Saturday, February 13, 2010

meditations while cooking ...

“Cooking is like making love, you do it well, or you do not do it at all”

- Harriet van Horne (1920-1998)

I was anything but a cook when I entered a kitchen for the first time. It was in high school and we were attending our first practical class for Nutrition. To me, the kitchen appeared to be as awe-inspiring as a Disney store would to a kid. Soon the awe gave way to embarrassment as I was paired with a fellow classmate who was excited to cook poha (an Indian snack). I mustered enough courage to mumble about my ignorance. But that wasn't of much help either. She put a potato in my left hand and a peeler in my right hand and asked me to peel the potato, assuming, that I could at least perform this elementary task. I sat on a stool which swung occasionally because one of its legs was shorter than the other three. With an exasperated sigh I prepared for the ultimate humiliation. I needed to tell her that I didn't know how to peel potatoes. I refrain from providing details to what happened next. But, the point of contention is this that the same individual, who couldn't peel a potato, can now cook excellent chicken tikka masala. I am amazed at the way I have evolved. This introspective rambling is on that process of evolution ;)

Cooking was an ordeal to me. It was akin to being thrust into the gas chamber. After I had had a few ( or many, to be correct) expressive days of disgust, my husband, who is incidentally a good cook, referred to a movie where the chef, while cooking, had the same expression as an individual reaching orgasm. I was disgusted by the association of such outrageously disparate ideas. After that several days passed without any reference to such creative links. And then, it happened.

It was just another day when I was cooking while he was away at the university. I remember I was cooking an Indian curry with eggs. I heated the oil in the pan and sprinkled cumin seeds in it. I had cooked the same dish numerous times before, but the spluttering of the cumin seeds had never arrested my attention. I looked on as the seeds were at first gathered in a cluster, then started spluttering and breaking away from the cluster. Uncalculatingly a smile spread across my face. I was interested what the next ingredients would do when they enter the domain of the hot oil. From inanimate spices, each ingredient suddenly gained an individual dimension. The dried red chillies which turned black in the hot oil reminded me of the myth why the monkey has a burnt face (well, that's another story altogether). The tomatoes became lascivious ladies and the glazed onions were the chivalrous men. As each ingredient changed its colour, I had a heightened olfactory perception. The fact that the cooking was progressing was evident from the smell. I had been cooking daily for the past one year, but I had never experienced anything like this before.

Since then cooking has become my creative zone. It is sometimes like a musical presentation where the order in which the ingredients enter the creative cauldron is as important as their optimum quantities for the best performance. As I now observe the changing colours of the curry that I cook, I feel that I am present in a fluid state where the various colours flow continually onto a canvas. You may as well categorize me as delusional, but before you do that, pause for a moment and think. Did you ever pause to see the changing colour of the leaves- from the sap green vibrance of summer to the autumnal orange? Or, have you ever looked up at the sky and seen the crazy shapes that the clouds form? I did something in the same vein.

That day I had learnt to pause and tap the various stimuli that are organically active in every moment. We rarely perceive them. We are always multitasking in order to capitalise time to its maximum possibility. Though hundreds of Bollywood movies are released every year, nobody learns anything from them. Had they, they would have learnt by now the impossibility to grasp time as it is to grasp sand. The more you tighten your clutch, the more it escapes. However, this article is not meant to be a Baconian piece either telling you how to cook egg curry or how to watch Bollywood movies. It's my way of pausing and allowing the mind to rattle on. Simple.


Bambi said...

Susmita, I really enjoyed reading this one and I'm amazed how similar my experience with the kitchen would sound to you !!

Avijit Das said...

Wow!! For me it was the individual aroma which converges and somehow i have to cook with the chimney turned off to understand the progress. Very picturesque.

Arindam said...

The picturesque epithets of your article are awesome.....

When you're cooking in the kitchen,
You're learning all the while --
To pour and measure, mix and stir
And sift flour into a pile.

Scrub your hands before you start
Then gather up the gear --
Like pots'n pans and measuring cups
That you use throughout the year.

Go over the recipe, step-by-step,
So you'll know just what to do.
By carefully following the directions,
It won't be hard for you.

Have a hot pad handy
And an adult standing by --
So you won't hurt yourself
When using the stove or baking a pie.

Besides the fun and learning,
There's always cleaning up to do,
And even though it's quite a chore,
It's part of cooking too.

But after all the work is done,
It will soon be time for dinner.
And when someone asks for seconds,
You'll know you've cooked a winner!

Somdatta Bhattacharya said...

Lovely! Am filled with sights and sounds. The spluttering of cumin seeds or "foron deoa" is such an integral part of indian cooking, which is not so much the case with the chinese or the italian. Carry on girl, both cooking and writing about it...

Sanchita said...

till now,i used to believe that being mother, i know my sweet girl in every angle. but,the girl who is now lady,reading her analysing power,i became surprised how and when she has developed her inquisitiveness& applying it in the proper situation has changed her a winner in my heart as a guardian. i feel proud of u.
sanchita chatterjee.

Susmita said...

@somdatta: Thanks :)

Susmita said...

@ma: it's you who made me who i am :) love you ma ...