Stephan C. Hmar, Agartala, 21.11.2014
t may sound unexiciting to mention the word cooking. It is such a complex art where one need an elaborate studies---how to use knife, how to cut vegetables in an appetizing shapes, the right temperatures for different meats, the right duration for cooking, etc. I do not have any basis for all these. But as the saying goes, ignorance is bliss, maybe, my ignorance makes cooking irresistible and let me involve delightfully to it. When evening come, you will always find me cooking in the kitchen. My wife would budge, telling me that it is a sissy indulgence for men to cook and that she would rather do the cooking, I would elbow her out of the kitchen. I do not want the happiness I enjoy in cooking to be dwindle by any stereotype comments.
All my cooking knowledge gets their strong base from my childhood background. In fact, even the tastes I appreciated, those specific aromatic herbs, those specific meats and vegetables I liked, had established during my childhood. The aroma I knew were pure, not artificial and the vegetables were fresh, collected directly from the adjoining kitchen garden. All the meats I used to devour were of house-reared animals. Those experiences of the freshness and purity of dishes, now make me roll about in the mire of unsatisfied tastes. All I can find now, in the office or elsewhere, are the dishes prepared with complicated smells of over-mixed masalas, excess oil, half-cooked meats, etc. I find them quite difficult to eat. All I use to long for, in front of these costly, over-prepared dishes is my simple home-made curries.
I heated the oil, put a little onion and turmeric powder and after 4 seconds added the well-washed daal. I stirred the mixture and added warm water to it. As the mixture heated up, I could see different chemicals and elements slowly blending like a symphony, without any imposition, just the way they should be, just the way I wanted them to be. I would wonder at the subtleties of their conformity, how each individual ingredients bonded together to produce such a unified taste, as simple and light as mountain air. All these thoughts would let me see two worlds in the pan----the past and the present world.
In the past, I remembered my parent cooking in the chulha (an earthen stove) any edible leaves from the kitchen-garden. All the curries were of simple boil, but the tastes provided natural satisfaction. And on the first week of every months (just after father’s salary), there would be a big shifts from these curries. We would get a meagre supply of potatoes, certain costly pulses such as daal, arhar, tur, etc. which was cooked with insufficient oil, local turmeric, and heavily diluted with water. I would eat to my heart content, felt proud to have eaten the best dish in the universe I knew. In a month, we would have meat twice or thrice, which was distributed by pieces on each of our plates. I would shift the piece of meat around my plate, pricked out one small bit stingily each time. Those tastes that flow down my oesophagus were just indescribable.
Now, life has change enormously. I am circled by bogus things, I suppose. Market vegetables taste different to how I knew them. Sometimes, I use to notice the smell of fertilizers. Meat seems threatening. To add to these, all cookings were exacerbated by artificial/factory made ingredients that the simple originality I knew of them are totally destroyed. And this is the one strong reason that would drag be back to my own kitchen, trying to produce the simple curries that are strongly established in me.
Most of my friends claimed they do not know how to cook. I think that it is a pretence. Who would not know how to knead roti, boil rice, or cook simple curries? Instead, they employ masi, who do the cooking and most of the household chores for them. But, still they are unsatisfied. Whenever the topic of cooking themed up, they would complain about their masi, saying that she did not know how to cook, that she added excess masalas, that her rotis were as hard as tin-roof. I would tell them to prepare by themselves. And the next sentence would be, “You know how to cook? You cook by yourself?,” to which I would reply downrightly, “Yes!” And the scene would take its normal pattern: I would see an outlandish looks, kind of demeaning gestures, or a curtly shrug. So, my advice is that if you happen to be passionate about cooking like myself, you better meticulously guard your invaluable secret unless you have a natural flair for accepting oddities within your own circle.
I believe some of my colleagues are ʿheredity governed,ʾ that believed in the dogmatic theory that cooking is a sissy indulgence for men. And maybe for that reason they find it self-degrading to prepare their own foods. To me, it is entirely different. I find them to miss one of the greatest zeals of life---a world that abridge this complex present to the purity of our childhood, an art that can renew originality and purity by simple ingredients.
Yesterday, my wife and I spent the whole day working in our kitchen garden. We sowed the seed of dhania, peas, and mustard. And the whole time was a rapture.