I had barely reached home after long-distance cycling when my wife, while handing me a glass of water and a hand towel, asked me: “So, what should we cook for lunch?”
As I stood panting and sweating, I felt like a missile with its course altered midair. Most of the time, we take turns to cook with the help of a maid but my wife has still not abdicated the office of no profit as the kitchen manager. Thus, she is always hard pressed to know the menu in advance. It is not uncommon the successful lawyer to ring me up from inside the courtroom, while I am at home, enjoying my summer holidays. “What will you eat for lunch? Stuffed karela kha loge? I have to ring the maid before the judge comes.”
The question what to eat for lunch or dinner cannot be called difficult but it is also not a simple worldly matter. Firstly, the question is open-ended, not a ‘yes-no’ type such as: “Should Messi go?” One would say “no, absolutely not” immediately. The opinion is unanimous and predetermined. Asked who the next US president will be, one can easily go with option A, B, or C, or none of the above, depending upon the current surveys. Making culinary choices requires much deeper reflection. One has to choose from numerous alternatives, which may not be exhausted before the judge comes.
One has to visualise an array of easy to mix combinations such as aaloo-paneer, do some serious consultation with the taste buds, examine the current status of appetite, as well as pay heed to the cravings of the gustatory system. One has to separate the plain and spicy options, seasonal and unseasonal varieties — issues that cannot be settled in a trice.
It is most painful when the question is served with the second parantha at breakfast, when in a rush to leave for work, wife asks you: “Lunch ke liye kya banayein? The sabziwala is about to come. Please don’t buy useless stuff.” One cannot but say: “Please, let me relish the paratha first. I’ll make up my mind before the sabziwala comes.” One day, in the middle of a serious academic meeting, our august assembly was interrupted by this telephone call from my home. It was my daughter: “Mummy wants to know what you will have for lunch.”
Trying to hide my consternation, I chose the most handy option. “Aaloo-mutter,” I muttered under my breath. “Mummy says you don’t like mutter-aaloo”, my daughter remonstrated. ‘Tell mummy but I am very fond of aaloo-mutter,” I said. Thank God for the interchangeable items. Another instance when this question crops up without fail is when I am driving home from a tour. “What time are you reaching? And what should we make for dinner?” At these times, I go with the universal favourite and say with rehearsed promptness: “Don’t you worry, I’ll pick up dal makhani from a good restaurant on the way.”
(The writer teaches at Punjabi University Regional Centre in Bathinda)