‘It looks like a family conspiracy”, I declared. “How can any one like it?”, my husband’s cousin interjected. “And that is why it feels like a conspiracy,” I said triumphantly, while my husband and his cousin’s wife laughed hysterically. For me, this was not the first time. I have always wondered why people dislike aubergines.
Actually, dislike is a very mild term in our family. My husband refused to even look at egg plants for a very long time. My husband’s side of the family — cousins included — collectively hate the vegetable.
It was during a visit to my in-laws, a couple of months after our wedding, that I learnt about this little truth. The dainty lady from next door was holding a bunch of fresh aubergines and I saw my mother-in-law’s face contort as she pointed her finger at the veggies. I hurried up closer to listen when I heard the words, “Such a terrible vegetable. They even lose their shape when cooked,” she said, “and gosh! They are so slimy,” she concluded by shrugging her shoulders. I am not sure what was worse, my heart break or the ‘disgust’ written largely on her face.
Back when I was a little girl, egg plants were a savoury. It was always on my mum’s list of ‘must buy’ vegetables. Mum also experimented with aubergines and they all turned to be truly lip-smacking. We called it our “family favourite”. So, naturally, when I heard my mother-in-law, I was heart-broken.
As the bliss of married life took over, I decided to miss my egg plants because my love for the vegetable was very small compared to the family’s collective hatred towards it. I got a glimpse of it during family gatherings. Stories about how the vegetarian group was served aubergines in a European restaurant, because that was the only vegetable available, or the other story when the only curry served during a lavish dinner was aubergine curry did the rounds. Whenever such stories were told, the entire family laughed aloud. So, I took my longing for aubergine to a dark corner in my heart and kept it there till it tumbled out inadvertently.
One day, many years ago, as I headed out to the market, my father-in-law called after me. He wanted a couple of things and he cheerfully added, “... and you know what not to buy”. “But, I love aubergines,” I declared without thinking — and the truth was finally out. The next two minutes of silence felt like eternity. I was worried how I would be judged. My father-in-law was quiet and he looked puzzled. It was my mother-in-law who broke the silence. “Perhaps you should buy it then,” she said uneasily, not sure how to counter the new-found truth. I felt relieved that the truth was out.
It took me a lot more time to eventually buy the vegetable and cook it with as much passion as my mother did. Although I am the only person to relish it, the family has come to accept it. And, we have become a family where our likes and dislikes are spread on the dinner table side by side. It has taken nearly 20 years for this to happen.
So, naturally, when my husband’s cousin wondered about the state of aubergine as a vegetable, I found myself standing up for the vegetable. It was friendly banter but deep down, I wondered about all the likes and dislikes, assumptions and the disputes that arise from simple things like eggplants. I guess, there are many things in this world that can be settled, if only we just let it be. Likes and dislikes can coexist and it is perfectly fine to love certain things that others despise. And, for that to happen, we should begin to take a liking to aubergine. Anyone?
Sudha Subramanian is an independent journalist based in Dubai.