Hunt for Novelty and Comfort of Familiarity — the two basic needs of life

“You would have never eaten these fancy stuff. Try Rumali Roti and Mutter Paneer. It is a nice combo. I like it very much…”

My elder brother ordered the menus without even waiting for my consent. We were sitting for the dinner in the not-so-crowded, not-so-costly middle class Restaurant ‘Manzil’ at Sarojini Nagar in New Delhi. It was 39 years ago. I went to Delhi on a college tour and it was also an opportunity to visit my bachelor (elder) brother employed in Delhi.

I could not even spell the names of the items that he ordered. Yes. They were quite north-Indian, novel and tasty too,  but far too disconnected with the Dosai, Idly-sambar and rice that we Tamil Brahmins of South Indian rural origin were familiar with.

“Do we finish off with a familiar ‘Thayir Sadham’ (curd rice)?” I asked my brother. He laughed at me. “Come on boy; Why do you still want to be a typical ‘Iyer Paappan, Thayir Sadam’ even here?” (That phrase is a typical mockery used by non-Brahmin Tamil boys to tease Brahmins who invariably have a fetish for curd rice!). “You know, I have virtually stopped taking rice and curds after settling in Delhi!” said my brother with a shade of pride.

“You don’t mind the presence of garlic in all these?” I asked. Garlic was a strict no-no in our home food. Except for extremely rare occasions of eating at a hotel, my brother would never have tasted garlic till he reached 22 years.

“I don’t mind at all; in fact I like it very well!” said he.

And what a change in his attire too!

During the whole of his college days in our village till he completed his Graduate degree, he was wearing only dhoti (Veshti) to the college! He had never bought pants till he received his appointment order from New Delhi. Now, he was going to the office in coat and suit (as it was winter in Delhi at that time). I could not see a single dhoti hanging in his room and even at nights, he felt comfortable wearing only pants saying it kept him warm. I also remember missing seeing the single line of red color “Sri churnam” that used to adore his forehead during his college days as a sign of declaring his religious orientation to Vaishnavism.

Fast forward 25 years…

I visit my brother, now a middle aged married man with two sons, living comfortably at Delhi. My brother now strictly prefers typical south Indian food only, with a particular emphasis on traditional and time-tested items that our mother used to cook. He has shunned taking onion and garlic! His wife complains that their children want nothing but north-Indian food with a fair dose of onion and garlic and she is burdened cooking two types of food daily! Very occasionally under unavoidable circumstances, my brother takes with reluctance food containing onion and garlic at Hotels, but never at home!

He openly admires the typical south Indian snacks that my mother made and sent through me and boldly comments that his wife could never match up to that taste; no wonder his utterances end up annoying and irritating my sister-in-law!

Fast forward another 9 years…

My brother is now settled in Chennai after retirement. His food restrictions have become much more strict, narrowed further down to outright traditional south Indian Brahmin food. He wears dhoti in the traditional Panchakaccham style (like priests). His forehead is adored by a full fledged white Namam and an yellow Sri churnam declaring his religious affiliation to Srivaishavism very vividly. He does Sandhyavandhanam regularly and is seen less at home and more at the Perumal Temple round the corner of the street!

That brings me to subject at last!

The above is a typical and true life story that demonstrates my theory that most of us in our life, upto a certain point of age, go behind novelty, travel the uncharted territory, tryout the unfamiliar and try to declare to the world that we are no slaves to tried-and-time-tested things of life. In this process, there are also some people who experiment with breaking some hitherto-carefully-guarded codes of ethics and morality.

But gradually (or in some cases, suddenly too) a change of mindset takes place in us. It may happen to most of us, somewhere in the age of 40 to 60 (plus or minus a few years here and there). Our attraction to our hunt for novelty, change, thrill etc die down. We start thinking — ‘May be what my father/ mother/ grand father/mother said/ did/ practiced/ lived was better; it makes more sense; it has some values though not fully understood by me now’.

At that point of time, many of us take steps to wind the clock backwards. Be it food, culture, arts, music, spiritual faith, religious practices or dress code — we get a yearning for reviving and re-practicing some or many of traditional ways. We find some inexplicable sense of comfort, feeling of security and peace in it. We find that whatever new paths we traversed, though could give us some wonderful thrills and bouts of joy, there was some inexplicable lack of comfort in them too; something in us could not accept that as a way of life till end.

In love and marriage…

In India, one can frequently see boys and girls from closely knit families taking this U-turn when it comes to marriage. In tune with times, boys and girls may go hunt for girl friends and boy friends, get entangled in ‘divine love’ cutting across the typical Indian caste / religion/ cultural barriers. And when it comes to marriage, they would suddenly wake up and take a U-turn to settle for an arranged marriage with a boy / girl duly fitting to “traditional” styles!

Eating egg – my little escapade in uneventful thrill..

Considering my own personal case, in my youth, I had an inferiority complex that I did not possess a strong physique; my stamina was poor. My college friends suggested taking non-vegetarian food and eggs. Non Veg was totally unacceptable to my mindset, but I was tempted by egg, because eggs sold in the market, I was told, cannot fertilize and hence they are more or less vegetarian. I succumbed. I started taking egg omelet during my hostel days and developed a liking for them too. But I always had some indigestion problem on many times when I consumed egg. I ignored the problem. I took pride in openly telling my close relatives that I consumed eggs and had a thrill when they showed a look of momentary aversion towards me!

As I aged up to 32, my consumption of eggs gradually became very occasional, and I never took egg at home. At 32, it became very clear to me that I really have problem in digesting eggs and the cause could be a deep-rooted aversion to it. One fine day, I took a decision not to consume egg any more and that decision was such a relief for me, in reality!

I could observe in my life that as I grew older and older above 40, I started feeling that many things my father said and practiced in his life were indeed good. Even though I did have my differences of opinion with him in some matters and did a few things (in the matter of personal finance, lifestyle etc) not in tune with his preferences, I came back one full circle and started trusting his ways more and more!

And it is also true there are exceptions to this. There are also some people whose search for thrill never get satiated; they don’t take a U-turn to seek satisfaction in old ways. Traditional ways may continue to be anathema to them till they get physically incapacitated to do anything on their own. Some of them could also be extremely egoistic, non-analytical, self-rightists who cannot differentiate between what is transient pleasure and what is long term good.

Kathopanishad, a very old Hindu scripture says there are two types of things for us to choose in life. One is called preyas and the other, shreyas Whatever things that give short term pleasures and thrills are called preyas and whatever that is good for us and give us long term benefits are called shreyas.

We can probably conclude that most of us in life go behind preyas for certain period of life and then gradually learn and take a recourse to Shreyas after a certain point of time.


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