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 need to be different and unique; I went through it too. That was before the time I realised I am different and unique, as are we all. No wait, come back…I wasn’t beginning to preach. This point will become a character sketch, you’ll see.
Anyway getting back to the need to be different; I believe it first truly struck me when I was five and in first grade. The teacher called upon us to each name our favourite fruit, as a prelude to the five sentences we would write about it. Right away, the aspiring teachers’ pet (moi) decided she was going to dazzle the class and the teacher with my sensational choice. As I listened to the litany of ‘mango (the easy highest favourite) apple, orange, banana, grapes……’ , I mentally whizzed through the fruits I liked and decided to go with watermelon which no one had mentioned. (Not very surprising; in India we are spoiled by an abundance of fruit, kids would largely think of melons last.) I had already started composing the write-up in my head, probably along the lines of ‘Watermelon is red. Watermelon is sweet. Watermelon is juicy’ (hey I said I was 5!) when the unthinkable happened. A friend stood up and said ‘Watermelon’. Black thoughts, probably along the lines of what Caesar must have thought of Brutus, passed through my head. But reeling from this unexpected blow, I rallied and thought of another fruit; the pineapple. That would show ‘em you can’t keep me down. At this point I’d probably eaten the thing once (who knows? I don’t have perfect recall), knew it was pretty good. Yup by the time the teacher got to the S’s, no one mentioned pineapple and I had my very own, only vote, favourite fruit. Was I cool or what? (*choke* sorry I can’t believe what a chump I was once.)
Life is not without its little ironies. While I didn’t know it then, pineapple is one of the very few things I grew up to be quite allergic to. Pineapple in its raw form can give me a sore throat a hypochondriac would be proud to acquire. Sad really, I do love the fruit, but I can’t eat it. Stuff like that cured me of any claims on being unique pretty soon.