Food Housekeeping: The Epilogue

On Sunday mornings, the first thing I reach out for, other than a steaming tumbler-davara of coffee, is the newspaper, with the extra supplements containing movie reviews and snail-blogs. (The latter is modern terminology for newspaper articles that seem to be fading into ignominy given the deluge of online journals nowadays, mine included.) It is left to a few noble souls like myself to keep the art of newspaper-reading-every-morning alive so the columnists can keep their jobs. Sigh.

My eyes automatically began to scan for an article by Baradwaj Rangan (whom I consider to be one of the Holy Trinity of the Sunday edition, along with Samanth Subramanian and L. Suresh) and Bingo! There’s one on mom’s cooking. Ah, Mi Madre la Magnifica. Visions of home-cooked peas pulao with palak paneer and chana chole, moong parathas with paneer-mushroom-capsicum gravy, mango thokku and curd, and the good old staple thayir saadam with baby onion veththa kozhambu

However, my initial delight in reading the article soon gives way to thinking, for the first time since my vacation. It dawns on me that it is men’s “borderline psychotic obsession” with mom’s cooking (to quote BR) that makes my mother scream sacrilege every time my chapattis turn out anything but round. (And lets not get started on the part where I burn them to crisp black appalam-like somethings that crumble like cookies and taste like ash.) I find it hard to believe that a round chapatti would somehow make its way more easily down a man’s oesophagus (and to his heart, if the saying were to be believed) than one that’s shaped like an amoeba. A chapatti or any other solid/ semi-solid foodstuff has to be chewed properly, irrespective of its shape, but that is conveniently forgotten and all the blame is put on the poor girl who Can’t Match Up To His Mom’s Cooking But Nobody Knows That What A Guy Really Wants Is Beer. Okay, I made that last one up.

As for the First Son Religiously Fed Gajjar Halwa 24/7 – how come First Daughters never get that privilege? (Yes, I’m one.) Come to think of it, any daughter. Sure, we get our share of gajjar halwa too, but not before being preached to about all the hard work and ingredients that go into it, lest, God Forbid, we go for the rest of our lives without ever knowing how to make gajjar halwa for our children and, consequently, lose all eligibility for attaining Salvation. Many a times I’ve walked into the kitchen, deep in thought for my next script or whatever, and suddenly I’m faced with a barrage of questions from my mom testing my knowledge of the correct way of making sambhar. By the way, I managed to mention all the ingredients, except for the tamarind. (“It’s the first thing that goes in!” says my mom.)

So there, you have a pretty good idea of the tight spot that Indian mama’s boys have put future Indian mamas in. Apparently, my parents are under the apprehension that my lack of cooking skills, in addition to what my Disciplinarian Fried Food Hating Military Dad woefully views as a less than perfect figure, makes me less desirable bride material. Oh, did I mention the 5 Tenets that every Indian parent follows? They are: 1) Feed. 2) Feed. 3) Feed. 4) Discipline (this is where Dad butt in before Mom could say “Feed”.) and 5) Marry daughter off to Guy Who Doesn’t Mind Her Awful Cooking Since His Mom Very Sweetly Offers To Handle That – OR – marry son off to Girl Who Bloody Well Knows How To Cook Or Else.

As for being less than desirable, I’m sure Dad would be a lot happier if he knew there are guys who do hit on me, only they do it when his back’s turned. I haven’t told him yet, though, because he’ll most likely draw himself up to his full height and turn into the quintessential Ladki Ka Baap with a piercing glare that would make Gabbar Singh surrender. A sobering thought, though, is that these admirers exist for two reasons. 1) They Don’t Mind That I’m Bad At Cooking. 2) They Don’t Know That I’m Bad At Cooking. To the latter, all I can say is, lets just eat out and I’ll pay.

It is because of the Great Indian Sentiment Attached To Cooking that I can sympathise with the character Jess (played by Parminder Nagra) in Bend It Like Beckham. It was then that I realised that The Sentiment is apparently not restricted to the molagootal-making maamis that I’m familiar with, but occurs in every Indian household in the country (and other countries as well.) The mother berates her daughter for not being able to make perfect aloo gobi or round chapattis when all the poor girl wants to do is kick some … ball. (I’ve deliberately used the singular form lest this article is mistaken for a foul-mouthed feminist tirade.) I wonder if Sania Mirza too gets an occasional earful for being able to serve a tennis ball better than a shahi pulao.

I admit I’m no exception to the goodies-under-the-table scenario; I too have had my share of crisp medhu vadais and jalebis while Dad was out buying bitter gourd. (My ever-enterprising mother solved that problem too – she whipped up a very edible and tasty bitter gourd pachchadi made from jaggery, which I relish to this day. Needless to say, I don’t know how to make it.) And living in a hostel, I completely agree that nothing can come close to her culinary prowess. Every time I sink my unwilling teeth into upma soaked in peanut oil (yuck) or some so-called capsicum curry that seems to have potatoes floating in oil, I try some self-hypnosis by imagining I’m eating mom’s food, just to force down the damned stuff. It works, but only when I’m desperately hungry. I can only imagine what kind of cooking Harry Potter might have endured at the hands of the evil Mrs. Dursley that would willingly make him bite into a trick chocolate that might taste like anything ranging from earwax to smelly feet.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re been brought up as yet another generation of Mom’s Cooking addicts. My dad sometimes blanches when he sees the oil dripping off her puris, but that’s because he hasn’t tried our hostel’s peanut-oil upma since he very conveniently visited on a Sunday when, for a change, its steaming, delicious aloo parathas for breakfast. I can’t say I blame the hostel catering guys, most of them belong to nomadic families and must have learnt early on that they must eat to live, rather than us concrete-dwelling MC junkies who think it’s the other way round. (Atleast, that’s what my dad, who still proudly calls himself a village boy, says.) Their skills don’t match those of the guys down south who cater to us at weddings, the ones who can make us wolf down three varieties of rice, eight different side dishes, and six varieties of sweets, not to forget the grand finale of payasam followed by coffee.

But given that much is made of the Indian Mom’s Cooking, both reel and real (remember there’s even a brand called Mother’s Recipe?) I’m convinced that my cranium, and the craniums of every other Indian, is filled with saliva instead of spinal tap. Heck, I even bet it was saliva that we were floating in whilst in our mothers’ wombs. It’s only understandable that some unfortunate English scientist, who probably lived on marmalade toast and poached eggs all his life, would term it as amniotic fluid.


Since the author has been reading Baradwaj Rangan’s column for the past four years, any resemblance in the writing styles. while completely unintentional and coincidental. is quite possible. However, given the recent events involving plagiarism, the author wishes to clarify that there was a conscious effort to avoid internalisation (Four years of continuous reading! Come on!) Since BR is so good that the author is forced to write disclaimers in defence of both their writings, he should just proceed to ask for a raise.


Theo said...

*Definitely* hungry now.

Theo said...

*NOTE -- um, I should mention, I'm hungry for the "live to eat" versions.