The day my son said “my amma’s rasam is the best” was the day a great mystery was revealed to me. Well, I need to give some background data for you to comprehend my statement.
My foray into kitchen was when I was ten. No, not exactly true, the first one was when I was 8 months old and I went into the kitchen and fell on a sharp-edged container and had to be sewed up. After that I refused to do anything with kitchen till I was ten. I was brought up by my spinster aunt and she had gone to work. I saw a recipe for a sweet in a children’s magazine and thought of making it – it read so simple. The thing is I did not know (till I got married that is) how to differentiate between the various dals and I obviously mixed up the ingredients. The final product, after it cooled, refused to separate itself from the pan. When my aunt came, I was fighting with the pan for my share of the sweet. She looked at the scene once and grabbed the pot and threw it outside into the waste disposal pit. With that my second foray came to a close. Me being wiser never bothered to venture into the kitchen till…. Wait I’ve to tell you that gradually.
“Since you’ve decided to marry my daughter, I must warn you that you are going to die of starvation” was how my mom greeted my husband when he came home the first time after we decided to get married. She sounded so smug and happy about the prospect. I don’t remember what my husband replied to that or in his own language he was ‘too intoxicated to think anything better’ at that time. I made it clear from the beginning (see, certain things have to be stated upfront) that if the way to his heart is through his stomach then I’ll never make it there. More than that I couldn’t think of the prospect of being in a stomach which is full of the food which I prepared :D. I was very clear that cooking is definitely one of my ‘cannot do’ things.
So I got married and the same day went to live with him in a house he rented – left to my own devices. The first thing I had to learn what which dal is what and how to identify different oils. My husband said he can survive on curd rice (he’s not into risk taking – even a little) and I need not bother much. After eating curd rice for a couple of days we left to my mother-in-law’s place for a week. Like all sons, my husband was (and still is) all praise for his mother’s cooking. I found out then that it is true – she is a great cook. When I told her that my cooking knowledge is ‘zero’, she told me “It’s no big deal, I will teach you”. She gave me the preliminary lessons so that her son can survive without much damage. I learnt to make a sambar, some vegetables and rice. The art of making rotis was later on added.
One day my husband told me that his friend is coming home for lunch and so I called my mom-in-law and got some recipes (this friend himself is a good cook, so I was told). I put the pressure cooker with rice, dal, vegetables etc. It was nearly 30 minutes and the cooker remained silent. After some time I heard something flying by and realized that it’s the safety valve of the cooker. I thought it’s going to burst. My husband had gone somewhere outside. First I ran into the kitchen and switched off the stove and ran outside (if the cooker explodes will the gas cylinder also explode?!). Waited safely for ten minutes and then took the cooker and kept it in the courtyard to cool. See, I forgot to pour water inside the cooker J. I had to do all over again and my husband’s friend ate his lunch – no need to ask how it was. The food was half cooked and I don’t know whether it had any taste at all :D.
We survived some time with curd rice again. By then my mom sent me a huge bottle full of salted mango with instruction to shake it every other day (“you can make chutney for emergency” – she doesn’t know that everyday was an emergency for me). I placed it on the top shelf and did as instructed a couple of times and then totally forgot about it. One night I dreamt that bottle and the mango reminding me to shake it. Next morning, as my husband and myself were exiting home for office, I remembered my dream and told my husband “in my dreams the mango asked me to shake the bottle, see I didn’t do it for nearly 10 days, it’s missing me. I will just go in give it a couple of shakes quickly and come back”. So he waited near the gate and I ran into the kitchen reached the top shelf took out the bottle and gave it a big shake. The next thing I remembered was my hands full of blood and the bottle in pieces all over the floor along with the mangoes and salt water. My husband came in running and asked” I heard a ‘boom’ and then glass breaking what happened?”. I was looking at my hand and wondering what happened. He saw the blood and asked me to come out of the kitchen without hurting my feet on the glass pieces. Then I washed my hands and took out the glass pieces. He took me to a nearby hospital and my fingers needed stitches in two places. He told me “if your mom sends you anything, I’m going throw that out with a thanks and if you dream anything else about kitchen from now onwards you’re not going to do it”. (my mom later told me that “don’t you know that you’ve to keep the bottle open for a couple of minutes before shaking”. Well…).
The next great episode happened like this. One Saturday I thought of going for a head massage. I had kept a pot of drinking water for boiling an hour back and forgot about it. Husband had gone working and I locked the house and left. The weather being fine I thought I’ll walk my way to the parlour (which was nearly 5kms from my house) and was half way through. Then I remembered the water and ‘panicky’ is an understatement to what I felt then. I immediately took an auto and rushed home. When I reached the corner of the main road from where I have to take a turn to my house, I asked the auto driver to stop. I was staying in an independent house with the owner staying upstairs. I thought (forget the logic, there is none) that the pot would have started burning and the gas would have burst (my greatest fear) with the landlady upstairs – God knows what will be the condition of the house. Will I be held responsible. Will the landlady survive? There might be police and fire engine. So, it is safe to get down at a distance. So, I got down and quickly looked for anything unusual near my house. There was no crowd. So I went near step by step (it could happen any moment, you see) and still nothing happened. So I went inside, cautiously opened the main door and went inside the kitchen. The water had evaporated long long ago and the pot was burning red. Switched off the stove, threw the pot inside the sink and poured water and then threw it away (I am certainly not going to tell this to my husband, you see).
A few days later. One day one of my colleagues brought “kalkand bath” to office and it was yummy. So I asked him (yes ‘him’. For he had made it) how to prepare that. He told me how. One weekend I thought of attempting the sweet. This time I had to use a hammer to break it and while I was trying to break it with a hammer my mom dropped in and enquired what ‘that thing’ was. I told her it’s my version of ‘kalkand bath’ and she laughed. When we went to my mom’s place next weekend, she gave my husband a plate full of some sweet and he told her it’s very good. “That”, said she with a smug expression “is called kalkand bath”. I decided that day that come what may I’ll master the art of cooking.
With regular cuts and burns (minor incidents, daily incidents rather – even now), I moved to Bangalore along with my husband. There, my colleague happened to be a great cook. So, I used to pester her daily to give me recipes for whatever she brought that day. One day she got fed up and gave me a book, ‘hundred rice varieties’ and said “you keep it, and don’t ask me for recipes again”. Till now that has been my bible. After my son was born I had a cook doing the dirty job for an year and then I came back to Chennai where I was left to my own devices. By then, with regular tips from my mother in law, I slowly improved my cooking (?!) skills.
These days my son swear by my rasam. Oh, yes, the mystery. I used to wonder why every man swears by his mother’s food. I used to envy all those mothers who could make anything they touch taste heavenly. Now I know. No matter how you cook, for your son your rasam is better than ambrosia. Now I don’t envy any of them mothers for, you see, i have also got a son who vouches that I’m the best (in anything and everything, including cooking).
However, what I consider the crowning glory of my cooking existence, is the day when my mom came to me and asked me to give her the recipe for my rasam powder. And I replied with a smirk, “see amma, I don’t know the measurement. I put in a little of this and a little of that, I don’t really measure….”. ha.. ha… ha..