The argument is between ‘presence’ and ‘absence’. Or ‘presence’ and ‘elsewhere’ perhaps.
A friend asked for easy dinner recipes. She’s no cook, doesn’t enjoy it. For me, it’s a passion. My brief was to send her recipes that took no preparation time, only 15 minutes cooking time and yet would put ‘life’ back into dinners. I sent the first one – cold zucchini soup with Kashmiri garlic pearls, grilled chicken with ‘chunda’ relish and coriander sprigs for flair. As I experimented, I was joyous. The plate was a riot of colour. A few bright red chilli flakes swam around pearls of garlic that floated in a tiny pool of molten golden butter in an expanse of dense yellow zucchini soup. On this side, grilled chicken. Light brown and in some places charred, with squirts of sticky chunda turning into warm rivers. Here and there, fresh, cold, green leaves of coriander. This is life, this is joy.
I was happy as I saw and smelled my experiment, even before I touched and tasted it. And then the slurp the squish and the crunch of the eating. I wrote to Putul – here is the recipe. When you make it, the food should be eaten with your eyes first, then smell, touch if you can, put the piece in your mouth and taste, hear yourself bite into it. Food is a ‘whole’ experience of immersive presence. It’s not just dinner. It’s what will put life back into life.
Reeva our dear cocker spaniel doesn’t like to play, be talked to, cuddled or stroked while she’s eating. Like all dogs, she eats when she eats, she plays when she plays. She’s a happy person. I reflected on how often we are absent from our present, from this visceral experience of living. From the here and now. We don’t even glance at our food while eating. It somehow finds its denouement on an unaware palate. A denouement in which the plot comes to shreds, without any build-up.
Don’t think too much, don’t feel too much, they say. It’s not practical just to be eating one’s food and doing nothing else. We must multitask, always. It’s the new ethic. We are able to, so why not, they say. Watch tv, read something, upload a picture, reply to email, reply to replies, like our likes, consume comments…simultaneously. Simultaneity is an achievement, they say. We can achieve much more, get things done, amuse ourselves!
Why engage all our senses, our entire being, in one small thing – to see, smell, touch, taste and hear our food, for example.
What an old fangled and impractical idea. The world has changed. The loss, profound.
My presence, it is elsewhere. Are you with me?