Notes from my Lockdown diary – Part 4

Lockdown continues in India and so do my notes. The way it goes, it looks like I can publish a complete book compiling all these notes! Even as the thoughts of publishing a book crossed my mind and I sat to type this blog, the wife somehow got a wind of it. “Instead of torturing people with your blogs, you are now planning for a full book? Of all the negative effects of Covid-19 we have to suffer, this must be the worst!” she pronounced.  The wife is always right. So, the book plan had to commit suicide.  Notes writing gets a reprieve.

(If you have not read the earlier parts, please read here, here and here.)

It seems there is no reprieve though, from doing the household chores for a long time. The other day, our regular household help (God bless her), called up the wife to check if she can start coming, as there was some news of things being relaxed.  She apparently felt bad to just receive her salary without doing her work for the past two months.  I could hear the wife telling her nicely not to worry and though the ghar ka Bhai is not as good as the Bai in work, she could manage with him!  And added in some measure about being Atmanirbhar and all!

It then struck me later as to why the wife made this point to the Bai. Few days ago, after I finished the J and P of BJP (Jhadu and Pocha), I asked the wife, glaring at the somewhat shining floor, “Now your bench mark for a clean and spotless house must have changed, no? And also your expectations from the Bai, no?” I know, there are better ways to fish for compliments. “Benchmark and all I don’t know. What I know is, I have to keep the Bai happy at any cost. She doesn’t break mops within two days, doesn’t finish Vim liquid in one week and finally doesn’t keep showing off her quality of work once done!” the wife quipped.  I should have known this better. Of just doing the work and not indulge in pompous self-praise!  In the married life of men, the adage “Once bitten, twice shy” doesn’t exist. It is always the case of “Many times bitten, and still don’t learn”!

Like a few days ago, looking at the many “Exercise at home” videos flooding the social media timelines these days, I started doing a hundred “Jumping Jacks” in the morning. When I started it itself, the wife warned that the downstairs people may feel like some earth quake happening. Better said in Tamil – ‘Keezha irukaravaalukku Thalai la idi vizharaapola irukkum’! I took it as her another jibe at my bloating weight and went ahead with it. Sure enough, within two days the managing committee members called to warn me of dire consequences if I continued with my indoor exercises. The end result – Not just jumping jack, even a simple pranayam has been locked down!

Last weekend was another case of not learning. Being a Sunday, I declared loudly that I will cook the lunch. The daughter who is the proverbial cat on the wall in terms of taking sides exclaimed, “But Appa, not your usual Rasam and Potato curry!” “Of course not! Today I am going to make Sambhar and thoran” I should have stopped there. I didn’t. In my zeal to impress, I added, “That too not the “podi potta Sambhar, but arachuvitta Sambhar”! Now for the uninitiated, Sambhar though is a common South Indian dish is made differently in each of the states. This arachuvitta Sambhar is a speciality in Palakkad Tambrahm households, where you don’t use the ready-made Sambhar powder but actually add the freshly ground spices and masala. So, obviously the Sambhar made this way tastes much better. It also calls for more skill to get the mix right.

Now here’s the audacity thing. The wife usually makes this arachuvitta Sambhar very well. So at home, that is the “gold standard”!  And though I make the regular Sambhar of and on, so far I have not tried or made this arachuvitta Sambhar before in my life! But then as most of you part of WhatsApp groups would have realised, everybody else is into trying and learning one new recipe or the other and sharing in groups these days! So, I also thought why not try something new and add that as a lockdown learning badge!

I googled for a proper recipe of the arachuvitta Sambhar and got into preparation of the same.  Though the recipe was in simple English, the doubts that emanated were endless, as you got down to work. For every doubt I went to the wife, I was promptly reminded that commenting on cooking is very easy while cooking is not! Did I have choice other than agreeing?  I followed the recipe and the wife’s tips to the “T” and everything was going as per plan.  Or so I thought. Blame the bad light or my reading glass, instead of reading as ¼ TSP of Methi seeds (Vendayam), I read it as 4 TSP of Vendayam, fried the same along with the other ingredients and ground into the paste. And this paste is the most crucial input for the arachuvitta Sambhar! Those familiar with the drill would by now know what will happen if you add 4 TSPs of Vendayam!

While the Sambhar was boiling, I attempted to taste it. I could realise that my first attempt in arachuvitta Sambhar has flopped badly. The Sambhar was bitter in taste thanks to the overbearing taste of Vendayam (Methi seeds)! When it was judgement time, the wife was at her gracious best when she said, “The bitter after taste notwithstanding, it was not bad for a first attempt!” I was relieved on hearing the same before she continued, “Change your blog title from ‘Notes from my lockdown diary’ to ‘Lessons from the lockdown’ and learn from them!

Not a bad idea, isn’t it?

I am learning.

By hook or Cook!!!

“For a great marriage, men must cook” – this headline of an article which appeared in ‘The Hindu’ caught my attention. You can read that here. The piece articulates that men must use food and cooking to build strong enduring bonds with their wives for peaceful and mutually fulfilling marriages. It set me thinking. Not that my marriage was wobbling but could do with some elements of surprise I thought. When was the last time I went to the kitchen to cook? If you discount the instances of preparing tea, rustling up dosas or putting together your breakfast cereals, it’s been a while. Really a long while.

My mind flashbacked to the time before marriage when as a bachelor, I did cook. My rendezvous with cooking started while in Mumbai just as I got into my 1st job at Godrej. I lived with my elder brother who was also a bachelor that time and our cooking experiments commenced. Mostly we cooked our own dinners on weekdays and on weekends the lunch. When we felt bored or we got late, we ate outside. The understanding was that whoever reached early will start the preparation like cutting the vegetables and keep the rice ready while the other will join to finish doing the rest of the stuff.  Unlike many would think, cooking was interesting and exciting. Particularly if you end up cooking something which was palatable (when you cook, almost everything is extremely palatable – that’s a different thing 🙂 🙂 )

Being a South Indian and a Tambram in that, our choice was limited to making the sambhars, rasams and the vegetables.  As a strategy (OMG, isn’t this word the most misused word these days???), we decided that we will keep repeating the same till we perfect it. So I think we must have made rasam for atleast one full week and may be sambhar for the next 10 days 🙂 :).  When we completed 1st quarter of cooking the end results were not bad. We started adventuring to next level of difficulty in the cooking game – I mean more exotic dishes,..  post that. So as self-cooking continued, one started losing weight ( 🙂 ) and became lean and mean.

But from the time marriage happened, it was time for the enthusiastic wife to take over. She was also learning the ropes and it was best for me to keep away from the kitchen completely.  Coming back to the present, when I read the article it struck on me – Why not enter the kitchen again and surprise the wife? Though the wife knew that I was cooking earlier she never got a chance to endure my cooking. So last Saturday morning I grandly announced to the wife that I will cook a full meal that day and that she should just relax. And one important pre-condition was that she should not be seen anywhere close to the kitchen till I finish. (You know otherwise what happens 🙂 ) Though reluctant, she complied.

Since the mission was also to impress the wife, I decided to keep the menu simple with some staple stuff like rasam (yes) and potato podimas (yes ofcourse) and get away easily. Little did I realize that life is not so easy if you are out of touch. I started with keeping the rice in the cooker along with the paruppu (dal) which is needed for the rasam.   As I reached out for the dabbas, I could see many dabbas with different paruppus. Now which is the dal which goes into the rasam was the question. After a round of hinky pinky ponkey and applying bit of logic concluded that it is indeed tuvar dal which is the ingredient. 🙂

20 mins into boiling the rice in the cooker – there is no sign of the whistle in the cooker. Lessons from Mechanical engineering on what happens when a safety valve malfunctions unnecessarily kept coming up. Did I put the gasket and other fundamental questions arose. After another futile 20 mins. I decided to force open the cooker to see what the heck is going on.  If you have a faint idea of what forcing open a cooker means – you will understand what would have happened. The dal had overflowed, the rice had overflowed and it all resembled a Dal kichdi!!! And the kitchen- remnants of modern art!!! So the next thing was operation clean up (without making much noise ofcourse so that the wife doesn’t realize what’s going on) and a repeat of keeping the rice and dal again to cook. This time took extra care to see that water is not too much and all. After waiting with bated breath for another 10 mins. the whistle blew and “operation rice” went through smoothly.  I did a whistle podu for myself. 🙂 🙂 Followed then with making the potato vegetable and rasam. Having completely forgotten the measurements of salt, masala,.. several trials and more errors ensued. Fortunately no much adventure in making the rasam and the potato vegetable.  I was almost done.

After serving all what I rustled up, it was judgment time. The rice had to be cooked twice. While the 1st time suffered due to excess water, the second time was less of water and hence was bit Vethu Vethu (dry).  The rasam was fine though it could have done with more rasam powder and be spicier. The potato vegetable was extra salty.  But for these “small” hiccups the experience was worth it!!! The daughter surprisingly found it tasty and ate the food without much ado. The wife was more generous and said it was not bad at all.  And she said, “You are cooking really well, why don’t you do this every Saturday???”

Oh man, that author’s prediction was really working 🙂 🙂

cook

Toon Courtesy: The Hindu