“Why do they get to have so many when we have so few?”
“Because they don’t eat the paplet (pomfret), raja.”
“It’s not our fault they don’t eat fish. Why are we being punished? We like the kolumbi (prawns) too”
“Next time, I will ask for many, many more to be bought from the market. Then you can have all that and the fish. Chala putano, jeva aata. (Come my dears, eat your food now.)”
Pick any weekend when there was a fish dinner at grandma’s and you could count on this conversation replaying like a broken record. My cousin Pags and I always knew that we had a sweet deal. His sister and mine knew that that nothing would change, the same thing would happen the next time. Yet one of them always complained of the unfairness of it all. It was almost ritualistic, their complaints, my grandma’s cajoling, Parag and I eating up quick before anyone had a chance to change their mind, the post-dinner grumbling.
I still cannot eat fried prawns without thinking of that time.
I love food, certainly. But sometimes I think what attracts me to cooking that it feels so much like a scientific experiment. Next to languages, science was easily my one of my favourite subject, especially chemistry. (Actually I liked everything but civics, I’m such a nerd that way!) I still vividly remember the countless times I stood at the door of the lab at school, my nose stuck to the glass as I gazed forlornly at the shiny lab tables and rows of coloured bottles on them that were, sadly, off-limits for me in primary and lower secondary school. In India, almost always (unless you move around a lot) you got to the same school from kindergarten through 10th standard (that would be 10th grade here I think). So you can imagine how many years were spent yearning after this lab.
Once I found myself in it, I had a ball. All intrinsic excitement though. I never once mixed the wrong compounds or turned my hair pink; though this older me thinks that pink hair would have been hilarious, the younger me would have been horrified to not get that experiment right the first time. We both agree that it was fun for us anyway. My idea of fun may have developed in strange directions over the years but the essence of it never changes. I’m never happy when an experiment is a disaster.Even at the risk of sounding just like Alton Brown, cooking has chemistry at its basis. Different ingredients come together and can either work in harmony or can result in metaphoric chemical disaster. And while I’ve had my low moments, for the most part no one has fainted from my cooking. Not like that time I excitedly stuck a test-tube containing the product of an experiment under my lab partner’s nose. I had to go over the lab safety lecture twice before they let me in the lab again.
The current economy is taking its toll and no one is immune from its effects. While there are changes in weather and joys in spring, some part of me seems chilled in a grip of melancholy and in my head there’s a strident head-ache. Actually that latter thing could also have a lot to do with the fact that there is intense hammering on the outside of a wall less than two feet away from my head. I woke up to its dulcet tones early this morning and now its 3 pm and I’m thoroughly sick of it. I should be immune to stuff like this, there are days that I work around much louder noises on site. But the build-up has been unbearable. The only thing stopping me from going outside and bopping that construction worker silly with those shingles he’s so busily trying fix on my building wall is the fact that he’s whistling cheerfully. In the gloom and doom of the time we live in, someone is happy, someone is doing a job he loves. What kind of person would want to ruin that for anyone?
It is a good thing that I haven’t been contemplating making a soufflé of any kind. Every time that hammer hits the wall, everything shudders slightly and I’m willing to bet good money that it would fall flatter than that joke I heard last night at dinner. Since I’m home on this somewhat cold Friday and the construction work outside was slowly robbing me of the ability to string coherent thought together, lunch had to be a tried and tested go-to recipe I can make without thinking. The day called for something warming and comforting to warm me and soothe my aching head, so I decided to go with one of my versions of Egg Curry.