When Food is Life
I wanted to see if the flavors I saw flying in my kitchen had wings. I wanted to see if my hands moved fast enough to massacre a red onion in under thirty seconds. I wanted to see if I could count on the buoyancy of the country eggs I poached. I wanted to see if I could scale the golden fish. If I could do justice to her death. I wanted to see if I could make the chicken fall off its bones. I wanted to see if the boiled spinach adorned a darker green. I wanted to see if anyone else could stuff more onions in paranthas than I could.
I wanted to see if any other spice could overpower asafoetida’s pungent-ness. I wanted to see if life could be lived without coriander. I wanted to understand the fuss about the snowy-white garlic. That always looked to me like the dome-like crown on the head of queen Victoria. I wanted to see if Tiramisu talked. Maybe it could breathe life into another being. As when I licked its spoonful, I was floating freely and kicking in my mother’s uterus again.
I wanted to see how the fiery stones hardened the wobbly pizzas. I wanted to see why the mortal world smelled heavenly when dough was kneaded. I wanted to see how red wine could meat up the meaty goat. I wanted to see how hummus could taste like a distant cousin of chickpeas. I wanted to see how the potatoes soaked the proud rosemary and extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan salt into their skins. And then precipitated their life with the crackling salt.
I wanted to see how raw mangoes added to the fishy playfulness of Surmayi. I wanted to see how the spinach paste blended with the rice and dal batter to flatten out into colorful crispy crepes. I wanted to see how the sweetness of the cinnamon could seep into my spirits. I wanted to see why bitter gourd didn’t taste bitter when left overnight with salt and then stuffed with grated onion and green mango. I wanted to see why Kidney beans with rice were every Indian’s comfort food. Better if dry okra accompanied the red little devils. Because every mother prepared them every Sunday? Or because the beans had some magical powers?
I wanted to see if anyone else treasured a golden pineapple with a green, spiky crown more than a diamond ring. I wanted to see if anyone else could live another life for clovey-cardamomy Malabar biryani and its melting-in-the-mouth basmati rice.
I wanted to see if caramelized onions could be better than medicine. I wanted to see if anything else smelled better than melting, homemade white butter on a soft round chapati.
I wanted to see if anyone else could force the red carrots to blood the asafoetida, mustard, and red chilly water like my mother could. If someone else could force the cauliflower to crunch up with mustard, sunflower oil, and salt like she could. I wanted to see if anyone else could grate out the bottle gourd and cream out the milk to make the best ghiya-ki-launj (sweet prepared from bottle gourd) like my mother could.
I wanted to see if anyone else could fluff up the chapatis on an iron skillet, like an opera was performing. I wanted to see if anyone else picked up a fish-like piece of mango pickle from her best friend’s lunchbox and kept it in her mouth in the flick of an eye.
I wanted to melt with the moong dal, rice, and tomato that whistled in the cooker. I wanted to dance to that whistle. I wanted the chopped onions to sprinkle themselves with salt and bathe in lemon. While I beat the soft milky curd with roasted cumin powder. I wanted the black pepper papad to crackle and harden up as I flamed it. And then a plateful of that dal-rice, a round, smiling papad on the side, the crunchy, lemony onions, and the smooth curd flowing through my hand into my mouth. With my loved ones on my side. That was my dream.
I wanted to see if this mash-up of food could fix the mash-up of life. And all its burdens.
I wanted to see if there was more to life than coming back to a plate of homemade food. If there was more to life than sharing it with someone you love. If there was more to life than cooking it for them.
I wanted to see if the world was just to the chefs. Who put in their time and tongue and fingers and hands and life and soul in the food for the rest.
I wanted to see if something so quickly perishable could leave any impact.
I wanted to see if food has life. And if I could nurture it well. Like it rears us.
And I found my answer.
Nothing is more lively than a fresh bowl of curry and a round buttery chapati on its side. And I could gorge on their simplicity all my life. All my life.
Nothing is more rewarding than cooking a pot of rice. And I could dance to the cooking flames into eternity. Into eternity.
But the world isn’t just. The chefs don’t earn that much. The owners don’t treat them well. And a chef is looked down on, at least in India. Your family find your work hideous.
So now I cook for myself and my friends. Until I am my own owner and my own chef.
Because the flavors in my kitchen do fly. They fly high. They fly high.
Also Read: 30 Life Lessons I Learned in My 20’s
Do you think food has life?
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