The sound of a pressure cooker whistling and sputtering out is one of the most reassuring, familiar, homey sounds in the world to me. It reminds me of Sunday afternoons lazing at home, in the warmth of family all around. It reminds me of hyperactive evenings with a houseful of friends and relatives as my mother went into overdrive in the kitchen, feeding them all, tired but proud not to have failed everyone's expectation of her as a good cook! It reminds me of walking back from the bus stop on hot summer afternoons, sticky school uniform, a test coming up the next day, and then, as I walked down the corridor towards our flat, the sound of a pressure cooker...Ma's at home, she's cooking.....mutton!!!
I have always prefered to eat than to cook. Ma would occasionally start telling me the process of cooking something when I wandered unsuspectingly into the kitchen to steal a bite of what was cooking. Next thing I knew, I'd be standing there shelling peas as I let her recipe float over my head, paying minimum attention, just enough to make all the right sounds!
But now, with a kitchen to myself, (it's a hot plate, and it's on the left in a small passage on the way to the rest of the room we call home while we live it up (?) in Dubai), I seem to have discovered the joys of cooking! It's a delight to go shopping. It's an even greater delight when I come across a recipe on Sandeepa's page that seems to need all those ingredients I don't know what to do with. And when, in an impulse attempt to cook Chicken 65, I race out to buy karhi patta (curry leaves), I hurry over hot roads in the desert sun, past sights and sounds and foreign cars that remind me that I am far from home, and go looking for those familiar leaves among overstocked shelves with a sense of anticipation and impatience. I glimpse a tightly shrinkwrapped bunch, and raise them to my nose to check and, I am home in that moment, in that smell.
Trying to be content with brief phone conversations with family, when I splutter jeera in the pan prior to cooking aloo gobhi, I close my eyes and breathe in that aroma that always meant that dinner was ready and that daal, with fresh tadka and dhania leaves, was going to be on the table, golden and tempting.
Smells are so much more evocative of memories than anything else. Just like books, they can help you travel, and take you places you loved and treasured, settling you firmly among all that was special, all that was home.