What a weekend! It was so busy that it’s going to be somewhat of a relaxation going back to work this week.
On Saturday morning, I took the cook to the bank and got her to open an account. It felt very good – at last, she could put a little bit of money away and hopefully both save it, and keep it out of the way of materialistic off-spring.
Then I went to buy notebooks for the kids. Their teacher has decided it is time for them to start writing! And they want the notebooks covered in colourful gift-wrapping paper, not in boring brown paper, so I let the girls pick out wrapping paper and labels for their notebooks too. That was fun.
By the time I got home around 12, Amit had come up with the cock-eyed idea of driving all the way to our old home – almost an hour’s drive away – to disconnect our old telephone connection and to transfer the electricity meter to our name (something we should have done years ago but didn’t). These are horribly tedious tasks that are better done by one person alone, but in a moment of madness I suggested that we all tag along and that’s what we did. While Amit went from this office to that, filling forms, writing letters, photocopying papers, and waiting for people to show up and do the needful, I hung around with the girls. We had sandwiches in Café Coffee Day for lunch, then went to a nearby beauty parlour and got the kids’ hair trimmed. Then we drove to our old home to get Supriya to witness something (I have no idea what). Then we went back to the electricity office. Then we went to another electricity office and waited for some elusive operator to turn up. When his “10-15 minutes” hadn’t fructified after half an hour or so, we went to Sukh Sagar to get Amit something to eat. We went back to the electricity office around 5, but the fellow’s 10-15 minutes still wasn’t done, so we decided to give up and start the long drive home. Along the way, Tara was found sucking on the strap of her shoe. This infuriated both of us, but Amit really lost it. He was driving, but he pulled over, rolled down her window, grabbed her shoe and – much to my shock and horror – threw it out! I thought he would relent and allow me to get out and recover the blameless shoe, but nothing doing! He drove off while Mrini and I sat in shocked silence and Tara sobbed.
By the time we got home, it was 6 p.m. – much too late now to go and tackle all the grocery shopping that we needed to get done. The kids hadn’t had their afternoon nap, and I hadn’t had any time to do my studies. And Tara was minus a pair of shoes.
And we had a lunch to prepare for on Sunday.
After having employed a cook for about five years now, I’m sorry to say that my culinary skills have almost entirely rusted beyond redemption. Where earlier I could rustle up at least half a dozen praiseworthy dishes, now I have only three weapons left in my arsenal. But they are potent ones – for the right audience. There’s my mutton curry, my crumb fried fish, and my cakes. My mother was not a great enthusiast when it came to cooking, but I have to thank her for at least two of these skills – cakes, and crumb fried fish. I learnt them from her and I learnt them good. (The mutton curry I learnt from my maternal grandmother’s family-retainer-for-generations cook. The current generation still does a fantastic job of the mutton curry, which I get to eat once in two years or so. Regretfully, I’ve never been able to exactly emulate the outcome, but my mother, sister, and I have all picked up a few salient features of the process and come quite close to the mutton curry heaven that that family has been able to turn out for generations. By now, it must be in their genes.)
On the rare occasions that we call people home for a homemade meal – as opposed to an ordered-in meal, which is much more frequent – I pull out one or more of my three trusty weapons. The same people are invited seldom enough that they never get bored of these dishes – or so I hope! In any case, you can’t really get bored of cake, especially since “cake” is a generic term that encompasses chocolate cake, vanilla cake, lemon-and-raisin cake, cherry-and-walnut cake and whatever-other-combinations-I-can-think-of cake. And you can’t really get bored of crumb fried fish either. As for mutton curry, I only make it about once in three months, and that’s not often enough to ever get bored of it.
Amit had invited an office colleague for lunch. We’d been to their place for lunch some months ago and they’d served up such a feast it would have put many a wedding menu to shame. What’s worse, it was a Bengali family and a thoroughly Bengali feast. I, of course, have absolutely nothing in my arsenal – past, present or future – that can match that. And mutton curry was ruled out due to reasons of rising cholesterol levels in at least two of the four adults amongst us.
What to do?
Our cook came to our rescue – chicken biryani and chicken kebab, she said. Amit was skeptical – we’ve never had her make chicken biryani for us so far; would it be any good? But I was quite convinced that it would be better than anything I could churn out and, with a head cold hanging around and making me feel jaded and sleepy since Friday, I was distinctly lacking in energy and enthusiasm for anything creative. Chicken biryani and kebab it would have to be.
I was supposed to do the shopping on Saturday, but various things got in the way, so it was Sunday morning, 9 a.m. before I got out of the house with an empty shopping bag and a long list. By 10.45 I was back. I frantically started to work on the crumb fried fish and the chocolate walnut cake in parallel, before I realized that I’d better serialize things or I might wind up with a chocolate cake tasting of fish (or, almost as bad, crumb fried fish tasting of chocolate)!
Crumbing fish is an oddly relaxing task. I had only an hour in hand to finish preparing the fish and pop the cake in the oven, but even so, once I started working on the fish, I couldn’t help relaxing. The mechanical process of dusting the fish in flour, dropping it in beaten egg, and then wrapping it with breadcrumbs, occupies just the right volume of brain and frees up the rest to wander at will. It was as relaxing as driving might have been, if only one didn’t have to fend off the homicidal (and sometimes suicidal) tendencies of other lunatics on the road all the time. Luckily, crumbing fish tended never to be a matter of life and death. (Though of course, if you wound up with fish tasting of chocolate, some might consider it almost as bad.)
By 11.40, I was ready to work on the cake. By 12.05, I was done with it. Great – only five minutes behind schedule; the guests had been invited for 12. The cook had been instructed to arrive at 11, to do the biryani and kebab. By the time the cake went into the oven, there was no sign of either guests or cook. I tried the cook’s mobile, but to no avail. We started discussing Plan B and realized we didn’t have one. For me to start making biryani at this late hour was entirely impossible. Luckily, the cook turned up soon, and the guests turned up late, so some sort of order was restored to the world.
This cook was never one to work at the speed of light, but she had a delicious biryani done by 1.30, just as the first glass of beer was going down nicely, helped along with the crumb fried fish that she had promptly fried. From that point on, things proceeded on schedule, with lunch at 2, a short outing to the park at 4, coffee and cake at 4.30, and “It was so nice of you…” “a pleasure” and “we must do this again” around 5. The cook, bless her heart, had spent the intervening hours cooking for Monday, laundry-management, and round after round of washing up, so that by the time everyone left, there was absolutely nothing for me to do, but blog about it!
Oh and, put those colourful gift wrapping sheets around the four notebooks I’d bought yesterday, something I hate doing, and consequently do very badly.
And then stay up till almost 2 a.m. to watch Roger beat Rafa for a change.
It was one hectic weekend, no doubt, made no easier by the head cold that made me feel lethargic and sleepy through it all. And I didn’t study a single word of Archaeology and I have no idea how I’m going to do the slightest bit of justice to this module. And I’m still sleepy and I still have a cold. But at least there’s a little bit of chocolate walnut cake left over… and I can now add chicken biryani and kebab to my culinary arsenal – albeit by proxy.