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June 24, 2010

Our Cook

It was Tapan’s joining date. Roomie#1 took care of the induction which basically involved walking him through the kitchen, introducing him to the utensils and detergent, helping him get familiar with kitchen closets, stove/cylinder and the sink. He came dressed up in his ethnic wear that Saturday morning, with a stroke of vermillion down his forehead. He brought with him a casserole full of ‘poha’* and offered it to us blushing like a new bride. Before we finished eating, Tapan insisted on feedback; we provided him a positive one. He exploited our positive feedback by insisting on ‘chai-pani-ka-paisa’. First stroke! We were obliged. (*Trivia: Poha is the Incontestable Official Breakfast in all company canteens in Maharashtra, except on Thursdays, when ‘saabudaana kichdi’ takes the lead. Poha is usually made of flattened white rice, pinch or two of turmeric giving its visual appeal, and seasoned with fried peanuts and red chillies, while curryleaves and parseley contributing to its ineffable flavour. Besides these, it could also include all other animate and inanimate beings fallen into it with/without the cook’s knowledge. A plate ranges from Rs 5 to Rs 15 (under normal circumstances), Or free of cost if you leave the canteen without paying)

The next night, he made dal which looked orangish, instead of the universally accepted plain yellow. We also found unexpected pieces of something in the dal. These alien pieces tasted sour and was chewable somehow. We couldn’t resist an enquiry. Tapan was a bit hesitant but later revealed the secret recipe of his dal – Three tablespoons of ‘Priya’ cut-mango-pickle. Our ecstacy had no bounds. Only the shortage of cooks around had encouraged us not to kick him on his ass. Later on, we had to hide all our pickle bottles in the bedroom almirah. After a couple of days, Tapan was preparing himself to cook dal yet again. He was rapidly ransacking the entire kitchen and the kitchen cupboards in search of his ‘secret recipe’. Having not found any, he started giving suspicious looks at me. I feigned innocence.

One fine day, another roomie who returned from Hyderabad after a week’s vacation, was questioning us about his missing box of ‘mysore paak’ from the refridgerator.

Another golden night - While having dinner, we found fully-shrunk ginger pieces in the tomato curry. Roomie-3 got pissed off and yelled at Tapan. Honest Tapan said “Saar, I had been noticing the ginger pieces lying in the fridge for a while now. Generally, I don’t like wasting my clients' hard-earned money, hence I threw the ginger pieces into the curry”. Perhaps he derived an unidentified pleasure by throwing ginger pieces into the tomato curry than into the trashbin. Our respect towards him doubled. Thereafter, we cleaned the fridge and the kitchen cupboard atleast once a week.

After he was done with cooking our dinner that night, I saw him surreptitiously scuttling away holding something wrapped in a newspaper. “Tapan, what is that?” I enquired. He stopped, approached me a sheepish smile and said ‘Saar, I am carrying along a palak bunch with me. My wife likes paalak paneer”. How romantic!

“Tapan, your recipes are always bland. Not spicy enough. They suck!” was a common complaint against Tapan from each of us. That memorable fortunate evening, Tapan made spicy chicken curry for us. Our joy had no bounds until we started eating. The chicken curry was way beyond human levels of spiciness. Next day, around 7 am, we heard roomie 3 from the loo making awkward noises and abuses in the name of Tapan. Each of us waited our turn.

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