Home » The bitter gourd principle – Eat the bitter gourd first!


Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, quick-fix, heat-and-eat meal options did not exist in small towns. Fresh vegetables of varied hues found their way home from a neighbourhood farmer’s market, handpicked meticulously by my mother. She took pride in trying new recipes whenever she could get her hands on one. Those were days of hard-copy recipes sourced from magazines and the radio, carefully treasured in greasy notebooks on the kitchen shelf. Mother’s hobby meant, among other things, we ate platefuls of vegetables, depending on what was in season.

One of the worst days for me was when she cooked bitter gourd, which unfortunately was in season for most of the year. Bitter gourd was horrible no matter what format she rendered—fried, dried, stuffed, or freshly cooked. She baked yummy cakes and cookies and made fantastic biryani, but the bitter gourd was somehow my most overpowering childhood taste memory.

Children’s taste buds are more sensitive than adult empathies can even remotely fathom. I would eat up everything else on my plate and keep staring at the bitter gourd, patiently waiting for the perfect moment to slip it into the trashcan, stealing my mother’s attention. My mother knew me better than I knew myself. She would hang around and watch the agony until I finished the last bit. This saga continued for many years.

One day, it hit me that there was no escaping the bitter gourd. Why not gulp it first and enjoy the meal tension-free? It worked out well, and it has remained a life lesson. Eating karela (bitter gourd) first meant Mother would leave me alone rather than supervise and sing praises of the benefits of bitter gourd. Bitter gourd and mother couldn’t get my goat anymore.

Bitter gourds exist in our professional lives too. Tackling an unpleasant agenda with someone difficult, initiating a complex project, tasks we fear will not work out well, or anything hard or even remotely troublesome or boring are some metaphorical bitter gourds. We avoid them and try to tuck them away, naively hoping that they will not come back to haunt us. This avoidance secretly saps our energy and reputation. Clients, bosses, colleagues, family, and friends all wish we were more responsive and less tardy.

There could be much more to the avoidance than sheer procrastination, as it may seem on the surface. Nowadays, there is no shortage of popular psychology articles about procrastination that give many takes on how and why we do what we do.

However, I think the best thing to do when you hit a plate of bitter gourd on your calendar is to swallow it first and savour the rest of the day. It will give your brain a boost, a spring to your stride, and work wonders for your reputation. Recognise, accept, and act on the most important and unpalatable things on your plate first.

May the bitter gourd battle not trouble you any more this year!