"Try to learn some cooking. These days, it is not just a girl's job. Do you think it is easy? No, it is not. That is why people eat at restaurants and dhabas. For the joys of home-cooked food, you must slog in the kitchen." Mom battered me with these jibes before my parents left to stay with my elder brother in Seattle, US. They departed for the swanky T3 terminal of the Delhi airport with ordinary concerns, carrying heavy suitcases and heavier hearts, torn between India and America. I was left alone for the next four months.
Not alone, though; there were two more co-heroes of this story. The first was my friend, star performer, and domestic help, Arjun, who, for those four months also slept at my home at night. The second was Bingo, my canine friend, who made the tough going easy. Mom had planted okra, eggplant, tomato, and coriander in her little kitchen garden and the rest came from the market. As soon as I was able to, I made a few rotis and sent the pictures to mom and dad for showing off my new skill.
The more difficult part was making sabzi, dal, and other dishes. I decided I was not going to order any food, and I broke that promise to myself only once. I had written down a few recipes in consultation with mom but now when she was away, the time for real gastronomic adventures had come. I fished recipes from the websites of celebrity chefs such as Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor. The first dish that Arjun and I made was dal makhani. While I supervised the amounts of salt, red chilli, ginger, oil, cumin, onions, tomatoes and garam masala, Arjun, kudos to him, did all the hard work.
There is a distinct pleasure in savouring vegetables you have picked, washed, and cooked by hand. Nothing beats a well-made masala bhindi that is picked at the right time before its seeds ripen and harden. Baingan ka bharta, made from eggplant from the kitchen garden, is one of my favourite veggie dishes. Its making is very interesting - it has to be steamed, peeled, and then cooked with a paste of onion and tomato in equal amount. The high point was when we managed to churn butter out of milk. It was like now I know how to do something!
The satisfaction of cooking your own food and eating it is unbeatable. In those four months, I advanced my culinary skills by miles.
Gender-defined roles have long gone and an age of all-weather multitasking is upon us. Old notions and beliefs are like white elephants, which can impose heavy costs on the unchanging bearer. Let's cook, boys! Deep fry the stereotypical notion: "Mein thodi khaana banaunga, mein toh ladkaa hun."