“Maa, pass me the sauce!”
“That’s too much, go easy with the cheese, beta.”
“That’s what makes it tasty!”
“It will make you constipated if you’re not careful,” she laughs.
For all of my childhood, I remember making every delicious delicacy with my mother in our black marble-slabbed kitchen, which always made it difficult to clean up the spilt ingredients since they were so difficult to see. Maa and I had thought of making every dish mentioned in our grandmother’s cookbook, which had been passed down through generations. Cooking together in the kitchen says, in simultaneous seclusion and connection, your heartfelt love for the other – that which makes you gently pour the food in a bowl, stir it with a spoon and place it, ready to be enjoyed at the mouth of the one you love. To feed and be fed – what can be more intimate than nourishment?
When I was growing up, there was no question of the abundance of love I received from my family at the dinner table. We gathered on weekends, eight or more of us, somehow cramming into our dining area to have lunch together, with every Bengali delicacy you have heard of and listen to our father grumble about how the country is going to the dogs (though this never seemed to upset him enough to not have payesh later). It was here, in this moving and chaotic atmosphere, that I learned the language of love that is so softly embedded in food. It is, in its essence, a representation of love- who has ever been tired of having more?
To come home at the end of the day, to wash your hands and peel potatoes together, to boil them slowly, sprinkle them with a bit of salt and mix them with the curry – is it any less than belonging? Is belonging not another word for love? To bring loved ones together; to love and to be loved, are all ingredients involved in the art of cooking itself.
Most of us have fond memories of food – a comfort food that our parents made when we were sick, a simple bowl of chilli Maggi which served as lunch every day in college, the first meal you prepared for someone when they were sick; a gesture which conveys your endearment towards the other; the tenderness with which the food is prepared and the longing with which it is devoured. When I return to Kolkata for summer break and see kosha mangsho and luchi made especially for me, I know I am home. I know that I can gently lay my bags at rest, take a seat at the table and breathe evenly. Somewhere I also know that my grandma has peeled these potatoes with her own hands- hands that can’t eat rice without using a spoon, hands that are bent and crooked from years of stirring the ladle.
What began as a simple daily ritual in my family has now become a part of me. Maa and I still cook together when I return home from college- more than making it a point to spend time together in the kitchen, it has become more of a habit, an involuntary part of our weekly routines that we carry out.
I hope these weekly rituals persevere. I hope we cook every recipe in our book. I hope the book never runs out of pages.
Sohini is a political science major and creative writing minor at Ashoka University.