In the winter, Agastya starts sniffling. One sniffle turns into the next and we start on a progression of back-to-back colds. Sometimes they start with a fever, sometimes with runny sneezes and sometimes with a bad cough. They last a week, sometimes two, and a new cold often starts before the old one finishes. I gaze enviously at children who don’t seem to have colds and wonder what their mothers do. Agastya’s doctor gives me a stern look when I complain. “It could be worse,” “at least he doesn’t have an ear infection,” or “he’s so healthy otherwise,” she says.
Each time Agastya gets a new cold I go into an intense cause and effect analysis. Now Agastya dresses warmly each time he goes out, he washes his hands more often, and we never compromise on sleep and naps. I have also found a link, albeit somewhat tenuous, between ice-cream consumption and colds. So no more of that stuff. The credit really goes to his nanny who hides all the tubs of ice-cream at the back of our freezer and shows him an empty fridge when he remembers to ask for some. “See, there’s no ice-cream,” says Rose, lifting him up to inspect the empty shelves. Agastya with his growing powers of reasoning has decided that his mother is responsible for this lack of ice-cream. One afternoon I hear him sagely remark to Rose that “Mummy ate all the ice-cream,” with a particular drawn-out emphasis on the word “all” in his baby lisp. I feel suitably guilty.
Still unable to beat the cold, I start asking every mother I know about their view on colds. Several answers emerge, and interestingly, they all seem to be related to food. My in-laws suggest honey for coughs, my mother recommends ginger, a cousin mentions yogurt and a friend says to add a fat clove of garlic to Agastya’s food each day. The last suggestion works a minor miracle. In the modern day, and in the face of virulent bugs and persistent coughs and sleepless nights, I have tended to get fairly dismissive of home remedies. But the garlic does appear to have an immediate and positive effect. I start rethinking all of Agastya’s meals – onions with eggs in the morning with a side of brightly colored berries, a green (broccoli, spinach) or orange (butternut squash, carrot) soup with a large clove of sauteed garlic at lunch, fruit and yogurt for a snack and a lentil preparation at night, with turmeric, garlic and ginger.
The lentil requirement brings to mind the kattu that my mother-in-law makes. It is a simple, nourishing and surprisingly tasty toor dal dish. Boil a cup of dry dal in the pressure cooker and keep aside. Chop several pods of garlic into chunks and saute in a tablespoonful of hot ghee on medium heat until the garlic turns faintly golden. Sputter a half teaspoonful each of cumin seeds and mustard seeds, add a pinch of asafoetida and a few fresh green curry leaves. Green chillies can be sliced and added for heat and flavor. Add the dal and some water to bring to the required consistency. Add a generous pinch of turmeric, and salt to taste. Stir and boil for a few minutes. Serve with rice or rotis or as a soup on its own. Note that this dal is perfectly tasty with just the sauteed garlic, turmeric and salt, and that the consistency can be thick or thin depending on personal preference.