Annadātā, Annakartā, Annabhogtā Sukhi Bhava
Ājchyā sārkha udyā milo
(May the one who provides food, cooks food and eats food be contentedly happy, May today’s abundance continue tomorrow)
I heard this simplest of Marathi prayers for the first time, a little over a decade ago. We had recently moved to a new house and my mother’s cousin had come over for lunch. As we finished our meal and were clearing the plates, I heard my uncle softly mumbling these lines. Back then too, the simplicity of the prayer touched me. No fancy words, no lengthy proclamations, no complicated Sanskrit pronunciations. Just a simple from-the-heart blessing sent out to those involved in providing the meal, cooking the meal and eating the meal.
Back then, I understood the prayer in a very limited scope. For me, the provider was my father, the one who cooked was my mother and the ones who ate, were all of us. Best of all, it seemed to have no religious connotations! I asked my uncle about this prayer and he said that was the first thing he remembered learning from his mother. Again, the uncomplicatedness of the memory was endearing. Something about the modesty of the words touched my heart and I (my whole family in fact!) decided to adopt this humble habit of Uncle’s.
Soon, as my professional horizon broadened, I discovered innumerable people directly or indirectly responsible for literally every morsel I put in my mouth.
The first time, I realized the not-so-limited scope of the prayer was when
That thought set off a chain reaction of sorts as my thoughts didn’t stop at the farmer and the soil. They continued to the sun, the rain, the farmer’s family, the others working at cleaning and processing the harvest, transporting the grain, storing the grain, packaging it and selling it. It was like a pebble had been thrown into a still pond and ripple upon ripple took form.
One day, I tried to draw up a list of all the people responsible for a square meal. The numbers on that list were astounding. In fact, the basic list of people who provided food in
Countless more occupations came to light as I dug deeper into further food processing.
Over time, I branched out into culinary research and slowly, as I explored more, my list kept growing – this time with unusual people I never knew existed. People who undertook great discomfort to provide the world something that was taken for granted.
Take for instance turmeric. Every cook in India has been adding turmeric to dals, curries, subzies, masala blends without giving a second thought to where it comes from. Recently a celebrated Maharashtrian chef, Nilesh Limaye, opened my eyes to what I call a turmeric reality. The turmeric that comes to us, is matured for over a year in turmeric “wells” near Solapur. These wells are about 100 feet deep and there are people, who, in the merciless Solapur heat work so deep in the earth’s hot belly, packing these wells with turmeric knots to enable them to dry so that the spice reaches us in a form which does not spoil.
Cashews – another case in point. These white creamy nutty nuts that are used so abundantly in everything from
During a monsoon trip to north India, we passed by a large pond where a man was diving in and out of cold water bringing up clumps of weeds. Curious, we stopped and met the man. He was clearing the pond of weeds and trash so that he could plant water chestnuts there. The season for planting was well upon him and there
These are just 3 examples. If I were to share my whole list of such culinary angels, it would run into several volumes.
Today, every time I eat, I end up thinking of all those people I’ve never met and probably will never meet but who have nourished you and me and continue to do so without the slightest expectation of thanks. And my thoughts go back to people like my uncle and his mother, who forge a connection with them through this simple far-reaching prayer of gratitude.
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