I am all of six, maybe seven.
Yet the kitchen draws me like a magnet. My best times are when I am in the kitchen with Grandma, she cooking yet another of her delectable delicacies, delighting me with her never-ending repertoire of stories, the Ramayana today, Lalkamal and Neelkamal tomorrow, Sukumar Roys absurd rib-tickling limericks the day after, and I, absorbed in her fascinating commentary, all the while imbibing the sights, the sounds and the smells of the kitchen.
I have learnt by now how a pinch of turmeric magically transforms a curry to a gorgeous golden. How adding a squeeze of lemon juice curdles a pot of boiling milk.
I rush to close my ears when Grandma scrapes the bottom of one of her ancient pans. And the sizzle is music when she gently slides in a fish to smoking hot oil.
I am getting initiated to the enigmatic world of fragrant spices.
I know sniffing black pepper gives me paroxyms of sneezing. And rubbing my eyes after touching ground chillies burns furiously.
Grandma and I play a game quite often – I hold my palm in front of my eyes, No, I am not cheating, I assure her, she holds some spice on her outstretched palm near my nose.
It’s cloves. I triumphantly declare.
And that’s cinnamon.
Pat on the back.
I trip on the next one.
Grandma smiles. That’s asafoetida. She patiently explains. Gum of a tree that grows in far-away Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, I frown, unsure if I have ever come across the name
The land of the Kabuliwalas, Grandma patiently reminds me.
Kabuliwalas. Yes indeed, it immediately comes racing back. Grandma had read me the story. Of the little girl Mini and his friend the Kabuliwala.
Grandma now pours water onto the flour and a healthy dollop of ghee. She gets to work on her radhaballavi dough. Sometimes adding a splash of water. Sometimes a sprinkle of flour. More exercise on the dough. Then she tears off balls from the pliable dough and arranges them in neat concentric circles.
Dough balls are amongst my favourites in the kitchen. Plasticine that I use to sculpt the Lilliputian world of my fantasises, midget animals, miniature utensils, dwarf fruits and vegetables. Grandma’s vehicles to teach me how to count, how to add and subtract and later how to multiply and divide.
Do we have all twenty-four dough balls for radhaballavi now, Grandma asks.
I start counting, the circles keep confusing me, I go round and round, where did I start ? I wonder and hasten to start counting all over again.
Grandma senses my helpnessness.
Stick a finger onto the dough ball that you start at. So you shall know where to stop. Grandma’s sagacious words of wisdom.
How do you know so much ? I ask Grandma, amazed how she always has an answer before I have even asked the question.
She smiles, You too shall know when you grow up.
As a grown-up me works on the dough for radhaballavi this morning, I do wonder if I shall ever know as much as Grandma …..