Much Sweet, Such Corn- Wow

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When I think about Summer, I'm taken back to playing in the park opposite Sehgal market. If you're raising an eyebrow, wondering what sort of royalty am I, then please know that I've nothing to do with the name of that park. Although, I may have been responsible for naming a park with rocky terrain and running field, "Dingdong Park". Yeah, I was twisted even as a child. 

One of many childhood rituals of the Summer included eating a corn on the cob, or Bhutta as I did call it. Chargrilled on coal, and coated with a thick layer of lemon juice and rock salt, it was the best that five bucks could buy you. My sole inspiration to change, and get ready for the park, Bhutta was an everyday affair. There was no coming between my evening snack and I. You could add to it, throw some puffed rice here or sprout salad there, but that Bhutta had to happen. I spent two recurring Summers obsessively waiting for the guy to draw his cart outside my door, when I was old enough to skip the park and instead focus on trading Pokémon cards. 

The fondest memory I have, ofcourse, is the time when my grandfather used to take me for a walk in the evening. He would be summoned by my grandmother to buy vegetables or some such, and be banished to the market, facing the park. My Bhutta guy used to be a permanent feature at the entrance of the market, knowing the spot where he'd catch innocent mongrels like us. I could swear to god, he was lacing that stuff with cocaine or some equally potent substance, because it was addictive. On one occassion, after he'd bought me the biggest sized cob that the guy had, he was stopped by some elderly gentleman to talk right after he paid the Bhutta seller. In the span of 2 minutes that he spent talking to the acquaintance, I polished the entire cob off. Clean. I don't think I was over 5-6 years old. After we were done and we were on our way home, he politely told me, 

"It's not good to eat this fast, especially when you're in public. You should eat slowly."

Then there was the Summer of getting braces and bracing myself to accept the fact that Bhutta won't happen for a year. I remember getting curvy, losing puppy fat and basically getting some collarbone game when I got braces the first time around- simply because I couldn't eat most things. Now when I think about it, I envy my resilience. I was only ever upset that I couldn't eat Bhutta. For the others, it didn't matter. 

My biggest surprise though was staying over with my cousins. In their part of the city, Bhutta cost a measly 3 rupees, as opposed to a minimum of 5 in my 'hood. I used to wonder what kind of money was the guy making if he was selling the damn thing cheaper than a pack of Fun Flips. 
If you grew up in Delhi in the 90s, you'd know the most filling thing that money could buy you was a pack of Fun Flips. In five bucks, they really gave you the world. 

Anyway, that Summer onwards after my braces, I didn't really anticipate the good old Bhutta the way I used to, but passively so, chased after. It continued to tantalize me, the smell of the coal and sweetcorn getting grilled, with a sharp smell of lemon- no evening walk could be complete without inhaling that fragrance through the course of the track. By then I'd discovered the joys of overdosing on teenage angsty music so my fond memories were packed in a memory jar, and kept far away from me. No feeble association of any kind whatsoever. 

Years later, when I gave up on wearing black t-shirts daily and decided to start my evening walk regime because graduation night required me to look a certain way, the Bhutta came back. I would stare at it longingly and continue to lust after it. On multiple occasions, my mother and grandfather would buy me the same, if they were returning back from running an errand. By then, I was more focused on getting things right, is too charred? I don't like that. Is it too soft? I don't like that. Does it have enough salt? I like it. 

A couple of years ago, when I consulted an adult orthodontist to get braces again, my biggest worry was only one- will I miss eating Bhutta? By then, I'd come back to my roots of eating one every day without fail. That one thing was hurting me a lot, especially my mind. What will I replace this with? 

Newsflash: I hated Winter for the most part of my life, for it meant no fresh Bhutta for me. My grandfather, the dude, used to scrounge the streets of Chawri Bazaar in peak winter to find me raw corn on cob so I could make a cheap version of Bhutta at home. 

That's who I am, when it comes to Bhutta. So, it hit hard when I took into realization that there would be no Bhutta for at least a year. 

And it lasted two. By the second year, I was sick and tired of wearing braces. "It's not as if I'm losing weight or being any more body confident with better teeth. Will I ever get to eat Bhutta again?" was ringing in my mind, as opposed to, "Will the bloody braces ever come off?"

Finally, in the Summer of 2017, they did. And with great anticipation, I waited every day for the Bhutta guy to show up. 

Finally, on one weekend, as I was headed out of my 'hood, I spotted a Bhutta seller on the Ring Road. A week later, I spotted three outside the market where I work. 

It took me some time to gather all the thoughts in my head to approach one such. This was going to be a moment. 

I picked one, after exiting work, one evening and went to the park with my purchase. Not the same vendor or the park, but the first bite reminded me of the time that had elapsed since I dug my teeth in a cob. 

The seller was a bit cuntish, at 20 bucks a pop, it was four times the price and one time the taste from my childhood. Which also meant, I had higher expectation, much as how people have when they go to a fine dining restaurant and don't find the servers or the owners standing on one knee and taking orders for the price they charge for the meal. Exluding taxes, ofcourse. 

A week later, slightly disappointed by the experience, I crossed one outside another Park. I stared at his face, his cart, the setup and convinced myself I can't disappoint myself over and over again. It's the same with dating. You try one, it's a fail. You give up and then eye the next cutie in line. 

An hour later, I found myself walking back to him. He was selling the same thing at 15. Feeling foolish at having paid five extra bucks (because that 3 rupees vs 5 rupees still stuck around my head), I asked him to make one. I selected a biggish cob, soft almost and gave him ten minutes to complete the cobs before mine. Bhutta teaches you how to be patient and be in a queue, more than any educational institution ever does.

This time, it was perfect. It was hot, not too hard, not too soft, yet so juicy. Complete with an extra swab of lemon and rock salt, this man had cracked my nostalgia down. 

Today again, I couldn't stop myself back, when I spotted him while walking back from work. It's only the fourth time since the season started that I picked one. I feel a three-hour long meeting calls for comfort food. 160 calories per cob, my calorie tracking app informs me that this is heavy duty snack, so I must resist this urge. 

It took me a total of 3 minutes to walk back from the park. Out of which, it took me 2 minutes to finish the entire cob on my way back. Somethings don't change. My grandfather will be so utterly disappointed.

But, some things shouldn't change.  

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