Friday, September 10, 2004

The Amazing Tiffin Box III: Despatches from S.A.S.S*

*Streehitavardhini Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan.

Continued from The Amazing Tiffin Box I: Save Our Stomach and The Amazing Tiffin Box II: The Interview

* Green Tea (with honey, no milk)
* Apple –1
* Sweet Lime - 1
* Grapes – 1 bunch
* Bananas – 2

That was *breakfast* on Day 1 of my newest attempt to beat IBS. Between 6:30 a.m and 12 noon, each time my yet-unsuspecting stomach emitted a ravenous growl, I pulled out a Tupperware container and started munching. But I still felt peculiarly empty. I checked my watch with increasing frequency as lunchtime approached.

Lunch started off with another Tupperware tiffin filled with salad, followed by rice, dal and steamed vegetables. Nuts and dryfruits replaced the canteen teatime snack. And ignoring the tendency to dawdle, I raced home to dinner at 8.

That night, I wrote in my diary, ‘Day 1 – still alive.’


By Day 5, things changed. I wasn’t just alive. I felt good!

Since my attention was focused on co-ordinating all those Tupperware containers, it took a while before I realized that the gripes had eased. The fires of hell burnt less brightly. And my waking thoughts weren’t of gloom and doom.

But two years of trying out iffy remedies unsuccessfully can’t be obliterated. Where allopathy, homoeopathy and ayurveda had proved feeble, how could a crazy diet which contradicted popular beliefs, succeed. And that too, in just a few days?

So I reined in the optimism and continued hauling my mini-army of Tupperware. Contrary to my initial concern that I would find this diet oppressive, I actually began to appreciate the discipline it brought in my life.

Two weeks later, I danced up the stairs of the Health Awareness Centre and almost hugged Pink Lady. I couldn’t wait to tell her how I was a new person – inside out.

She smiled and thrust a 3 page review form in my hand, ‘Fill this form first.’

Later, we talked about my improvement and she suggested minor changes. For instance, she said it was ok to eat white meats but to avoid cereals and meat at the same meal.

Finally, we got around to the tiffin. She said she would start it from the following week. I danced all the way back to the office.


The tiffin arrived… and brought with it our daily dose of lunchtime entertainment.

Work stopped in the department and colleagues pushed their tiffins aside to make way for The Amazing Tiffin Box. The air would be taut with greedy anticipation as I pulled out the wire frame with the four tiffins…

“Beetroot cutlets with mint chutney!!”

“Sprouts in tamarind sauce!”

“Tomatoes stuffed with american corn!”

“Steamed dumplings in peanut sauce!!”

Wasn’t health food supposed to be bland and boring, colleagues drooled enviously. If the creative rendition of ordinary vegetables and cereals whetted everyone’s appetite, the flavour had them in raptures. Quite a feat actually, when you consider the meager use of spices and the complete absence of oil, salt and sugar. (Lemon and tamarind replaced salt, jaggery substituted refined sugar.)

I thought I’d gotten used to their precision and attention to detail. Until they sent me Burmese Khao Suey one day! Now, Khao Suey is essentially noodles in a broth (non-veg mostly), served with a variety of garnishes. The Amazing Tiffin Box turned out the following…

Tiffin 1 - rice noodles
Tiffin 2 – broth(veg, of course)
Tiffin 3 – four different garnishes ranging from crushed peanuts to springs onions
Tiffin 4 – A flyer with a short history of Burmese Khau Suey, how to mix all the ingredients and the nutritional benefits of the meal.

Lunch wasn’t just lunch anymore. It was a culinary adventure! Once in every couple of weeks there’d be a printed leaflet tucked into the tiffin detailing the Centre’s philosophy on different foods - ‘Why Meat is not for us’, ‘Shake the salt habit’, ‘Soft drinks: hard on the body’. There was a detailed explanation too on the ‘water theory’. Since the diet recommended a good amount of juices, fresh fruit and vegetables which have over 70% water content, one didn’t need to drown ones insides with 16 glasses of water. (All of you, who swear by water therapy, take this with a pinch of organic salt substitute.)

I relished the food, of course. But more than that, I was floored by the passion which went into the preparation and presentation of the meal. Now, I could appreciate the song and dance over an interview. Because of the effort required, they couldn’t supply more than 200 tiffins at a time, and quite often there was a ‘waiting list’. (I was surprised at having missed that impediment!)

There was another quirk – no tiffin during the month of May. I’ve heard of two reasons. One, was an annual vacation cum rejuvenation for their entire staff and two, fresh food spoiled easily at the height of summer. From all that I’d come to know of Streehitavardhini Audyogik Sahakari Sansthan (that’s what I wrote on the cheque each month), it just seemed like the thing they’d do to uphold their standards.

The Amazing Tiffin Box satiated, entertained and restored me for over a year and a half. I stopped it six months ago for several reasons, prominent among them being, I didn’t want to get too used to a good thing. IBS has long been history, but I continue to follow the schedule and the broad guidelines.

On some days, when the food at the ‘Less Oily and Spicy’ counter in my office canteen is egregious (‘The sprouts are too hard’… ‘the vegetables are overcooked’… ‘what’s THAT in the rice’…) I think fondly of The Amazing Tiffin Box and wonder what delightful surprises it might have held...

P.S. For all you IBS-afflicted out here, hope you won't go by the info on this post. Try this instead.

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