I was dressed in a smart and rather flattering dress. I was forced to follow an uber-healthy diet during the last trimester on health grounds, a time when most people are upping the ice-cream count. When the baby came, I had shed the pregnancy weight quite fast.
Now all that suffering was bearing fruit. I could wear all my pre-pregnancy clothes and boy, was I going to wear the better fitting ones everywhere. Especially considering that with my one-Oreo-pack-once-in-two-days diet, it is unlikely that this joyous state of affairs is going to last long.
So there I was, on one of my few (and now increasing) trips outside. D’s friend had invited us for his child’s second birthday party.
Where was the baby?
At home, with the folks.
It turns out our paediatrician has strong views on letting an under-three months old mingle at children’s birthday parties, which apparently are cesspits of infections. (We did not mention the brewery trip to him. I assume the alchohol in the air would have killed off any germs.)
So not only was I slightly overdressed for a children’s birthday party, I had left my kid behind too. Only someone desperate for social interaction and an opportunity to dress up would do this. Such as new moms living in a new country with very few friends.
D and I were headed towards a part of town I had never been to and which was really far by Singapore’s standards. When we passed by actual forests, I could not quite believe we were still in the tiny country. For a change, the horizon seemed to go on forever. Then signs of people began again.
When we had first arrived, we had stayed near Orchard Road, the part of town where people came to party and shop. Naturally they were all dressed to the hilt. Then we moved to our flat, and while people there still looked smart, they were never in their outdoor finery. In the area in which I found myself, people looked relatively more homely, wearing the kind of shabby shorts and t-shirts I have been too embarrassed to don even inside my condo.
We had arrived at one of the largest HDB communities. HDBs are apartments built by the government and are shorn of fancy pools and tennis courts which condos come with. As we entered, I realised they were shorn of fancy lobbies too. The building could not have been plainer. They had been built simply to house people. They could have been government housing in India but for the lack of spit and urine stains. There were tiny gardens for children. There were useful shops selling reasonably priced goods. There were community health centres.
We walked into the flat, ready to mingle.
If there is one thing I learnt from that party, it is that large gatherings of Indians across generations, usually means everyone is in traditional clothes.
Not smart black and white knee length dresses showing arms. You can stick out like a sore thumb in western clothes, even in Singapore.
Even before we entered the flat, we saw the buffet outside. Having a baby means your schedule is tied to the baby’s and you show up when nursing/bathing/sleeptime etc permits you too. (And I will finally stop judging parents whose lack of punctuality used to annoy me). So the cake had been cut and we had skipped that horrid part where good food is calling out to you but you are not in a position to attack it.
After I had been introduced to various people and some minimal polite conversation had ensued, I made a beeline for the buffet. The menu was mouth-watering to say the least. The star attractions were chicken Biryani, mutton paratha, sardine paratha and Indian rojak, all of which I helped myself to in generous quantities. If I was a bit puzzled that a Tam Brahm household was doling out the meat by the gallon, I did not let it stop me. The hostess’s family had been in Singapore for a few generations and perhaps had imbibed local habits.
“No”, our host informed us, obviously amused by my naiveté, “This is mock meat”
“What” I spluttered.
“Yup, made of soya. A lot of the monks find it difficult to give up non-veg from their previous lives. So mock meat caters to them. The other vegetarians also enjoy it”
A lot of emotions ran through me. Firstly I felt terribly cheated. It is a bit like ordering beef burger and finding you have been served horsemeat instead. Then I got a little concerned – was it safe to consume all the estrogen in soya when one is nursing? Finally I wondered if it wasn’t cheating to eat mock meat. I can understand if you had been brought up on a diet of meat and found it difficult to give it up when you took your orders. But if you are a vegetarian by birth and have learnt to enjoy the taste of meat, then it seemed a bit fussy to be eating mock meat. Just eat the real thing and enjoy it. (And I don't buy the argument that they are concerned about killing animals. Most of them seem happy enough to flaunt their silk sarees or leather handbags. Though that is a topic for another day). I guess each to his own.
While all these emotions were running through me, my mind was giving an entirely different set of directions to my hand and mouth. “Eat” it seemed to be commanding
“The stuff tastes good even if it is fraudulent”
So I did