There are so many ‘that first times’ in our lives; a number of them, things that we still are passionate about.
Photography. Cooking. Driving. Writing. These are things that are still with me. Where did these start from? I smile when I remember. It is always such a pleasure to be able to do something that you are passionate about. Stop for a minute, pause. Do you remember that first time you did something that you felt truly passionate about? Do you still do it? Are you still passionate about it now?
My first camera, purchased out of saved pocket-money. It was a beautiful black and white Agfa camera – Click III; a beautiful piece of art for me. I saved up months and months and bought it for my eleventh birthday with all of the two hundred and fifty precious bucks! Such an expensive passion at that time! I had to scrimp and save for the rolls thereafter. I would save for months before I could give the film to a studio to be processed for prints. A number of childhood memories froze in time through that camera. Eventually, I moved from the rather expensive twelve exposures to a Kodak 24 exposures, two Olympus, a Canon Ixus digital to my current Canon super 450D. I have always had to save up months, sometimes years for this. It has always been worth it.
As for the magic of de-stressing I derive out of cooking…sigh! Nothing dissipates anger like a good go at cooking. There is something interesting I was made to realize a couple of weeks ago. As a student, I wasn’t particularly an avid science student. It all seemed worse than tackling Greek and Latin (no, I did not learn that literally); physics and chemistry especially. Cooking is all about flavours, mixing and testing and trying out things until you create magic out of the elements. That is chemistry. Cooking is a chemical reaction. It is a process of applying, mixing things at a certain temperature, understanding the importance of timing and getting it right. Yet, that is not what cooking is all about for me although it is nice to think along those lines and believe something did come out of those painful Chemistry classes. Cooking is something that brings together good feelings. I love a house full of people to cook for. I live alone, but I love a full house of people to feed. There are few things that bring me the kind of joy that cooking for people I care about does.
My memories of my first go at cooking goes back to when I was all of a little less than seven. I suppose, faded as the memory is, I cannot forget my first teacher, my beloved Biji. She taught me to make samosas, sooji halwa, puri and potato curry and rice. I think the most difficult thing for me, at that point to learn was dal. Imagine! She would tell me, it’s the simplest and I would tell her, no, it’s the toughest. Anything that involved the use of a noisy whistling pressure cooker was a fright. It was. Then.
I learned to cook mostly by watching and allowing my nose to learn the aromas, what’s just right and how that should smell like. I learned a lot from my aunt later when I was in college but through the years, I watched and I learned. Arati, Madhu, Sushmita Di, Rakhi…all of you, Susheel (those omlettes) Prashant, Dad, Duloo Uncle…I have had the best times of my life in and around the kitchen with a bunch of friends who I dearly love.
Cooking is a sensual thing. Yeah, I know what everyone is thinking. What I mean is, it is the absolute use of one’s senses. You figure out when to add what by the aroma and not really by the time indicated in the recipe book. I have had serious disasters averted (and not averted), based on my adhering to absolute directions laid out in those cookbooks. For me, cookbooks are guides. You have got to go beyond that. You have to figure the feel of it, the taste of it, the sight of it, the way it makes you feel, and the absolutely fabulous aromas that waft the house. It doesn’t mean I do not burn stuff in the kitchen, including yours truly, but the kitchen is a retreat for me; calming, exciting, happy. Very happy.
Happy am I to be stirring…or steering. I love the feel of freedom that driving brings to me. I would love to take a road trip once a month if I had the opportunity to do so…I will get there. It is on my bucket list and because it is there, it shall happen. The first feel of four wheels came way later than that of two wheels. I loved my bike. Bikes are special for me. They hold memories that I can snuggle up to for comfort. My brother taught me how to cycle. I am ever grateful to him for that. Thank you Rohit (I love you)! It was crucial to learn how to ride a cycle because I wanted to learn how to ride a bike…and then I did. Between the patient instructions of clutch releases, gear changing, braking on an Ind Suzuki, there was a lot of shared memories with my Dad. (Thank you Dad! I love you!) Every Sunday morning, while the small town of Dimapur barely rose, he and I would start on our bike rides, my lessons. We would drive out, across the border, beyond Khatkhati through the lush green landscape of Nagaland and Assam, riding, with the feel of the wind on my face, happy, on roads that were good and bad in patches, between the invariable cattle that tend to stroll on them as well. We would then, after miles of riding, stop by at one of Dad’s friend’s farm, have a cup of tea, sometimes a meal and then return home. A bike is good until you get a flat tyre. I learned a lesson one of those days…I was thirteen and I was taught what one should do if one gets a flat tyre on a bike. I also learned that you always carry a safety pin with you and a bit of soap.
When the lessons shifted years later to a four wheeler, it was on trips to Transport Nagar in Jammu. My Aunt and cousin were the students and all I was allowed was to drive the white Maruti Van to Transport Nagar. A reverse on the driveway and smashing into a pot did nothing for my confidence two weeks later but I think I owe my driving today to the faith Arati put in me in Vizag when she handed me her car keys to drive her car from the Railway station after she had driven like a maniac there to catch a train to Delhi. I remember driving back to NCB, slowly, barely making it past the second gear and managing a third gear once the confidence grew. Now I drive, given (and not) a choice, almost everywhere in India once I land. I hate to fly or take a train to a place I can drive to. How can one ever see one’s own country any other way, feel and experience the beauty of it all? I love to stop by, at wayside places, sip a cup of chai, talk to the people who live there, share a bit of my life and take in a bit of theirs. I am always amazed and awed. I love the spontaneity of road trips. I have a sense of the land and I find my way. As much as I can bond in a kitchen, road trips are a trip, and that’s something else. There is a different bonding there.
I have no sense of where I go with my writings though. I can start with something and have no idea I am getting somewhere. Where my thoughts start, my journey begins, where I stop, my journey pauses for a bit before it begins again. I have no major recollection of writing when I was a small child. I loved reading. Yet, I remember that first attempt at writing for the school magazine. It was a three stanza poem which took a lot of effort to write. At that point, poetry wasn’t poetry if it didn’t rhyme. I know better now. I have to (am reminding myself) dig out that poem – I have it in one of the boxes back home. I also remember another poem ‘Fame’ I wrote when I was thirteen. I did not submit that one for publishing. I was too shy. I did post it much later on one of my blogs, mostly unedited, with very few grammatical corrections. I loved to weave tales. Most of the essays I wrote in school were extensions of the books I read and had some air of mystery to it. The story “Once Upon a Star” was originally written when I was thirteen. I am sentimental about these two works because it always reminds me of where it all started. I will share it…
I write, so I can breathe. My relationship with writing is intimate. A lot of the pain and terrors and disappointments I have experienced in life have found an outlet in my writings, stories and poetry alike. It helped. It also helped me to connect with those who felt the same. There is no solace on earth more significant than knowing there is someone who understands what you are saying and has, for a point of time the thought…Gosh, this is me! I reflect, I pause, smile, sigh, laugh, cry, shudder, feel the terror and pain and I let it all flow out. You cannot handle pain and solitude unless you befriend it. That happens when the fears, the emotional entrapment, the guilt and the countless ‘what if’s’ unleashes itself and one dares to take that one word by the hand and lead it all the way to whatever emerges thereafter as a piece.
‘Some desire is necessary to keep life in motion’. Mine is photography, cooking, driving and writing.