Warm Crevices of Habit: April 1 2012

I still remember in the 1980s, in Dhaka, every evening, right after the 8 pm English News was over, on the solo Bangladesh TV channel, my family gathered around the dark mahogany dining table for weeknight dinners; it was usually chapatti (wheat flatbread) with vegetables, Daal (lentils), sometimes egg curry or chicken – never more than one protein. Fish was not served at dinner, due to superstition of bones getting stuck in your throat at night, and beef, of course, considered too heavy for an evening meal.

My family would congregate and often talk about what we learned today, a mundane political affair in an autocrat run state, something from my mother’s experience from her Shaheen School days or something about a friend or relative getting married, sick, having babies or conducting themselves hideously.

I remember my sister, the quieter one, listening and joining in once in a while; my mother always had a lot to say; I have never been bashful about my idiosyncratic opinions. However, I don’t remember my father saying much. Once in a while a pointed question, maybe some humor – but mostly listening and smiling.

To this day, my heart fills with a warm sensation remembering the call “Raatrer Khaabar Ready” (Dinner’s Ready)!

A couple of years ago, in my contemporary life, I would return from work, kiss my loved ones on their forehead, and there would be cacophony around our kitchen – pots and pots clanging, the hissing of something frying or the bang of the microwave door! There was a comfort of pouring my first glass of wine – to start a conversation – or to just sit outside on the patio with some cashews.

Warmth of habits makes us comfortable with who we are, where we land, how we think, behave and crave.

Habits form over repetition, and necessity – but eventually become a part of us or in effect, turn ourselves into a part of them.  In some ways, habits and mundane rituals, provide continuity and something to look forward to.

At work, it’s the Monday morning leadership meeting where we learn from each other what’s going on in our often disparate worlds; often it’s a Friday afternoon skip-level meeting, where I learn about the challenges facing our company from a cross-section of our team members.

Habits often also connect with special material goods or specific brands. I distinctly remember the Dhaka habit of dunking Nabisco Glucose biscuits (cookies), into my hot-sweet-milky tea – or the joys of getting the green peyara (Guava) from my grandmother’s peyara tree; the ecstacy of jorda shemai (fried vermicelli with lots of sugar and buttery ghee) on Eid day,  or my favorite balushai from Alauddin (sweet store). Today, my habits form around food from a special chef, or a wine from a delicate vineyard.

I observe my children and their early habit formations. Daiyaan loves her paratha with eggs or bagel with egg whites on Saturday mornings; Shania loves a tender, juicy slice of roast beef at brunch on Sundays at the club. On evenings, when we are together, we love the time we spend huddled around the kitchen counter-top eating Thai dishes with that greasy, thai roti (flatbread). Shania, when she is happy in her perfectly orchestrated ritual, often says, “It feels like heaven!”

On a lazy afternoon boat-ride, I love my two princesses habit of singing Que Sera Sera or talking about a salty kiss from the Atlantic.

Over time, our habits change; maybe a departure or addition, changes our lives.

While we are creatures of habit, the changes in our life continue to shape future habits.

I like my habits. I like basking in these little cracks of life; maybe I could find a better tea than Red Rose, or a better beer than the Corona? But the taste of that tea or beer helps evoke memories of a certain time, that may not always be top of mind.

After having atrociously cold delicacies in some wretched foreign land, when I land back home, the first thing I want is a hot shower, followed by a juicy hamburger and maybe a milkshake or Coke Zero.

My physician me warn, that’s too much red-meat or sugar, I will switch to melting tofu over quinoa and brown rice, mushrooms and lima beans. But until then, let me enjoy my burger-shake combo and be happy in my warm crevice of heaven!

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