‘What did you have for breakfast?’
The front row of teachers looked puzzled. Was this really going to be a talk on history? There were at least 150 students in the audience, aged approximately 12-14, and I wanted to get their attention. At first no one responded, and I had to be more specific. ‘How many had bread, roti or paratha? ‘ A majority of hands were raised. ‘How many had idli or dosa?’ There wasn’t a single one. This was north India, after all. ‘How many had cornflakes?’ There were quite a few.
Then I went on to discuss the history of wheat, from which the first category of food was made, rice, which no one had eaten that morning, and maize, the plant for cornflakes. Along the way we discussed other foods, and when they reached India. I told them a story about a rice goddess in Java, and heard in turn about a folktale from central India. Demeter and Ceres, maize gods and chocolate gods–there was a lot we touched on, and an interest was generated.
Some in fact, stayed back for the second session with senior students, where I discussed war, peace, and the history of emotions. It was my first tentative attempt to explore the history of emotions, and their role in history.
The two sessions were over, and snacks, tea, and mementos were provided, after that I was keen to get home. I had left the house at 8 am and I wasn’t used to it, had forgotten how exhausting teaching could be.
The rest of the day I relaxed, caught up on my chess games, and read another Louise Penny, a recent discovery.