When I was growing up, my contribution in the kitchen was limited to following my mom’s instructions. She would tell us “stir the curry”, “cover that vessel”, “dry the plates”, “take out the vegetables from the fridge” and you get the point. All three of us were especially gifted in carrying out her instructions verbatim. So if she asked us to turn off the gas, we used to just do that. She had to explicitly say “turn off the gas and cover the vessel”. In this sense we were “Saang kamya Balkoba”!
I don’t remember the first edible thing I cooked. But I remember cooking Pithle – the humble chickpea flour (besan) preparation for which every Maharashtrian household will have its own recipe. My experiment began enthusiastically with a small vessel, a cup of curds and a cup of besan and ended up in a monster kadhai with 3 - 4 cups of besan, 2 cups of tamarind pulp and countless cups of water. Verdict- Absolutely inedible. I just couldn’t understand what could go so wrong in cooking such a simple thing? The first time I tasted the stuff, it was not sour enough but there were no more curds. So I added 1 cup of tamarind pulp and it tasted too tart. To compensate I added some besan and then some more. It tasted really tasteless by now and I tried to compensate by adding some more tamarind pulp. The whole stuff was way more than what the vessel could hold. So midway I poured the gooey, drippy stuff into a bigger kadhai. And since most of it just stuck to the kadhai and was turning into a solid mass I panicked. And added more water. I had never cooked before but always observed how my mother cooked. She did not measure water, nor tasted food while cooking nor ever peered into a recipe book. But the food always tasted delicious. Sadly I didn’t realize that her confidence came from years of cooking.
Luckily for A, I more than made up after my marriage. I have cooked pithle several times and it comes quite close to my mother's version, sometime like my amma's version and sometime like my mamis'. Of course I love cooking when it’s a weekend affair. With no cook or help, the time and energy spent around planning, cooking and storing meals is enormous. Can’t help thinking about all those mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, friends and occasionally uncles who cook (many a times, laboriously in the hot, poorly ventilated kitchens, often over smoke spitting chulhas) and so lovingly feed hungry, eager mouths. Annadata sukhi bhava indeed! And then I cant help thinking about farmers, the ultimate Annadata, toiling hard, themselves struggling to make ends meet and yet producing food for the entire country. How do they resist the temptation of moving off to the nearby cities and get a more certain, secure livelihood, one which is not dependent on the rain-gods?
How I start off thinking about pithle and end up thinking about the plight of farmers is beyond my comprehension but I don’t feel hungry anymore.
Ps: While I was re-reading my post, i remembered my grandparents in their big kitchen in Secunderapur. The vision of my mothe-baba continuously stirring a HUGE vessel of milk to make khoya for gulab-jamun while my amma bent over the gas stove, cooking the most deliciously soft puran polis moistened my eyes. Ah! Grandparents are such a blessing - can’t wait to see them back home.