March 04, 2005

Of Cabbages, Kings and Cooks...

We have heard of successions of Kings, seers, ministers, but my family is unique in that it has seen a succession of cooks, all claiming to possess the ability to cook delicacies that can invigorate a dying man to rejoice in life. Let me rewind back a decade and look back upon the joyful days that I spent in Bangalore, the garden city, the city where I spent uncountable hours trying to guess the dishes that our then cook, Prabhamani concocted in her empire, our kitchen. Her word was the law and we abided by her strict rules. She was a small creature; she had the darkest, kohl-lined eyes and thick glasses that kept sliding down her sharp nose. She had the strangest notions on worldly things and faithfully stood by what she claimed was the cosmic truth. “We have all facilities at our place, in Chemmangudi” she claimed. Chemmangudi, from where she hailed, had to be Utopia, the way she raved about it. “Of course there are many powercuts and that is difficult but we manage with table fans”. How she managed to make her table fan work when there was a power cut was, we figured, a wonder of modern science yet to be revealed to our ignorant scientific community. Prabhamani was an expert in many respects (so she claimed), but sadly lacking in one – the art of cooking.

"Appetite is inversely propotional to a cook's ability to cook". Prabhamani being the proof that I offer now to support the lemma that I state above. The supposition for this lemma, ofcourse, is that the cook comes to cook at our place. Maybe it is to do with the people in our home or the lack of enforcement of rules or just the atmosphere in my home - whatever it be, it definitely led to a marked degradation in food quality as days passed. The Sambhar at night started resembling rasam, the pooris tried to ape applams and cooked rice tried to imitate gooey-white-unrecognizable-mass. Inspite of unrecognizable dishes residing in our kitchen, they disappeared at surprising speed, thanks to Prabhamani’s enthusiastic appetite. So, one day, dad decided to put his foot down and he fired Prabhamani.

"1924 born", he emphatically stated every day, we weren't sure of what to infer from that statement and thus was born our next saga, Gurumoorthy Iyer. He came to our house claiming to have cooked for royalty; we were thrilled, our mouths watered as we imagined him rolling out crispy light puris and golden brown potato curry in a light, delicious gravy and bright orange jangris and kaara-saara arachuvitta sambhar. It was 5.30 PM on a Friday when Gurumoorthy Iyer landed upon us; he prompty proceeded to the kitchen and checked to see what was already left over. "Kos iruku, kootu iruku, today's share is done." and so saying, he proceeded to relax with a kumudam. "Poor guy, must be worn out from the travel" mom said and proceeded to make coffee for him. The next day, he got up early and asked my dad what he should cook. My dad has always had a liking for chapatis, something my mom almost never cooked. Eyes twinkling with expectation, he replied “Chapatis and kurma”. Half-an-hour later, we all sat down for breakfast and a big anda descended on us. I peeped inside it, with trepidation and noticed, dark brownish-black square chappati-wannabes sitting inside. They say, "a hungry man can even kill" and dad seemed to have an urge, at that moment, to want to prove that saying. Mom quickly tried to calm my dad and me "Maybe they dont have the correct color, I am sure they are tasty to eat". We proceeded to eat and stopped approximately 5 seconds later. The chappatis seemed to have a texture roughly between fabric and gum. Mom cleared up the chapatis and quicky cooked some idlis, telling us "See, we asked for a south-indian cook, it is our fault, asking him to make chapatis and what not". This faint hope carried us forward to the next day. Dad decided to be more adventurous, he told my mom "Ask that Gurumoorthy Iyer to make batchanams, deepavali is anyway nearing, let us not spend a lot on buying sweets from Krishna Sweets, he can cook everything for us".Mom looked doubtful but decided to enquire anyway. "Sweets? Sweets ellam enaku panna teriyadu. Can you cook some, then I can just follow your recipe and make some more! See, it is not right for me to lie, also one should not waste food". After lecturing us on the virtues of life, Gurumoorthy Iyer continued "See, naan 1924 born. I can grind maavu for days together if you want. Sweets and all I cannot make." Another cook found himself outside our house with Rs.500 for his day's work and a new saree for his daughter.

“I will adjust wherever I go, I was indispensable at Doctor ammas place, I cook with the right amounts of ingredients, I…” small stature, a small, slightly longish face - nondescript but for the distinctive round kumkum that adorned her forehead and sparkling diamond mookuthi that sat on her parrot-like nose – Krishnaveni had taken over the reigns now. It is surprising how someone so small had the energy to talk so much. Her voice filled the room and carried forward even outside the house, filling curious ears with interesting family titbits, that normally would have stayed inside our four walls. She was like an old slightly irritating tape recorder set that continued to sing old songs in a recursive loop until someone firmly pushed the stop button on it. “Maami, you have to tell me how you normally cook around here, because I will then cook accordingly. My daughter, panjavarnam, used to say ‘amma, how do you manage to cook so fast?’, have I told you about Panjavarnam….” And so, the monologue continued. I often gave mom a much needed and welcome relief by calling her out to some errand or the other and mom would sigh a weary sigh, tired from all the auditory input and mouth “thanks” to me. Krishnaveni’s skills at cooking turned out to be a pale shadow compared to her skills at talking and after a week of Sambhar without salt and curd that tasted like milk, she left back to join panjavarnam with a new saree that my mom gave her (her ears saying thanks to Krishnaveni, I suspect).

…and now peace reigns in our little home, appa and I silently eat mom’s cooking, without any complaints, infact, complimenting her more often than necessary, so that she wouldn’t insist that we bring in yet another specimen to cook in our home. Prabhamani, Gurumoorthy Iyer and Krishnaveni remain fond memories in our hearts, especially now that have left our home.

1 comment:

Prabu Karthik said...

your cook humor well too.
unlike your gurumoorthy iyer.
write stuffs like these more often.
i am bored with your philosphical stuffs and rainbow principles:-)
hey jus kidding...

its your blog.
i dont want to make it neyar viruppam.

i had some time to kill at the office(8 hrs to be precise) hence all these comments. please bear with me

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