Life is an art; living, even more so. That’s perhaps why life tends to be so much the perfect entity everyone values, even when we aren’t half as perfect. Naturally, within its artistic folds, life harbors basic necessities that are no less profound any art in themselves. Be it indeed the pursuit of the many arts that feeds the soul for a hearty life or the much lauded, much fiddled art of cooking that indeed sustains life itself, our existence isn’t merely just a walking- talking mass of flesh and bones. And food being so pivotal to the continuance of life, not just for the body but also for the spirit, it is no wonder that food and foodery, and the discussion of it all dominates a very substantial spectrum of the lives we lead.
But while food might be a basic need of life and something even the bare minimum of which is refused to a large portion of the world population, more often than not food is also about the senses as much as it is about the organs. Like they say, we devour our food first through the eyes which is why it becomes so important to learn the art of aesthetic cooking. But even without the need for our food to be a sight so prettily rendered on our equally charming collection of crockery, the food we eat must at least be edible enough, if not lipsmackingly delicious. Alas however, not only the art of fine cooking is something that does not come naturally to all, so is cooking at all a task not very pleasurable for everyone. And being among the minuscule majority of the population who do not really possess some decent cooking skills, let alone excel in it, yours truly is a soul satiated with the might of its own failing. Before elaborating further however, we deem it somewhat necessary to not let you ponder over what this oxymoronic sounding, grammatically baffling ‘minuscule majority’ tends to be. In this era of the internet, where every information is available on the web in such extensive simplicity and with much elaborate explanations, cooking, of all life arts, is the most explored of all. And why just explore, even excelled at by even newbies who never in their wildest dream believed that they could serve up something as palatable as a handi ful of the moist flavorful chicken biryani. Or for that matter, in continuation of current trends of course, painstakingly whip up the most refreshing glass of Dalgona coffee or bake the moistest, most delectable and most aromatic banana bread that would make also for the perfect foodie post on Instagram apart from of course earning them rave reviews of all the magic that their mere hands behold.
Returning to the morose tale of this less fortunate beholder of the magic unyielding pair of hands, thankful however that they still are a perfect part of the imperfect person, it isn’t that cooking has been something that I have always chased after nor chased it down. There is an indifference to this art that I have grown up with, casual enough to not let myself venture into the kitchen unless it is for some servings for my own self and at the same time somewhat chalant to deliberate with the basics of it all so that trudging through life alone could be a decent enough experience, in private of course. There has never been aroused this fetish for churning something really decadent to the wholesome appreciation of everyone present, because frankly this is too selfish a soul to take the effort to take pains for the sake of others, even at the cost of some praises that it could have clearly done with. But years of making some decent chai whenever called for sure had me yearning for once for that perfect cuppa that would make my own taste buds delirious with happiness, if not that of someone else. A more than a couple of unsuccessful attempts at baking some unburnt cookies or having been eluded by the ecstasy of bringing out a cake like mass from out of the oven had me somewhat yearning, rather frantically for a decent cooking experience that I would have cherished for throughout life. Honestly even, in too much of my optimism- or should I rather call it pessimism, I even had promised myself that I would never even have a second attempt at making cakes if for just one time it turns out at least somewhat like what it’s supposed to be. That’s perhaps was my ‘penance’ for believing that I could ever churn out something even remotely presentable to bring to the family dining table, guests or not. Or perhaps it was the fear that there never would be a second time at success, assuming that the first time would dawn someday for once.
Cut to 2020 and the coronavirus induced lockdown has led us all to a place in life that none had envisioned. Food has been dominating discussions, yet again ever since the lockdown meant that the world would for once go about in its own slow pace, instead of trying to catch up with the fast movers of the modern world. And no, the food in the times of corona has not been always about immunity bolstering, appetite inducing, health generating stuff of the veggies and the fruits of the wilderness. Food in these testing times that have afforded us all the luxury of idleness has seen panoplies of decadent stuff making their appearance on family tables. Such food that was refrained from cooking at homes because of their elaborate preparedness saw recipes being dug out exclusively to kill time. Such folks who never believed home food could taste the same as the stuff in those packets meticulously delivered by deprived souls themselves, were seen relishing every morsel of eatable that came out of their own kitchen. People who whimpered at the very mention of that arduous task of cooking and even men who could not imagine themselves stepping into the kitchens excepts to make their demands known every once in a while took to the art as fondly as an out of practise musician cleans the dust gathered on his instruments. An lo and behold, 2020 saw the emergence of a niche category of cooks, if not chefs, who excelled in its pursuit, even when they had not yielded even a knife before. People who found cooking quite a task now whistle in glee as they skillfully tend to three different preparations at the same time, obviously bolstered by years of multitasking overtime at workplace. Imagine then the plight of a few some as me, who had been long attempting to get their A game in rolling out round rotis only to end up always with either too thin a center or some too fat edges. Consider the hit our levels of confidence must have taken when we see novices flip the omelet as one whole even as we have spent some few days every year trying to decipher just how on earth do we make all those stuffing stay right where they ought to be. Envision our dejected beings as we still do not manage to make a cup of coffee without it getting a bit too bitter for our own taste. In instances like these and numerous others, here we stand, withdrawn, defeated and disappointed with our own existence in an art we cannot even satiate enough artistically.
But in retrospect of all these failures at bringing some ‘worthy’ food to the table, there has emerged a realisation that is perhaps far more vital than what we can or cannot cook. Food is but a means of survival in its essence and the least we can do to acknowledge this immense importance is by respecting it in whatever form it reaches our plate. So what if we have to scrape off the edges of the pan everytime we make a pancake because it got stuck? Or what is the misery that has befallen us if we have to rub off cookies one against the other in order to make them look like they have managed to escape the burn? Sure there would always be this yearning for preparing something as perfect as it is supposed to be. Perfectly spongy cakes, a serving of rice with just the right fluff, the optimally salted soup, a cup of perfectly sweetened hot tea, a pizza with the cheese as gooey as it should be- sounds like the stuff of our dreams. But in fact, given how differently different people prefer their food, it’s impossible to arrive at something that is universally perfect or even close to it. For someone who detests the idea of having to trade their rice with roti, even the fluffiest and softest chapati would not suffice. For someone who is set off by even the mere mention of sugar will no way enjoy your cup of tea because well, that’s literally not their cup of tea! In being the basis of life, food is as much rooted in its own essence as life is. No one believes their life to be the ideal best, let alone the perfect one, but always yearns for the seemingly spirited existence of their neighbour. That is once again one of the many reiterations of human behavior, that leads them to be forever discontented with their own. Always weary in our own might, yet forever concerned with the might of others- have we been giving our lives a fair chance at life itself?
While you might think that cooking in no way pursues life the way we are projecting it capable of, it does indeed and in ways you don’t know it is perceptive of. Think a life devoid of the bliss of cooking, what will titillate your senses as you wake up to, famished after a whole night of drinking and puking? Think of cooking as therapy, as it relaxes you by letting you find your own flow with it. Whether you choose to experiment or remain content sticking to the basics, whether you want to seek comfort in your comfort food after a hard day or stick to something nutritious in striving for a healthy you, cooking lets you do what you expect of it, quite benignly. And of course cooking is redolent with the myriad aromas of blessing- of the good enough fortunes of having food on your plate, of harbouring a healthy appetite and above all of the desire for sustenance of life. Cooking also is magic- it’s amazing indeed how you can turn even the blandest of vegetables to so flavorful dishes, how the mere wafts of aroma is enough to prepare your stomach for a hearty meal and how the same ingredients can churn up diametrically diverse delicacies in different proportions. Is the art of cooking then not very akin to the art of life itself, that presents its different manifestations the way you allow it to? Is that not a lesson in the art of living itself, moulding yourself in its many different circumstances as it necessitates you to all along? To think that food merely helps in survival even when at its most basic it indeed is that would however be a farce. Food is not just the source of life, it is but an integral part of it. And so is cooking, in its many receptions and pulverisations, where it manifests as an exercise in constant invention and reinvention of the myriad flavours of life. Because life and cooking both are arts, and both are as enamoring in the multitude of their nuanced perspectives as they are in their seating within the spectrum of human existence. To think that they both co exist, for what else is life without the pleasures of food and what else is food without the value of a life to sustain, is therefore not an assumption; it is one of the truths, eternal but perhaps not as much dignified as it is acknowledged. In celebrating cooking as an art therefore, we celebrate also the many artistic vagaries that life comes loaded with. In its moment of much exemplary epiphany therefore, every type of cooking deserves all the laurels of the world, even when it’s only half as perfectly baked than what you want it to.