These days, along with writing my research and the runs that manage to get packed in between, one of the courses that I have been running pretty regularly is that of cooking and baking. I must say that I have baked a lot, lot more in the week passed by and I have enjoyed every bit of the experience, the excitement, the curiosity, the madness and above all, the generous helpings of my instinct in figuring out proportions and combinations. Last evening, I mentioned on facebook that I was watching the alchemy of cinnamon+apple and ginger+orange when doing the pie and cake dough respectively. I labelled my emotions of anxiety, curiosity, excitement, wonder, etc etc in the wall post, explaining that this is all the feelings I felt as I watched the combinations brew and work. In retrospect, I realized that the alchemy was not just about the apple+cinnamon and ginger+orange combinations, but that my emotions and feelings were all part of the alchemy and the final outcome.
Years ago, someone I met in my first visit to South Africa used to sign her emails with a saying by the Dalai Lama – “approach love and cooking with reckless abandon”. I am still not sure whether I understand what this saying means. All I can grasp from it that whatever you do, give it your utmost love and try not to care what the outcome will be – invest your love in the process! I guess this is what happens when I cook – I end up giving it my all that I hold in myself when I chop, knead, combine things, stir, mix and add ingredients. Often, I consciously invest my feelings into what I am making with the hope that the final outcome will satisfy those who will eat and that it may make them as much happy as the joy I have felt in preparing and serving. Sometimes, my own curiosity and that wondrous, child-like happiness and magic get rubbed into the things I cook and prepare and that all shows in the final outcome and in the happiness that those who eat experience!
I have thought about cooking and baking all along this week, as much I have thought of politics, e-governance and governments 😉 My thoughts about cooking have largely been around the issue of why cooking is such a de-stressing and wondrous experience. I feel this immense sense of calm, patience and stillness when I am cooking. I don’t know what brings about these feelings, but it is this magic about the process of cooking that just makes me want to do it more, and more, and more! When I am stuck in the middle of a bad writing phase, all I have done is to cook and cook and cook! When I have been troubled by a bad day, cooking a simple meal or a hearty soup at the end of the day makes me feel so earthed and wonderful for those few moments.
Earthiness – I have been through phases of bad cooking while growing up as a girl. Initially, I watched my mother cook and followed her instructions. After I graduated from college, I never cooked at all. When mom fell ill and it was time for me to take over the kitchen, I was a horrid cook and I remained horrid for five years thereafter. But I always dreamt of the fact that if I had my own kitchen, I would be good enough. When I moved to Bangalore in 2006, I started cooking for myself because my health did not permit me to eat outside food. Back in 2005 when I came down with a bout of candida, my stay in a nature cure hospital for 18 days brought it down on me that foods can heal and what we eat fundamentally affects not only our constitution, but also our souls and minds. From then on, I was interested in healthy cooking and experimenting with organic foods and grains. In 2006, when I initially started cooking, my culinary outcomes were based on my memory of what my mother and my sister had taught me. I must say that my younger sister is a fantastic cook and I cannot even think of matching up to her when it comes to hearty Indian foods. Whatever I learnt from these two women in my life, I emulated and repeated for some time. Then, as my interest in cooking continued to grow, I would call and ask my mother for more complex recipes. I’d look through some recipe books. I would think up of combinations and vegetables that I instinctively felt might work with each other. At one time, I would tell my then programmer boyfriend (now my huzzband) that if programming was about logic and instinct, the same applies to cooking too. I guess partly his presence in my life made me a good cook because in addition to feeding myself, I was also cooking for him regularly. The look of satisfaction on his face after a good meal would make me happier and make me want to cook more.
I guess there are different things that each one of us does to feel a sense of peace, calm, stillness and earthed-ness. For me, this space is provided by cooking – how and why, I don’t know and I don’t even want to know. I am happy to thrive on curiosity and wondrousness that is the essence of good cooking.
Baking is a new experience for me. I once read Randhir Khare’s book on the Dang tribes. Khare’s experience of living with the Dangs taught him that the most fundamental skill for survival is knowing how to hunt your own food. At some point, I either came across this saying or I learnt it from someone that baking is one of more supreme and fundamental acts of self-reliance and love. I believe that if you know how to bake your own bread, there is no greater joy than this (perhaps the greatest joy lies in watching a child play or the smile on a child’s face). I began baking by reading some tips and several recipes and finally taking what I felt good from different ones and coming up with my own concoctions. I guess here again, the wondrousness of experimentation and putting things together is what makes baking such a fun and lovely thing to do. I goof up fairly often, but even then, the curiosity gets the better of me and puts everything else behind! When you knead the dough you have prepared, when you get your baking dish ready, when you watch your efforts rise in the baking dish in the oven, it is a tremendous feeling of being connected with life around you. I cannot even describe that feeling in words. All I can say is that if life is about living all the full experiences, cooking is one such full and fulfilling experience! And nothing can make you feel more earthed than a wonderful dish cooked with the most basic and simple ingredients! That food does magic for your soul!
On earthed-ness and rooted-ness, I want to talk about my grand-mamma who passed away a little more than two weeks ago. Even now, when I remember her face as I put down these words, I can’t help but feel that I have lost someone really precious. My grand-mamma – mother’s mother – brought me up along with my mother’s other siblings from age zero until age four. I lived in my grandparents’ house with my uncles and aunts, watching their fashions, styles, Bruce Lee, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Grammy Awards, Misha (the Russian magazine) and many other memorables things.
My grand-mamma was a short, sturdy woman, managing a full house by herself. She also managed a husband – my grandfather – who had his peppery temperament. She shielded me from his anger and wrath when he would lose his patience with me (then a kid) at times. She prepared our foods, grandfather’s bill books, ran the water pump first thing in the morning so that everyone would have water to drink and bathe with. She would attend to most of our needs and yet, she remained her social self, keeping in touch with all her relatives, taking me to the prayer house with her regularly where she would pray and meet other women to gossip and keep contact. She was the memory for my grandfather when he would lose count of his pipes, paint boxes, washers, tap pieces, etc. She kept contact with her extended family and ensured that we interacted with them equally. She was responsible for all my experiences of Bombay as a city. Regularly, she would make sure that my grandfather and she would take me to Marine Drive, Apollo Bunder, Chowpatty and every other place to watch lighting, ride on horses, eat street-side food and basically, have all those experiences which make a child happy, fulfilled and eager to grow up! My grand-mamma was all this and much, much more!
She was really the heart and soul of our family, a woman with her own perfections and imperfections. If relationships are about love as well as politics, my grand-mamma was the first person in my life with who I learnt love as well as politics with one’s own! Even as I write these things about her, I can’t help but that full feeling in my throat and moistness in my eyes. How much I miss her and how much I will always miss her! I am grateful to her for bringing me up in our mohalla in Dongri where not only did I learn about relationships within the family, but also the importance of relationships outside – with neighbours, with the milkman and the owner of the bread shop, with people who work with you and for you, with one, all and sundry!
My grandmother succumbed to a series of complications that developed after a surgery that was performed on the knee cap of her right leg. It appears that the doctors were careless during the surgery and that caused anti-bodies to grow and multiply in grand-mamma’s body. Eventually, her organs and senses began to fail and she went downhill into depression of both body and mind. I wish she were more hardy and sturdy in the face of this adversity, but I guess when your time has come, you just have to go! I will be running a 21k half marathon in Pune in December this year. I want to dedicate this run to my grand-mamma whose knee cap surgery took place in Pune – I hope my knee caps stick on till I die!
When I talk of earthy feelings, my personality and earthed-ness are as much attributable to my grand-mamma as to many, many other people and experiences in my life. I have only feelings of immense gratitude towards her, my granddad, my parents and my extended family for giving me such a full experience of life and important lessons in humility, humanity and politics.
These words, the feelings contained in them, and much much more to my grand-mamma Daulat khannum. She was perfect when she made biryani and our local delicacy with meat, veggies and pulses. She was a horrible cook otherwise, someone whose food would cause even George Bush to give up his Presidential position if he ever ate it. And with all your perfections and imperfections, Daulat khannum, I shall always miss you. You are my living memory for life!