“A Light Brunch”

Akshay Ramanathan
5 min readJan 21, 2021

In January of 2010, I visited my friend Saurabh and his wife Tina at their house in Delhi, India. Over dinner our first night together, I recounted all the places I had been to over the past few weeks while traveling to India.

My hosts inquired what I had seen of their home city. I was pleased to let them know, that just the previous day I had found a reliable tour bus company, and had visited the major sites in Delhi. Tina responded saying that while this was a great accomplishment, I had yet to see and experience the “real” Delhi.

I understood what she meant. As a resident of New York City, I had come to learn that major tourist attractions there like the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, and Central Park, were not the place to experience the “real” New York, New York. Especially not from the elevated and protected comfort of a double-decker tour bus. One had to venture into the small neighborhoods, visit all the boroughs, and understand the history of the Big Apple in order to truly appreciate it.

Tina told Saurabh to take me to the heart of Old Delhi. Old Delhi was the place that my parents and grandparents knew to be the true heart of India’s capital city, not the “New” Delhi that had been cleaned up for tourists and overrun with Western commercialism. I mean the last thing this country needed was more McDonalds and Gap stores. I went to sleep that night eager about our trip the following day.

The next day I awoke, showered, and got ready for our excursion. Our destination was Chandni Chowk, one of the oldest and busiest markets in Old Delhi. We had a small breakfast, and Saurabh told me to eat light, as we would be feasting on some of the finest traditional food this famous market had to offer.

Just as we were about to leave, Saurabh’s mother ran us down and asked me if we would like lunch before we left. Aware of Indians and their strong kinship with food, I knew better than to refuse such an offer from her.

A small argument ensued between Saurabh and his mother, regarding my hunger, what I wanted to eat, and the fact that I was going to eat more soon. I stood watching this dialogue, which was entirely about me, as though I was a spectator. I was right there and yet I was being represented and spoken for by both Saurabh and his mother.

His mother said that she had been preparing her best dishes all morning. I knew this was an effort to guilt us into staying and eating, a tactic my grandmother pulled as well.

However, as her guest, I took it to heart. Saurabh however laughed and said that he was not falling victim to this age-old strategy. He had told her last night, and again this morning, about our plans, and that we were not going to have lunch at home.

His mother insisted, saying that I could always eat more, and there was no harm in having a little food. I would later come to find that “harm” could in fact come from eating a “little” more food.

Upon my agreeing to lunch, a big smile appeared on her face. She shouted for the maids and housekeeper to ready the food and she quickly hauled me off to the dining room.

Chief among an Indian mother's concern is their child’s appetite and Saurabh’s mother functioning as my own at the moment, did not fail to remind me of this fact. The housekeepers set the table and as more coasters and plates were put down, I became anxious about the feast that was on the way. I normally could not and did not eat a lot in one sitting, but rather ate small meals throughout the day.

I clearly described the nature of my eating habits to Saurabh’s mother, conveying that I only wanted a little food. Her smile merely meant that she had heard it, not actually taken it into serious consideration. A bell sounded, and from the kitchen came what seemed to be an endless line of pots and pans filled with various dishes.

As it turned out what Saurbh’s mom meant by a “little” food was probably enough to feed me for a month. This was one meal. The vessels were placed on the table and when their covers were lifted an incredible aroma filled the air. The smell alone was intoxicating. A variety of vegetables, dry, cooked, and stewed were served accompanied by piping hot rice and freshly made bread. Thrilled to see my look of amazement, Saurabh’s mother egged me on to start.

Indian food is ridden with an intense and diverse array of spices and flavors and as such tends to be a heavy meal. After eating for about thirty minutes straight, I was forced to stop and take a breath. Seeing this, Saurabh’s mother who had been secretly watching me from the kitchen, immediately stepped out with a look of concern.

She asked if I liked everything. I thought my requests for seconds, thirds, fourths, and even fifths, was sufficient in answering this question, but I guessed not. I verbally replied and quelled her concern. She nodded in response and seemed to be okay. She asked if I would like some more. I respectfully declined.

At this point, I realized that she would continue to feed me until I exploded. I figured that from her point of view, death by the overconsumption of her food was a good way to go.

The table was quickly cleared and a colorful assortment of sweets and desserts were put in front of me. I took a deep sigh and sampled the tiniest bit of everything I could. After completing the desert, I quickly pushed my plate in and away from me, indicating that I was seriously done. I was also scared there might be another course after dessert.

I withdrew my napkin and placed it on the table, effectively waving a white flag, implying I was giving up and retreating. Standing up took some effort, and my stomach was not shy about showing the food baby protruding from my body. I lumbered over to the bathroom, washed my hands, and splashed some water in my face in an attempt to wake up. The warmth spreading through me due to digestion was making me terribly sleepy, but I remembered that this was supposed to be the beginning, and we still had to tackle things on our day’s itinerary

I thanked her kindly for the feast, adding that I genuinely enjoyed it, and was not just saying it to make her happy. Saurabh sarcastically asked his mother if we could go, or if she would like to go ahead and feed us dinner and the next day’s meal now. Saurabh’s mother threw him a dirty look but turned to me and smiled. She wished us a safe trip, and let us go freely.