After more than three decades as master of a domain I do not especially care about — the kitchen — now the “master” of the home has decided that he wants to step in. It had to happen at some time — and for quite a long time I wondered when the axe would fall. Or, to stick to the context, when the knife would.
No doubt, both he and I are tired of my same-old/same-old fare. Although nothing ever tastes the same again because the quantities of spice and the method of preparation of the same dish vary according to my mood and the contents of the kitchen shelf at any given time, our palates are rather jaded by years of haphazard and half-hearted efforts.
So, I am not against this sudden stove-ward move by the “master” chef. We could do with a change of guard in the kitchen.
What surprises me is that he stayed away for so long.
For years I had been giving broad hints, open suggestions, and direct instructions that he should share in the preparation of the food and not just in the consumption of it. When this bore no fruit, I reminded him of his smug statements to friends and family that he could cook — and urged him to go ahead and prove it! When that too failed, I took the route of sentiment and dredged up black-and-white photographs of both of us actually amicably sharing kitchen-top space in our courting days when we competed with our friends to prepare the perfect meal (which, incidentally, was the product of his recipe book, not mine).
By now it must be pretty obvious that I haven’t learnt the first thing about convincing the master of the house — and naturally, one of the masters of the universe — to do what I would like him to. (Maybe, while serving him the unappetising fare he had been swallowing all these years, if I had just enthused about how I enjoy my time in the kitchen and how good a cook I am, he may have decided that I needed taking down a peg or two and walked straight in ...)
Anyway, I don’t know and I don’t want to know what finally drove him to wield the ladle and the chopping knife and the mortar and pestle: I am just happy that he did!
But I do find it difficult to suppress my amusement as he goes about all this in his usual precise and perfectionist style. The book shelf and the internet, my friends who are especially gifted in the culinary arts and his family are consulted earnestly. The vast store of spices I don’t use is rummaged through in search of what he wants, lists are made, translations of the names of ingredients from English to Hindi and to the local language are sought, the merits of a preparation from one part of India over another and quantities and timings and temperature are discussed (not with me, of course), while I peep from behind the curtains and watch in awe.
And I wonder: Can he continue to be so precise about what he puts into each dish that bubbles on the stove without once giving in to carefree — and careless — spontaneity? Can he really keep up with this pursuit of perfection? And, if indeed he can, then where were his meticulous lists, his collection of data and his comparisons and contrasts when he made that long ago choice of a spouse?
Or — do you think he is trying to compensate for that now?
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.