We like to believe that we are honest to the core, and in our family, we pride ourselves on it. But in little ways, each of us has done some petty thieving in the past — and we are not above indulging ourselves from time to time even now. Back in our childhood home, each of us had at least one thing we habitually pilfered, no matter how often honesty and integrity and staying above board in all things was dinned into us.
Big Sister, for example, left the nest early to settle on another continent and being so far away from home was the ideal breeding ground for nostalgia and a desire to collect memorabilia of our early years and the family tree. Thus, each time she returned, she would scour the family albums and help herself to any photograph she fancied.
When we moved out of the nest, we were still only a train ride away and we therefore did not feel that we needed to be reminded of home. We visited often enough, didn’t we?
It was only much later, when we wanted to show our own children pictures of their grandparents when they were young that we opened family albums and found many blank pages. There were plenty of intact pages too, but as siblings usually do, we created a furore and declared our “right” to photographs as well, and did some pilfering of our own!
And, since we were more frequent visitors anyway, we found other things to help ourselves to — and in the manner of adult children, we did it with nary a “by your leave”!
So, Big Brother, who had discovered in himself a penchant for gourmet cooking, went in search of Mother’s — and Grandmother’s — never-fail recipes. Unfortunately, since I had occasional bursts of interest in what went on in the kitchen, especially where desserts and cakes and confectionery were concerned, a mini-war broke out between us over which one should have those carefully noted tips and pointers until, with a great show of graciousness, Big Brother gave in and let me help myself to everything — and it took me some time to realise why.
He would suddenly call up at odd times of the day or week and ask me to read out recipes to him — and I understood then that I had been conned. All he had to do was get the desire to make something special — and I would be the one who had to set aside whatever I was doing, scrabble through the book cupboard, search through each book, look under assorted heads (for instance, would prawn balchao be under “P for prawn / P for pickles” or under “B for balchao”), and patiently read out instructions ...
So, the next time we met, the recipe books were handed over to Big Brother — and I relied on my mixed-up memory to produce whatever I wanted when I got the rare urge to experiment in the kitchen.
Of course, I did other pilfering of my own from the parental home — and thus I became to the keeper of the travel books and the owner of many boxes of secret stories and memories that Mother and her sisters had penned over the years.
Now, thanks to technology, all these treasures we have collected over the years can be shared among us siblings and all our children. All it takes is a click and a ‘send’ and photographs, recipes and stories do the rounds — and no one feels the other has got the best of the bargain ...
However, we older ones do face the wages of sin for our taking ways: We have paper collections everywhere that are too precious to destroy, while the next generation has everything in compact digital form!
Cheryl Rao is a freelance journalist based in India.