Cooking is not a hobby, it is a life skill as important as the skill of problem-solving or making friends. Till the time my mother left all of us (we were in Guwahati) for a month to visit her sister in Imphal who had lost her husband, mama did all the cooking. Tea, breakfast, lunch, dessert, evening tea and snacks, dinner, picnics, school dabbas, special cooking when guests came over, even the pickles, papad, jam and other preserved food — just about everything we ate and relished was prepared by my mother.
I was in Class 9, about 15 years old, when my elder brother, a first-year undergraduate student in Cotton College, Guwahati, and my sister, a BE student in the National Institute of Technology in Silchar, Assam, were studying and not staying with us those days. This was well ahead of mobile phones and the ‘google’ era.
All of a sudden, I was the unsaid ‘in-charge’ of the kitchen, though I don’t recollect if I took on the role on my own because it was a woman’s role to cook or because the only people who were there in the house either did not cook or had busy schedules. My school was closed for summer holidays, but my elder brother would go to college early morning and return in the evening, and dad had a military routine. We would see very little of him unless it was a Sunday.
The responsibility that comes from cooking dawned on us when other people’s meals, nutrition and health started to depend on us (that is the bigger part about cooking, more than the taste or recipe). I remember vividly even till this day, walking into our kitchen and looking at the pots and pans, and the pantry, and wondering where to start from as I was armed with very little experience of doing chai, bread-butter-jam, omelette and potato wedges, standing with my childhood friend Jinoo Mann. That was fun as it was not obligatory, but this was sheer hard work.
The good thing that worked in my favour was having had a role model like my mother and also the fact that she had never been strict or restrictive towards us fiddling around in the kitchen or any part of the house. She was a liberal mother and I was confident only because I had been in the kitchen on umpteenth occasions and had the opportunity to explore. I knew the utensils, I knew the use of knife and the basics of oil, salt and sugar. It also helped that my dad was not a fussy eater and my brother was very supportive and encouraging. I just used my logic and engaged in trial-and-errors and readjustments. From these experiences, I put some wholesome meals on the table for my family.
My mum’s return got delayed by two more weeks but by then, I was completely at ease with the idea of cooking for the three of us. My elder brother’s college friends even came home once to try my chicken chowmein, because my brother had told them my chowmein was really good. When my school reopened, we were to write an essay on how we spent our school summer holidays, and I had so much to share that the word limit seemed way too less for my adventures.
When mum returned, she told me she was proud of me for looking after the family (in eating) in her absence. In just a few weeks, I had transitioned from having been reliant on others into someone capable of looking after others. I hope you will never see cooking as a waste of time nor be reluctant to either learn or teach to your family and loved ones.
I hope you will underestimate someone who cooks for you. I hope you never grow tired of cooking or view it as a futile exercise not worthy of engaging in. If God had been thinking about just our survival, then we could have lived on an intravenous fluid intake too! But we have such a vast variety of food in this world that draws me to believe that we were meant to enjoy food. So, a person who can cook a delicious, attractive, healthy and nutritious meal is God’s gift in your life.