When I started writing a reply to Alankrita’s comment where she ‘wondered at people who trained their daughters to grow up and get married’ I found my reply was getting even longer than my usual long comments, *sheepish grin* … I went on and on, remembering, rambling… There’s something so wonderful about sharing the stories of your growing years. …the pleasure of talking about the powerful hands that were rocking our cradles; buying us “Amar Chitra Katha’, Enid Blyton, Nandan, Tintin and Parag; hands that insisted we needed a hair cut when we were dreaming of competing with Rapunzel; hands that talked about giving in and compromising, but fought to make us strong…my mother could confuse!
My mother did not say marriage was not a priority, she said she will not raise us to be ‘traditional’ wives, and ‘they will find us‘ suitable husbands.
She was unconventional in a confused, inconsistent way, using tradition as and when it worked for her. As a teenager I had no interest in cooking, eating or in anything to do with food or kitchen. My mother showed me an article in a women’s magazine, it cribbed (in 1980) about how modern girls do not like to cook. The article said it was the mothers’ responsibility to make sure their daughters learnt to cook, because no matter how successful or modern she became, a girl eventually had to cook. It was just the sort of stuff you would expect from such a magazine. I wrote an angry letter to the magazine, and to my surprise they published it. My mother saw it before I did, and was delighted to see my name in print. She was convinced with my written logic, or maybe she thought if the magazine published it, it couldn’t be so wrong. Her half hearted efforts at ‘compelling’ her daughters to train to become good wives and daughters in law ended right there.
To the horror of some aunties, I did not even know one ‘dal‘ from another. I was not proud of it, anymore than I was proud of despising Physics and Maths. But unlike Physics and Maths, cooking seemed sacred. It bothered me, but it did not make me enter the kitchen. People’s response never bothered my mom though. One of her lines was “This is the time for books and learning, if she is smart she will earn enough to hire a cook when the time comes. And do you think we will marry her off to someone who only wants a cook, then maybe we should train them to fetch water from the well also, who knows what future holds for them?”
I thought my mother was just being typically loyal to her children, she made many conflicting statements. She could not even dream of us not getting married, but she did insist that what mattered was not how like a perfect daughter in law a girl was brought up, but how the parents find the right kind of husband for her.
For all this talk, she was still scandalised when she first saw my new husband make tea. To be honest, so was I. In my family, men never entered the kitchen.
I was even more horrified when we were barely married for a month and my husband announced that two of his bachelor friends had invited themselves for dinner that evening. Why didn’t he ask me first? Now I was going to be laughed at, everybody would know I couldn’t cook. My brand new husband explained that he couldn’t tell them not to come without being rude. They were not coming to eat a gourmet meal, they just wanted to meet us and have some simple, home cooked food. More importantly, he assured me that after a few drinks nobody knew what they were eating, he also helped me plan a Menu. That was easy, I only knew how to make Butter Chicken and how to boil rice. I had a brilliant maid Polamma who had assured me she could make perfect chapattis, (my only condition for employing her) turned out whenever I asked her to make chapattis, she couldn’t understand what I was saying!
I just had the whole day to make an impression on our first guests. I opened my folder of Femina clippings, browsed through Sumit Mixi recipe book and my all time favorite – and at the time brand new, Lalita Ahmed wondering if liquor did really have that effect on human taste buds.
Polamma insisted dosa would go very well with Butter Chicken and stuffed Capsicum, but for that, the batter required fermentation, so she decided she would contribute to the cause with her uthappa, Sambhar and coconut chutney. I had seen Stuffed Capsicum cooked at home, and for this elaborate stuffing my husband helped me chop onion before leaving for work. So finally (the now famous amongst friends and family) menu was ready –
Cocktail Idlis (made without fermenting the batter), served with coconut chutney both made by Pollamma.
Open sandwiches – chicken (from butter chicken) mixed with mayonnaise (mayonnaise recipe from Sumit Mixi recipe book)
Cheese and Pineapple – cubed
Cauliflower florets, button mushroom, carrots, courgettes served with ‘Pink Lady Dip’ (from Femina, Recipe: mayonnaise mixed with ketchup, any ratio)
Butter Chicken (IHM’s favourite then, and the only contribution)
Stuffed Capsicums (mashed boiled potato, chopped onion and pepper stuffing, a joint effort)
Boiled rice (Pollamma)
Uttappa ( Pollamma’s last minute rescue)
Coconut chutney (entirely by Pollamma)
Egg Curry (Another Pollamma creation, cooked with tamarind, never cooked or eaten like that, before or after.)
I can’t believe but I have forgotten. Was it custard (Weikfield with easy to follow recipe given on the cover) or was it Gajar ka halwa (made with Milkmaid, easy to follow recipe given on the cover)? Husband can’t remember either!
Our guests, the two bachelors, were thorough gentleman about the unusual menu, unusually cooked. (My husband insists they were not being gentlemanly they were grateful for a home cooked meal. He had been in their shoes.) After that first dinner they ate at our place often, and they and many other friends were welcomed several times a week. They became the guinea pigs for my newest passion, the unbelievably delightful, COOKING. Recipes were shared. We tried many kinds of omelette’s, (yes, I could not even cook THAT till then). I was given the never forgotten mantra that ‘all dals taste good, if the tarka is good’.
I couldn’t believe I could actually cook. I wrote long letters home but although my siblings acknowledged my new talent, my parents still think my husband is one accommodating sweetheart!
The moral of the story is:
1.) Cooking is no big deal, can be a lot of fun, if the learner is enjoying the experience. I made sure both my kids enjoy cooking.
2.) Cooking has nothing to do with getting married. It’s a useful skill, just like driving, and everybody, across genders, benefits from knowing how to feed themselves well.
3.) If the food is not good, get the guests drunk 🙂