Before the lockdown started, I got the chance to head back home for some good, old-fashioned pampering. I boarded the late-night train with my rucksack and a fully charged Kindle - all set for the eight-hour-long journey.
I'd just laid down on my berth, and found a semi-comfortable reading position when I heard the familiar rustle of an aluminum foil being torn open.
Before I even realized, I was craning my neck to the berth behind me and feasting my eyes on a scene that made up one of my fondest childhood memories - home-made food on a train ride.
No matter how long or short the train ride was, what time the train was supposed to leave from home, or what was being offered by the Indian Railways, the standard, trusted ghar ke khaane ka bag always accompanied us.
For as long as I can remember, the meal was made up of the same three food items - aloo ki sookhi sabzi, poori or paranthas, and aam ka achaar.
I don't know if it's nostalgia or the magic of ma ke haath ka khana, but to date, it remains one of the most delicious, scrumptious, finger-licking-good, amazing meal I've ever had.
It was something I looked forward to, no matter how many packets of chips or samosas I bought at every station.
No matter how cold the food got, it still felt like a wholesome meal. And no matter how bumpy the train ride was, somehow, mom's trusted paper plates kept everything intact.
Of course, there was the occasional delight - if I was returning from nani's (grandmother) house, she'd pack extra goodies for us. If my mamu (uncle) was dropping me off, a cold drink would always find its way into my backpack. If my chachi (aunt) was helping me pack, there would be chocolates in different corners.
And while I loved all of these special surprises, the aloo and parantha meal was what made me truly happy. It wasn't just the perfect food for my tastebuds. It was also food for my soul, literally.
Over the years, the first change came when I moved away for graduation. I was no longer traveling with family. But, every time I came back to college, the khaane ka bag made its way to my luggage.
Now that I am an 'adult', living away from home, the aloo-poori/parantha-achaar combo has not made an appearance in a really long time. After all, when you're living on your own and burning all the meals you cook, the thought to pack for a train ride rarely enters your mind.
Only, this time, I was reminded that ghar ka khaana will always be a little more special than any five-star meal.
As I sat gazing at the family enjoying the meal (they even offered me some - perhaps they took pity on my longing gaze), I decided to bug and cajole my mom. Because, this time around, the trusted khaane ka bag is entering my life again, diet be damned!
Feature image credits: The Window Seat Project