Last Friday, something really special happened. It began just like any other day, with us going through our weekend plans and balancing work responsibilities with household chores. As my youngest child struggled to get ready for school, the parental stress levels rose. Packing lunches, choosing the right snacks, making sure the water bottle was sealed tight, fixing her hair, grabbing that last-minute book, preparing breakfast – all while the clock relentlessly reminded us that time was slipping away.
The frantic rush continued as I sipped my morning tea, realizing that I had a 9:30 AM meeting at the office, and it was already 8:40 AM. Ordinarily, my commute takes 45 minutes, and I hadn’t even gotten ready yet. I decided not to dwell on the missed opportunities to be punctual.
As the day wore on, the anticipation of the weekend loomed, along with a pile of personal tasks. In the afternoon, I made a presentation at work which was not self satisfactory, despite the thumbs-up emojis it received. Self-satisfaction is the most crucial validation, after all. I had to rush back in the evening for something exciting – a friend had invited me over for a Pani puri snack evening. Just as I was about to close my laptop, I realized I had forgotten to update a tracker. Oops, back to work!
Amidst all the chaos, I managed to get dressed in a South Indian skirt and Jhumka (earring) and even put on a new nose ring I had recently purchased. A busy day need not be boring you. When I arrived at my friend’s home, their warm welcome and pleasant demeanor instantly lifted my spirits. Maybe it was their goldenish and white attire, heartfelt smiles, or the inviting atmosphere they had created. Their efforts certainly made the evening special.
As we began chatting, and I mean chatting loudly – me being the loudest – I couldn’t help but get distracted by a playlist of 90s Tamil songs. Music has this incredible power to transport us through time. Each song reminded me of moments from my school and college days, where I imagined myself as the heroine of every song. Music also has the superpower of calming us down within, and in a social setting, enjoying a playlist together is a rare treat. Fortunately, we all enjoyed the same music.
Then came the first drink, not your typical alcoholic beverage, but a green-colored concoction served in shot glasses with a rim of salt and lemon, similar to a tequila shot. It was a curious moment as my tongue tasted salt, lemon, and the unique blend of cream, coconut, dried rose, and possibly some nuts passing through the throat. The predominant flavor, though, was pan leaves. “Pan shots!” I exclaimed, giving away the surprise. Next, there was mango lassi for the kids, and I couldn’t resist indulging my inner child.
Finally, as all the families gathered, it was time for the star attraction – Pani puri. The crispy puris were ready, and we took turns stuffing them with masala and filling them with spicy green water, followed by a splash of sweet and sour red water. The moment we popped this combination into our mouths, it was pure heaven. Learning that everything was homemade, including the puris and spices, added to the delight.
The evening continued with rounds of Pav bhaji and cutlets, and even though I felt like I couldn’t move, I couldn’t resist going back for more. Food and conversation went hand in hand. There were initial discussions about things like a robbery in the metro or airport issues which was getting me quieter as I wasn’t ready to crib ‘further’ on a Friday evening. But those were just cheatsheet glimpses before the real joy began. We started talking about movies, our favorite comedies, and teasing each other – a wonderful experience with a new group which is usually rare with new group. The ambiance, good food, amazing hosts, and the Friday excitement led to uproarious laughter.
Usually, I enjoy spending time with my kid’s friends because in that group, no one judges you. You can crack silly jokes, giggle, and be utterly crazy without fear of criticism. However, on this night, with my adult friends, I experienced the same carefree laughter and camaraderie I remembered from my childhood. As one of them put it, “it feels like being back in college.”
But the night didn’t end there. The grand finale of our small chaat party was a delightful surprise – ‘jigarthanda,’ a native delicacy served as dessert. I had to make room in my already stuffed stomach, but it was too good to resist that I could push my parts of the body aside to have more of jigarthanda. Once again, everything was homemade, including the syrup extracted from the roots of a plant. It was like watching a Netflix documentary on food come to life. Every ingredient – flour, syrup, vegetables, colors, and flavors – was handled with meticulous attention and a lot of love. Deepa is a true culinary artist, and every dish was a work of art. And yes, we devoured that art!
As we walked back home around midnight, we discussed how much effort had gone into preparing each dish, the nostalgia-inducing playlist, and the laughter that drowned out the daily hassles. It was a much-needed moment of pure joy and connection.
In our everyday lives, we often find ourselves caught up in work stress, politics, negotiations, household problems, health concerns, financial struggles, and unhappiness in various aspects of life. There’s no shortage of advice on how to maintain mental health during these times, especially on social media. However, that Friday night served as a reminder that sometimes all you need to unwind is some delicious food, great music, and heartfelt laughter with friends.
Today, October 10, 2023, is World Mental Health Day, and I urge you to reflect on the truly precious moments and people in your life who keep you grounded. If you haven’t created such moments in a while, consider planning one soon!