Each morning I switch on my daughter’s zeal for school by alluring her to solve a riddle. The riddle of what is inside her tiffin. I would tell her that I have packed a yellow crescent moon with tiny red hearts while combing her brown curls. Well, at times her conjectures are right while other times they are not. There is always a mother’s urge compelling me to reveal the secret and put her to ease but I purse my lips and hold back until she finds it out on her own in the class.
I am sure it is tiffin time she must be looking forward to with all her heart. Not so much because of the food or the hunger pang but the grand revelation – the answer to what’s inside her tiffin. It’s mostly fruit and nuts. She knows that well and proudly tells everyone that she is a ‘fruitarian’ except on one occasion when she went and asked the cook why he does not pack burgers and pastas for her. He politely sent her back to me with ‘ask mama’ statement for an answer. I tried to explain her the ill effects of junk food, yet to keep her heart, I gave her once a week junk food day concession for her tiffin.
But sitting in my room I thought to myself that the peer pressure had already begun at this tender age. I imagined red, blue, pink, round and rectangular, Spiderman and Frozen, tiffin boxes being opened during the food break and burgers, pizzas, muffins and pretzels shimmer through as the lids are removed.
This took me back to my school days when we friends would open our tiffin boxes. Potato patty, spinach parantha, dhokla, parantha with mango pickle, veggie sandwiches, home baked cookies, cold coiled maggi were our generations thing. Although to this day, with a giggle in my head, I do not understand how cold maggi in our tiffin was a happy thing back then! Tiffins were always shared. Each time everyone liked the other person’s parantha or pakora more than their own stuff and a sense of bonhomie prevailed.
The times change and so does the content of these little portable boxes packed with food, but it is interesting to note how its varied roles never change. They are snugglies for kids which give them the warmth of home in their classes. They are a box of rest and pause in a busy man or woman’s day. They are comforting connection to cultural heritage for people working in foreign lands. They are a travelers box of security. A dabbawala’s bread and butter. A laborer’s box of well being. A wife’s box of love. A mother’s prayer. A cook’s art.
Anyway, my role is duly accomplished every day when my daughter comes back home and gives me the answer to the morning riddle. Much to my happiness and peace of mind I would then know that the tiffin box is empty now.
Published in The Post India on 31.10.2022