This is a Guest Post by ANITHA S
As a nature lover and then an ecologist, my tryst with the living world has been fascinating, exciting, scary and at time dangerous. The most recent of this interaction was with a jackfruit tree in my backyard that has the uncanny capacity to produce fruits all the year round…juicy, sweet and delicious fruits that one cannot even imagine throwing away. I developed a balance of sharing the fruits with the bats, squirrels, crows, tree pies, woodpeckers and koels that would inhabit my garden whenever the fruit ripens and spreads its fragrance around.
One hot afternoon in June 2016, a year when monsoon evaded us,I set out with a bag full of ripe fruit cut into pieces to distribute to my sister and friends in an auto. At a certain point as in all accidents, I found myself thrown out on the road looking up at the Rusty shield bearer trees and the auto on my legs. I managed to regain my upright position, relieved that there are no broken bones sticking out from my legs…but both my feet were bleeding. I reached a hospital where all primary care was given, my feet dressed with many medicines and a dose of antibiotics and painkillers prescribed.On the fifth day, my wound especially in the right leg started hurting and paining. The doctor abruptly told me that I needed a surgery to drain the accumulated pus with spinal injection! That word must have been the most ominous one I heard..and the result was my 15 day escapade into Naturopathy. Here is what I learned …one of the hardest, toughest, painful, yet liberating and enriching experiences in my five decades on Planet Earth.
This piece is actually not a plea for non-vegetaranism, nor an appeal about the effectiveness of the much maligned modern medical system.It is not a vehement subjective warfare on naturopaths. But this is a plea for a socially responsible space where an individual can be rightfully led to a integrated system where a responsible and humane set of people will lead her to recovery and health. It is against all ideologies that are being propagated with violence and hatred – when what we need is reinstating love and care in the areas we need it most.Like the bewildered child who is thrown into the golden cage of schools, many of us are pushed into what we believe is best for our bodies!
Fifteen days on cold cucumber juice interspersed with fruit juices…as the pain in my infected foot increased and I started to shiver inside, any request for a hot soup was turned down by the scary statement that pain would increase if one takes cooked food. Who would want more pain? At the end of the fortnight of agony and confusion, my family and friends chose to take me to the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College. This was after 15 days in the nature cure centre that I chose to be in.
The moment the treatment started here to set my foot right, the first it of advice I got was to eat the right kind of food in the right amount at the right time. Any fear about rising blood sugar level and fattening that may happen due to almost sedentary state of my body ( I could not walk) was allayed by the team of doctors. I was shocked, surprised and later on pleased with the items that I was asked to consume without fear or shame!
I still remember the first few days when my system reacted with nausea and giddiness to any kind of food. During those days, it was the soft chapathies and mild,tasty curries that a friend made that kept me going. The lunch with different kind of vegetables and curd that my sister got from home energised my tired body. I was unable to sit up and my sister had to feed me like a small babe.Later on the small breakfast table that I bought a few months back served in good stead. It was then that there was strong advise from the doctors to eat certain kind of food that would put me back to shape.Having lost a lot of skin that used to peel off like wheat powder, I was prone to shivers and fever quite a bit. How to put my metabolism back on track, reinstate the homeostatic balance of nutrition and assimilation?
Let us start with eggs, said the young plastic surgeon with a mischievous smile..the white of the egg…as many as 6 per day. Because that alone can help rebuild the albumen and protein lost from the living tissue..and that alone can bring back the flesh carved out by infection in the foot. My sister and friends devised means to reach me the white of egg in forms that would entice my tired and underutilised taste buds ( after 15 days of cucumber juice) ..hardboiled egg with yellow removed, omelette with onions and coriander leaves, scrambled eggs with green chillies, bread pudding and so on. One friend supplied eggs from home grown hens. Another searched for the most efficient ways to separate white of egg. My egg eating tenure thus became a heavily researched piece on egg eating to build up the live tissue!
Next item that I was specifically asked to have was mutton soup and mutton in some form. A friend went all the way ( almost 5kms) (1) to a hotel famous for fresh food items- mutton soup, mutton chops, mutton curry with the right kind of spices. Along with this there were delectable items like pathiri, oratti and chapathy. I started looking forward to these food packets and sharing with my friend in the confines of my hospital room. I was also curious each day to see the look of surprise and concern that spread over my pure vegetarian sister as I consumed non vegetarian in sizeable amounts. My brother picked up a parcel of mutton curry from a famed place in Kottiyam (2) for me one noon ! I ate mutton biriyani from a traditional place in the city- my friend would chose the choicest pieces for me in generous quantities that I would have with minimum rice and salads.
Yes, go ahead and have beef too encouraged my energetic doctor friend with a grin. He even suggested places where one could get good beef preparations. I would dream of the delicious Chinese preparation Beef with beans (3)..one of my sisters took the pains to prepare this for me that I gobbled with relish. Oh, the dry beef ulathiyath– Kerala style with coconut reached me only once.
The best and most unforgettable experience in this culinary healing journey was the parcel of buffalo meat that was lovingly prepared by a friend’s mother just for me! To have this soft meat with puttu and or chapathy remains a mouth watering memory. And with this came the care and love of the two sweet brothers who came to deliver it. They wanted to bring me tapioca too, but I could not accept it because of its heavy starch content.
How can I forget the culinary trips with fish? The fish fry,fish curry, the fish Manchurian that reached me during the one hundred and fifty days …the varieties of fish carefully chosen by my caring friends made life worth all the eating. The fish thoran and chicken thoran that came my way pepped my fading senses with its delicious aroma and color. Many adviced me to eat lots of Varaal fish, known to have properties of healing and tissue building. That set me on a search for this. Known to be almost endemic to the backwaters and paddy fields of Alleppey, this fish is cherished by many.A young fish expert from that area promised to travel three hours from there with live fish that could be cooked for me- this offer brought tears to my eyes. He explained how his wife’s wounds after child birth were healed with the aid of the Varaal curry that his mother made. Like the Malayalam saying Thediya Valli Kalil Chutti ( the vine you were searching for twists around your legs) my tall,bearded friend chanced upon pickled Varaal in a wayside hotel near Mavelikkara.4. He came armed with this bottle full of red, vinegar smelling fish pickle the next day.We discovered together that this spicy yet wholesome preparation went well with idlis, puri, bread and of course rice! The fish finger and pizza packet that my nieces bought lovingly and shared on many an evening remains a happy memory.
Though I am not a great fan of chicken dishes, I still value the taste of chapathy and “ 8 piece chicken fry..small and tender” that my friend would get and share with me.(5) Sauted with home-ground red chilly bits, these tiny chicken pieces were delicious and filling.The chicken curry and chicken biriyani from a nearby outlet, though in big pieces were welcome on many a lonely afternoons!(6).This was made special by my fair bearded friend, a born vegetarian who agreed to share it with me. The best memory was of the crisp chicken nuggets that the same sister who made beef and beans got me!
The mixed noodle lunch that my bearded tall friend got had ample pieces of prawn, eggs, chicken and beef along with carrots and beans. It was heartening to know that the hotel people made it with special care once they knew it is for me…a regular customer whenever I felt like a non-vegetarian meal.(7)
It was amazing to understand that the pain of the body and the dullness of the mind can be reduced when you have a stomach full of tasty food. Every afternoon during the first 2 months when waves of pain would shoot up from my leg all over my body, it was chicken cutlets, bread toast, puris and sandwiches that friends bought that helped me survive. (8). The pain would subside and I was able to sleep for some time before the next wave would begin. A dear friend and her daughter would visit on several evenings with cutlets and sandwiches that turned out to be delicious to my ever hungry palate.
What still amazes me and my sister is the way in which my body demanded food that would rejuvenate and activate the building capacity weakened by infection. Like the cat that searches out grass when it has a stomach ache, I too instinctively found out what I need. There was hardly any indigestion, acidity or heaviness that consuming such food might normally cause. My body was also able to determine the need and want that this situation demanded. My eating was not driven by greed but by need..so there was always a point when I said No more! This could be why there were no digestive issues.But as the need waned in the course of improvement of healing, my body shifted to its original vegetarian preferences. I started thinking of tomato sandwiches, idlis and dosas more. The second Varaal pickle bottle was left half finished,much to the dismay of my tall bearded companion.
How can I not write about the thair vadas, the rava dosas, the ada dosas and the special brown bread that my fair bearded friend got every evening with love and concern? The chapathies and dal curry or tomato fry, the mixed vegetable dishes and salad that my sister and friends got for me?
If words fail to express the worth of this culinary healing journey from cucumber juice to mutton soup, then my foot would speak its language of gratitude..as we say to children to eat so that your legs will grow, so was I told by my Chief doctor who prepared a diet chart, my plastic surgeon who encouraged me to eat well and remove my fear about cholesterol and blood sugar, to my young doctor with twinkling eyes who asked everyday about what I ate, to the house-surgeon who reminded me to be prepared for the healing wound dressing after a full meal…yes my leg and foot alone with live and healthy tissue will speak volumes about this long and arduous journey.
I would like to believe that it is the cleansing by cucumber juice (a)that was given to me for the wrong reasons that equipped my digestive system to consume, digest and assimilate the protein and regain energy and hope in my body and life. Kudos to all who embarked this chariot of healing with me!
PS: Cucumber juice is not what was given – it was Ash Gourd juice..but it seems more catchy for the title to have cucumber.Hence this usage .
The numbers in the article denote the places from where selected food items reached me:
3and 6 Azad Hotel, Medical College
4.Kuttanad Food product , Mampazhakary,Alappuzha- 9747566803
8.Indian Coffee House,Medical College
10. Hotel Daivam,Kaithamukku
11- Hotel Visrutha,Jawahar Nagar
12.Square one Bakers
Do contact 94470 78113 for more details !!
(Anitha S is an ecological educator, Nature-lover, and activist in Kerala. She is associated with Tree Walk, a group in Thiruvananthapuram that strives to inculcate love and respect, besides knowledge, for trees and Nature in general, among citizens)