In loving memory of a Culinary Virgin

The year was 2010… getting married was the most amazing thing that happened to me in life. As I reveled in the blessing that was my husband, I never planned for one of the major responsibilities that married couple share – Cooking.

Growing up I had always held duties that involved, climbing, electrical equipment, automotive, dirt, elbow grease… you get the drift. Doing the dishes was on my list of Culinary Skills and that made my entire list.

We lived in a studio apartment in Dubai. There I was in the tiny kitchenette. Pots and pans were there. There was a stove that I could manage to turn on and off. ‘Keep it simple’ I told myself. Rotis (Indian flatbread) and Tomato Chutney would have to do. After a few frantic calls to mom and firefighting lessons revised I set about creating the most horrendous Tomato Chutney in the history of civilisation. All you have to remember is that it had ketchup, habanero sauce, tomatoes, green chilies and a host of other ingredients. My sweet Ji made a few jokes about it to make me feel better and whipped up dinner in no time. I was in awe of the man.

For a person whose career warranted public speaking, I had no confidence in the kitchen. To add salt to the wound, one of our close friends said “Poor him [my husband], he loves to eat… how sad” to which my husband promptly replied “Lucky her [me] I love cooking for my wife”

Beaming with pride, I came home with a slightly troubled heart all the same. Is cooking so unbelievably complicated? Can the mile long Indian recipes never be conquered? Am I so retarded that I cannot follow instructions in plain English? Food was always something that was on the table at home. Mom’s recipes were dutifully appreciated and eaten with as much table manners as possible. Never did I think that there was more to food.

Ji offered to show me the basics. It was embarrassing standing there trying to get a grip on the darn tomatoes whilst my eyes flooded with tears from the stupid onions I had just butchered. Not one piece looked symmetrical and I marvelled at the way Ji could chop and dice and season and not break a sweat. When I burnt the onions he smiled; when we had to throw away a pot because of the congealed mess at the bottom, he brought me a single red rose; if the eggs had shells in them he calmly picked them out and kissed me. A month in and the (air quotes) friend made her comment again. This time I didn’t feel hurt. This time I knew that my cooking will improve. Over the months my love for produce and baking grew. Mom bought me a microwave with convection option. The pineapple upside down cake I made using it was a hit. Slowly I graduate to baking our own bread and grilling chicken with it. When the microwave broke down, I mourned for the loss of a friend.

The first anniversary dinner featured pasta, a loaf of bread and a cake decorated like a gift box (cheesy right?). I did throw cheese and ham into the pasta so he would like it regardless, turned down the lights and lit up candles so the fare won’t look so bad… We passed on the bread because I was found to have been a tad heavy handed with the yeast.

The second year of our wedding, we moved to a larger one bedroom apartment overlooking a creek. The second anniversary dinner featured baked chicken and herb sauce, some steamed veggies, cream of chicken soup, grilled eggplant, a salad… Dessert was a triple layered berry crumble topped with ice cream. Passion for cooking was growing along with my love and happiness in our marriage.

Slowly, my death grip on recipes and measurements loosened. Having been an inquisitive child, the array of products available for experiments excited me. Friends and family had good things to say, Ji continued to be my rock. If something tasted awful, I’d know from him. Indian recipes that seemed scary at first became easier to comprehend. My father – in – law and mother – in – law gave me pointers about their cuisine (Kerala, India), my mother about ours (Tamil, India). Continental and baking tips I read and learnt from various blogs and chefs.

Beef was my nemesis. Being allergic to red meat, there was no way to taste it. Having never eaten it growing up, this delicacy favoured by my in-laws and husband stared at me in the face.

A lover of all Kerala style beef dishes, Ji was enamoured with one style of beef. On one occasion I attempted Ji’s number one -all time – all-star – favoured in every fancy restaurant – the king of all dead animal related meals – The Steak.

The rubber disk like, chew till your jaw seizes up, grey unappetising block of meat I produced was received with gentle appreciation and feedback that it was a bit tough but still good for a maiden attempt. I felt pretty good – until I saw Gordon Ramsay throw out a steak that looked remarkably like mine and told a shaky chef where she could shove it. Damn! My confidence was wavering. It was the one thing that my Ji loved and there was no way to learn how to overcome that hurdle. Gordon Ramsay looked like someone who knew what he was talking about, so I scoured the internet looking for his tutorials and reading.

Telling myself that I was no longer the culinary virgin in the family, plans began to take root for our third anniversary dinner.

The third anniversary dinner(last week!) featured his favourite Gnocchi, lobster bisque (a cousin gave us a last minute lobster surprise!), breaded calamari rings, mashed potatoes and of course a surprise steak with rum glazed mushroom and shallot sauce… as he cut into the steak I remember feeling a rush. God please let it be rare … (medium-rare is ok too) let it taste decent, please… I won’t trick Ji into doing the laundry weeks in a row I swore. Dessert was farthest from my mind… the fried ice-cream just needed to be fried. Ji had been fascinated with the ‘fried ice cream’ concept when I had mentioned it and he was looking forward to it… But my steak Dear Lord Jesus! – You heard about the laundry duty right? Please… I begged.

I smiled while loading the washing machine this morning 🙂

Click on the first photo and just fly through the gallery.


What would papa say?

I would like some water she thought. Too hoarse to shout for some, she banged her fists against the wooden door. Thud! Thud! She squinted to protect her eyes from the harsh glare of the halogen light that would come streaming through the crack when the door opened. Living in the pitch dark was not really an adventure you see. It had been a long time since she was taken to the backyard to stretch and get some sunlight.

There was a weird metallic squeaking noise and a something cold touched her feet. She jumped and knocked the glass of water over. Gathering a towel she mopped it up as best as she could in the dark and wiped her face. On second thought she ran the cool cloth under her breasts and between her legs before pushing it out of a new hinged flap beneath the door. “I will buy a blue EPI light so you don’t fall sick. Meanwhile eat these vitamin supplements” some pills rolled into the room followed by a bottle of water.

Papa has not seen me in ages she thought. Without the freedom of running around all day, I was getting fatter and fatter. What would papa say when he looks at me? Maybe he would open the door today…

Dates and time were alien concepts in this dark room. When it was cold, it was probably night time and the sweltering heat was probably day time.  I had reveled in the world outside during her childhood. It was a wondrous place, a cooking room to a sleeping room to a room where I could shower with all the running water I wanted. In the evenings my mamma would join us in our evening walk. Their garden had very high walls and mamma would walk in the sunlight as it crept across the yard. Taking care not to step into the shadows, she would tell me about the world outside the walls. There were more people and of different colours and heights and shapes. There were rivers and mountains. There were offices where you could work on a computer and talk to a person thousands of miles away. Theme parks, cake shops, salons, movie halls… all of which we could not go to anymore. As darkness fell, mamma would go back to her room and I would sit outside her door talking about flowers and bees and worms. It never felt unnatural when papa locked mamma in when he left the next morning for work. Naana who lived two doors down would come to look after me during the day. I begged naana to let me see outside. One day naana opened the big iron gate at the end of our drive way and let me have a peek. There was nothing there except a road and some cats.

One day papa said that Naana couldn’t come see me anymore. But, he would stay home from then on and Mamma would not be locked in all the time. Papa used to spend all his time cleaning guns and set up a small kiosk outside our compound. I was locked in with mamma when I started bleeding. Papa was shocked “She is only 10” he complained. He started to spend all his time at the kiosk until the day that mamma coughed.

Mamma was very sick that day and papa had gone to buy medicine. She kept coughing and coughing. Mamma, whose voice I had hardly heard began to cough rather loudly indeed. I was scared and ran to the door… ‘papa papa!’ I shouted

Suddenly there were loud thuds on the door. Papa had forgotten his key. ‘Papa!’ Thud Thud Thud

The door burst open and many people burst through. They looked nothing like papa or naana. Mamma screamed when they kicked her… My papa once bought a ball that we would kick to each other in the yard. My mamma – they kicked her and they ripped her clothes, she clawed and spat and screamed. They hit her and punched her. She bit and twisted and turned. They caught her arms and legs and stretched them until I thought mamma’s scream would surely make the roof fall off.  My mamma had only three pairs of clothes. Now papa would be mad at her for not keeping them safe.

‘Who is this here?’ the voice was gentle and kind like my naana’s but sounded like my papa. Papa would not be mad at me because I had many clothes. Naana made them from papa’s old shirts and dothis. You are a tiny little girl she used to say. I looked around for my naana. Papa said she went to heaven and that was up… But there seemed to be no one up there.

Just that poor little girl who lay beneath me. I wouldn’t have known she was there if not for her two pale hands that stretched out from under the hairy back moving above her.  A thin line of blood ran toward the girl from between her mother’s legs. Some hairy hands and wiped at themselves body parts were alien to me. After a pause they bent over mamma who did not scream anymore. I wanted the little girl to stop her alternate whimpering and screaming between muffled sobs from the mother and jeering laughter from the others, it was like… well I had nothing to compare it to.

They lost interest after a minute an hour… two… I cannot tell; and left. My mamma, I do not recognize her anymore, her arms and legs bent at awkward angles, her head turned toward the door as she lay belly down in a pool of blood, broken bottles, splinters and a knife the blade broken… papa might not like that…

The girl was sprawled on her back, her chests like a guava fruit nibbled by squirrels… the mottled flesh had stopped bleeding and between her legs was the color of a shiny hair clip her naana gave me once.

I broke that clip by accident and buried it in the garden. Maybe that is where all broken things should go… The air smelled like old biscuit tins, papa’s sweat and the squirrel that a cat had left in the backyard.

That day papa cried. He took maama outside and brought a doctor to help the girl. He looked an awful lot like the others. The doctor kept repeating that it was the mama’s fault. She must have invited the others, he said. One way or another, she must have flaunted her good looks, shown some skin, made eyes at or just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. She must have been vigilant he said and that papa shouldn’t feel so bad because if mamma had considered the others as her brothers and pleaded with them, they would have let her go.

When papa didn’t reply, the man pressed on saying the others should be punished, but mamma should protect herself and that is the only solution.

“This little girl may live” he said “take her to hospital. They will do a surgery so she can empty her bowels. They will give her lots of injections and tablets. You don’t mind mortuaries do you? They are treating girls there because they can lock the iron door”

“What to do now” the doctor snapped his first aid box shut. “Can I take some pictures of the girl? For academic purpose only; I will give you a discount in the treatment”; That’s when papa shot him in the face.

A low sound rose from the pit of my papa’s stomach “I did everything to keep them safe’ he sobbed. I never took them out of this house; they were covered head to foot. I did everything they told me to” he sobbed.

I wonder what papa would say… when he looks at me, bony hands and a big belly. What would papa say? and whatever happened to that little girl.


This is me saying NO to Violence against women

Message from Beyond…

Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap

Dear Reader,

Hope you are doing well.

By the time you read this, the tulips planted on my grave will probably be dead. Feel freeto replant them. If you can pitch some money for a few rose bushes as well I would be glad.

My name is Posta L’Ter , I belong to the great family the L’Ters. In my time it was a great honor to belong to the L’Ter family. We ruled the cities and suburbs alike. We were always accompanied by uniformed escorts. People used to gather outside their houses to receive us. The Famille des L’ters  descended from The Royal Family of The Mails of Communesbrugh. You used to see our royal cousins De Cards gracing functions and social events. They always dressed in bright colors, wore expensive coats and their visits were treasured for eons.

Our extended family by marriage were the T. Grams and sons. They were our foot soldiers if you will; running around checking up on people now and then. Courtesy was not their strongest suit. People often lamented over their insensitivity and we would soon follow hoping to soothe their hearts.

We existed with dignity, pomp and splendor. We took great pride in our customs.

Our reign did come to an end. Our great land was invaded by the Netisans. An unforgiving people they were. Their conquests were brutal, taking over by completely destroying the enemy. Few of us escaped and still managed to survive. Some traitors however defected to the enemy. They married into the Netisans and called themselves E. Mails. They were non-conformists, rejecting tradition, deeper and deeper they sank into a muck of identity crisis, getting on with the world and pure disrespect for the people they visited.

They did not bother to speak to people anymore, rather they just chatted, pinged, poked and posted in a devil-may-care way. They turned people away from the joy of receiving our royal personages, treasuring us and our memories forever. They have invented random alphabet clusters that at first don’t seem to mean anything, like they are threatened with a stint in the dungeons if they use vowels.

The golden era seems to be buried right here with me. The last of the royal MS. Ellie Graph of India was buried here this week at the ripe old age of 160. You may think I’m a bitter, pompous old twit for going on about things bygone. We ought to pave way for innovation no doubt, but a present that is built on the ashes of the past will never attain the true glory that the future could’ve had.

 There is one more thing I would like to tell the youth of today from beyond the grave… Pull up your pants if they get any lower they would be called ‘socks’; and ladies, the skirts you wear today were called ‘belts’ in my time. 

 Yours Respectfully,

MS. Posta L’Ter

Dilapidated Grave No 2

Golden Era Cemetery

Coffee, Paper and a whole lot of repressed thoughts…

Don’t take anything for granted!

I belong to the generation that was raised on that principle. Perhaps the last generation to be raised such. But, perusing the newspaper seriously for the past few weeks, realisation dawned that I take several things for granted. Here is a list…

I take for granted that in India:

  1. People have the right to marry out of their caste
  2. People have the right to consume alcoholic beverages or socialise without inviting a sexual assault
  3. People will be given first aid in case of an accident
  4. The police are actually there to protect my rights and dignity
  5. I have the right to a fair trial and the governance will deal with me in the same manner as the rich
  6. Our taxes benefit us or the general public in some way
  7. The choice of clothes I wear, accidentally meeting a person’s eye, smiling, wearing a shade of lipstick or saying “NO” to advances will not be misconstrued as an invitation for rape and torture
  8. Crimes where children are victims will be handled with utmost diligence, sensitivity and the strictest punishment given
  9. The entertainment and sportsmanship we witness and learn is not an orchestrated drama
  10. My merits would primarily help me secure jobs, placements or subsidies

You must think I’m crazy

P.S: People who have been encouraging and sometimes downright pestering me to write (my husband J, mom, Guppy and Sathish) – Thank you and I’m making Vanilla Walnut cake this weekend if you want to drop by 🙂