If you ever asked Ruchita and Sharath what they had in common, you would find none of the usual suspects in terms of common backgrounds, shared hobbies, or synergistic traits. Ruchita is a Marwari, Sharath is a Malayali. Ruchita is a pure vegetarian, frowning upon even consumption of egg, Sharath had started considering emigrating from India when he had come to know about the Beef Ban. Ruchita, despite being a Marwari, has no head for business, or taste for numbers, and is a painter, Sharath is the son of two chefs but is a financial analyst by profession.
So what DID bring them together, you might ask, and rightly so?
Ask them, and they will give you the same surprising answer- Onam Sadhya!
The first time Ruchita and Sharath met was at an Onam Sadhya, or feast, at Sharath’s place. Ruchita was 15 years old then, and Sharath 16. Sharath’s family had just moved to Chembur from Kerala, and since this was their first Onam away from their extended family and friends, Sharath’s mother had invited their entire building to the Onam Sadhya at their place. It was Swastik Society’s first introduction to the delectable delights of Kerala food, and it led to two long-term consequences for our protagonists:
- It inculcated a life-long love for Kerala food in Ruchita, who now could not imagine what her life had been before she had sampled those heavenly dishes; and
- It heralded the start of two sets of beautiful friendships- between Ruchita’s Maa and Sharath’s Mom, and, of course, between Ruchita and Sharath!
Sharath saw Ruchita licking her fingers after the feast, and immediately fell in love with the North Indian who could instinctively shower so much love for what he believed was the best food in the world. He approached her boldly immediately, and started explaining the name of each dish, the history and significance of everything, and even the recipes involved in preparing them. Despite herself, Ruchita found herself getting impressed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge about food, as well as his apparent passion when he spoke about it.
The rest, as they say, was history….till the time their relationship almost became history.
They started meeting outside school, going to different Kerala restaurant each week, then graduated to bunking school to meet, till they found themselves in the same college for their graduation.
He went away to Hyderabad for his CFA course after that, while she went to the UK to study painting at the Royal College of Art. But wherever they might be in the world, they made it a point to return to Swastik Society in Chembur for Onam, for the legendary Sadhya at Sharath’s home, feasting their hearts out along with the entire building.
They both started working in Mumbai after their studies got over, and their weekly meetings over Kerala food continued seamlessly, as if it had never been interrupted by life.
Ruchita was 25 years old when Sharath first proposed marriage to her. They’d been working for an year now, and had been going steady for exactly a decade. There was no reason at all for Ruchita to refuse, but still, she demurred, saying that she needed more time.
Sharath proposed again the next year, but the response was the same, as it was the year after that. Ruchita tried to explain to Sharath that it was too big a commitment, and she did not feel brave enough to take the leap yet. He seemed to understand, but slowly, started drifting away.
Ruchita shared everything with her Maa, and this relationship was anyways too important to hide from her. She had updated her on every single aspect of it ever since she had started seeing Sharath, and she cried on her shoulder now, when she saw the prospect of a beautiful relationship going sour due to her own cowardice. Her Maa did not say anything, just patted her head lovingly, as if saying- Don’t worry, it will all work out for the best in the end.
And now, Onam was just four weeks away when Sharath got an unexpected call in the middle of the day. “Meet me at Just Kerala tonight at 8pm,” said Ruchita in an insistent tone, not giving him an option to equivocate. Sharath was utterly confused, they hadn’t met each other for almost two months now. But her call also rekindled all the lovely memories of the times they had spent in each other’s company, talking primarily about food, but more importantly, just being supremely comfortable around each other.
He reached the restaurant at 8pm, and was surprised to find it empty and dark. He still tried the door, and was relieved to find that it opened easily. “Maybe they are opening late today, or they are saving on costs as their business is slowing down because of demonetization,” thought the financial analyst in Sharath as he walked in.
One section of the restaurant lit up then, and his eyes fell on the most amazing Kerala feast that he had ever set eyes on, outside his own home that is. He started walking towards it, but froze in his tracks when he saw Ruchita step out from behind a door, looking like a vision from heaven.
“I cannot imagine a life without Kerala food,” she said softly, “But every time I bite into an appam, or dip into vegetable ishtew, I am reminded of you. Every time I try to eat Carrot & Beans Thoran, I can feel your hands feeding it to me for the first time. Without you, Kerala food has started turning into dust in my mouth, and I have realized that it was never the food, it was always you! So will you be the food for my soul, for my life, for now and forever?”
Sharath just nodded, finding himself unable to speak. Ruchita continued, “But I have only one request. Can we please get married before Onam this year?”
And so, after 12 years of courtship, Ruchita and Sharath were finally married one day before Onam. It was almost midnight by the time the long drawn-out ceremonies and functions got over, and they finally retired to their room.
And it was then that over a glass of wine, Sharath finally gathered sufficient courage, and said, “I am never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, but can I ask you one thing? Why did you insist on getting married before Onam?” Ruchita seemed embarrassed at this query, and after a fair bit of hesitation, replied, “Actually Maa told that your Mom has declared that from this year onward, only immediate family will be invited for the Onam Sadhya at your place, as she is now getting old and finds it difficult to cook for so many people. I could not bear the thought of not having the Onam Sadhya at your place, and so I finally gathered the courage to overcome my commitment phobia!”
She looked with concern and nervousness at Sharath’s face as she said this, and saw his expression change from surprise, to shock, then to disbelief….and then, as he performed some complex mathematical calculations in his head, his eyes lit up, and he exclaimed loudly- “OH THESE WOMEN!”
“What happened?” cried out Ruchita, as she saw Sharath start laughing so hard that tears started flowing from his face. Sharath took a moment to collect himself, and said, “Do you realize, we are together tonight only because of those two wily women- your Maa and my Mom?”
“No, how?” replied Ruchita.
Sharath broke into laughter again, as he said, “Because my Maa has never cooked the Onam Sadhya for Swastik Society, it was always I who prepared the feast!”