My friends and family keep sharing cooking articles with me. They send tips on how to get the seeds neatly out of a pomegranate, and articles labelled “15 Foods you can make while pressing Like on Election-Selfies”, or “How to cut tomatoes like Rajnikanth–You have been doing it wrong all your life”. This is all quite useful. But I start to worry when I get forwards like, “How to make your own Bun-Butter-Gulkand from scratch!” or “Best-ever Nawaabi Daal slow-cooked for 5 hours! You won’t believe what the guests said!”
I worry that they have this mistaken idea that I am a domestic goddess of sorts, or am on the path to becoming one.
I can see how they may have got this impression. For one thing, I can usually tell reliably what ingredients might have been used in a dish. However, this comes, not from a lifetime of cooking, but a lifetime of, er, eating.
For another, my husband and I have a reasonably well-kept kitchen. The pride of place in our kitchen cupboard belongs to the vintage-looking glass jars that hold tea, sugar, coffee, and other essentials of life. For the seven years I lived in Australia, I steadily consumed the same brand of instant coffee so that I could collect the jars they came in. This meant rebelling against my Tamil heritage, and standing up to the family puritans, but I persevered. The jars have now travelled with us across the seas, and they are still beautiful. Every year, in the December holidays, I remove the old labels off the jars, and stick newer, prettier ones. I then label them lovingly, and place the jars in descending order of height. The whole exercise takes me about half a day–and that, really, is the longest time I ever spend in my kitchen at a stretch.
See, I am one of those people who always have a hundred things they want to do, and cooking elaborate meals isn’t always one of them. The few times I do venture into the kitchen with big plans, something always goes wrong. For example, one day in 2003, I decided I would make spinach soup. After boiling the ingredients together as per the recipe, I poured half of the concoction into the mixie jar, closed the lid tightly, and pressed the magic button. The whirring had just started, when, suddenly, the universe turned bright green. I pressed the button again in panic, but it was too late. I had made spinach soup all right. There was spinach-soup graffiti on my kitchen walls. There was spinach soup pooling on the stove. There was even spinach soup in a giant splatter across the washed dishes. You know those times when you watch things in movies and go, “There’s no way that would happen in real life!”. Well, dear reader, this happened to me. I soon came to realise that the mixie doesn’t like me. The morning after the Day-of-Spinach-Soup, my husband put a vile concoction of peanuts and oats and hot milk into it, and all it did was whirr away pleasantly, with an innocent face. It’s the same with the pressure-cooker. When other people use it, it emits rich, full-throated whistles that would put any bird to shame. But when I use it, it sniffs and snorts, and emits short whines. It’s like a spoilt cat with hay fever, steadily clawing at my domestic aspirations.
Speaking of domestic aspirations, my Australian friend Kay showed me a book she’d been gifted by her Indian colleague. It was called “Simple Indian Cooking for Brides and Bachelors”. The title puzzled her. Why so specific, she asked. Why not for bridegrooms? Why not for spinsters? I laughed and explained to her that most Indians considered cooking to be women’s work, especially after marriage. Soon after, I stumbled upon a Facebook discussion on whether one should even consider marrying a woman who didn’t cook. It featured that old and shameless NRI line, “I want to get married so I have a wife to cook for me“, but it also had more priceless gems such as “Cooking is not good criteria 4 da marriage but it is feature of da wife.”
It slowly dawned on me. My well-equipped kitchen had a microwave, a toaster, even a whiny pressure-cooker and a moody mixie. But what I was really missing, was this gadget called a wife.