"Here you are, now try flattening it."
"Err…how do I start?"
"First cover it in parothan, n try to make it round and flat and as thin as possible."
This was the start of my cooking exploits in kitchen under the expert guidance of the best cook ever, yes, my mother.
A one month stay in Noida last year was enough to knock some sense in to my head as to the urgent requirement of me knowing my way around these areas. If not flawlessly, then palatably enough at least to keep me alive. DD was the one with me in Noida, an excellent cook I might add, and we did prepare our own meal. My job, owing to my incompetence in the finer art, entailed the chopping up of vegetables( after taking necessary instructions from The Mighty DD), washing extra dishes and the usual running-to-market-for-that-extra-pack-of-curd which Mum also employed me for frequently in my childhood. I never grew out of it sadly.
One not so fine day, DD went for dinner to her cousin's place, and I having politely( and foolishly) declined the invitation was left to take care of the dinner for myself. God bless the noble soul who invented Mobile phones, and I proceeded to cook some rice with Mum reciting continuous instructions in my ear. Well, when I thought I had understood it all, keeping down the phone I went on to add spices, which Mum had ambiguously denoted to be 'a bit'. To top it all, I had not the faintest idea as to what is that which they call zeera.
Deepti, another PG mate was thankfully in the other room, another of those equipped in the art, and I asked her to identify it for me.
"Listen, can you tell me what is zeera, or rather which is?"
"Hai Rabba! Where is Shalu?"
"Err...to her cousin's place".
I remember vividly the expression of pity that alighted her mask, and was a severe blow to my self esteem, it was the one I am not likely to forget soon, the one which I still see in my dreams, the one I recall whenever I conveniently forget the true meaning of 'Being Independent'. I remind myself that I might not be blessed with such benevolent partners in future...I was not this year but that is another story.
It was an expression quite like the one my mother wore right now.
"WAIT! Don't pound on it as if it were some one you are trying to kill, go gentle and easy. Apply force on all sides, redistribute it as and when necessary."
"Right.Err…I don't see it coming out round or uniformly thin. What do I do to correct it?"
"Nothing for now…"
"I think it is way too thin from here, almost torn in a manner of speaking, do I add extra dough on this part and make up for it."
Mum's expression had transformed into the one of exasperation, I could but faintly see the traces of the pity which sat there a few moments ago. I could almost see her rebuking herself in mind regarding the lenient handling she subjected me to, where the matters of the Kitchen were concerned.
"Haven't you ever seen me doing it?! What were you doing the few times you happened to stand with me in the kitchen?"
("I was too preoccupied with the thoughts of leaving I guess…")
"Alright, now pick it up and place it on the tawa. You surely could have done without those useless guitar classes. Go on now..."
I endeavoured to pick up the what-do-you-call-it which bore a striking resemblance to a map of asia with edges blunted. I wondered if I should point it out to her to lighten the matters up, but after a careful consideration of the situation, I dropped the idea. She scarcely seemed to be in a mood for appreciating the ways of nature, the way geography manifests itself right in our kitchens. On one of our doors in house, the paint has dried up and it looks exactly like the outline of the South Asian continent...but that is drifting away from the point. Do you now see now? My heart is just not there in this thing. Dash it, I told myself, I need to survive and that involves keeping the aforementioned heart beating.
So, as I placed, or rather slapped the what-do-you-call-it down on the tawa balancing it precariously on my fingers…it overlapped over itself.
I tried to put it straight, needless to say it wasn't going well. Perhaps the fact that I was wary of the tawa being too hot held me back from making a good effort. My mother impatiently pushed my hand out of the way and put the matters straight. Literally.
"Now pick it up and see if its cooked from the down side, and when it is…apply ghee on the top side and toggle it. Then apply ghee on the other side and while you spread it, move the parantha round and round on the tawa with your hand."
"Err…after how much time do I check?As in, how many seconds?"
Another scalding look. Between her and the tawa, I thought it would it would be nothing short of a miracle if I managed to come out unscathed. Mothers have this quality of making you wilt under their looks.
"It is most probably burnt by now…apply ghee."
"You want to be a bit more lavish with it…a wee bit more won't make you fat or something!"
"Whoa…go easy! That's too much now…."
"Alright. How much then exactly?"
"What are you? Completely dumb? Use a bit of your instincts, keep your engineering out of the kitchen."
She has started to lose it, it was turning steadily more dangerous. I reminded myself to tread more carefully around her and tawa.
But common! How are you supposed to rotate the thing when you can see that it is damn hot! I can't imagine how my mom's fingers aren't scalded! I am sure mine arent insulated that way! Anyway, what finally came down from the tawa as a pathetic excuse for a parantha proudly sat upon a plate…challenging anyone to eat it.
Having already laid the condition that I won't eat anything I cook, my mother valiantly took up the challenge. She made it out as if only the shape was grotesquely wrong and it was perhaps tad burnt, apart from that it should taste alright.
I felt guilty nevertheless. I wonder if that's what she intended.
P.S. Tell me what do you call it in English what you call 'Roti Belna' in Hindi?
P.P.S: Long time...how have you been?