Sick Lit

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September 13th, 2010 Pablo Chaterji

One of my recent Facebook status updates read ‘What’s worse than being sick while travelling? Not travelling at all’. I wrote this in Calicut, where I had gone to do a travel story, and where I was being hosted by my friend Junaize and his charming wife Tessy. The idea was to weave a story around the famous Malabari ‘Mapillah’ cuisine of the area, and I couldn’t have found better hosts than the couple I was staying with – they’re both lifelong Calicut residents, the food in their own home is mind-bogglingly good and they know the owners of some of Calicut’s most famous restaurants, so back-stage access had been set up for me.
I arrived there tremendously eager to eat my way through Calicut’s history, and my first day there couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. I was treated to a home-cooked lunch of jackfruit and tapioca, with a spicy fish curry and fried fish to go with it, as well as those lovely ‘blistered’ Kerala-style papads, ghee rice and a fabulous payasam to wash it all down. This was followed by a chat in the garden, sipping Arabic tea and discussing Calicut’s varied and highly interesting history, and soon after that we took a drive around Calicut, which is a small but picturesque town. The promenade by the sea is particularly pretty, especially when viewed from an 8th floor sea-facing apartment with dazzling, white Ikea furnishings (I was lucky enough to have the apartment as my base during my stay). Dinner that night was an outstanding chicken biryani, with delicately browned onions, cashew nuts, raisins and chicken so well done that the meat virtually melted off the bone. I went to bed well satisfied that night, with the promise of more delicious food on the morrow.
What I got instead was a raging fever and a severe chest infection, both of which combined to knock me out for the count. I hasten to add that neither of these was caused by the previous days’ gluttony – a doctor I consulted said it was probably a relapse of a similar infection I had come down with a while earlier. Whatever the cause, one thing was for certain – my culinary explorations had been comprehensively shafted. I made a valiant effort to recover enough to be able to get some sort of story, but it was no use – I became so ill that at one point my friends considered taking me to hospital. Instead of aadu porichathu (roast mutton stuffed with chicken, in turn stuffed with egg) and beef varratiyathu with porotta, I had to make do with kanji (rice gruel) and coconut water.
I was bitterly disappointed, of course, but I somehow managed to see the silver lining on the cloud (hence the Facebook update), which is kind of unusual for me. Being ill while travelling sucked big time, no doubt, but if I hadn’t gone to Calicut at all, I wouldn’t have sampled the food that I managed to. I also wouldn’t have had the pleasure of my friends’ company, I wouldn’t have seen even the little bits of Calicut that I did, I wouldn’t have seen Calicut’s ‘College of Knowledge’ ( I swear such an institution exists there), I wouldn’t have been told that RD350s can be bought there for very little money (I’m not saying how much), I wouldn’t have discovered that the guy with the Duty Free licence at Calicut airport sells excellent imported booze on the open market (he even home-delivers) and I certainly wouldn’t have known that Calicut has an aviation academy called Flying Goose. For the first time in seven years’ worth of road trips, I wasn’t able to complete a story – but that just gives me ample reason to go back to Calicut as soon as I can.

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One Response to “Sick Lit”

  1. namrata kelkar Says:

    u activated my taste buds :) ….waiting for your next blog….!


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