I have this memory associated with ‘Bhutta Kees’, which is a preparation native to Madhya Pradesh. I had never heard of it before meeting my partner’s parents in Bhopal.

I was meeting them for the first time. I remember sitting at the lunch table, gobbling the lovely bhutta kees with fulka chapatis. His mother, aunty excitedly told me of the days she made Bhutta Kees for her son after his school. In a dreamlike sequence, I pictured the yellow of the food as the yellow in aunty’s voice.

She is a food enthusiast; kitchen enthusiast rather, as most mothers tend to become with time. I asked for many recipes from my partner’s mother since. And I have made most of those items at my house in Ranchi. But I never got around to asking her for Bhutta Kees’ recipe, no matter how much I missed eating it.

Maybe that’s why the association has remained intact over years. That day is still vivid in my memory: the lunch table, its setting, the plates we ate in and the clock striking 11am. I can still visit that memory when I feel like: I am eating Bhutta Kees, the color of the sun, prepared by aunty, at the same table, in those white dishes, served with the side dish of stories.

My experience making, eating and feeding Bhutta Kees

  1. I have known and eaten Bhutta Kees all my life, not by the same name, not the very same preparation. Mumma got it from her family into papa’s. And now we all love it. We call it ‘corn usal’. It’s made differently from the one that I made for this story, which claimed to be authentic. I am still amazed at how food travels places and is sanskrtitized.
  2. The thing I learned in making Bhutta Kees is that corn is a seasonal crop. It may seem like common knowledge to you, but I always thought that in this tech-world we get everything whenever we want it. How else do you explain apples? Well, by the time I left home to procure corn, we were at the end of Bhutta season in Vidarbha. For weeks then, I looked with lustful eyes at every vegetable hawker. Then I finally found it at my Basil guy’s shop. He is officially referred to as ‘Jaanu’ in my household now.
  3. I made Bhutta Kees on a relatively anxious day, when I had over-thought myself into fatigue. I plucked each kernel with the TLC of a person looking for distraction from a tired mind. It is curious that repetitively plucking yellow juicy corn kernels would have a similar effect as painting colourful patterns on a page or even looking at a sunset.

When I had not realised the cause of my trauma, the reason for my unteathered-ness, I roamed around with an orphaned spirit, looking to adopt any parents who would have me. During this time I dated a kind man with parents who provided a sanctuary for my unteathered mind. I sat at the counter when aunty cooked and learned about elaborate and lavish chakna from uncle.

During the time when mummy was extremely sick, I would land at their house after therapy, unable to drive with misty eyes. Aunty hugged and cried with me. Uncle poured me my first fancy whiskey that night. I would cook, drink, clean with them often.

After we broke up, I visited them one last time, alone. I gave them books and hugged aunty extra tight, extra long for I knew I would not see her again.

I moved back home 2 years ago in an attempt to make a family from the people who owed each other that. Over time, we all shaped ourselves into a family. It made me a saner, un-lost, un-clingy, grounded person to have that void filled. So I removed the ill-fitting piece of borrowed parents’ love from it and put it on the mantle, to remind myself of the lost child and the people who loved her in-spite of everything. My proxy-parents, who shared with me chutney recipies, kirana lists and amazing whiskeys; gave me the tinka that delivered me to the shore.

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