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Let there be bread…

Photo: Duminda Perera/Unsplash
I grew up listening to my mother say Dhairyak bread in our native Konkani, a dialect spoken mainly along the western coast of India. It roughly means “To be on the safe side, let there be bread!” She used the colloquial expression in times of perceived adversity. Every time a political party or a labour union called a strike or heavy rains threatened to inundate the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) where we lived, she would tell me to run down to the grocery store and fetch bread so that we would have something to eat. She worried that the strike or the rains would cripple the city, forcing shopkeepers to down shutters and vegetable vendors to stay off the road.

My mother would tell me, “If nothing else, we can at least have bread. We won’t go hungry.” It probably didn’t occur to me at the time to ask her if I should buy eggs and butter, too, while I was at the store.

Years later, I interpreted Dhairyak bread as a metaphor for dealing with a crisis as well as a valuable lesson in simplicity; the capacity to live with less and still live a meaningful life. As my spiritual teacher said to me once, “If we really want to, we can subsist on something as frugal as a loaf of bread or rice gruel and pickle, and still be happy with our lot.”

We never went hungry, of course. But I found the phrase amusing, as did many in my family. “Dhairyak bread! It’s such a peculiar expression. I can’t get over it,” a family friend said. It soon became a talking point for surviving difficulties, even imaginary ones. Perhaps, it was meant to help us keep our heads above water and face unpleasant situations as best as we could.

The expression was a reflection of my mother’s, and her mother’s, generation. Both my parents and their siblings came from devout middle-class families and often had to make do with less. But whatever they had, they shared among themselves and with others, relatives, neighbours, friends, strangers. What they lacked in wealth, they more than made up with warm hearts, generous hospitality and abundant humour. All were welcome to their home. No one who visited my grandparents went away without partaking of the day’s meal and an invitation to call again.

In that sense the bread held the family together; an assertion of strong familial bonds whose roots run deep into the ground, never to be uprooted.

© Prashant C. Trikannad


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