“This is how you make it, isn’t it?”
She smiles. Yes.
She watches as the chutney, made exactly the way she makes it, is being taken out to the table where the men are having their breakfast.
“What’s with the new chutney?” says Appa
“Try it, it is a new recipe,” says Amma
“I tried, it’s nice; very tasty, that is why I asked.”
“Hmmm. Good, you like it then.”
It has been over a decade. Her’s was a match made in heaven (and college). But her in-laws took time to realise that (the heaven part). And till they did, they kept reminding her about her ‘outsider’ status and her ‘other’ness and how she was ‘different’ from them.
For the first six months, she wasn’t even allowed to touch any cooking. Only cleaning the kitchen and the vessels afterwards had been her job. She wasn’t supposed to touch any food preparation, especially the food that was prepared for her husband.
By the end of the year, she was promoted to helping with the cutting and peeling of vegetables and fruits. But no cooking! That was always Amma’s job.
The next year, she was asked to cook one dish a week. (After all, if it didn’t turn out good, there would be only so much wastage.)
And that is when they learned her secret.
Her food has exceptional taste!
She wasn’t raised in luxury. A modest middle-class upbringing was all she had.
First priority - education.
Second priority - socially acceptable behaviour.
Her parents firmly believed that a girl should know to cook and keep house.
She had different aspirations. Books mattered more. So did music. And of course, other pursuits that took her far away from the kitchen as they do any teenager.
When cable TV was still a novelty, she would bring her homework out to the table where her mother sat and watched cookery shows in the afternoons.
Between mathematical formulae and the Periodic Table, she watched. As she proved theorems, she observed. And along with studying about the WWII and the plains and plateaus, she learned. She didn’t even realise.
Now, here, far away from her childhood and her home, in a different country, the internet helps as much as her childhood observations did. Cooking isn’t her ‘job’ and she still has different aspirations. People know her for her different talents and exceptional activities; and yet, whenever anyone visits, it is the tales of her delicious food that people take back home. The menu could be anything; which almost always is something that the visitors prefer. But it is her magic touch that makes it all the more special, somehow.
Of course, no one says this to her tough. They just smile and move on. But she knows. When someone asks her the way she makes something or enquires about a certain ingredient…. She is happy with that. That is enough. They don’t have to say anything.
Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery isn’t it?