It’s been a while since I wrote. So far, I hadn’t thought about it. But when I found myself at the centre of a universe of books – the sort of stuff my dreams are made of – I felt a twinge of regret. Where had my urgency to write gone? Was my writing only fuelled by excessive emotion, a hot outpouring of rage, my heartbeat that refused to slow down until I had feverishly scribbled feelings I never even knew I possessed?
Other things have been claiming my time though. A one hour metro ride, for one, where I try my best to flip pages without finding my face slamming into the armpit of the person next to me, who is simultaneously holding his bag between his legs and glaring at me. Then there’s the hours at the office, which pass faster than office hours are supposed to. And then, there’s my new passion – cooking.
I’ve always known to cook. In a spacious kitchen shaded by mango trees, I’ve watched my mother gently rub an electric red paste into gleaming, silver fish. I began with washing her dishes. Slowly, from cookies that left soft sugary powder on your fingertips to chicken drowned in gravy thickened with silky coconut milk, I grew to love my time amidst the granite tabletops and sober grey tiles, with my mother’s expert fingers ever ready to fix any mistake.
It’s been a year since I’ve moved to a flat. A kitchen that fills when the three of us occupy it, my roommates and I divided cooking into three neat columns – breakfast, lunch and dinner – spanning from week to week. Sometimes, I lost the happiness I felt at home, when cooking was an indulgence, not a necessity.
Now, with my two months of staying alone coming to an end, cooking once again relaxes me. Coming back from work, strangely exhausted, I peel and slice. My hands are swift and purposeful. In the kitchen, I realize more than ever that I am becoming like my mother. It isn’t a realization that frightens me.
The oil here is a sunshine yellow, not the amber of the coconut oil Amma uses. It feels less heavy, like the teaspoon of coffee Amma used to mix with my milk when I’d told her I was too old to drink plain milk anymore. I feel strangely cheated. However, the onions quench their stinging nature in the sunshine yellow oil, seething in delight they lap up the burning liquid.
The onions are soft now. They’d taste sweet, if I took them out now. I put in the crushed garlic and ginger. The overwhelming aroma of the garlic eager to burn and stick on the pan’s surface never fails to bring a smile to my face. I inhale deeply, the smell filling my stomach more than my nose. The scent changes every few seconds, the onions are rimmed in gold, the garlic and ginger have slipped their way through every corner.
The sliced tomatoes that fall into the pan now aren’t the fiery red I’d like them to be, but the flaming green of the chopped chillis contrast with the paleness of the onion. I stir as the tomatoes shudder as they release the water in them and lose their colour. The salt goes in, and the flaming chilli powder rushes its hue throughout the pan. The paneer, white and soft, slices easily under my knife. It’s delicacy protests the spicy red gravy it’s going to be soaked in. I watch as the paneer rapidly absorbs the gravy, the surrender complete as the white leaps into shades of yellow and a sombre orange.
My mouth waters as the tip of my tongue tastes the gravy, and then swiftly licks the spoon, burning it in the process, as usual. My hands have already been marked with burgundy souvenirs from previous culinary expeditions, which unhurriedly fade into beige.
The spiciness is tempting, and for a moment I re-consider the final step. But finally, I pour in the fresh cream, and its thick, creamy whiteness gently invites the scorching red to gentler shades.
Am I not the author of this? This fills my heart too, in a very similar way to what writing does. But it leaves me full, contented, sober. Masochist that I am, I want what leaves me exhausted, panting, restless. And so, I pick up my pen again. I don’t know how quickly I’ll place it down, shuddering, but for now, I pick it up.