Traveling when I was a kid was always special, more so because of something my mom cooked. She made a specific dish to eat during the multi-day train journeys. Nothing special, just spicy fried potatoes, but they lasted 2 days at least, and we would buy freshly-cooked chapatis from train stations and eat the potatoes with that. I even had a name for that particular dish, a name that was considered acceptable by the household. I called it TT, short for Train Tarkaari. TT attained quite a bit of favor among my high-school friends, when we made our trips to Calcutta and Delhi, for scholarship exams, Brilliant Tutorial tests, for entrance examinations for colleges. Coming back to college after summer and winter vacations were made a little more tolerable because of the tiffin-ful of TT that ma sent back with me. I hated the oiliness of it in my luggage, but what the hey, I loved eating it on the train. Especially on the top berth, where nobody could ask for too much of it, or see how much I had left.
A few years after I began working, I began to cook for myself. Hesitant, tentative attempts at first, and most of the time I would be on the phone with my mother, asking about spice proportions and marination time and the number of pressure cooker whistles. We’ve all been there, right? I got better at it and the distress calls wound down. It would get weird on Sundays when we would have our weekly conversation, and ma would say something like, “I cooked this the other day, you would have liked it”, and I would say, “That’s fine, I will cook it tomorrow” and then she would be like, “Oh. OH. I forget you cook nowadays”. A little accusatory, a little proud and happy.
Now TT, that was something I never cooked for myself. I would get the recipe every single time I was at home. Day 3 would be around when ma would serve it on the table, usually at dinner. (Day 6 was when I would get completely sick of home-cooked food and long for some biryani) And it tasted great, of course. Every time, I asked her the precise steps – and it was simple – no onions, just ginger and garlic. Mustard oil if possible. That’s it. But somehow, somehow, TT was her’s specifically, the memory and taste of it associated with Guwahati and train journeys. I never even tried to cook it myself.
I met my mother at Amsterdam last month, for a day. She was visiting my sister in Brussels. I was on the last leg of my trip, and met her on a rainy Sunday morning, after having spent the whole night dancing like mad at the Sensation White festival. For some demented reason, my sister wanted to visit the Heineken Experience. I had absolutely no desire to go myself – the hotel receptionist’s horror when I asked for directions to the place was reason enough (“It’s shit! Don’t go!”, he shrieked. “I have to meet someone there”, I said. “Well, tell them to not go! It’s shit!” “Too late, they are already there”) I went there, waited an hour at a delightful pub next door – it was a rainy day, and the cup of coffee and the apple and nutmeg pie cheered me up despite the tiredness I felt. I had not seen ma in a year and a half, and as it turned out, she had woken up at 6 AM that morning and cooked some TT for me, along with fried chicken and some puris. We sat in the car, rain pouring around us, and wolfed down the food hungrily. I did not care much for the chicken, the fried potatoes hit every pleasure center in my brain. And then some.
So I’ve been lying around at home thanks to a bout of chicken pox. (I know, right? Who on earth gets chicken pox at age thirty goddamned two, forgoshsakes) And the craving hit me. I needed to eat some TT. Which also meant I needed to cook me some TT, and I did. But I got adventurous too, and added cauliflower to it. And sausages. Some thinly chopped carrots. When it was done, I finished the whole dang thing with a packet of microwaved tortillas. I made some the next day too, and finished it in two meals. And later that week, I called up my mom and told her that I had made my version of TT. Or as I called it, TT2. Fuck yeah.