Sunday, February 20, 2011

whats cooking?

The day my daughter got engaged to a strapping handsome young man, a friend literally tried to drag me on to the dance floor. I mumbled: ‘I can do anything but dance. That’s the only thing that’s beyond me’. But was it? I heard a voice – Can you cook Sumedha? While I tried to find an easy answer, I was transported back to my school days. Those were beautiful times. And to match, I was khoobsoorat too then, I surmise. That was four decades ago. Whether it was in the Arya Putri Pathshala or the taton wala sarkari school- I don’t recall clearly. What I remember is that I always looked forward to the annual ‘rasoee day . It was like a rapid fire cookery class with lots of emphasis on the art of cooking, serving what you dished out, garnishes and what not. Well, frankly, that’s all I know about cooking other than eating of course.

It’s not that I didn’t try even if forced by circumstance. As a teacher of English at F. C. College in Hisar, I regularly dined at the oily smelling hostel mess. One fine summer day, Dolly, a hot-headed lady who served the food was throwing her tantrums and she rudely threw the food tray in front of me. I could not stomach the insult and decided I was better off without food rather than eat a humble pie.

That was the day of revelation. Or perhaps,reckoning. I bought a messy kerosene stove and all the grocery stuff like rice, noodles, spices which cost me quite a fortune in those good old days. But the real challenge lay ahead. How do I cook for this paapi pet? I couldn’t find an answer even after trying to make dough out of flour umpteen times. Lost like Alice in Wonderland, I went on a diet of butter and toast for several days. I realised that our revered DDJ who taught us Linguistics at Panjab University had a lesson for us when he he would say learning a language and its pronunciation was like cooking and swimming. Nobody could master it by reading books. You had to actually do it to master it. I now realise he was stating a universal truth.

I recall another time I flirted with cooking. Those were the days when mobile phones and Spectrum scandals were yet to be born. On a karwa chauth eve I thought that a close friend might have forgotten about the fasting. So I took it on myself to remind her. What better way to do so than offering her sargee in the wee hours of the morning. And, so I cooked a ba-kayda food, hired a rikshaw and landed at her place with the dabba. I don’t remember whether she partook of it. Half a century can erase many memories! But she was touched, for sure.

Months later, frozen ‘bawarchee’ food packets were introduced. Whenever I visited Delhi, I would bring a few packets from Gainda Mal Hem Raj stores. We loved to share it. And everytime we ate we prayed that the Bawarchee brand would prosper. Delicious, is all I can say about Bawarchee.

But gradually I learnt the difference between frying and deep frying, a half and a hard boiled egg, regular pakodas and pakodis for kadhi. But this learning had its lighter moments too. I can’t forget how my friend had a mighty laugh when her hubby asked me if I had added water to the leftover kadhi while heating it. How could I deny it when I had done exactly that. Those were the days when I earned the fond sobriquet of Miss Paneerwala for the matar-paneer I could cook.

When I donned the garb of a mother, my favourite pastime on any Sunday came to be cooking for my daughter. But, uttapam and upma were still a taboo for me. I bought a microwave cooker too, but, the machine looked to me as if I were an alien. I salute all the good mothers who have had the good fortune of cooking delicious food for their offspring. In that sense, I have not been a complete mother. That remains a regret.

My academic pursuits too led me to the kitchen. The greatest learning experience in culinary arts I had was when I was studying in England. I loved to cook for my host AJ and Geeta who worked double shifts to find their feet in the alien land. AJ would often complain that ustadji’s paronthe were solely responsible for all the flab. When my younger sister came calling I enthusiastically told her how I had learnt to cook broths and pastas, Spinach Spaghetti, Shepherd’s pie and Yorkshire pudding. She was not amused. She was in tears and all she said was “let’s go back”. She found it hard to accept I had worked so hard to be a cook of sorts. I can’t imagine what would have been my fate, without my siblings and mother. But for them I would not be having a regular meal. I can’t even thank them enough.

In fact, I lack all that makes a good cook. It’s so easy to blame the lack of time. Or the belief that I am one mortal made for higher callings. Yet, I believe I am a shirker. I can’t seem to work hard to cook a good meal though I can word hard to earn it. But, that’s how I am. If I can’t cook, knit or dance, I can always cook an excuse why I can’t. That’s me!


  1. Just asking Sumedha can you cook? Dont remember it. But those were lovely days which we spent together. Kids still remember the times when we had vart roti at your house. We all miss you very much

  2. Amazing!!!! Well as i see it you dance very well... I have to trust my own eyes..
    As far as the cooking goes, you can make amazing tea.. raat ka chai is on you...

    By the way, im sailing in the same boat.. When i was not married, i was least bothered about what to cook or eat, i could afford a meal in a restaurant once in a the maid servant would cook...
    But since ive got married, its breakfast lunch and dinner. cooking all 3 everyday is a horrid dream come true. because now its not just me, its my husband too who is very very selective about food.
    But well thats how life is and im learning to cook..
    (By the way today only i spoilt the seviyan that i tried to make for breakfast)