Dosa, a baby and a stranger

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My baby is 1.5 years old. Whoever has traveled with a baby knows the sweet and not-so-sweet sides of it. We recently started traveling with J after she turned a year old. This story is about our recent trip to Chennai and Pondicherry in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India.

So little J loves south Indian food since the first time she tasted it. Much unlike her father who is a fan of butter coated parathas and chhole from the up north in India, she is actually more like her mother in this regard and has developed a taste for idlis and dosas and appam and pongal; all of which come from the south of India. So,on this trip to South India I began my regular routine of traveling with J – packing dried roasted powders that can be cooked up by adding milk/ water, dry snacks, fruits and so on. I was not very concerned about finding food for her since south indian food has always been her favourite.

On our very first day in Pondy, it was around 7 pm and I sensed that she was getting hungry. I knew the solution to her hunger – dosa! I called up the room service and asked them to send in a dosa, with extra instructions of making it crisp – just the way she likes it. I hung up and told her that a dosa is on its way and saw her eyes swell with happiness. Sorted.

The room service guys brought in the dosa and I started feeding her small portions of it. But much to my surprise, she just wouldn’t eat it! I tasted it and saw that it tasted all right. In fact pretty nicely made. Then why wouldn’t she eat it. Second attempt. Failed. Third one. Failed. Fourth attempt with a reluctant switching on of Baby TV. Still failed. Now she was also getting cranky so I stopped all attempts of feeding her. Decided to pause feeding her, finish up our dinner and then try feeding her somthing again.

We all went for dinner to a nearby place which was at a small walk from the hotel. All through the walk I was constantly pondering over this. Why wouldn’t she eat something that she otherwise loves and so easily eats at home?! I couldn’t enjoy my food at dinner since I knew my baby was hungry for a reason I could not understand.
On our way to dinner, J came with my mother-in-law (MIL). MIL told me- ‘on the way J saw a roadside stall selling freshly made dosas and made me stop there. I asked her if she wants to eat a dosa there and she has agreed. Lets try on our way back’. I saw a ray of hope; I gobbled my food and we took her to the food stall that had caught her attention.

I saw a young girl in her twenties there. A very cheerful girl, smiling. Standing behind a hot stove and besides a big bucket of dosa batter. One after the other she was churning out dosas and looking at her, J was giggling. I asked J- ‘who is she?’. She answers- ‘Tai’ (elder sister in marathi). ‘What is she making?’ ‘Dosa’. Eyes twinkling. The lady there cleared the pan and sprinkled water. A sizzle. J giggles yet again. She spreads the dosa batter and J starts saying ‘dosa, dosa’. Smiles again. I ask J – ‘Do you want to eat the dosa that this tai is making?’ ‘Yes’ she answers. The girl at the dosa stall also sensed something funny happening. With her rudimentary english and my lack of Tamil, we hardly had a language to communicate πŸ˜€ but somethings dont need a language. This was one of those. I asked her for a dosa for J, and asked if we could just stand there watching. She agreed. She and J exchanged looks and smiles. J is not someone who associates with strangers very easily, but with this girl she did.

And then it dawned upon me. J likes dosas not just for the entity; but also for the process associated with making it. She literally connects with the dosa making and dosa maker emotionally. Even at home, when I make dosas or chillas for her for dinner; she sits with me through the entire process- making the batter, heating the stove, spreading the batter, cooking and serving the dosa – and then she eats it!
The dosa brought by the hotel room service clearly lacked this entire experience and no wonder then, that J just could not associate with it!

This young lady at the dosa counter gave J the entire dosa experience that she wanted and she also connected with J. Like I said, there was no language medium. But more often than not, especially with babies; the best communication happens without words! J loved the dosa and had her fill. We stood there watching our new friend make dosas and serve several other people. J was at her chattering best now. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ she said, pointing to the egg stand when her friend was making momelettes to serve others!! J was happy and so was the young girl – and I was amused and relieved!

For the next 3 days, every night when I asked J what she wanted for dinner, her answer was always tai dosa! Which meant dosa made by her tai (elder sister) πŸ˜€ Every night my MIL and I took J to the dosa stall, and fed her her dinner having so much fun watching the young lady make dosas.
This girl at the dosa counter is also a very cheerful lady and always served us with a smile. In the span of 3 days, she also developed a fondness for J. In fact, the moment she saw us approaching, she would actually put aside her waiting customers and give priority to my baby!

I cannot thank this lady enough for keeping J’s dinner sorted during our trip. Every mother has this biggest concern all the time – of feeding her baby good food! So once that is sorted, a mother can enjoy other things- That is exactly what happened to me!

I am also very positively amused by the kind of defined preferences that J has. At a tender age of just 19 months, she is able to distinguish food ‘experiences’ and not just go by food for the sake of food! Which sometimes as a mother can make food management difficult, but on the side of emotional and intelligence development of a child, its a big plus indeed and makes me proud!

The last night of our trip, I paid her the final twenty rupees for that day’s dosa. She smiled. I paid her for the dosa, but she actually gave me something way more that I cannot ever repay – the joy and security of a happily fed baby to a mother πŸ™‚ Thank you, stranger.

The dosa lady πŸ™‚

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