With longing eyes,
I look deep within -
Sifting the dark layers,
Clouding my memory –
Of who I am –
And what I wanted to be.
With longing eyes,
I look deep within -
Sifting the dark layers,
Clouding my memory –
Of who I am –
And what I wanted to be.
She sat in the tranquility of her cheerful garden, feeling the freshness surrounding her. The sun was shining brightly overhead but lent warmth that is sometimes missing even in the company of loved ones. The heat wasn’t scorching at all unlike some relationships that torch your existence with its bitterness, leaving you scarred for life.
Her face lit up with the sun. But it glowed with a difference. It was akin to a canvas splashed with colours of distress and pain. Red, black and brown marks decorated her face.
The sun gleamed like hope. She desperately wanted to hold on to it. But darkness was looming around, the animal waiting to prey on her. She knew that as soon as the sun would set, the devil in him would be let loose to destroy her.
When the world rules you,
Making you feel like a pawn,
You never quit –
Hoping there will be break of a new dawn.
If you care what others think,
You’ll get claustrophobic and sink.
Down and down you’ll go,
Fall into a pit of self-doubt and feel low.
Once down, it’s difficult to rise,
To free yourself from the chains of distress;
That will foil every attempt,
To stand up again and protest.
You can’t change what people think,
Like a glass half full or half empty,
Refuse to give those views any authority.
And use your time more wisely.
If you let these vermin in,
They will kill you slowly from within.
What helps them to grow and multiply?
The steady fall in your confidence every time.
Make these rot at the very source;
With a beautiful smile like a roar –
So loud and so powerful,
Fill your soul with the echo of a hearty laughter.
Taniya was brimming with joy and every passing second stimulated her excitement and anxiety.
Her teachers and even her neighbours always spoke of her as a reticent and quiet girl with a palate for great taste. When girls of her age were busy decorating their face with cakes of makeup, Taniya devoted her time to finding the right dressing for salad. While her classmates were busy listing down the names of top colleges for graduation, she learnt the art of blending the right ingredients with dexterity. She wasn’t good friends with anyone in school. She was distant and unapproachable in many ways yet she greeted people with her positive aura, making her adorable.
Over the years, her parents grew more grim and her inclination towards cooking only irked them. Both blamed the other for Taniya’s failing aspirations, as she didn’t want to become a doctor or an engineer like her schoolmates. Instead of talking to Taniya and understanding the reason behind her decision to become a chef, her parents snarled at each other like wild animals.
No matter what she cooked, she always failed to please her parents. They weren’t able to accept her culinary skill and looked down upon her contemptuously as if she was a disgrace to the family.
The lack of support from her parents hurt her sometimes but she wasn’t willing to give up. She started with friendly aunties in her neighbourhood who always looked at her with pitiful eyes and invited her lovingly. Going to their house for getting her dish tasted or exchanging interesting recipes became a usual affair much to her parents dislike. Then she graduated to the next level when she occasionally started taking her dishes to school. All her teachers not only showered their praises upon her, applauding her efforts but also gave their honest feedback to help her improve.
Even in the midst of all the different faces who had helped her reach this far, there was one face that would always be etched vividly in her memory. Sheela, Taniya’s maid had been her pillar of strength when her parents had shunned her. Sheela had been instrumental in crafting her skill to achieve perfection. She could already see the making of a great chef in Taniya.
The importance of this day couldn’t be denied but Taniya looked calm and composed. Ready to take on the challenge and win hearts with an assortment of delicious offerings.
The cooking contest, The Great Culinary Artist, a local community event was set to start in the evening in the committee hall. It was being organised for the first time but was nonetheless important for Taniya as she had never participated in any competition before, not even in school.
While others were making offerings to their respective gods to win the contest with thundering applause, Taniya retired to her kitchen to pay her honest reverence. What could be more soothing and appeasing than the vibrant and indulgent confines of her kitchen! The rich and flavourful aroma suspended in its air embraced Taniya with a mysteriously sensitive touch. She felt confident and overjoyed.
The rules of the contest were very simple. Every participant would be given a surprise basket of food items to cook. Within a time frame of one hour, the contestants were required to prove their mettle in the culinary realm. The winner would get a cash price of five thousand rupees and a small, glistening ladle shaped trophy.
Taniya’s parents were out to meet Mr. Sharma, her father’s colleague. They would be late and had subtly implied that they won’t be able to attend the contest. It was no surprise for Taniya and she had least expected them to show any enthusiasm or support. She was happy to have Sheela’s company just like old times.
The clock struck five and Taniya heard violent groaning in the living room. She rushed out of the kitchen to find Sheela lying on the floor seizing her chest with one hand and flapping the other on the floor. Taniya hurried to her neighbour’s house and Sheela was immediately taken to the hospital.
The doctor said that it was a minor stroke but she would be kept under observation for one day. It was already six o’ clock. Taniya was late by half hour and there was no way she could participate in the contest.
Tears welled up in her eyes and she collapsed on a metallic chair. She buried her face in her trembling hands and wept silently.
Then something happened and she looked up with firm eyes. She wiped her tears and said, “Tomorrow is a new day. I will try again. I will fulfil my dream one day.”
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.