I can barely cook. Just yesterday I considered buttering my bread cooking, and only this afternoon I managed my second round-n-soft chapatti after 5 years of doing something with the LPG in my kitchen. I know the award for martyrdom goes to my patient husband, but then, I’ve tried to be tasty and continue to do so. And trying means 50 per cent of the battle won moral science tells us – even if the dal stuck to the cooker, the bhindi was served raw and the saag smelt like plants kept in vases way past their life, many times over in these past few years. And today, my loyal vegetable man points out to me those raw green little-little mangoes the season is producing for us by the ton. “They’re very fresh, and just sour enough for achaar, or panna or even for a subzi with kaddu”, he chimed proudly. As I imagined all three swimming before my eyes or me swimming in all three and caught myself licking my lips on the road-side, I also realized how he made me really see my score in the kitchen - which I had been peeling away from my mind for all of my cooking life - 1/10. No more.
But I can explain.
1. It’s a ready-made life. Sandwich spreads, garlic-ginger pastes, whole royal preparations in packets just a hot-bath away from being served “fresh”. Tops to Pops to Treat to Kissan to Maggi to Knorr to Quakers to others happily get delivered at your door-step. Saves peeling, chopping, saucing, roasting, toasting, heating in weather that makes you feel all of the above in the kitchen. Saves energy preserves health! To add to it, West Delhi has lovely looking aunties who make and sell “bhuna masala” by the kilo – for party purposes you see! God bless them with many more diamond rings on their hard-working kitchen hands. And enough supply of ghee for the rest of my kitchen life.
2. Time is money. If you have it, you’re rich. If you don’t have it, you’re busy getting rich. I don’t have either, so I guess I’m a very busy being but surprisingly continuing poor. Where is the time to grind spices at home, make jams and cakes, roast chicken legs, boil corn and produce chutneys? Where? I don’t see any such time available. There’s just about enough to dip a tea-bag in hot water, call Chawla Chik-inn for kebabs or order a pizza after announcing the discount coupon number on the phone. If I don’t write my daily-dose of mindless humour, what will my family feed on, my hand-cooked poisons? (Yes, yes, I’ve tried fast-track recipes from Tarla and her friends on www. Can’t blame them if I try making curd in the fridge, can I?)
3. Secrets are getting lost. As generations bid goodbye to make way for newer ones, those secret recipes, super measured hands and smart skills are vanishing fast. My mind brings back images of sitting on the floor with my grandmother and mixing 200 different looking things in a steel paraat, pouring a gallon of oil and popping home grown pieces of raw mangoes into it - the popping being the only activity we 6 kids in the house were allowed to do. The ready pickle was then put into large martbaans, tied up like they contained Alibaba’s gold, and stowed away to last a very tasty summer for a joint family of 12. The point being, I have no hand-written diary by my grandma to which I can c.f. Something tells me even if I did, it wouldn't be the same anyway.
I have great admiration for those who make a dish themselves, and not just cook it. Who invent, improve, improvise and invent again. I feel jealous of them too, not just because they have more time on their hands than I ever will but because they have a will-to-cook-well which perhaps, if I had, my 2nd chapatti ever would be a perfect circle and not my 1002nd. But like I said, I’m at it and charging away in the battle field. And then of course, every soldier needs a break, so where there’s a will to drink panna, there’s a way! I just speed-dialed 911 and ordered a big jar of aam panna powder, Tops mango achaar and sliced raw mangoes in neat packets from my saviour's shop called 'Cheap Provision Store'. And that, people, is 100 per cent of the battle won!
(P.S. – I would have included names of many delicious delicacies here, if only I knew them. Sorry! Do what I do when I eat food I’ve cooked – take it in and gulp it down with a big sip of water.)
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