My friends and family are well aware of my interest in cooking. It is a creative pursuit and a great stress buster. It is a hobby that I also thoroughly enjoy.
The other day I was going down memory lane to recall when I first tried my hand at cooking.
I was about 8 years old with a 4 year old sister. My mother, a pious woman with strong beliefs in tradition, would sit in a corner during those days in a month, when she considered herself impure. She would not cook nor perform puja on those days. It was a kind of a three day holiday for her from her daily routine. Those three days, my father would take over her role, get the children ready for school, do the cooking, wash clothes etc. Because of this extra load he would be very tense and both my sister and I had to be very careful lest we earn his wrath. At the slightest provocation he would beat us black & blue!
It so happened that once when my dad was away on a three day official tour, my mother had to sit out and there was no one to look after us; especially to cook a meal for us, since we could not afford to buy food from outside.
My mother thought that at 8, I was old enough to learn some basic cooking. Standing in a corner, she taught me how to get a coal fired aduppu (Sigdi) ready. Then, showed me how to cook rice and dal and make a simple Rasam. I followed her step by step instructions and `lo & behold’ a basic three course meal for the family was ready in 60 minutes – Dal rice, rasam rice and of course rice and buttermilk .
I still remember the compliment I received from my mother for cooking a decent and palatable meal. She went around telling all our neighbors about my performance. I was proud that I had passed the first test in cooking successfully. This incident sowed the first seed of interest in me for cooking.
I had a few more opportunities as a teenager to cook at home; when I learnt to make a simple porial (dry vegetable curry) and vathal-kulambu (a kind of sambar without dal).
The real test for my cooking abilities came after my marriage when we moved to Chennai from Delhi and my parents moved to Mumbai to look after my bachelor younger brother.
My tradition bound wife made me perform the role my father would perform during `those days’ but only in the kitchen because by this time we had a servant who was looking after the other functions of the house like cleaning, washing etc. I continued to perform the role until my parents returned to stay with me permanently in 1986 when my mother started helping my wife in the kitchen. As long as my mother was alive till 2000, I was not allowed to enter the kitchen, as the two women were more than what a kitchen could hold!
After my mother passed away, I decided to help my wife in the kitchen by planning the menu for the day, buying and cutting vegetables…and even became a Sunday cook, giving my wife a holiday from the kitchen for that day (or so I thought). On some Sundays I would invite all the fifteen members of the `joint’ family we have in our compound for a meal. My specialities were ( and continue to be ): Avial (mixed vegetable dish made with curd), Appalam (Papad) Vathal Kuzhambu and Paruppu Urundai More Kulambu (Similar to Kadi Vadi of Gujarat).
Whenever I was on tour in U.S.A, I made my cousins and nephews happy by cooking a meal of my favourite items. During the five years my son was staying in USA, I visited him every year for a week and cooked his favourite items, without my wife breathing down my neck. Many of his friends would barge into my son`s home for the good home meals because of which I had to always cook for atleast for five to six people to ensure that none of his friends went back disappointed.
Everything was going fine until I decided to cook a meal every other day, back at home. I thought I was helping my wife by saving her at least 90 minutes of quality time in the mornings, when she was very busy with hundred and one other things to do.
But my wife had other ideas. She thought I was encroaching into her territory without her permission; and not only making a mess but also upsetting all the arrangements in the kitchen. I have now been banned from entering the kitchen without her permission. Even my Sunday stints at the kitchen have become rare.
My dreams of becoming a great cook, admired(!) by friends and all connoisseurs of good food, lies shattered at the doors of our kitchen!
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