Of Indian Food and Bhutanese Buddha

Mansi J. Sood

© Copyright 2021 by
Mansi J. Sood

Photo of Rajma-Chawal.

Has your love for food changed someone else’s course of life forever? Mine has.

This is a story about my love for Rajma-Chawal which led to me becoming a successful matchmaker in a foreign country.

(Rajma-chawal is a dish from northern India which consists of red kidney beans cooked in thick onion and tomato gravy. It can be eaten with any kind of bread or rice.) This dish being a family favourite has a recipe that has been passed along for generations.

My Rajma story goes all the way back to early 2000’s, when I was backpacking my way across the beautiful country of Bhutan. I had just finished three very stressful years of college and this was a much-needed and well-deserved break for me.

Enchanted by the sights of the verdant valleys and misty mountains I felt relaxed and one with nature. The natural beauty all around me was like a fragrant balm for the mind and soul worn out by the daily grind in the big city. Who needs a therapist when you have nature, right?

Nature made the faces of the people of Bhutan shine with peace and contentment. It wasn’t because of their high GDP, but because of their high GNP (Gross National Happiness)…proving that money can’t buy happiness. Their warm friendly and cheerful disposition bore a testimony to this, and their simplicity was only enhanced by their spiritual ways (there are over forty monasteries in Bhutan the last time I checked). I’m sure that some of the spirituality rubbed on to me and I absorbed the positive vibes. Being in Bhutan is being more Buddha and less bitchy after all.

But little did I know that a chance to be a more enlightened and selfless soul would present itself sooner than later. It is not for nothing that Buddha said “careful what you wish for cause you just might get it.” (Or was it the Pussycat Dolls?)

I had an old school friend who was living in the capital city of Thimpu with her parents back then. They invited me over to be their guest for the duration of my stay, and I gladly accepted. Old school friends, now passed out of different colleges had much to catch up on.

My friend told me that she was hopelessly in love with a man and dreamed of marrying him. But like all love stories worth telling there was a twist in this one too. The parents of the girl and the boy were against this match. In India it’s quite common for parents to oppose a match of their children’s choice due to a difference in religion, caste or community. In this case also both the families belonged to different castes. The parents were going to have a say in who their children were going to marry, which essentially meant that only eligible matches from the same caste would do. An inter-caste marriage was a big no for them! This seemed like an outdated concept to me as well as to my friend and her beau.

While they were working hard to try and change their parents’ opinions they knew that minds hardened by years of conditioning can’t change overnight. Their parents had themselves married within their respective communities and it was natural for them to expect their children to carry on the family tradition.

Heads might be hardened but hearts can be softened. After several months the parents started thawing. The girl’s parents took the lead and extended an invitation to the boy’s parents. This was no victory but at least the first step had been taken in the right direction. It was going to be a holiday for the boy and his parents, but with a purpose. They were going to gauge if my friend could indeed be a good match for their son. The boy’s arrival in Thimpu with this parents coincided with my stay there. I was told that the family were pure vegetarians (unlike my friend’s family that ate non-veg food) and were quite unhappy with the poor quality of vegetarian food available in Bhutan.

So they were invited over for lunch to my friend’s parents’ house. In India when a girl wants to impress her in-laws, she often cooks a delicious meal for them. And of course the old adage is that a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. So if a girl wants to get herself a husband she better learn to cook right. But my friend was no cook. The only ‘meal’ that I could remember her ever making was a pack of instant noodles which we would prepare in our college dorm during the late night study sessions.

When she told me about her idea to impress her boyfriend’s parents by cooking for them, I burst out laughing (before I remembered that I was to be more Buddha-like and less bitchy). So, being a pretty decent cook myself I offered to cook for them. When my friend told me that Rajma (kidney beans) were boy’s mother’s favourite dish, that’s what I made. It was and still is my specialty after all.

The aroma of the food filled the house. Everyone ate lunch in silence. Not a sound was heard except for the tinkling sound of cutlery against plates. When the meal was over the boy’s mother looked up from her plate and asked “who made the Rajma?”

I immediately seized the opportunity and told her that my friend had prepared the entire meal all by herself. This was my self-less deed. The boy’s mother was so impressed that she finally accepted my friend as her daughter-in-law! The engagement took place the very next day and the wedding a few months later.

And if you’re wondering what was my wedding gift for my friend, it was a recipe book.

And a pack of instant noodles.

I’m an animal activist and a vegan entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India with diverse interests and a passion for travel, for telling stories and of course for food! 

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