[Now cross posted on Desicritics]
For just under one week now, I have been the proud owner of a gas cylinder, a stove and a refrigerator, and I daresay my life has been completely revolutionized. That I have learnt oodles of nuances about cooking is sadly a statement I can not make as yet. However, as one interminably perseveres along the solitary and arduous path of cooking (thankfully I have a roommate for company!) for one’s survival, one gradually begins to realize that there are probably more lessons about life in the culinary arts than Deepak Chopra can possibly pontificate. It is a journey beset both with teething problems for the tongue.
To start off, one begins learning to make choices and trade-offs. With the limited knowledge and experience of the lead protagonists, it is evident that trade-offs have to be a part of the equation right from the beginning. One learns to accept reality and live with it. Self-appraisal teaches us that one should not bite more than one should eat, or cook. It’s best to get your fundamentals right — eg., how to roast a toast, and toast the occasion.
One learns early in the journey that things are not going to be easy. One is neither born nor can cook with a silver spoon. It requires tremendous foresight to make sure that the kitchen is well-stocked, and one can only acquire such perspective through experience. Not a virtue one can expect to find in bachelor housing. The absence of the most innocuous of objects can be a sore point when you need it. Small, dark, black balls can be infinitely useful especially if they happen to be called cumin seeds (jeera). Rains may bring down the mercury, but they certainly don’t help the cause of the amateur cook. He (especially if it’s a lazy he) feels beleagured, cheated by the rain gods, with fast finishing supplies has to battle hunger, and finally does the obvious — drops the item from the recipe.
One learns to persevere — just slug it out. When its a matter of life and death (Ok! Hospitalization), one cares not for the simple pleasures in life — for instance, dinner can consist of more than mere omelettes. Half burnt omelettes. Half-burnt omelettes that look like a perfect equilateral triangles (for want of a better shape). Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khao ande – the words ring in your ears, tear your ear-drums apart, test your tenacity, humiliate you, try to break your back and upset your stomach, but like a Spartan warrior you doggedly keep fighting all instincts, all temptations. Like a sanyasi, one has to resist the apsara’s smile, with a toll-free number promising home delivery. If one has to achieve nirvana, however, one has to eat rock, metal and egg.
Hardships are, of course, part of any journey. Small cuts and bruises are passe, there is danger of getting burnt. The weapons one has to resort to are deadly — the can cut even the holder of the weapon. Salt is always at hand and on the burns. What’s all the brouhaha about nuclear weapons?
There is the ecstasy of the omelette actually turning out to be eatable especially when the bread also got toasted the right red — a feeling unparalleled in the dictionary of human emotions. At the same time, there is enough crying, running noses and sneezing (onions and chilly powder) to fill a full season of Ekta Kapoor’s. I am sure Indian satellite television head honchos haven’t yet got hint of the melodramatic quotient of it all, else there would have been a flurry of Kaun Banega Captain Cook with King B and Big Khan both compering it together. And not to forget people sms’ing their favorite garnishing to 8888 and winning exciting prizes. Or perhaps a Kitchen Idol, whom millions of Indians cheer and vote for from the comforts of their living rooms (thankfully smell is a sensation that has not yet been televised).
Finally, as the denouement draws near (and the omelette gets made) one has a sobering realization under the Bodhi tree, err. Chimney. One realizes that one is responsible for one’s actions. Passing the blame around is not an easy task when you have volunteered willingly for such calamity (though one can certainly pass the plate around). It is all our doing — we have to take responsibility for our actions, and suffer on our own account (next morning with a knotted stomach). Cooking is the ultimate leveler, with immediate feedback loop and completely ownership, division of labour and accountability for actions — a manager’s dream, an epicurean’s nightmare.
A humbling experience. Of course, it’s easy to succumb, to eat out, to order pizza, to resort to maggi. But then, one has to remember, that as
Rudyard Kipling Robert Frost once rightly said:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
[Many thanks to Dipika for proofreading this]