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Sudha Murty Shows Us What’s Inside Nalini’s lunchbox!

In the heartwarming world of Common yet Uncommon by Sudha Murty, we encounter the extraordinary story of Nalini Kulkarni, affectionately known as ‘Lunchbox Nalini.’ Meet the lady whose love for food and friendship created extraordinary connections through her cherished lunchbox. Get ready for a heartwarming journey where the ordinary becomes extraordinary!


Common yet Uncommon
Common Yet Uncommon | Sudha Murty


I am Nalini Kulkarni. As a child, elders called me Nali – a typical shortening of the name in North Karnataka, where Anand becomes Andya. And Mandakini becomes Mandi. No wonder Nalini to Nali was so easy. 


Until now, I have peeped in at everyone’s life and written about their characters. Now let me talk about myself–the best way to joke is not on someone else’s expense but on your own.  


As I go about observing everyone’s habits and characteristics, I don’t get time to cook. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to eat. I am very fond of eating. If someone calls me for lunch, I not only attend but also carry my lunch box to carry some food back for my dinner. Whenever I go to any function, all my relatives, without greeting me, say, ‘Nalini, fill up  your lunchbox first. Then you will be at peace and we can talk at  leisure.’ That’s why I am known as Lunchbox Nalini. 


A few days ago, my cousin, Venkat, had his child’s naming ceremony. Venkat’s wife Veena formally invited me, saying, ‘We will be very happy if you come for the naming ceremony. If you don’t have time for lunch, at least visit us for  half an hour.’ 


I laughed and said, ‘Don’t you remember what they call me? I always come for the meal more than the event. I’ll be honest with you. If you tell me to come for the event without a lunch, then I’m sure that only three people will be there for the naming ceremony – you, your husband, and your little bundle of joy.’ 


Everyone laughed at my comment. Bundle Bindu, who was sitting there commented about hospitality about different regions. 


“I know.. Some people’s hospitality is bare minimum unlike north Karnatka. Because, historically…’ 


I told Bindu, stop it.  


He ignored me and continued. 


“Recently I had been to someone’s house. He said, “Wait a minute. I wWill have tea and come..I said I will also come and join you for tea.” 


“Bindu, you are shameless”, I said. 


But by and large, when you invite people, you should do it whole heartedly. The person should feel welcomed. 


I turned to Venkat and said, ‘I will come for the function in the morning as I have recently joined as a college lecturer. I will leave my lunchbox there and pick it up on the way back after my classes are over. I won’t be able to make it for lunch but I can eat it at home, at least.’ 


‘There can be no one like you,’ said Jayant. 


I take my lunchbox along with me to a function if I know the family hosting the event very well. I have many varieties of lunch boxes—unbreakable, Tupperware, hot cases, transparent ones. Because they are useful for various dishes—and depending on the circumstance, I change the boxes. For gravies. Tupperware is better. For roti and poli, hot case is better. For pickles, unbreakable is better and transparent because it is easier to identify what is inside. 


I am very fond of lunchboxes. In fact, I am an expert. My refrigerator is filled with different kinds of boxes with food given to me from different homes. I can recognize different boxes from different places even when am asleep. Mulla’s wife Peerambi’s box is yellow in color, though it is green inside. Virurupaksha’s Gowda’s wife Basavaa’s dabba is made of german steel. It is round and is currently sitting in my fridge with some brinjal. Bhagirati’s plastic green box has yellow laddoos inside. Jayant’s transparent box has golgappas.  


The other day, I was eating dinner. I told my daughter, ‘There is a gulab jamoon from Janaki’s home. Though her tongue is bitter, her gulab jamuns are excellent.’ 


My daughter was confused. ‘How do I know which is her box of gulab jamun? There are so many lunch boxes in the refrigerator.’ 


‘Oh, bring the one with the dome-like structure,’ I responded easily. ‘I didn’t have a box with me that day, so she had given in hers.’ 


While having the gulab jamun, , I remembered the dry vegetable. ‘Will you open the fridge and get the plastic box with flat red cover? That is from Ganga’s home. Some marriage proposal had come and the boy had visited Ganga’s home so she had specially made a vegetable for the boy that she also sent to me.’ 


The other day, Bundle Bindu came with a huge box. His wife saraswati was out of station. I opened it and to my surprise, there was a steamed sweet dish inside. It is complicated to make, though grandmother was particularly good at it. I asked, ‘Bindu, when Saraswati is not there, how could you cook this special dish?’ 


Bindu laughed and said, ‘Who said that I have made this? There is a famous saying – When two people are fighting, it is the third one that enjoys.’ 


‘What do you mean?’ 


Bindu said, ‘Suman has sent rice kheer and her mother-in-law has sent bottle guard kheer. They felt that you are the best judge to decide who is the better cook because you are known for tasting dishes They called me separately and gave me these two boxes. You eat and enjoy. Both want you to take their side.’ 


‘Bindu, in that case, I will taste neither of them’ I said immediately. 


‘Nali, please be diplomatic. You can say both are very good, but separately. Then you will have an advantage,’ said Jayant who always thinks of profit and loss. 


‘No, Jayant. I don’t want to do that. Profit and loss are okay in business but not in human interaction. All these people are dear to me. Whenever they make something special, they send some to my home even if I don’t visit their house. I carry my lunchbox only to places where I have liberty and affection If I really want to eat, there are many restaurants in this townFor me, a lunch box is not a mere lunchbox. It is a bridge between two people. I go to their home, or they send me some food. I go to return the box.  Thus, we share feelings and give company to each other. In case any of us are in difficulty, we reduce our tensions. The lunchboxes are nothing but a sign of affection, and it is through them that I have been able to meet people and form a close bond with them over the years. It has been my educational journey into the nature of humanity. 


 I don’t want to get into the competition between a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law or create more distance between them. If somebody wants to start a fight, I don’t want to be a party to that.’ 


Bindu laughed and said, ‘And I know how you love food too! 


I smiled back. 


 ‘O Nali, you are a typical north Karnataka girl’ said Bindu. 


‘What do you mean by that?’ I was surprised by his comment. 


‘Straightforward, transparent, loving, sharing, impractical, talkative, – that is the essence that the land blesses us with.’ 



Intrigued to know more about Nali and her lunchbox?
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