The pressure cooker whistled with a sharp noise akin to a jet of water running amok. Its sharpness pierced the pervading stillness in the kitchen. Tiny, hot vapours trickled down like sweat from the brow of a blacksmith at work. The fire underneath swayed gently cradling it with heat and luminosity.
On the other stove, deep red kidney beans simmered in rich gravy of wholesome goodness and exotic spices. With every explosion of the fragile gravy bubbles, the kidney beans became more tender and succulent. Its skin peeled off and floated on the gravy like withered leaves on a cold winter night.
An appetizing and delectable aroma lingered in the kitchen. The invisible flavours and essence cloaked the atmosphere in a delicious and savoury blanket. Every nook and corner seemed to fill with signs of heavy indulgence.
Near the kitchen window a pair of hands kneaded the dough deftly. With every grind, flour covered her skin like a pair of white gloves. The activity was bereft of any sense of urgency. In fact, every time her hands landed on the flour, she gently trailed her fingers in it, feeling its smoothness before resuming.
The sun outside only brightened her smile like a bejewelled crown. Its bright sunrays spread across the kitchen and lit up the surroundings. It lent a brilliant, dazzling energy to the ongoing activity inside. The already plump tomato glowed beautifully under its influence. The fleshy cabbage leaves rejuvenated from its warm touch.
Life couldn’t be more gratifying and blissful for Taniya as it was now. Her heart and soul resided in one place; her kitchen. It was a haven for her, a retreat from all the unpleasant things that life has to offer. For her, every inch of this ambrosial sanctum brought inner peace and happiness. The thing that delighted her the most was the marvellous touch of every vegetable, fruit, spice or herb she felt against her skin. The different flavours, texture and aroma seemed to communicate an interesting language of its own. Whenever she felt mortified, this paradise filled her senses with freshness and renewed vigour.
Cooking did not come naturally to Taniya. It was the repercussion of mentally harrowing and tormenting string of events. Her parents’ violent quarrels and cold silence had only pushed her closer to solitude. She shared the house with silence and her parents; the latter were oblivious to her presence. Hence, she befriended silence. Her parents neither had the time nor the energy to turn their attention to her because they spent all their time fighting with each other.
Initially, she succumbed to deep loss and estrangement. With doleful eyes, she spent long hours staring out of her window, in search of happy faces. But whenever she saw a child of her age playfully enjoying with his parents, she crumpled further with agony and unhappiness. Gradually she resigned to her forlorn existence.
One afternoon she was alone in the house as it was summer break. After engaging in heated arguments, her parents had left for the local market to buy household items. Taniya walked into the kitchen for a glass of water when something caught her attention. It was a bright yellow powdery substance dropped on the kitchen slab near the refrigerator. After touching it with her index finger, she also smelt it. When unable to discern anything, she simply made two dots for eyes and a smile with it and left.
When the maid came for cleaning that evening, Taniya rushed to her to ask about the yellow powder. Curiosity was killing her but she was too scared to ask her mother about it. The maid was simply amazed by her inquisitiveness regarding the turmeric powder. She happily told Taniya about the importance of this ingredient in cooking that also carried medicinal properties.
From that day onwards, Taniya started spending time in the kitchen with the maid whenever she cooked. Gradually it became a daily ritual for her without her knowledge. It was the most wonderful time of the day for her, completely shut from the constant fighting and discontent corroding every corner of the house. She closely followed every movement of her maid, careful not to miss anything that takes place in the making of good food. Taniya clandestinely also started pouring over her mother’s recipe books that lay in a neat stack in her room.
Whenever her parents went out, the maid was called in to take care of Taniya. From an accomplice to a confidant, the maid accompanied Taniya in every cooking endeavour. Things started on a dismal note with small cuts and even very minor burns that her parents always successfully failed to notice. Taniya learnt, failed and succeeded under her maid’s supervision. They didn’t just cook food but also brewed a gentle and loving relationship with each other.
Her first tryst with cooking was at the age of eleven. The half cooked and slightly insipid dal that she had made with small, quivering hands was vivid in her memory. For any other parent it would have been a joyous moment of astonishment and wonder. But not for Taniya’s parents. She wasn’t rewarded with praise and appreciation. Instead beating and punishment made its way as she had acted in an irresponsible manner by wasting food.
This incident did not deter her spirit or enthusiasm. On the other hand, she became more resolute in her belief that cooking was her true calling. She desperately started wishing for her parents to be out for long hours; to be left alone in her happy abode.
Seven years have passed and things haven’t changed for good as Taniya’s parents are now contemplating divorce. But Taniya isn’t the same anymore. She has emerged like a free bird from the shell and cocoon of solitude that once confined her.
Her eyes are no longer sad and empty. It sparkles with a new found dream. The dream of becoming the greatest chef the world has ever known. Today she took the first step in the direction of realizing her dream.