Malido

Parsis love food, particularly sweet food. There is something about sugar that’s magical. It’s seductive to the salivary glands and tantalizing to the taste buds. It reeks refinement. It infuses endearment and pure pleasure. Sugar’s celebratory! Sugar’s fun! And, after all, just a spoonful of it makes the medicine go down. It’s part of our culture, keeps our community—and even our families—together. Or, at least, that’s what I believe. Let me tell you why.

I was introduced to sugar when I started breastfeeding some 35 odd years ago. Actually 36, and that would make the years even! There’s about 5–10 grams of sugar in every breastfeed of milk, I later found out, but this can vary from time to time, breast to breast. The introduction became an inclination, which became an addiction, that resulted in an obsession, and now a dependence. Thankfully, to sugar and not breasts.

 

I then grew up on a diet of yoghurt, luscious fruits, and jam sandwiches. No ordinary jam; strawberry jam. No ordinary strawberry jam; the one from Mahableshwar—the gorgeously granular variety that melts in your mouth when eaten with Philadelphia cream cheese. When I went to visit my grandparents as a child, the first course of any breakfast would be the mesmerising malai and rotli, the malai being iced with shimmering crystals of raw sugar that made it look like an Alaskan glacier. The destructive combination of the frosty malai and hot-off-the-tava rotli created a volcanic eruption in the mouth from which there was no escape. This was obviously followed by akoori and toast, and fudina chai with two teaspoons of sugar. And there was always sev-dahi and ravo hanging out on the table, whether there was a reason for jubilation or not. “Aai khaase toh you’ll live up to a hundred,” the oldies proudly proclaimed, not having taken a single medication for diabetes, cholesterol, or hypertension well into the ninth decade of their lives on this diet and then dying peacefully with a sacchariferous smile on their face.

 

Then, every year, came mango season. Not mundane mangoes; it had to be Alphonsos. My best friend’s grandfather, Aspi, used to grow them on several hundred acres in Palghar.  We called them Aspansos. They arrived for us to consume in truckloads, while the rest were exported to increase the incidence of heart attacks in other foreign countries. Serendipity is when you’re looking for a needle in a haystack and you find a mango! The invigorating whiff you experience when you open a box of mangoes ripened in heaving hay transcends your needy nostrils to another planet. Not even the complexion of a perfect sunset can compare to the way yellow synthesises with orange on an Alphonso mango in the palm of your hand. So seductive and succulent! It’s the most adult fun you can have as a child, without parental discretion.

 

I was never a lollipop fan, the syrupy candy-coated stuff was never my thing. I was into the cocaine of sugar, the Johnny Walker Double Platinum, Triple Gold label for chocolates—Nutella. A classic and authentic combination of hazelnuts, palm oil, cocoa, milk, lecithin, vanilla, and, of course, sugar. While Kit Kat, Mars, and Toblerone are acceptable alternatives, nothing compares to Nutella. You can eat it on a toast, waffle or in a crêpe. But if you are man enough like I am, take my advice and eat it raw. With a tablespoon (not teaspoon) in your right hand and the iconic 750-gram jar in your left; beginners may first kick-off with 400 grams. Open up the formidable plastic lid, peel off the sultry silver foil, start with a smile on your face, and stop only when you can clearly see far into the distance through its transparent bottom. Make a meal out of it, or all three: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can never go wrong with Nutella.

 

Being part of a huge family, we regularly had jashans in the house. Whether it was Deh Mahino, or a house that was renovated, or a car that was bought, it was customary to invoke God’s good wishes and just another reason for everyone to come together. As children, we perpetually skipped the prayers, being present for the lunch or dinner that followed… until I discovered malido. Before I knew what prayers sounded like, I always thought the dastoorjis were thinking out loud, deciding what to eat from all the fruits and nuts that lay in front of them. With the chipyo, the senior dastoor tapped on the milk, water, and wine, authoritatively establishing that he will have the latter while the juniors will settle for the former. Then, intermittently, they would create this puff of smoke with the smell of rejuvenating loban blurring out the entire array of items so that they could secretly pick and eat what they wanted to munch on under the padan, while the poor guardian angels, who were called to sample the goodies, were left empty handed.

 

Malido impregnated the love of religion in me. After every jashan, I would pay multiple visits to paghe parao, sticking my finger into the bowl of malido until it was unfortunately whisked away by the elderly to be evenly distributed among all the attendees. I even did my Navar and Martab at Vatchha Gandhi Agiari only because it used to make the most delicious malido in town at the time. Over the years, I have become a malido connoisseur. People send me malido from all over the word for my opinion. But the best I’ve ever devoured, is undeniably made by Jeroo Turel in Surat, where illusive ingredients are simmered and stirred on a soft flame for hours to give it the right texture, appropriate fullness, and its bedazzled bronzed Kim Kardashian hue. Being the wife of a priest, constantly praying while she is making it sure adds a zing to the ting. The mawa is composed of rich Middle Eastern nuts roasted but not toasted.

 

While the best malido is eaten fresh and warm, my malido is sealed airtight in colossal plastic containers and couriered to a small shop in the underbelly of Mumbai, which then illegally exports it to Chicago for me—obviously through the inappropriate connections of my resiliently resourceful mother, who too wishes that I can live to a hundred eating this stuff. With the arrival of every new consignment, there is a war in the house between me and my toddler girls as to whose birthright the first bite is. Malido, akin to Nutella can be eaten not only for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but also for brunch, teatime, and supper.

 

Then, of course, there is Badam Paak, or almond fudge for the uninitiated, that comes to me from a location in Babulnath that shall remain nameless. This has top-secret ingredients that even Google may not be able to discover. It takes arms of steel to prepare this perfect concoction that is simmered and smouldered over a day at different temperatures, and makes the winter feel infinitely warmer. It energises your immune system and fortifies your soul.

 

Some people argue that sugar should be regulated, like alcohol and tobacco, on the grounds that it’s addictive and toxic. How much sense does that make? Let’s examine this from the viewpoint of malido. The public health community has identified four separate criteria that need to be fulfilled before a substance can be considered for regulation. One: ubiquity, that is, one can’t get away from it; well, that’s true for malido. Two: toxicity, that is, it’s dangerous; but have you ever been in a malido coma? Three: addictive, that is, its increased consumption is inherent in the molecule itself; people like me are consuming it, left, right, and centre in the name of religion. Finally, four: externalities, that is, your consumption hurts me; if anyone else has more malido than I do in my presence, I’m offended. Now, alcohol, tobacco, morphine, and heroin clearly meet all four criteria. The question is, does malido meet them? And the answer is, yes, it does, absolutely.

 

But malido will never be banned. A lot of people now are convinced that many doctors in the 1980s erred terribly in declaring fat to be the cause of obesity. Many scientists now believe that sugar is a much bigger villain. But how do we know they aren’t wrong this time around as well? This is known as the pessimistic meta-induction theory; it says, “Everything we knew 10 years ago is already wrong, and everything we know today will be wrong 10 years from now. Why should we do anything differently when we know that whatever it is that we believe today will end up being wrong eventually?”

 

For several years now, I have been telling my wife that I need to cut down on my intake of sugar. I need to diet and exercise. I need to lose at least 20 kilos. She always replies, “The more you weigh, the harder you are to kidnap. Stay safe. Here, eat some malido!”