Saturday, September 25, 2010

Brain Food: Whey to Success

Eating yogurt sweetened with sugar on an exam day before setting of for school was something that none of us three brothers would dare to miss. It brought us luck, we believed. That we did well in school perhaps only served to reinforce our belief in the mythical properties of yogurt. Perhaps, an even stronger reinforcement must have been our memory of the days when we did not eat the customary bowl of yogurt and fared poorly on the test. Conveniently, we didn't attribute the poor performance to our inadequate preparation but to the yogurt that we did not have. It was superstition being internalized.
Mom didn’t know that yogurt is rich in tyrosine, an amino acid that helps produce two neurotransmitters, dopamine and noradrenalin. She didn’t know that tyrosine aids mental alertness and memory retention. But she remembered the days of her childhood when her mother made sure that mom ate yogurt at the very least on the days she had exams. And Mom would have damned herself if she hadn't in turn passed on the successful formula to her children. If yogurt could bolster the chances of her children getting on the honors list, she wasn’t going to leave any stone unturned or any milk in the house uncultured. And were yogurt not ready on an exam day morning -- she usually made it at home -- one of us three brothers would rush to the market nearby and get some for us to have our timely bowlful or spoonful before we pedaled off to school. Yogurt remained a secret ingredient of the recipe of our success in school.

When I left home for college, bidding farewell to Mom also meant bidding farewell to the yogurt-exam ritual. At college, I did not see other students scurrying for yogurt on exam days. Those who I asked hadn’t even heard of this practice. Sometimes I wondered how they had made it to college. My performance on tests must have made them wonder how I had made it to college. Subsequent attempts to correct my undergraduate record when I went back to college to pursue Masters and even PhD did not meet with much success.

Though the dip in my academic graph, which was thankfully arrested, didn't subsequently change significantly in either direction, my relationship with yogurt experienced an ideological change: yogurt's mystical overtones were soon replaced by cultural ones. It is no longer an exam day on the calendar but rather an aloo parontha on the dining table that now makes me go looking for yogurt.

Somewhere along the journey, I lost the whey.

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