on Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Julia Child! I seek your blessings...

"Khaana banana aur bana paana do alag-alag baatein hai"
A micro second after my cousin commented this, with his sharp, gloating, humor filled eyes set firmly on me, about half a dozen people seated in my living room split into laughter bouts loud enough to drown any other sound which competed for attention. Cause was the usual discussion over my non-existent culinary abilities. This discussion invariably starts with me politely offering my aunt a cup of coffee (or tea in some other cases), made by me, with appropriate disclaimers of a potential taste hazard being put promptly in place. My polite offer is always accompanied by a humble, almost begging request, to gulp down my coffee like a medicine just in case the taste is too atrocious, and surpasses even the bitterness of coffee beans at choking one's taste buds. So while my aunt displays her grace at sipping my coffee with a smile, which (deceivingly) conveys that I did a good job with putting milk, sugar and coffee together, some other guests are not always so gracious. If ever I prevaricate over questions of cooking, I am reminded of my 'gender' with an almost irritating promptness, as if I am dumb enough to not have realized my feminine attributes and obligations in the past 21 years of my existence. But 21 years, this is where the problem lies. I am almost marriageable now, though the auspicious nuptials will not knock on my door for at least half a decade more (they better don't!). In this half a decade (audaciously assumed), I have to not just learn cooking for survival, but have to master the culinary art with high grades. What will otherwise be the decisive accessory on my marital resume?

As I ponder over this, I almost get those visions in my head, straight out of loser bollywood movies, where the very first glimpse a hero casts on his would-be is as she heads in his direction, with her eyes demurely lowered, carrying a huge tray of snacks and tea in her hands (Pick up any Rajshri movie for example). Even before their eyes meet, the aroma of delicacies, I am sure, wafts in the air, and a quarter of the decision about accepting or rejecting the girl is taken then and there. (The way to a man's heart is through his stomach, have they not been teaching this to us since time immemorial?) This, given that traditionally, it is a girl who is supposed to have cooked up half a dozen snacks- or is at least boasted to have done so. Even in the not so traditional families, it is the girl who is supposed to serve her would-be/could-be in-laws even if it is admitted that her culinary abilities suck. This is what took place with a close friend of mine, whose nuptials are soon to take place. This, however, is a scarier vision. My clumsiness, especially when it comes to food, is world famous. Ask my cousin why I always get my sub packed, and he will tell you in between loud guffaws that it is because I can create quite a scene while attempting to savour it, even while I am careful at my best.

The worst sufferer of my clumsiness has been my own self. Some three years back, I decided I wanted to dabble in the domain of cooking, beginning my culinary journey with my then-favorite Chinese cuisine. I made Chilly Paneer in gravy, and added that ominous essential ingredient, cornflour in a little excess- I like my gravies thick. However, before I could safely transfer the extremely hot dish onto the dining table, I fumbled, stumbled, and the piping hot gravy splashed right onto my arms and shoulders. The extra cornflour proved to be extra fatal. as it stuck to my skin like burnt, molten plastic, and had to be pulled out along with some skin in a triangular patch which is still discernible on my right arm if carefully checked. My culinary adventure came to a screeching halt. And since then, Chinese has been sacrificed as my favorite in favour of the cheese-rich Italian cuisine.

My bharta did not look as perfect. Sigh.
Why the musings today? That is because today is the second time I attempted to cook the good, old baingan ka bharta , and today is only second time in my existence that I burnt it. I am consistent, amn't I? Just as I was smiling about how simple the recipe seems, I faulted on the technique. If not for my mother, I would have idiotically continued watching Bodyguard, as the bharta simmered away to its eventual demise; as it morphed into black mass of in-edibility. Now that I think of it, Bodyguard is not even a movie worth sacrificing a yummy bharta for. Good news, my mother saved it. Bad news, I had to carry sheepishness in my heart to sleep.

So, while food is what I live for, cooking certainly is dreadful for me. The rebel in me often fought against the imposed learning of this supposed art. I vouched for keeping a servant as I honed my other skills. However, in today's age influenced by the MasterChef India Series, where martial arts instructors, corporate trainers, office errand boys, painters and anchor persons are asserting their skill in cooking professionally competitive delicacies, to claim ignorance in this basic art in nothing short of a crime. For now, I am thinking of becoming my mother's permanent kitchen assistant. The earlier rebel inside my is consumed with envy as I see my 6 year younger sister chop and cook with more expertise than me, and have those culinary discussions with my mother in which I feel like an alien. For now, I think I will take advantage of my short break, and take small steps towards accomplishing what is not short of a herculean task for me. So I will be my mother's unerring kitchen assistant. It would help me more than it helps her. 

Sigh. The compulsions. Ugh! 
The only silver lining is a vision..I lay down a an exquisite dinner table, with a dozen guests seated, ogling with their eyes at the perfectly garnished dishes I lay down with a smug smile on my face, knowing just by the wafts of the subtle aromas that I what I have cooked will be eulogized by the dinner guests till days later.... Dreams.....!

How about an inspiration to begin my foray into cooking with? Chef Vikas Khanna, the latest talk of the town just seems about perfect! Any bribe which includes his mention will certainly make me the best cook on the planet!

PS- Mageirocophobia translates as the fear of cooking. It ain't all that acute, but it does describe the dread in my heart to some good extent.