Egg Curry for Smart Sulekhika
It is not so often that I get to demonstrate my culinary skills, but demonstrate is not the right verb to use when the person who is going to evaluate your work is like a tough, serious, finicky school teacher. At best one can get a rye smile or a light switch on the bums as a token of appreciation. The teacher I am alluding to is none other than my Smart companion, the Sulekhika in my art, as I would say by stealing Usha Suryamani’s phrase “Mani in my name” and rewording it to suit my narrative. She had a brief stint of being a teacher, twice. Once it was before our first marriage anniversary and the second time was when the revelation of her second pregnancy took her by surprise and put paid to her plans of being a teacher.
But before she could decide to disclose about it to the principle, our elder son showed his displeasure to me, when I went to pick him up after his school and told him that his mother had taken to teaching in another school. He kicked the dust with his boot with all his might and stamped the foot down again and said, “Meri Mummy Ma’am quon ban gayi hai?” He carried that foul mood all the way to her school and on seeing her coming out of the gate, ran and clung to her legs, beat her with his fists and cried. He was three years old then and it was difficult to know from him the cause of his dislike but it was somewhat deep set.
I do not remember if she was a tough teacher or not, but before she had a chance to demonstrate how demanding she could be, she had to quit. It was the month of March when she herself came to know of being in a family way and she could have continued past her probation, but she knew that it will be difficult for the school management to find a science teacher, in the last quarter of the year and the students will suffer, so she went and told the principal about her pregnancy and why she wanted to quit. She was employed to teach the tough subjects of Physics, Chemistry and Math to high school classes and feeling responsible for them she took this step much to the displeasure of her son.
She is a good cook and in the early days of our marriage she used to try some new recipes too. The main focus of her preparations was the sweets as she just can’t have the contentment if having had enough of those at any time of the day. Whatever be the dish under consideration, she is very particular about the method and of course the ingredients to use for its preparation. She is very particular about what utensil to use for cooking for which dish. To give you an example, let me tell you that every time she joined me in China or flew with me, a box full of utensils that included Kadais of various sizes and thickness, a tawa, chakla, belan, kadachhis and many pateelas and cookers followed by express baggage, air lifted to reach us ‘muy pronto’. You may call it a waste of money but where taste matters, waste is a non-issue. It is different that she even still can’t make a perfect chapati but without chakla and belan she won’t even attempt to role it. You may say that why she couldn’t use the Chinese Wok and pans or buy some new pans for her cooking instead of spending for air lifting them at a cost of ten times their price one way? But, well that’s what defines here definiteness. There are no two ways of doing things with her. It is her way all the way, and that’s the way I like it Aha! Aha!
Here in India, she does all the cooking except making chapatees and follows the strict code of procedure and the standard set of ingredients for every dish. I am not allowed to experiment. Neither I am allowed to speak before and nor can I dare to comment after having the preparation, immediately or later at any time. Because, I haven’t been given the chance of exhibiting my culinary skills, it has thus far remained in the realms of Sheikh chilli’s tales
Getting in to the kitchen for me is like intrusion by the Chinese in Dokilam or Daulat Beg Oldie; encounter is imminent. She looks at me like she looked at a small mice that came in through the meshed door at the entrance, that once accidentally was left partly open. But that was one off incident that has faded in my memory. The similes should be lucid. Let me try another one. Once in a while when, I venture or you may say have to go the kitchen for one reason or the other, her eyes follow me like they follow an occasional fly that merrily floats in. She has a newspaper folded many times over, for using it as a “fly swatter” and she keeps that tucked under the microwave oven. When I am in the kitchen, she instinctively reaches for it.
I don’t really know if it’s a warning, a threat or a habit, but the air in the kitchen becomes rapidly thick with probability of a surgical strike like that of Balakot had become after Pakistani misadventure in Pulwama. Like every fly has the sixth sense, I have the seventh one too. I finish the work fast or forget about it in confusion, which is also called “freeze in the tracks in English”, make a quick about turn and I retreat. After all it is not a predicament of choosing between “do and die” for me, it’s a certain death, I am accosted with, I argue with my mind and win over. My work in the kitchen is not very important, but intrusion for exhibiting my dare is important like for the Chinese army it is important to test the patience of the Indian army like for the rat it is important to come to the surface from time to time, while digging a burrow. Maybe, it is because of some contagion that I have acquired while staying in China and fortunately, it is not as virulent as the one they gifted to the world after eating some yucky prawns, but like retreat is the only option available to the Chinese, so it is with me and I give a faint or should I say feint smile and retreat.
On very rare occasions she tells me take care of the vegetables cooking on the oven, that she leaves on the burner as it isn’t ready yet, with specific instructions to turn the contents over from time to time. I always respond with a resounding ‘Yes’ but she doesn’t believe me and she keeps herself busy with errands, delaying her bath as she keeps reminding me of flipping the contents as multi-tasking is her elementary skill. From wherever she is, she keeps calling me to remind me of that blasted thing cooking on gas, disturbing my thought process. She can’t help it because her experience has shown her that the moment she forgets to remind me, I too forget to turn the contents over and they get over cooked on one side, lightly speaking but there is nothing light in it because they are dark, sometime stuck to the bottom and thus her mood gets darker too and she gives me a good yelling.
Life for a meticulous woman is very tough I tell you, but it is equally hard for her forgetful husband. We have trudged it well this far. The ride was rough, but our boat hasn’t hit the rocks, at least not yet. If a leak springs up occasionally as it does, we patch it up. I am hope full that it can’t rock any harder and the rest of the voyage can’t be more arduous.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with the title- Egg Curry for Smart Sulekhika, so let me come to the point, instead of beating about the bush.
Some days ago, she had to go out for some important work. She had finished her morning routines and when she was ready to go, she told me. “Chicken is lying in the fridge and I have boiled the eggs. You take some gravy from the chicken curry in the pan and have egg curry at lunch.” Her instructions were simple- Since, you haven’t had the egg in the morning, you have it in the afternoon and the process of making Egg curry is very simple. As Chicken Curry has a lot of gravy, I was supposed to scoop out some from the bowl of chicken curry lying in the fridge and warm it up in a pan, add some water to it and add the infernal egg to it and Lo! the egg curry will be ready. I was to have this and other vegetable and curd etc. The maid had come in between, cooked the chapatees, done her afternoon routines and gone. The Kitchen- all of it, belonged to me. It was like a Pakistani artist taking over a stage in India to give the much awaited performance. I brought the bowl of cooked chicken and took a ladle full of gravy out of it and put in the hot pan on the burner. It splattered and settled down. I added some water to it as it had already started sticking to the sides of the pan.
Then I added one boiled egg to it. Maybe, because the water that I had added to the gravy was more than what I should have added, the gravy looked watery to me and none of it was sticking to the egg. I decided to cut the egg neatly with the knife as it lay in the hot pan, but it slipped and I ended up cutting it in to some awkward pieces like the bingo tedhe-medhe chips. The gravy started getting thicker though because the yolk had crumbled. I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome like a gourmet never is, so I cut the other egg in to quadrants outside and added that too to the gravy. Somehow, I wasn’t happy with the yolk floating like sand lumps in the gravy and the crumbs of egg white of all shapes and sizes were now rising up and sinking down, as if teasing me to try chopping them further, in the concoction that was now boiling.
The whole thing looked like a coloured alphabet soup, but that will be an understatement. It looked that a child’s Primer fashioned out of eggs and dough, with all its alphabets and pictures had been sunk in the chicken curry scooped out of the bowl, or to be more closer in describing about how it was, it rather looked as if the eggs had exploded in the gravy. Somehow the whole thing was not how, I had had it in the past, but I was not yet done with my experimentation. So, I held the ladle and realized that the grip had firmed up as the resolve to make my preparation look presentable steeled in me. With it’s backside, I started pinning the bigger pieces of egg yolk down and crushing them. They were slippery and the backside of the ladle was round, so they were mostly getting away, like my thoughts at the anvil of my skill, because of the limitations of my vocabulary and mastery over the alien language. I carried on with the tough task I had taken upon me, with determination of getting the result which was impossible. After about five minutes, the whole thing looked like a ‘dal’ preparation.
I took a portion of it in a smaller pan and decided to add a piece of chicken to it. That was all I could do to make it acceptable to me myself for having what was supposed to be “Egg Curry”. When I had it, I was surprised to find it delicious and was happy that Smart Sulekhika will be thrilled to find a new recipe, experimented to a perfection by her innovative husband. I had my lunch and lied on the sofa, with my phone and the blanket and slowly drifted in to a soothing siesta. I woke up to open the door when ma’am rang the bell and almost instantly went back to sleep. I was jolted by a piercing scream after an uncertain length of time. “Mera anda kahan hai”? Where is my egg (that was for me)? From under the blanket, I said, “It’s in the gravy.”
“I can’t find it”, she said.
“Of course, you can’t see it, because I have crushed it.”
“Why have you done it to my egg?”
“Because the whole thing it was looking watery an unpalatable to me and in any case one has to break the egg for eating it”, I reasoned.
She didn’t try to disturb me in my slumber any further, perhaps thinking that there might not be another explosion.
I stealthily saw, by slipping the edge of the blanket a little down that she was silently having her lunch. There wasn’t an expression of delight on her face, but she didn’t look sorrowful either.
I was happy to have given her a new recipe. She hadn’t got over her shock till the evening. When I was sitting with my laptop, putting down my thoughts, she decided to do some plain speaking to me. She said, “ Next time, don’t touch my share of egg(s), just spare them the onslaught of your experiments. Hmmm…I said, skip it if you don’t believe me.
Next day, during one of my daily violations of LAC, as I sneaked in to the kitchen on some pretext, I saw some boiled eggs, lying in a plate. Her sister had fallen down and broken her wrist and that was the reason, why she had to go again and risk leaving the kitchen to me for giving me to experiment with my culinary skills. After she was ready, she came dangerously close to me and said, “I have boiled the eggs. Take out the portion you want to eat from “Palak” which is ready and add ‘one’ egg to it. Do whatever you want to do with your share, but “Don’t touch my eggs”. I said, if I have heard it once, I have heard it a thousand times, to silence her. Could it be the first time, when I had the last say, I wondered when she said, I know, but you are hard of hearing, so I have said it again..and that was a parthian shot.
Note:- ( All pictures are from internet and produced here for representation purposes. I have no rights on them)
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