Gupchup, puchka, golgappa, paanipuri... Call it by any of these names, the taste remains the same - irresistible. Gupchup, as we Oriyas call it, has very much been a part of my growing up and from the time I could understand the ways of my taste buds, it has remained a steady favourite. It's time I chronicled its meaning and memories during the various phases of my life so far.
1. Summers at Puri, which happens to be my maternal grandparents' home, were the best times of my childhood. Being the only grandchild/niece then, I was quite pampered and often had my own ways. Every evening Ma and my mausis would take me to the beach where I had the time of my life romping in the sand, collecting sea shells. We wouldn't leave before having our share of soggy gupchup and jhaal muri from the beach vendors. None of the brackish winds or the prickling sands dared kill that fun.
2. Probably it was the distractions of teenage or mostly my hatred for the branch of Sciences, but it wouldn't be a lie if I said nothing interested me in those days. After school hours, we would go for afternoon tuitions which would go on for two agonising hours. The only comfort that would keep me sane in these otherwise horrid afternoons were the gupchup sessions that were held regularly after the tuitions. How we friends would circle the vendor and wait patiently for our turns when he would toss the savoury delight into our leaf bowls!
3. I left the secured walls of home for my graduation in Bhubaneswar. In the initial days I found it rather difficult to adjust to the novelties of an independent student life. The only comforting, familiar feel was that of the rows of gupchup stalls right in front of our campus premises. Like every hostel, ours too had one common problem - unpalatable mess food. So the evenings, after a day of longish lectures, meant regular calls to the attractively decorated blue stalls.
4. After graduation I moved to Hyderabad, the mecca for biryani and kabab lovers. Not being a keen non-vegetarian, I would miss the simpler fares that my home state offered. No matter what, my cravings were such that I would go for the relatively bland paani puris and wouldn't notice the vendor's mean stare when asked, "Bhaiya, thoda extra pyaaz dena" (some more chopped onions please).
We have reached the rather sad end of my gupchup diaries. Life in the States can mean so many things to an Indian, culturally and emotionally. Mine is a long list of stubborn yearnings, right out of a Jhumpa Lahiri story. I have tried the tricky but extremely simple recipe at home from the ready-made gupchup pockets that are available in the Indian grocery stores. It turns out fine by home standards, but that nostalgic aroma of belongingness is always missing. Now all hopes are pinned on that once-a-year vacation, the most beautiful dream of every immigrant. Home beckons...