Rosalyn D'Mello: Home is where the hearth is

Man or woman, no one should shy away from the kitchen and the chance it gives to explore your thoughts while whipping up a fantastic meal

Rosalyn D’MelloThere was a time I envied jet-setter friends who were always in and out of the cities they had adopted as home. Until I became one too. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thrill of being a frequent flyer, of acquainting myself with unfamiliar cultures and cuisines and soaking in whatsoever my limited time frame allows me to experience. But what I miss most is not simply the privilege of sleeping in my own bed, resting my head against my own dream-lined pillow but waking up to my morning ritualistic pot of roasted Darjeeling tea and basking in the warm light that filters through my kitchen window.

As I swipe-type this column on my Redmi phone at the back of a black-and-yellow taxi that’s dropping me home to Kurla, I am fantasising the feast that awaits me. I’m too starved to ask my father and mother what’s on the menu. It’s past 3 pm and they’re hungry too. I’m awaiting the comfort of the kitchen, the repository of all my childhood memories. It was there that I was first unconsciously tutored in the art of culinary intuition at the behest of my father who excels in its intricacies. My mother, a fabulous cook herself, worked 12-hour shifts every day of the week for the entire expanse of my childhood and adolescence. My father would return from office around 6 pm. He, my sister and I would watch The Wonder Years over tea, and then he would enlist our assistance in preparing dinner.

My father would return from office around 6 pm. He, my sister and I would watch The Wonder Years over tea, and then he would enlist our assistance in preparing dinner... We were like sous chefs, grating tomatoes, peeling onions, trimming coriander and everything else in between. Representation pic/Thinkstock
My father would return from office around 6 pm. He, my sister and I would watch The Wonder Years over tea, and then he would enlist our assistance in preparing dinner... We were like sous chefs, grating tomatoes, peeling onions, trimming coriander and everything else in between. Representation pic/Thinkstock

It was our job to stir the pot as he presided over the culinary alchemy. We were like sous chefs, grating tomatoes, peeling onions, trimming coriander and everything else in between.

I never imagined then how this familiarity with kitchen smells would mark me for life. As my tummy makes unruly sounds that seem to say, “Feed Me, Feed Me”, I’m craving the sanctuary of my kitchen back in Delhi, to which I return tomorrow, but only for three days, until I head out again to Chennai.

There are men and women who live independently who are happy to surrender the business of satiating their appetites to maids, either because their busy schedules don’t allow for domesticity or because they abhor or are unschooled in the act of cooking. I am not one of them. Besides my own megalomaniacal obsession with buying produce myself and the luxury of maintaining personal relationships with the suppliers of the said produce, cooking, for me, is the ultimate form of leisure. It is in my kitchen, when the onions are being unfurled and the garlic is being victimised to form a pestled paste and the vapours are rising from the insides of the curry and the pressure cooker is whistling and the mixer is singing that the world seems to momentarily make more sense. My thoughts feel as translucent as the cabbage I’m steaming. There is the possibility of communicating with the infinitely divine as I bear witness to the supple universe of the figs I’m tearing into with my bare fingers that’ll star in the salad I’m contemplating, with rocket leaves and feta, drizzled over with a balsamic vinegar dressing.

I read this meme on the Internet. It said, ‘Women belong in the kitchen, men belong in the kitchen, everyone belongs in the kitchen. The kitchen has food’. Indeed, few things are sadder than a malnourished refrigerator or unstocked cupboards and an absentee stove. In Delhi, when I helped my recently married friends move into their first adult flat, a beautiful 2BHK, Sourav, half-Bengali, told me about this ritual his parents were coming over to perform to sanctify their settling in.

It involved milk being overboiled so it spills over, a phenomenon otherwise assiduously avoided. The act was meant to symbolise all inevitably undesirable incidents that could transpire which were ceremoniously exorcised through this manipulative gesture of the premeditated accident.

Of course, rituals cannot prevent disasters. I’ve had many in my kitchen that make for excellent stories. I’ve been burned, wounded, have occasionally broken an egg or two on the floor. But I’ve also crafted some fantastic meals. And that’s why I love my hearth, because it allows you the space to explore your greatest vulnerabilities and self-doubt like no other room in the house. So if you’ve shied away from embracing the art of slaving over a hot stove, I urge you to reconsider your stance. Don’t deny yourself the pleasure of discovering epiphanies in the blood-red rings of a Beetroot or the seed-clustered halves of cucumbers. Don’t deny your loved one the delight of a home-cooked, self-made meal.

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D’Mello is a reputed art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx

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