How to Answer the Mother of All Questions: “Beta, Khaane Mein Kya Banau?”

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How to Answer the Mother of All Questions: “Beta, Khaane Mein Kya Banau?”

Illustration: Juergen D

I

t’s a Saturday morning, I’m hungover and seated grumpily at the dining table waiting for a steaming bowl of poha to cool down. The minute I put the first spoon in my mouth, my mother manifests out of thin air and startles me with the one question every Indian mother since the time of Gandhari has repeated ad nauseam, ad infinitum: “Beta, khaane mein kya banau?”

Both mama and I know very well that said query has been the cause of some stellar arguments, but mothers don’t give up, do they? After every breakfast comes the question, “Beta, lunch mein kya banau?” After lunch, you are asked, “Beta, dinner mein kya banau?” and post dinner, the question arises once again – this time about breakfast. On weekdays, I spend most of my waking hours in front of a laptop at work, but there is no respite from this barrage on weekends.

My older colleagues, who live away from their families, have often pooh-pooh’d at my complaints. One was triggered enough to rage-tweet about “entitled millennials” like me, because office protocol prohibits physical violence. But I know the struggle is real.

After seeing the Bambulkar edition of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham unfold only last month – with mama suddenly transforming into a milder version of angry Amitabh Bachchan – I had vowed to exercise caution. The last time we had an argument over the lunch menu, she decided not to make biryani for an entire month. Getting through a whole month without biryani is to me what getting through a month without Mann Ki Baat is for a BJP supporter.

So when the all-important question arose recently, I decided to answer it without wasting any time. With a mouth full of poha, I rattle off the name of the first few dishes that come to my mind – butter chicken or lasagna, mutton curry or shawarma. Obviously mom’s changing expressions are a sign that this is not going to end well.

Hearing the word lauki, my sister, who blames me for everything that goes wrong in the world, apparates into the living room with suggestions of aloo or arbi.

Mom never takes any of my suggestions seriously anyway. I don’t even know why she asks for my opinion because whatever I say she takes with a pinch of salt. She looks at me with her fists clenched tightly and her jaw clenched even tighter, visibly resisting the urge to hurl the belan at me. This is followed by a recitation of the ingredients she doesn’t have, which means my “kingly demands” won’t be met.

Mom’s list of missing ingredients forces me to snap back with, “Fine! Jo ghar par hai wahi banao! I don’t know why you keep asking me this question.”

It’s only after my retort do I realise that I have unleashed the Hulk. But it’s too late.

What follows is a barrage of savage burns: “If I could only turn out dishes in the kitchen as fast as you change girlfriends!” “Jitni tumhari salary hain naa, utne mein lasange ke ingredients bhi nahin aayenge.” Our food fight usually ends with, “Theek hai. There’s lauki for lunch.”

This is why you shouldn’t mess with mothers.

You’re going up against someone who has a mental register of every transgression you’ve ever committed, and won’t hesitate to dig into the archives. Five years ago, you whined when you were served slimy lauki ki sabzi. You forgot about it. But now each time you mess with her, she puts lauki on your plate.

Amid the fear of lauki, I frantically search for my self-respect and a comeback. Hearing the word lauki, my sister, who blames me for everything that goes wrong in the world, apparates into the living room with suggestions of aloo or arbi. My father steps in with a joke suggestion to make cabbage. But mom’s not one to be easily humoured.

So it is lauki lunch for us with a side dish of cold death stares from my father and sister reserved for me. I promise myself, the next time mum asks, “Beta, khaane mein kya banau?”, I will think twice before letting out a list of kingly demands.

Because I know everything that starts with lasagna and ends up at lauki.

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