Unless I am making a sandwich, I cannot cook for the exact number of people who will be eating at a particular meal. It’s always a little more. When my best friend cooks, she cooks more than a little more.
Years ago, once, like the many times, I remember; my grandmother and I were eating dinner, together. I think I was fussing over the veggies and she was fussing over me. Everybody else had finished their dinner. It was just the two of us. I was trying my best to distract her from making me eat; she was doing exactly the opposite. Just when I was running out of options to distract her, I thought of a brilliant one: I looked at the food that was still unserved. I asked here, why she cooked for almost two more people. There was less curiosity in the question, and more of an agenda, as you, my dear reader, have already gathered.
“Ghosts,” she said.
I looked at here, only half-bewildered. No, I wasn’t scared. (Why would you even think of that? I was not that young.)
“There are always ghosts around, our ancestors, dead neighbours, long dead people who inhabited this place before us,” she explained, with some nonchalance. (Which, did scare me, a bit, just a bit, and mostly because she was trying to scare me.)
Few years later, when this topic surfaced in another context, I asked my father, about these ghosts. By now, we had a telephone in our house (fixed, landline; not yet mobile, and nowhere close to Internet). He smiled.
Years ago, when people used to travel, they had little or no means of informing the host of their arrival. They would just land up. Imagine, if a guest arrived late, weary and hungry from travel, and there was nothing to feed this guest. Of course, if a guest did not arrive in the dead of the night, the family would finish the leftover food the next day. And the cycle would continue.
I was satisfied with his answer, yet my father understood, it didn’t answer my curiosity about ghosts.
“As far as the ghosts are concerned, decide for yourself, if they would eat food that we humans eat,” he said.
My scientific education led me to believe that ghosts wouldn’t eat human food. Which, as you can imagine, led to couple of other terrifying questions.
More years have passed. My grandmother is long gone, and so is my father. Every time I think of ghosts, I remember these conversations. In recent times, the concept of cooking a bit of extra food for ghosts (or unexpected weary guests) has been replaced with the generous hand. In other words, the generous nature of a cook shows up in the quantity of the food cooked. My problem, of course, is none of the above. I just don’t use scientific measures. It’s a very abstract calculation, which is perfect, when I do it in my head. Which means, you also have an idea, what I have for breakfast!
Yet, there’s always food for one more person, when I cook.
You are welcome.