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When The Maid Doesn't Turn Up


By Urbi Bhaduri

Even before waking up today morning, the name on my lips was Aroona.

While it is a nice enough name in itself, you may be wondering why it had to supplant the name of Ganesha. Today is Ganesh Chaturthi, after all. To clear the cloud of mystery, then, Aroona is our maid. And there was a dangerously high probability of her not turning up for work today. Hence all of this “will she, won’t she?” business.

Reluctantly popping my head around the bedroom door, I took a look at the sunny, silent kitchen, with all the dishes piled up, waiting to be washed. No use waiting for her any more. I am by no means an early bird, and it being hubby’s holiday, if he sleeps in, so do I. It was around 10am already. Aroona wasn’t showing up.

I smeared some Colgate Herbal on my toothbrush and eyed myself in the mirror. It was time for some pep talk. You can do it, I told myself. After all, it just means doing yesterday’s dishes. And making tea. And milk to boil. Making khichdi. Cutting some salad. Setting curd. Oh, forgot breakfast. Make toast, then. Defrost butter and apply on bread. And make another round of tea. Then serve lunch. And do the dishes again. No, no, stop. I wouldn’t have to do all this by myself. Hubby would pitch in, of course. But, feminist discourses withstanding (I was a staunch one), I knew myself too well. I was, after all, a woman in love. Even if he offered to help, I would pamper him. I would be atrociously gooey. I would say, “No honey, it’s your holi-day. You go ahead with your book.” I would find myself saying these things. And everyone knows how the spoken word is like an arrow in flight. Unretractable.

One has to make a start, so I took the two frozen milk packets out of the fridge, and put them to boil. On the other stove, I put water to boil for tea. I took out the pot of delicately flavoured Watermelon and Rose Jam, the bread and frozen butter. The milk looked white and placid, nowhere near boiling, so I comfortably turned my attention to the dishes. I swear it wasn’t a minute; I had just started working on the pasty white remnants in the rice pot, when I looked up and found the milk spilling over. There was no warning; one just has an instinct for these things. Milk has this totally subversive, totally maddening property – you continue staring at it, it sits still; the moment you look away, it starts fuming; you turn back, and voila! Half of it has already erupted out of the saucepan, and there’s a mess waiting to be cleaned up.

Hubby was at the table, immersed in his Times. I flopped down beside him, sipped my lukewarm tea, scrunched my toast, and reflected on the best battle strategies for the kitchen. There was leftover lauki, some aloo-moong sprouts sabji and some aloo parathe stuffing in the fridge. Oh, if only my mother were here! She had this talent for renovating and repackaging leftovers into unrecognizably new and yummy stuff. How many times had my dad been fooled into having yesterday’s baingan? And I, avowedly belonging to the anti-pumpkin league, hoodwinked into having just that, a day later? Mother, could you descend on me across the 1000 odd miles separating Bombay and Calcutta, and give me some tips on repackaging and recycling? 

Of course. Mere pass Ma toh hai. Why was I despairing?

I heated oil in a kadai. In that I put some sugar, browned it, added broken cinnamon and split cardamom. Then I put thinly sliced onion and grated ginger. I stirred till the onion took on that fabled golden yellow colour. Now it was time to toss in a handful of raisins. In a minute they would plump up in the oil, looking fat and prosperous. Then time for some chopped tomatoes. Stir and stir till they start blending in. then throw in all the leftovers and stir fast and furious, coating them in the fresh masala. Yum-yum. Then throw in some poppy seeds for a scrunchy feel. It was 11.30am and the first round of dishes, breakfast and one sabji was done. Phew.

I had spent very little of my adult life managing a kitchen. In fact, my experience in this field could be taken to start from zero. My mother had always given me time for myself, to study or write or do whatever it was I desired to. My expertise in the kitchen was restricted to a fancy (but delicious) and wonderfully easy meat pulao recipe taught to me by my Mughlai Khana specialist aunt, Kumkum-Pishi, and a chilli-chicken taught to me by my Chinese Cuisine specialist aunt Jaba-Pishi. I could also make omelettes, tea, coffee, and Maggi. Besides, at home in my spinster days, a dish could be ‘prepared’ by me, but it would actually be Mithu, our cook, who would prepare all the masala, grind and chop and grate, and either she or Mother would stand there watching over me as I released the masala in the hot oil. After marriage, hubby stepped in. I found I couldn’t make rice, dal, or an everyday sabji. I couldn’t peel vegetables. At the most I could chop with a knife, or use the grater. The ‘boti’ or traditional cutter with a curved scythe-like blade, used sitting on the floor, an intrinsic part of kitchens for ages, was out of the question. It was Hubby who taught me to how to drain the pulpy water from the rice. He taught me to use a peeler to de-skin stuff like potatoes and ginger. He pointed out that after soaking tea leaves in water, it needs to be swirled round before pouring so that the bitter juice can blend in properly. He has taught me a lot of things, to save his life and his own back :).

So, today, he is saving his back while I am thinking that maybe I can make a khichdi if I try.

 

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