As symphonic as the ‘tring-tring’ of the telephone, and the ‘ding dong’ of the doorbell, is the whistle (Seeti) from a pressure cooker in an Indian home. The trademark sound accompanied by the noise of gushing steam tempted Sandeep to check the scene in the kitchen. He found his Paati (Grandmother) very carefully stirring the ladle inside a heavily ionised cooker and then jabbing a fork in another to examine the texture of the idli to check if it was done.

Ah, poovu pola irrukku (Ah it’s soft as a flower), she exclaimed with sheer joy! “The idlis are ready to perfection”. Now for the chutney, sambhar and podi to accompany them. As his Paati moved forward to get going with all of the idli accompaniments, Sandeep decided to tease his Paati about the gadgets in the kitchen.

Sandeep is a gadget buff and loved ordering stuff online. His latest attraction was the air fryer. He was eyeing the Phillips Air Fryer and trying to figure out if it was worth it. “Paati, don’t you think Air fryers and no oil cooking methods do the job better these days?,” he asked. “What if the days for your traditional pressure cookers are numbered? These days, people seem to want specialised gadgets and a whole set of them, one for each task. “

Well, said Paati, if people have that much money to buy multiple gadgets for the kitchen and the space to keep all of them handy for use, they are going to have a lot of money, that’s for sure. But what about all the millions of middle-class home makers? They have learnt and honed their cooking skills with the pressure cooker.

And for very good reason, said Paati.

They love the versatility of the cooker — it can be used for cooking almost anything; rice, paruppu (dal), korma, a number of non-vegetarian dishes and baking cakes even. They can buy it in a wide range of sizes, from the mini to the maxi, to cook for 2 people or 25 people. It saves them a lot of time spent in hot kitchens. Cooking dals especially, in the cooker does the job in a jiffy. Saves time, effort and cooking gas. For women keeping a sharp eye on their budget, that matters a lot too.

Safeguarding her precious constant, Paati continued her defence, “Ah well, times have changed and so have the cooking methods, they could be modern and advanced for sure but not simple and convenient as a pressure cooker”. In Paati’s opinion, people who were well versed in technology could make optimal use of the new-age cooking devices with their digital dashboards, whereas pressure cookers served the Indian masses. Her unshakable faith developed from the practice of cooking with a pressure cooker for ages, instilled in her a firm belief that the cooker is dear to all. It has secured its firm spot everywhere, from the kitchen of every Indian housewife to trekkers up on the hill whipping up quick meals at higher altitudes.

Knowing that her engineer grandson appreciated ‘scientific’ explanations for everything, Paati said, “Cooking daals and curries in the pressure cooker preserves all the vital minerals and nutrition of the food. Moreover, the ease with which the dishes get done in no time, that too with less oil, is healthy plus value for money too”. She rounded off her message to her grandson with, “Do you know that the OPOS (one pot, one shot) cooking method has been developed only for the pressure cooker as the primary cooking gadget?”

Sandeep became very impressed with his Paati’s up-do-date knowledge, not just her firm common sense approach which he was very familiar with. He was forced to concede the good sense in her arguments and accept that the Pressure Cooker would continue to hold its prime place in every middle class Indian kitchen as the housewife’s trusted, go-to, kitchen device.

The gas stove, pressure cooker and mixie form the trio that hold pride of place, for much the same reasons — time and effort saving efficiency, versatility, money saving, enabling home makers to enjoy cooking while freeing them from the tyranny of the kitchen.

(The A-Z Series: This series of short articles explores how familiar objects from everyday life embody concepts and values dear to the urban Indian middle class. It takes a light-hearted and humorous look at how objects shape our wants & desires, lives, and lifestyles, ultimately making us who we are as a people.)

(Hamsini Shivakumar is a Semiotician and founder of Leapfrog Strategy. Naheed Akhtar is Associate Director, Cultural Insights and Semiotics at Leapfrog)