CoronaDiaries · House help · Lockdown Diaries · Quarantine Life

Ode to the cook (Lockdown letters)

My own little Shangri-La!
And you?
The prime mover of that break-up,
With my happy place.

Where,
I explored, I experimented.
I chopped and churned.
Baked some, more burned.
To roll out a quickie,
Or to dish out a spread,
Was as orgasmic,
As what is meant to be.
Cooking then a passion,
Was at times such a therapy!
Seven years ago,
Yes that kitchenette of mine!

And then you walked in.
Overthrew my regime,
Usurped it and how!

A woman as strong headed as me,
A woman even more confident of her culinary skills than I was.
A woman who claimed her space,
As much as I did
Of course, set me free in ways,
So I wasn’t complaining.

I hovered over you during those nascent days,
Much to your displeasure
‘Why don’t you do it yourself only!’,
Those words were never uttered,
Demeanors did mutter.

Shared my recipes,
As if I was handing over my offspring,
With a clear diktat,
To nurture and raise them like I did,
‘Don’t you ever pamper, spice, spoil them,
With your own experiments.’
There a steady commandment!

You took my babies under your care.
Stealthily, you would at times,
Cosset them galore.
Add your own tempering,
Skip a mandatory (as per me) step.
When we drooled and licked our fingers,
Subtly, then you would chunter,
‘Change at times is better.
Didi, I’ve added something from my side.
Did you even get to know?’

And I would gulp that shot.
Fired straight at my ego!

Overtime I learnt to zip up,
Trust you oodles more.
From bettering my trademark dishes,
To unveiling the master-chef in you.
As you gained ground,
Got a free hold,
New flavors our taste buds,
Were meant to savor.

Eventually you seized even those few,
That I held close to my chest.
That I had thought you would never ever master.
Pastas and pohas,
Pao bhajis and Hakka noodles,
Chilly chickens and Manchurians,
Lasagnas and fenugreek chickens.
You aced them all!

When the man of the house fractured his bone,
You ensured there was a ‘paya soup’ daily on his table.
When the boy went on a diet,
You knew bloody well,
How to keep the cap on the oil-can tight.
On days they both weren’t home,
You knew how to entice me,
Save your time too,
With that master-stroke of yours,
A steaming hot jaggery and ‘ghee choori’,
Garnished with your one-liner-
‘Eating food for soul one day,
Wont make you pile-on ten kilos Didi.
We must cuddle our ‘rooh’ (soul) too.’
Of course all that, in chaste Bombayiya Hindi.

When after his stay with us,
Daddy wont have karelas (bittregourd),
Any other way,
But only the way you made them.
And my Mom-in-law,
The original master-chef of our family,
Would call me for your recipe.
With that victory in your smile,
Happily you would narrate on phone,
Just a second after hanging up,
Give me your Kashmiri Mirchi byte,
‘Didi, You know na?
No one gets my recipes,
But anything for Mummy ji and Daddy ji!’

Over the last seven years,
We both have had some epic showdowns.
Our relation has been quite squally,
As mine with my boys.
Storming out and in,
Only to make comebacks.

We love to hate,
Hate to love.
Still can’t do without each other.
Both wiser and more mindful,
Not to overstep and disrupt,
Each other’s mind-zones.
Over the years a realization,
As in every other relation.
Space works well for both,
No more daggers drawn.

Today as I take charge of the space,
That was once solely mine,
I feel you are watching over me.
I am mindful not to cut corners,
For you rarely did.
I better grind fresh masalas,
Have the stock of chutneys and bhallas in order,
Set the curds without fail.
Ensure the milk doesn’t spill over,
Though these days I’m a MasterChef at disasters.

As I dished out the ‘shahi paneer’ today,
The younger one said,
‘Tastes just like her’s.’
Seven years back it used to be,
‘She’s getting closer to yours’.

But the shahi paneer looks sad,
As if asking,‘ Where is my daal makhni?
She always gives me company.
Why the hell are dahi bhallas missing?’
And I stir and console the royalty,
‘Dear darlings, Get used to being single.
Lockdown all flirtatious desires.
We are saving on strengths and sources.
There is a curfew on elaborate meals.
Also, this woman is totally pooped out!’

Suddenly, the walls of my eye gave way,
A little tear trickled.
Because of all the slogging?
Not really.
I’m loving revisiting my once happy place.
But I think I miss your presence,
In the space that you made your own.
I’m missing my alter ego,
Standing in our mess.

I’m locked in with my loved ones,
In the castle of my privileges.
While you are there with those,
Who never made things easier.
But I save,
Your fighting your demons,
Surviving all your fires,
Some literal ones too.
For another day, another verse.
Today it’s about how we’ve grown along.

See you on the other side of the lockdown,
Make the most of this downtime.
While I prune my paradigms.
When the reunion happens,
Must we raise a toast,
To the glitches we have outgrown.
As also to triumphing,
Our seven years itch milestone!

P.S. This open letter in verse was written to my cook during the first lockdown.
Nothing rebooted our thought process like having a changed life-style as we lost the luxury of the life-lines that our house-helps were.

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