Dishing up

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on January 05, 2018

Our much-revered cook and housekeeper of 40 years vanished forever three months ago. I was in Elsewhere at the time of his death. So the loss was keen but abstract. Back in Delhirium, however, there’s a vacuum at the centre of our lives. Bins wakes up ahead of me and begins crashing about in the kitchen. Fortunately, I suffer from Early Morning Deafness, which allows me to hear nothing until I’m good and ready.

Breakfast is easy enough: either toast ‘n’ scrambled eggs or porridge with honey and bananas. The other day we bought a fresh packet of Quaker Oats and discovered a sachet of instant upma attached to the front of it, like a kangaroo-version of breakfast cereal packaging. We devoured it gladly (the upma, not the packaging) and are hoping to progress to instant idlis at some future date.

But humans cannot live on breakfast alone, so we have an “arrangement” with the extremely versatile cook of the upstairs apartment. He does our grocery shopping for us and makes a rice, dal ‘n’ veggies lunch, plus a soup ‘n' salad dinner. This is a great help. Still, at the end of each meal there’s a pile of plates, glasses, cutlery and pots.

In Elsewhere my approach is to wash everything right away, because it’s easy. All the food we make tends to fit in one or two vessels. We don’t have a microwave so that’s one thing less to clean. When I’m alone I eat in the kitchen, standing by the window and chewing moodily as I stare out at the Dunkin Donut’s parking lot. When Bins is present we sometimes share plates and cutlery and minimise our labour in any way we can manage.

Here, not only do we seem to use double the number of plates and pots, but the very fact of having a nice dining table means that we set it up for each meal. Eating off the marble counter-top in the kitchen — a thing I do routinely in Elsewhere — feels like the End of Civilisation is nigh. For a couple of days we refused to boil the milk, which the upstairs cook buys from the nearby Mother Dairy booth. When he found out he looked very stern and told us that only savages drink milk Straight From The Machine.

So now we boil the milk, scrub the fruit and change the kitchen wash cloths every two days. We have both become manic about keeping the stainless steel mirror-finish shiny, all the glasses gleaming and all the white plates spotless. A competitive edge has made itself apparent. “What’s THIS?” I say, when I notice the grey rim under a dinner plate, to which Bins replies, “It’s what YOU washed three nights ago without paying attention!” I refuse to be intimidated. “In that case, why didn’t YOU clean it?” I want to know. “So that YOU can learn an important lesson,” he answers, with a superior smirk. “Touché!” I say with a resigned sigh and scrub away.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on January 05, 2018

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