Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Slow Simmer…. when perfectly matched ingredients come together... valentine special

This Valentine’s Day, Shekhar and I will have been together for 17 years. We have been married for fourteen-ish of those. Last Sunday, we hosted a special Couples Cooking class for the 4th year in a row. Ironically, this came after a week that was crazy for us, as never before. For the first time in all the years we have been together, we both felt stretched to within an inch of forbearance on all fronts….

Putting our best foot forward on Sunday was a little difficult but as the six couples joining us to cook together arrived at the studio, I found and Shekhar and me loosening up and getting into the groove… I remember joking that Shekhar and I loved cooking together and wanted to introduce them to it because we had found that when you have been together for so long, sitting across a table over a candlelight dinner is the most boring activity EVER. I was gratified at the end of that Sunday day all of them unanimously agreed that it was the most fun they had ever had together, but I was only half joking about the romantic dinner bit.

When a couple juggles so much – and most couples in Mumbai do, mooning into each other’s eyes is the last thing one wants to do when there is a block of time. I don’t mean to sound cynical, Shekhar and I do enjoy the occasional ‘date’ but it is usually for lunch (when we have babysitters) in our most comfortable (read unflattering) clothes and more as two friends taking time out to enjoy things we both love, food, a good movie than for romantic timeout… Of course we LOVE to cook together. Now that is something we do together really often. But it took us the better part of 17 years to reach this synchrony.
At the soft launch of APB Cook Studio

After class, Shekhar left to go home to the kids and I followed after winding up the studio for the day. I reached home to find him making Natasha finish homework. Exhausted from the day we shared a chaotic quick dinner; spicy sausage pasta I had tossed up and some ciabatta he had made with Aman, our little gourmand (in EVERY sense of the word) hovering between us demanding bites and Natasha singing “do you want to build a snowman” for the 1000th time

I remember thinking then amidst the chaos, that this was home. This is why people get married; not for social approval, sex or financial trappings, but to build a home. Not of walls, a roof or floors but a structure nonetheless, one that withstands storm, fire, fury and time; a home for souls to come home to, to hold and to hug, to keep worries and turbulences of life at bay. You know that saying – “tough times don’t last, tough people do”… its true… I realised that nothing is as bad as we make it. And bad times pass.

I will leave you with this extract on us that did not get into my book. I wrote this 3 years ago but found myself coming back to it today...

Making sure I am ok in a particularly stressfull event.
There is more valentine’s day chatter all around me this year than ever before and I wanted to share with young lovers - that romance isn’t about the hearts and flowers, expensive meals and gifts… it IS about finding a friend, a best friend who will support you through everything, be your lover, your anchor and your inspiration but also that person you can talk to and laugh with when the passion is muted by life and time and you have only one another... so don’t let the noise fool you…

Made for Each Other

14 years ago, give or take a few months, on an August morning in Hyderabad, Shekhar walked into my life. Irreverently dressed in a banyan and carrying a guitar. A GUITAR! How could I NOT have noticed him? It was a while before we even talked, but I noticed him again and again all day that day as I settled into my new life at the animation institute I had joined. Over the following months, we talked (or rather I talked and he listened), and we became friends. Living on campus, we were soon dining together and our relationship grew into that indefinable stage between just friendship and a steady (but uncategorised) relationship.

One day, I caught myself feeling gratified when he picked up something he liked from my plate. I mentally rebuked myself for being so silly but realised that I had been feeling like that every time I stole a papad (we only got one) from his plate. There are profound differences among communities in India but one thing is universal. The sanctity of one’s plate and the concept of ‘Jutha’. Jutha is hard to explain. The word that comes closest to it in English is ‘defiled’ but even that falls short of the true meaning. Jutha means that everything within the rim of one’s plate is kosher for that person, but jutha for anybody else. It is considered extremely rude and unhygienic to offer someone your ‘jutha’, something from your plate, or something you have taken a bite out of.

So my straying into Shekhar’s plate, and him allowing me to, was a sort of blurring of the lines of propriety between two people of the opposite sex. The semantics of our relationship were slowly changing and our eating habits were reflecting this change. And finally we went from picking food from one another’s plates to sharing a plate. We drank from the same glasses, tasted food from each other’s spoons and occasionally fed each other by hand. We took pleasure in doing little things for each other. One sultry summer evening in April he asked me to ‘go steady’ (for want of a better phrase), under a canopy of stars. The following week was the only week in my life I barely ate. I was just so excited that nothing mattered except being with him.

A year later we moved back to Mumbai to carve a future for ourselves. One that looked almost impossible, sometimes. As backgrounds went, we came from vastly different families. Everyone thought I was making a mistake and HAD to let me know! Family, friends, the corner grocer, my beautician, EVERYBODY was into the ‘enlighten Rushina’ movement. Their trump card... ‘’You don’t even know how to even cook, how are you going to run your house?’’
They didn’t know that at the table, Shekhar and I had understood each other a long time ago. We were complete opposites in our food choices. He liked tea, I liked coffee, he tripped on Indian sweets, I loved handmade chocolate. He didn’t like chicken, I did. When we ate out, he’d want Indian and I’d want Chinese. But by the time we left Hyderabad, dinner out meant making a long journey to Reshmi Dhaba in Secunderabad for our favourite meal of chunky ginger spiked Hot and Sour soup (for me) and succulent Tandoori chicken (for him). And in Mumbai, on the frugal income we had in those days, the food we ate was never fancy but if we were together, even a Frankie tasted better, the amchur tangier, the chillies spicier, accentuated by the infinite awareness of each other.

That year Shekhar also passed the ‘will stay by your side through everything test’ after surviving my early attempts at cooking! Untrained in the kitchen, I first learned to cook simple meals of dal and rice from him in the little kitchen his rented apartment had. And then unleashed my creativity in his kitchen (a far cry from what it means for the Rushina of today to get creative in the kitchen).

Like the time I ruined Polenta in an attempt to recreate the flavours of Italy on my return from a holiday there. You can imagine how bad it must have been by the fact that my husband still gags at the very mention of Polenta! Or the time I thought I was doing something really brilliant by making Chilli con Carne with the South African Biltong Mom brought back from one of her trips. All I did was substitute the beans with chickpeas, eliminate the wine and use Biltong (which is dried meat jerky) instead of meat. Yep, that’s all I did, HONEST.

So I am convinced that animated heart shapes flew out of my eyes the day he proposed marriage to me. (Especially after my Biltong mess was summarily flushed down the loo.) Over the next few months, many hurdles were overcome, our families came together and the date arrived. The next 10 days went by in a whirl of meeting a huge extended family and before we knew it we were headed back to a life as husband and wife in our new apartment in Mumbai.  Shekhar left for work the very next morning and I embraced my new life with a vengeance.

I now had my own kitchen! The first thing I did was to stock the kitchen with provisions. Only thing was that coming from a big family of 20, I didn’t know how to do anything in small quantities and ordered enough groceries to last six months! I had stuff falling on my head for weeks afterwards! But I savoured the experience of unwrapping all my new Tupperware boxes, filling them to the brim with staples and stacking all the blue lidded boxes neatly in rows in the kitchen cupboards. When I was done, I found I had little handfuls of various pulses and lentils leftover. On a whim, I decided to make Dal Kebabs as a special dinner that night. Entirely from my imagination! Thankfully they turned out well and the first dinner I made for my husband was a success. I cannot believe how cheesy I was!  
That day, my indulged childhood ended, I had crossed a threshold into my grown up life. As long as I was single, I never thought about my meals. Living in a large joint family, I was simply required to be present at mealtimes, choose what appealed to me and eat. Now the responsibility for meals, the RDBS I had once groaned over, became mine. Those first months were an adventure as I juggled, running a kitchen, a two hour commute to work and back across town daily and managing a house.

Shekhar has survived the kitchen disasters of my early married years, when I went from cooking occasionally for a family of 20 to cooking daily for 2. That week of the Purple Pasta - NEVER EVER add red cabbage to anything unless you want purple results - and not terribly royal ones either! And the Cheese Pebble Cookies that turned out hard as rocks, and the Thai Curry that burnt our innards so bad we had to eat yoghurt for a week! He survived my ‘one - dish wonder’ years – when I became EXTREMELY proficient at cooking meals that required just one bowl to cook and serve in (it meant less dishes to wash at the end of the long days we both had). And my Thai high, the phase in my life when I was so obsessed with Thai that I cooked it EVERY week.

Making pasta with Aman a few years ago.
He loves my cooking and makes no bones about it. He spends weekends and most weekday mornings, baking up delicious stuff for us, thereby ensuring I don’t look bad as a Mom because I am bread challenged. On Pizza nights he does the bases and I do the sauce; when we do wraps, he will make the wraps and I do the fillings; he makes fab dosas and I do my devilish sambhar. He will refuse to eat Italian outside because he says I cook it the best. Its taken us the better part of 17 years to reach where we are in the kitchen. 
The best dishes are the slow simmered one....


Anonymous said...

what a lovely post. Happy anniversary to you and shekhar and wishing you both many more wonderful years together!

Shanti said...

This is one of the most beautiful love stories ive ever read or heard! God bless u both and may you'll have many many years of a blessed and happy married life. ♥

Renita said...

So beautifully written Rushina!

sangeeta said...

Such a lovely story to read when it is raining here in Delhi :-)
One that makes one feel good, believe in love and stay loved and blessed.