This was supposed to be a secret].
I was never a biriyani fan and let alone cooking biriyani, I do not even know to eat biriyani properly. This mughal food which came to India from middle east is still a favorite of many. But Anni is different from those many in a way that she loves it a bit more than the others. How? Why? It is still a mystery to me.
Not everyone get a chance to eat with ones husband's family before marriage. I was lucky enough to get many chances. One among them is memorable one when I went to a Chettinaadu hotel with my in-laws, Anni and her kids. Once Inside the hotel, I was busy strategizing –how will I eat some decent amount of food in front of my in-laws, what should I talk to them, what should I talk to the kiddos who will never understand my already bad tamil. All this time, Anni seemed very restless and was constantly looking out for a waiter to stop by. Obviously she was ready with her order-Mutton biriyani. I felt sorry for her hunger. Little did I know then that she always feels hungry when biriyani is around. When hot biriyani came, Anni abruptly stopped talking and gave a sharp greedy look to scan the varieties. That look was enough to digest the biriyani on the plate.
Even after many protests from me , my mom-in-law shoved a big heap of mutton biriyani into my plate and instantly I started calculating the time which I will take to finish that off(if at all I could finish). Everyone knows that I am a slow eater but being a “pudu ponnu” means keeping lot of decencies even if it is not part of her. I was nervously watching everyone around the table. Though Anni was talking to me and to her kids and to her parents, all the time her attention was to the plateful of biriyani in front of her. Or was she eyeing other’s plate also? I would be happy to share my plate with her but my mom-in-law had decided to make me eat my plate. I wanted to ask her then –“Anni why do you find this stuff so interesting to her?” But I was new to everyone present there and I didn’t dare ask to her then. Eventually I was to find it out.
I was immersed in these thoughts looking at the delicious heap in front of me when Amma told to me –“eat slowly, take your time.” That was encouraging enough for me to eat still more slowly. Amma was busy feeding Amrit. Appa was also busy eating with great concentration. He does this every time he eats. Scientists says that eating with concentration is good for health. It helps the food to be absorbed well into your body. Dhanvanth was cranky and blabbering in his cute childish style.
Even when the whole world was moving around her with activities, Anni was uninterrupted by these and was determined to stick to her mission- enjoy biriyani.
Amma could no longer handle both Amrit and Dhanvanth and so asked Anni to feed the latter. Dhannu in his cranky mood was difficult to handle. Anni seemed a little upset on having to interrupt her relishing biriyani but started feeding him. I was eating looking solely on my plate and nowhere else. I could hear Dhannu throwing tantrums and I wanted to watch it, out of curiosity. I could hear Anni asking Dhannu to open his mouth to feed him. In between she was also telling him how tasty the biriyani is and that it will make him stronger. I understood then that for Anni biriyani is the complete food. I wanted to see cute Dhannu eat food amidst his crankiness and I lifted my head just enough to see his face. I heard many times Anni telling “ Open your mouth Dhannu, look this biriyani is sooo yummy” .And he will do so. But not even a single time I saw biriyani reaching his mouth. My curiosity made me tilt my head a little more to track the path of biriyani.
It started from Anni’s plate and ended in her mouth! Poor Dhannu kept his mouth open for a long time before falling asleep!
Days passed by and I became part of this wonderful family. My mother-in-law did succeed in making me eat better and made me put on few kilos. She even taught me to cook many dishes-biriyani being one among them. But they say –you learn what you love- and so I learned sambhar and rasam very quickly but could never get my hands on any types of biriyani.
Once I shifted to Chicago with Arun I had made it a point to learn new recipes and surprise him. I tried everything from kerala dish to north Indian, from bhramin food to continental but could never prepare tasty biriyani. I used to get tips from Anni and Amma but my biriyani was never a success. Anni used to enjoy even while she used to tell me biriyani recipe over phone. She used to tell me the method of biriyani preparation in a single breath so as not to lose the thrill of it even when she speaks about it.
I talk to Anni daily over phone and I noticed that Anni always had some news related to biriyani and every time she speak about it her voice showed an elevated level of happiness. She knows by heart which hotel in Dallas serves good tasty biriyani and what ingredients that would have used in it. She knows who is going to throw a biriyani party and when. “why” doesn’t hold much significance to her. During one such conversation she mentioned about a picnic party where all the families had cooked and brought biriyani varieties. But I was amazed on why she was not excited while talking about biriyani this time. Then came the reason which surprised me even more- there were only 23 varieties of biriyani but she expected more.
Anni has endless tales about her love for biriyani and I am sure I will update my blog whenever I get something new from her. I wish that her love be long lived.
When I was finishing my blog I got a call from Anni’s number. Since Arun was busy watching his favorite tele-serial, I picked the phone and to my surprise it was Anna. It was unusual for Anna to call at this time. Usually it was Anni who speaks first and then pass the phone to Anna. I thought there should be something very special and important that made him to call us. He wished a good evening and I could sense a great tension in his voice. He said .” I do not want to tell you this but then I do not have any other option but to tell you. I found out that your Anni is cheating on me.” I felt dizzy. After all these years of strong marriage….????
I told him he should have mistaken and that my Anni will not do such a thing to which he strongly disagreed.
He said,” Yesterday night I heard her tell in her sleep –I love you biriyani. I am sure she loves biriyani more than me”.
Needless to say I burst out laughing and could tell anything more but these- Anni long live your love for biriyani. Anna, better luck next time. You lost her to a Mutton biriyani.”