June 8, 2021, Commentary from a smelly place

June 8, 2021, Commentary from a smelly place: Cooking is smelly work. With the spices we use to make a simple Bengali chicken curry it offers a marvelous flavor all across the house. Some say the houses owned by Indians in the USA do not sell well. They cook Indian food, and the smell gets into the drywalls. Short of taking down and rebuilding the walls the Indian family will leave the traces of their lives in the walls of the house. We leave traces. I was cooking a meat loaf and the entire house smelt of West Virginia in Salt Lake. In other places it smells of Rogan Josh when it is snowing outside. Covid taught many to cook. With the trains stopped for nearly five months the trusted “mashi” was not showing up, and men took to cooking. There were jokes and memes about that and for me it was mildly amusing. For thirty-seven years I have cooked. I do not like to cook. But I had no choice. I learnt over the years from Kosha Mangso (mutton curry) to the infamous Nizam Roll. The turkey for Thanksgiving the occasional luchi by frying the small tortillas in mustard oil. So, in 2020, when many were lamenting about the burden of cooking, I was reluctantly making chicken vindaloo and alur dam (potato curry). But sometimes the cooking has a purpose that is greater than the dinner to be put on the table. Cooking is about community, and we lost some of that last year. The Thanksgiving turkey was spared the slaughter because we could not gather. I have enjoyed cooking the turkey. The patient process of basting and letting the flavor swim through the house. I like that. Then there would be people, there would be the happy sounds of people – a sound that has disappeared from our lives. Now the pleasurable cooking is making a shepherds’ pie in a tiny oven and then seeing the joy in the Covid patient who had lost a sense of taste but light up with the flavor of the pie, or as much was allowed by the virus that had ravaged the olfactory nerves. That is cooking I enjoy. Cooking with a greater purpose. But I do cook when needed, to offer some respite to those who have to cook every day. Because there are those for whom cooking is expected. Where if you did not cook the family, you care for may not have a meal. Then the cooking is different. This happened in some parts of the World where cooking was relegated to a stratum of society who were suddenly inaccessible, indeed there was a collective sigh of relief when the trains started plying again. Perhaps. Today I cooked a Bengali chicken curry. The way I have seen it done. Two whistles of the pressure cooker, then you take it off the fire. Cool a bit and then let the steam out – it gets into the drywall and stays – and then the aroma floats through the house. Today I felt like cooking. Because there is a bit of love in cooking – with or without Covid – just like the way she makes the summer wine with strawberries and cherries. Even if I may dislike the act of cooking a little bit of that love gets mixed into the meat loaf and the chicken curry.  

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