Thursday, September 16, 2010

Whistles of a lifetime

I remember it like it was just yesterday. As I stepped out of the comfortable shelter of my home in India back in 2000 to explore alien waters, there was no prophet in the world who could have possibly predicted the milestones that’d end up dotting my rather multi-layered life since. As reminders of my beloved roots, I took with me a dozen things – a few Hindi and Kannada audio cassettes (this was an age when a tape based Walkman was still around), good old rasam and sambar powders for the kitchen, a photograph of Lord Balaji and of course, my first Butterfly pressure cooker.

This rather eventful memory came back to me as I read a piece in OPEN recently (‘The Final Whistle’) as to how there is a chance Indians might finally abandon the pressure cooker in due course. With the advent of a wide range of cooking options, I suppose that is still possible. But I just can’t imagine the plateau I belong to – South India – getting rid of this modest whistle blowing miracle for the next century at the least. Given its inherent versatility, I doubt Indian kitchens will ever really call it quits when it comes to this ‘chote kitchen ka bada kamaal’, as it were.

One of the initial memories of using my first cooker was an immense feeling of absolute elation when it went off on that rainy evening in my apartment in Caracas. Yes – I had successfully made a bowl of rice! That I later managed to have it with some chutney powder and oil is another story. It took me almost a month to get my lentils to cook well. Something about the water levels I wasn’t quite sure about. But rice? With my friendly cooker friend it was a non issue. I still remember my neighbor knocking on my door with wide eyes and enquiring if I had set off the fire extinguisher! I had to show her my miracle from India and explain to her that this was how rice was cooked back home. She suggested I use parboiled rice instead which only needed to be boiled and didn’t need equipments that sounded like an army tank to prepare. Nevertheless, she got used to the ‘Pssh..pssh…pssssshhhhhh!’ noise a few days later as she realized I wasn’t going to compromise on how I made my rice. Her parboiled rice didn’t have a face in front of my reliable jasmine rice.

Since then my cooker renewal cycle has been a standard 3 years. Considering the carefree lifestyle of a bachelor, by the time the third year of a cooker’s life came around, it actually did look like something that had been involved in a major war. When I got married last year, the one thing my wife asked me specifically was if the cooker I had was, well, ‘decent enough’ for the two of us. I wasn’t sure what she meant by that then but one look at it when she arrived in Copenhagen, and she shook her head in disapproval. ‘This should be interesting…’ she said examining the colorful exterior of the hero who had the word ‘Prestige’ embossed proudly on his weathered shell. He certainly was prestigious indeed for having prepared wonderful hot rice and vegetables and daal for me on many a sub zero winter night! As the entire city ran for shelter from the heavy snowfall, I’d be sitting cozily in my 5th floor studio apartment watching ‘Malgudi Days’ and enjoying soft tamarind rice with potato onion sambar. Ah! What wonderful moments they were.

But all things do have an expiration date. This summer while vacationing in India, I found myself right in the middle of a pressure cooker shop with my wife. Before I knew it, I had selected a new and obviously larger version with bigger containers and a much steadier grip. On the way out I turned to her and asked ‘We can still use the old one for emergency purposes, right?’ She, having been familiar with my bizarre affection for the old fella, smiled and nodded her head in approval.

So that’s pretty much it. We now make lip smacking dishes with the new fellow who has been quite consistent thus far. But I do occasionally open the kitchen closet and throw a quick glance at my old buddy who saved me with just one whistle on many an occasion. In search for all the larger things in life sometimes we tend to forget the small things that helped us out at critical times. In my life as a self-taught cook, I can never forget the role a cooker has played. For that, I join those who pray it never vanishes from Indian kitchens.

2 reflections:

Nona said...

The pressure cooker! What an useful invention. A boon can turn into a bane as there are a couple of instances where the pressure cooker blasted! Luckily, in those instances, nobody was hurt!

ShaK said...


You said it, mate! Quite possibly one of the main inventions in modern human history! In all these years, *touches wood*, it hasn't gotten angry at me even once. So my track record with it has been pretty eventless! :)