At the time, I was still new to Dubai, and found everything around me fascinating – the grand glass and chrome buildings, the fast cars, the manicured lawns with their well-laid flower beds, the perfectly groomed people… and above all, the countless super and hyper markets, with packaged temptation in aisles that seemed to stretch forever.
It must have been during one of my first few visits to the supermarket. I was wandering around, drinking in the sight of the wonders around me. As I reached the last set of aisles, my eyes fell on the cans and cans of nuts kept there. I had never in my life seen so many different varieties of nuts! There were the usual cashew nuts, almonds and pistachios; but there were also others, many of which I had never even heard of. They just sat there in their allotted places – inviting and intimidating at once. A few moments of silent staring later, I gathered the courage to pick up a can at random – but lost it the moment I checked out the price. As I had mentioned, I was new to the country, and still in the habit of multiplying every dirham by twelve. In Indian rupees, the price seemed exorbitant – I wasn’t going to buy anything for that amount!
On my next trip to the place, my feet were irresistibly drawn to the same aisle. I have this unspoken, deep bond with all kinds of food, you see. I hungrily took in the cans of almonds and hazel nuts, and my eyes finally came to rest on a can I had somehow missed out during my first inspection. It proudly read “MIXED NUTS”.
A sudden vision, admittedly a couple of decades old, popped up in my head – the bunch of us, my friends and I, sitting under one of the trees by the river that bordered our college, laughing uncontrollably at a silly joke… What a mixed bunch of nuts we had been! Standing in the supermarket, grinning at a can of nuts, I guess I still looked a nut…
The can showed a digitally enhanced picture of some pistachios, almonds, hazel nuts, cashew nuts – and of course, the ubiquitous peanuts. The peanuts did not, however, look like the ones I was used to back home; they were of a healthier-looking variety. Now I was determined to buy the can. To my pleasant surprise, the price, even when multiplied by twelve, looked reasonable – or maybe I was unconsciously comparing it to the prices on the other cans. Pleased with my purchase, I couldn’t wait to reach the car.
Once inside the car, my sons and I attacked the can. My husband conducted himself with a little more dignity, especially since he had his hands on the steering wheel. There were the promised almonds, hazel nuts, and cashew nuts of course; only, we had to look really hard to find them! And so we proceeded to do, with great enthusiasm. Too soon, though, we were left with just peanuts that filled about two-thirds of the can. Our frenzy was spent, and we were beginning to feel a bit let down. I quietly closed the can and put it back in the grocery bag.
For days, the can lay untouched on my kitchen shelf. Back from work one day, I was feeling particularly hungry and suddenly noticed the can that had been lying untouched, right in front of my eyes for so long. I picked up a few nuts, passed the can on to my son who came in, and later to my husband. Each of us took a few. All, that is, except my younger son, the fussiest eater to walk the earth.
Soon, we developed a taste for the peanut – true, it was a wee bit harder than our home variety, but crunchy enough. We realized that when accompanied by a good TV program, or even a book, it did not taste so bad. We even grew to actually enjoy it. An occasional piece of almond or cashew turned up as a pleasant surprise in between, but on the whole, we had made peace with the humble peanut. By the time the can was empty, we were ok with buying another.
In one of those rare moments of introspection, I wondered if life, in many ways, wasn’t like that can of mixed nuts. We are forever lured by the digitally enhanced promises. We start out on a new path with sky-high expectations; we look frantically for almonds and shelled pistachios, cashew nuts and hazel nuts. It takes us quite a while to figure out the fact that the more exotic bits are few and far between – to be savored, even cherished, but never to be taken for granted. The supply is very limited.
Then eventually, we grow to like the peanut. And if we are really fortunate, we will learn to enjoy its salty, crunchy nuttiness…