Saturday, June 21, 2008

Culinary Pursuits

My roommate has moved away, and I officially live alone. One of the best parts of living alone is the independence of thought and planning - there's no chance of anyone even suggesting a course of action which is contrary to your own, even if you have none whatsoever. So after a whole spate of doing-everything-possible-in-Mumbai before A left, suspected flu, and another round of doing-everything-possible-in-Mumbai when A came back (quite similar to the first round, only with umbrellas), I spent what feels like the first Saturday in ages (1) Not working and (2) at home (3) not drinking, but that was only because my stash of Carlsberg was finished. The only productivity was thanks to my attempt at snacking before leaving for Dashavtaram with Bunny and Co., when I reached into my cheese box (30 cubes for 30 rupee discount) Who moved my cheese? Well, that didn't matter, but a trip to the Big Bazaar certainly was required. And I picked up a lof of exciting stir fry pastes from the Dollar Store, along with cold cuts, dressing, and a lot of other (discounted) goodies to experiment with at mealtimes.
Someone once expressed a lot of shock at the fact that I loved cooking and would cook for myself even when I lived alone, earlier.
"Isn't cooking for yourself boring?" she asked.
Of course it isn't. In fact, it leaves more scope for experimentation because there's only you to bear the results of your efforts. Also, there's no "other person" to think about - you may want to cook, your partner may be voraciously hungry, so ordering in is the most polite option, rather than have them hovering around you eating raw ingredients and hopping up and down. That's the sort of thing that brings out the worst in me (ask my sister). Also, as I am the least fussy eater I know (I eat anything that moves, and even stuff that doesn't), the widest variety of seasonal vegetables have made an entry into the kitchen pantry.
The painful bit is the preparing of the tiffin, not so much for the fact that I have to wake up early for that, but also because the tiffin is eaten in public view (office) and open to comments and questions from interested bystanders, basically, Pooh.
(You do remember Pooh, don't you?)
On one occasion where I chanced to bring ladyfinger (bhindi):
"What is that?"
"Oh God, why does it look like THAT?"
I was a little taken aback. Was there fungus on it?
"Its in such small pieces!"
"Pooh, it cooks faster that way."
Pooh prides herself on bringing sorry looking sabzis to office. Of course if you prompt her she will tell you this whole story about how she made her maid cut the vegetables but she didn't cut it properly, and so Pooh had to re-cut it, and make the sabzi along with another sabzi for dinner, and rotis, and so on, and how in the whole mess she missed the 9:00 Thane Mumbai AC Bus and then she had to take the 930 one, and that is why she made someone else rush to attend her matter at 11 at the Sessions Court. Despite all these efforts, her food tastes really crappy. For instance, she was so proud of a spinach curry which was so oversalted that I couldn't taste anything else.
All women who I know who make "dabbas" for their husbands/significant others complain about how much of an effort it is and how no one understands that. So I usually give them the option of the friendly neighbourhood dabbawaala, which they are not willing to discuss. Preparing a dabba for their loved one gives them a lot of pride, evidently. But, they still crib about it. The reason I feel the exact opposite (no pride, but no effort either) is because, I am convinced, that I am doing it for myself. I cook nice food to spoil myself. Where's the effort in that? There's no pride, because no one envies you for having yourself to cook for yourself. If nothing else, they feel sorry for you.
I stopped making myself a Dabba (I'd only carry a veggie, I'd buy rotis at a place near office) when my roommate moved in. There was no real issue in making one for her too - but it's not that simple. Anyway she had office catering, and then I'd just be cooking for myself, which was selfish, in an unexplainable kind of way.
Pooh once asked me what my roommate used to do when I'd be cooking.
"Nothing", I said after some thought.
"Nothing? Nothing at all?"
"Well, most of the time she isn't home. If she is, well, she talks to me and all."
"I mean does she help you?"
"Well, she sets the table, and things like that, here and there."
"Doesn't that bother you?"
I hate that question, simply because it is evident from the previous conversation that the fact that she does not do anything has not even occurred to me, let alone cause me any anguish.
But there's another dimension to this.
Pooh gets up and makes breakfast for hubby, and then makes lunch and dinner. Her Husband wakes up, reads the paper, drinks his tea, and leaves at 730am for work. He'll come back and help her heat stuff in the microwave. But that doesn't bother Pooh, because he is a MAN - and its OK for men not to help around the kitchen.
Girls, on the other hand, need to "slave around". One girl "slaving around" for another is not acceptable.
"Pooh, I don't know about you, but I find cooking very destressing".
[For the record, Pooh does not find cooking destressing. In fact, when she has lots of guests over and insists on cooking, she actually takes the next day off to recuperate.]
But yes, cooking is destressing to me, because in a lot of ways it is the exact opposite of my professional world. Between 11am to 5pm, my life is full of frustration and uncertainties. I have a matter, I prepare for it, I have the precedents, I'm clear on the law, I'm ready to rock. However - sometimes the other side isn't present, sometimes they are present and aren't ready to argue. Sometimes the Judge isn't present, sometimes he's not willing to take up the matter. Sometimes the other side is present and ready to go on, sometimes the Judge is present and is ready to hear the matter, but they can't find the case papers. Sometimes the other side is present and ready to go on, sometimes the Judge is present and is ready to hear the matter, and they have the papers and I argue but the Judge doesn't order in my favour because he doesn't like my face, or because he's been bought by the other side, or because he just doesn't see my point. Sometimes the Judge rules in my favour and I am thrilled but only to step outside the Court and find the Court peon sneak upto me and tell me to tell my Client that the Judge is waiting for his last and final installment.
In my kitchen, however, there are no uncertainties. I prepare myself by using the best ingredients and I know my recipe well. The bright flames of the gas leap up and embrace the kadai I place on it, after a good rinse. The water droplets sizzle and boil away, the pan is as hot as it can get and calls upon me to present my case. In goes a little oil, and some spice, some excitement. I work furiously, with my spoons and spatulas, and the art continues - colourful vegetables, succulent meats, some seasoning. I let the heat and the steam do its work, and I become the master - a little too long, and it will burn, and little too less, and it will be raw. There are no distractions, no adjournments. In the end, I turn into the Judge in my own case, and I bear the consequences of my actions. No stress, just Art.
Am wondering whether I can drive Pooh to early retirement by bringing a dabba of phad thai noodles, kimchi salad and salami and cheese roll ups.
The thought of that is more destressing than even cooking. Hmm.


Anonymous said...

Mukesh-bhai, the world's (almost) richest man favours daal, roti & chaawal. No fancy cold cuts for him. Something to emulate

Contra Bonos Mores said...

ah remember cooking in hostel rooms with single hot plate, misshappen utensils, limited ingredients and floor full of hungry mouths? best ever food i say!
and i agree it is totalling de-stressing- for me at least.i cook, and i enjoy eating what i cook. boy of course has no option. he doesnt cook, he doesnt get a say in what goes on his plate. my maid is upset though at my taking over her territory. i had to sit her down and convince her that once vacations are over, she can go back to being mistress of the kitchen...:-) now you have inspired me to write about my culinary adventures too...and we should revive our orkut recipe group! muaah

still ink stained said...

hey im a good taster too!! :D

Ruma said...

@ A: Yes, I forgot that. You're the best taster, for sure!

@ CBM: Since when has boy stopped cooking?

@ Last but not least, Anon:
Yes. We should all emulate Mukesh Bhai. The biggest mistake I made was NOT dropping out of college, my life would be quite different, I think. Especially since my Daddy has also acculumated heaps of cash from petrol adulteration.

Contra Bonos Mores said...

no boy hasnt stopped cooking, just that he doesnt have the need to, coz the maid does all the cooking. i cook occassionally as stress buster. boy doesnt.

Anonymous said...

i wonder if u realize that u r getting more obnoxious and smug with each post?

how much do u want to bet that poohs blog describes u as a fat, bossy bitch with a superiority complex?

mem said...

go away annoying anon

whats with insulting people on the internet...

if you dont like blog dont read

if you dont like particular opinion in the blog dont leave rude comments anonymously......go write your own blog to vent polite when you are on someone else's space (im sure mukesh bhai would approve too)

whats with the rudeness? Every communication space has some notion of etiquette reflecting its equivalents in the "real" world..... and anon rude commentors are probably the real life equivalents of the fellows who randomly yell att you from bikes or cars as they whizz by.

good on you ruma for tolerating rude anons.... if u shift to wordpress you can even block certain ip addresses from commenting....but since you havent enabled comment moderation even, im guessing you are open to all sorts of reactions even unfair and rude ones......i think thats very cool