The pungent aroma of the mustard seeds and asafetida tickling my senses and the sizzle of soaked flat rice falling into hot oil enhanced my anticipation mingled with the sweet awkwardness of meeting a girl for the first time. She walked the slow dramatic steps in to the living room where I was sitting flanked by my parents, I, waiting to be displayed like a curator would a piece of art in MoMA; her showcase had already started by her parents with such enthusiasm parallel to that of a car salesman showing off features of a brand new car…
I couldn’t help smiling at those thoughts as I was jerked out of my emotional stupor by a familiar, pleasant floral smell that had got nothing to do with the onions I was sautéing. I stared at her, for those few seconds I forgot about the people around me, the pasta I was cooking as I got lost in the essence of her freshly washed hair, the loose red top and those eyes with the black of the liner snuggly hugging the curves of the lashes enunciating the twinkle in them. I knew she wanted to know if she was going through the right process to make mashed potatoes but deep down I knew she was trying to see if I was comfortable enough to be cooking for her family on the first meet I had with them. I was at ease and I conveyed to her the same with silent emotions and that set her smiling. Honestly, I barely recalled how the turn of that day’s events had led me to visit her extended family’s house, amidst everyone, and what had finally brought me to the stovetop to cook pasta for all of them. But I was thoroughly enjoying myself; I am always comfortable when I have to deal with food, plus she was right beside me creating a comfort niche for me in her family and there was no doubt the whiskey I was sipping was helping.
As the sun crawled from east to the west the tea cup in my hand had metamorphosed into a glass of chilled Makers Mark; I was making love with tortellini, penne and aged cheddar while others bustled around to add their own creations to the table. Normally the chef in me would not have mixed random pastas for one dish but that day I was not cooking as a chef. I felt free, I felt loved, unbound by the glamorous pressure of the industry to create a dish of measured proportions of specific ingredients. That day the recipe wasn’t that of the pasta, it was actually a recipe of blending two families together, many different lives together and creating a dish of a new life. The ingredients were everywhere- the laughter of the kids in the hallway, the chatter of few cousins on the dining table, the friendly taunting of the women from the living room, the talks of the men huddled around the center table over their drinks. As the last grain of salt I sprinkled into pasta dissolved I knew it would taste perfect because it wasn’t just from the salt that the flavors were enhanced, that day they stemmed from all the people I was surrounded with as we all sat down as a family to enjoy a sumptuous dinner.
The food was devoured, the whiskey sipped to it’s last drop but it wasn’t just a pleasure of satiety that filled me up, it was a feeling of contentment. As much as I had never imagined myself settling down in life, I often used to shudder at the thought of being bound by the traditions and forced into a showcase of to-be-brides in lieu of an arranged marriage. Worst part of the nightmare was me downing those flaked rice “Poha” preparations, very traditional to such occasions and gulping overly sweetened hot tea, not to mention the awkward pressure of the whole situation. I always wanted my life to be different and that night had proved that I was on the right path. That day the “poha” was replaced by a pasta, cooked by me; there were no showers of questions but but just warm exchange of laughter and a memorable time.
…..in my hurry to bring the pasta to the table I had forgotten to garnish it, rather to be honest I hadn’t even bothered. But later in the night she garnished it for me- garnished it with the most beautiful smile and a warm tight hug.