If you could be an ice cream, which one would you be? A Haagen-Dazs - sinful and extravagant? A Baskin Robbins - sumptuous and tempting? Or a Naturals’ – desi and atavistic of your childhood?
Ice creams have been the solace for all our miseries in our childhood – and, I daresay, adulthood as well. Why exactly is consuming a bit of milk and cream so hedonistic? Why does one scoop of ice cream placed delicately on top of a waffle cone, invigorate the senses and make us orgasnom (yes, there’s a word for orgasming to food) to the point where we end up craving more and more with each bite? The insatiable hunger that ice creams engender in us is a joy that’s unparalleled.
When I was a kid, children were bought two kinds of ice cream sold from those white wagons with canopies made of silvery metal: either the 5 rupee cup or the ten rupee ice cream cone. The five-rupee cup was very small - in fact it could fit comfortably into a child’s hand, and it was made by taking the ice cream from its container with a special scoop and piling it on the cup. As for the ten-rupee cone, (my personal favourite) my Nani always suggested I eat only a part of the cone, then throw away the pointed end, because it had been touched by the vendor’s hand (though that was the best part, nice and crunchy, and it was regularly eaten in secret, after a pretence of discarding it).
The ice cream pies, – available in certain bakery shops – almost a luxury in an age where brands like Baskin Robbins were just arriviste, were made by a special little machine, also silvery, which pressed two disks of sweet biscuit against a cylindrical section of ice cream. First, you had to thrust your tongue into the gap between the biscuits until it touched the central nucleus of ice cream; then, gradually, you ate the whole thing, the biscuit surface softening as they became soaked in creamy nectar. My Nani had no advice to give here: in theory, the pies had been touched only by the machine; in practice, the vendor had held them in his hand while giving them to us, but it was impossible to isolate the contaminated area.
I was fascinated, however, by some of my peers, whose parents bought them not one but two ten-rupee cones. These privileged children advanced proudly with one cone in their right hand and one in their left; and expertly moved their head from side to side, licking the first one, then the other. This liturgy seemed to me so sumptuously enviable, that many times I asked to be allowed to celebrate it - in vain. My elders were inflexible: one ice cream? Yes. Two ice creams? A strict no.
Neither mathematics nor economy nor dietetics justified this refusal. Nor did hygiene, assuming that in due course the tips of both cones were discarded. The pathetic, and obviously mendacious, justification was that a boy concerned with turning his eyes from one cone to the other was more inclined to stumble over stones, steps, or cracks in the pavement. I dimly sensed that there was another secret justification, cruelly pedagogical, but I was unable to grasp it.
Today, citizen and victim of a consumer society, of a civilisation of excess and waste, I realise that those dear and now departed elders were right. Two ice cream cones instead of one did not signify much squandering, economically speaking – for it was just a matter of ten rupees - but symbolically, they surely did. It was for this precise reason that I yearned for them: because two ice creams suggested excess. And this was precisely why they were denied to me: because they looked indecent, an insult to poverty, a display of fictitious privilege, a boast of wealth.
This indecent boast of wealth has consumed my life now. Happiness doesn’t revolve around personal pleasures, but on how happier one’s life is compared to another. My juvenile mind could not grasp that didactic proscribing that the elders enforced on me, but now that I have grown old, and am enveloped by a world of gadgets, TV shows, drugs and alcohol, a part of me still longs to return to the glorious years of the early 2000s, when I, without a care in the world and without the pressures of the hustle bustle of daily life enforced on me, could just sit beside my grandmother on a park bench and devour that tasty little amalgamation of milk, sugar, cream and happiness.
Photography By: Ayan Bhattacharjee