I lift my head from the last page of a novel I am done reading. I am startled by how dark it is. I switch the lights on and put a pot of water to boil. Even as the water hums and sizzles, I slide the grated ginger into it and turn the heat down. I wash and soak rice and lentils for dinner and eye the boiling water before scooping leaf tea into it.
Basic prep work done, I sit with my laptop and a cup of steaming tea. I sip the tea and murmur with appreciation as the ginger works its magic. I lean back and let the thoughts that have been on the back burner since morning come flooding in.
“When I grow up, I want to be just like you”. Ammu clings to my midsection as she makes this pronouncement. I am surprised and a little delighted. Even I as begin to ask her what she means, she continues. “I want to cook like you.”
I bend down, tousle her hair and assure her that she will be better than me. Another hug and she runs off to play with her sister. In the midst of feeling happy, I feel a frisson of annoyance snake through my head.
“Is that all I seem to my children? A cook?”
I forget the conversation till it come back as I make tea in the evening. I do slave over the stove. If anything, I am patient. And particular. I wait for the oil to heat to the right temperature before I slide the seasoning in. I strive for the right color, the correct crispness.
But why does that make me defensive? I dig into my psyche. Growing up, I prided myself on not knowing how to cook. Cooking represented bondage. It represented everything I did not want to be. These views spilled into my married life. I traded and bargained for days to eat out. I tried to strive for equality by ensuring Saathi participated in the making of the food. Over the years, I made peace with my role in the kitchen occasionally taking pride in what I made.
Then the twins came along and feeding became more of a ritual. Of bonding with the children whom I had made mine. It served as a conduit for love. When my children were fed and happy, all was well with my world. Cooking became more of a primal need.
So, as the darkness falls and it is time for Ammu and Pattu to be back home, I have dinner ready.