I first saw her name as a very 'composed and grounded' commenter on Anita's blog. Soon, on Manisha's too. I have to admit that I didn't go to her blog to check it out even when she was reading all my favourite blogs, all my friends' blogs. You know how it is. Way too many of us and way too much food to talk about in a day. And her blog was postponed to check for another day.
I visited Manisha in June 2011. It was visit long due and we knew we wanted to meet after all those email conversations. We thought similarly about a lot of things and I really wanted to meet Medha. That girl fascinated me. I ate well, keeping true to the belief that grad students don't leave food when they see it. One night, I think it was Medha's birthday night, we decided to cook something special. She suggested Brinji - something that she'd eaten when she'd visited Anita's home in Delhi where she met Raji. She thought I'd know about it since I was a South Indian. Frankly, I have no clue about ingredients or food or the Science behind cooking. I had no clue if this was part of my heritage as a South Indian. The mixed rices in my home were very conventional. Brinji was something I'd never heard of. She made Brinji that night. We had some guests too, Medha's friend and her family who came to visit. It was a table full of food and a house full of people eating that Brinji. I wasn't sure how it'd be. You see, I'm not a huge fan of anything coconutty. I've only lately (shamefully enough, after eating Thai food) come to appreciate the nutty sweetness of coconut. I took a small serving in the name of 'oh, I can't eat much, been eating all day' and didn't want to stop eating. Only, I wasn't in my house to put my feet up and stuff my face.
I have this stupid rule that I wouldn't eat much in front of guests. Why? Not because I want to tell them I eat less, but because I'm worried it's not going to be enough. That night, I wanted to sit down and polish that Brinji off because I LOVED it. I guess Miri was like that. She seemed very unassuming, someone who didn't really write about her illness or her struggle with it. Or, how she had to change her career because of this illness and the pains she went through being a modern woman (the pressure on us to have both- home and career is unimaginable - again my narrow focus). But all this made her the wonderful person she seemed to be. It's a pity I didn't take the time to write to her to tell her how much I enjoyed that Brinji of hers.
I came back from the US a couple of weeks after, and at my first coming back party, I made Brinji. I made it consecutively for 3 parties after that. Once at my parents', then at my friends' and twice at my place. I should've written to her and let her know how much this dish had taught me - my own food heritage that I had no clue about, cooking rice on the stovetop without a cooker, falling in love with coconut and just my own happiness and satisfaction of coming back home.
As I write this post, I realise that every single time I've eaten Brinji, I've been insanely happy. Happiness because of achievements, because of events, because of the people around me. Manisha's family and friends, my own family that I came back to, that quiet night when A and I snuggled and ate this Brinji at 12.30 AM when we had one of those conversations, with my friends who went ballistic over Brinji. I was going to make Brinji in memory of this woman who I never knew. There was this sense of shame and guilt that I crib way too much about my life, my weight (without working on it), my career, people around me, trends in food blogging, and there was this one person who just did what she wanted because she loved it and lived what, in my eyes, was a pretty full life. I was stunned when I read the news on Facebook and it shook me enough to stop thinking of my own problems. I have none. I kept making Brinji, remember?
I kept back all the ingredients for Brinji the night Raji passed away. It's okay. I'm going to make it again this weekend. For me and A to sit down and make a pact that we wouldn't crib. About anything. I'm going to draw strength from that Brinji. That thought itself makes me feel so much lighter.
This post is possibly more about me and Brinji, but then I didn't know her to talk about her. And this is the legacy that I think Raji left for people like me - good food and a strong sense of spirit, to appreciate my own life and people around me more. So, thank you, Raji.