Being maid-less for two days forced me into manual labour before and after office hours — washing dishes, sweeping and mopping floors, doing the laundry, and that most frightening aspect of the home domain for me: cooking.
Initially, I tried to get away with ordering from Colonel’s Kababz and McDonald’s. At the end of day two, however, I realised I would have to get closer to the stove after all. Our kickboxing instructor had just left and I was completely washed out after a difficult day at work (shoot location crisis, fussy models, errors in the masthead — you get the idea). Yet, out of a sense of duty to my kids and out of a certain determination to face my fears, I decided to take the bull by its horns.
Pasta. That sounded nice and easy. I set the brown penne to boil with a little salt and oil, while heating up the kadhai with semi-cooked masala from the fridge (mom has ingrained in us the habit of keeping a box full of onion-ginger-garlic-tomatoes paste ready for any eventuality), and blessed the maid for making it before she left. I added a big ladle of tomato ketchup (for lack of any other puree), and when I thought the pasta was done, I strained it and added it to the now fully cooked tomato paste. But the penne began tearing apart and I instantly realised it was overcooked.
Thankfully, the kids, poor hungry things, fell on to the kadhai with a vengeance and the three of us devoured every bit of it. Then we all looked at each other: obviously a bowl each was not enough. I had made too little.
But I didn’t want to make pasta again. So I thought, ‘Upma’. Mom had taught me the recipe recently and what better time to try it out? So I washed the kadhai and set the ghee to heat, added rai and cut the onions. I also set some peas to boil (another good habit inculcated from mom: stack up on the frozen peas), and when the onions were browned, added the suji to it.
In the meantime, feeling all very efficient and housekeeper-like, I decided to make best use of my time and washed the pile of dishes that had inched up the sink for the past few days.
However, it was close to bedtime and in my hurry to serve my family, I didn’t brown the suji enough, and added the boiled peas and water prematurely. The result was a rather pale upma, a little low on salt — easily rectified, of course. Thankfully, this too, was much enjoyed by us all. “It’s so nice to see you cook,” the elder one said. “I love everything you make.” The younger one was too busy licking her spoon.
I treated myself a mixed fruit juice with ice cubes (my throat isn’t all well yet, but then I deserved a cooling-down) and sat with my feet up on the centre table while I had it. I then cleared up the entire kitchen, made neat little bundles of the garbage, wiped the counters, kept all leftovers in the fridge and decided to skip making the next day’s tiffin and offered the kids some money for ice cream instead.
A cold shower later, I was late for bed, but when I curled my fingers around my gratitude rock (long story), I could not help thanking God for helping me overcome my age-old fear of cooking. Tired, yes. Defeated, no.
And with my kids’ sweet, encouraging words, it felt like I had served my heart up to my own little Gods. Sigh, I’m sure even winning Master Chef would be bland compared to this.