This Wednesday morning, I enrolled in a 5-day crash course in a simplified form of Homemaking. You’re probably wondering who on Earth would organize such a course? And why would anyone want a “crash” course in this anyway? On second thought though, I suppose girls who have no skills in the kitchen or perhaps in other areas of the home and who are getting married very soon would probably want something to prepare them for what comes after. That’s still not a very good argument but well, let’s move on with our actual story.
So I did end up taking this course, in my own home. You see, my mother had to travel to another city for five days to attend my cousin’s wedding. It was the first time ever my mother had left us three sisters at home and travelled alone out of the city for this long. She prepared some food in advance, a few very basic instructions were passed on regarding the general keep of the apartment. Wednesday morning, before we drove to the airport, I quickly made breakfast for her the way she liked it, with a well-set dining table and everything. On the way back from the airport with Abba (my father), it felt a little strange not having her with us when we were so used to being around her all the time.
As the day went by, even as I was studying for my ongoing exams, I realized how the role Amma had played was sort of passing on to me, being the eldest daughter. Suddenly, my mind wasn’t occupied with studying alone – it was also wondering, “What should we have for dinner?” or “what time should I ask my sister to start making the chappatis?” My eyes would turn towards the wall clock and I’d wonder when Abba would like to have his tea or if he’d like his dinner before Ishaa prayer? There was also a subconscious desire to keep the house exactly as Amma liked it, spick and span without stuff lying around. What Amma had to remind us to do on usual days, we were easily doing without even realizing it ourselves. I suppose you’re cracking up, wondering if this is going to be the highlight of the so-called crash course on homemaking? Laugh no more, the real stuff starts here.
The next day, I think some weird spirit of “homemaking” took over me and I wanted to cook something proper for my family. Out came the chicken from the freezer and Yoghurt Chicken, which is always well received, was planned. With my Community Medicine textbook beside the stove, I started stir-frying the onions and made the curry. Soon, I was proudly looking down into a ready chicken curry… only, it wasn’t Yoghurt Chicken but Chicken Quorma. I had made a very silly mistake: added the yoghurt very, very early and killed it in the heat of the pot. You see, the yoghurt has to be added right before serving, as I recalled later, or you’ll have Quorma… which was what I had.
Overseeing the work of the maid, trying to answer her questions about what I’d like to get done around the house was another part of this crash course. I’d always wondered how I’d be able to interact with a maid I’d employ in my own house and now, I was getting a preview. From being the “Baji’s daughter”, I was a sort of “Baji” myself now and I’m surprised how I did not even notice I’d slipped into more of a directive mode unlike my previous role as a bystander while Amma did the directing.
My sisters put in a lot of effort too… laying the table, clearing up, washing up afterwards were chores they managed among themselves so I could study more. I also noticed how they were maintaining order in their own spheres by cleaning up after themselves or making the beds quickly in the morning. The clockwork precision with which the apartment seemed to be running was a little unnerving really… I hadn’t imagined things would run this smoothly but Alhamdolillah!
The Friday afternoon meal is really important in my family so when I got back from my exam, I had already known what I was going to cook, for which I had been making plans even while in the examination hall (during short breaks, of course!). I got home, changed and hurried in to the kitchen to prepare all the veggies for my Chinese Chicken-fried rice. A cousin, also a medical student, was going to drop by and I decided to make brownies too while trying to ensure the rice were cooked to just the right degree. It was… exhilarating in a way, to be able to plan and do all that on my own. Yes, the very thought that I was doing it because I was the one making the decisions was a very different feeling – I’d never played such a role before. The rice turned out great Alhamdolillah, tasting just like my mother’s and the brownies were okay, being baked in a rush. In the evening, I planned dinner again, which was beef-and-tomato grilled sandwiches with mango milkshake.
One aspect I haven’t mentioned yet is how things went with our father. Lately, I’d been feeling that I didn’t talk much with my father and he’d also withdrawn into his own interests, speaking less often and not like it used to be when we were younger. I had actually worried about how I’d interact with Abba while Amma was away, what I’d talk about. Here was another “wow” Alhamdolillah, right from the time we were driving back from the airport, conversation with Abba got flowing and these last couple of days have made it seem like the old times again! Abba and us sisters… we talked, laughed and enjoyed each others company, especially at meal times. I think we got the chance to interact directly with him, instead of going through Amma (as I’d subconsciously begun to do sometimes). Abba also kept checking with me about any things needed at home, what to get from the market and, as strange as that felt earlier (because he asked my mother these type of questions of course), I got used to it later on. I really needed this kind of time with Abba, I realized and so did he, with the three of us. Secretly, I’ve also felt my father’s treating me more like a responsible adult now and I’d like to think it’s because he’s found that, contrary to my usual self, I have organized and taken things like a mature person. Okay, that sounds like a Disney-ish movie scene but it’s sort of true!
Today was the most hectic day so far. I prepared breakfast and laid it out, organized the kitchen and especially the refrigerator, went out for some chores with Abba and asked Abba to buy certain vegeatables I’d noticed we were running short of. When I got back home at noon, I had already planned what would be cooked for lunch – rice to go with the left-over curry and possibly some vegetable dish on the side. I had also noticed we had a lot of milk in the refrigerator and, not wanting it to spoil, I decided to make Ras Malai, a traditional dessert I’d only made once before, a long time ago and not very well at that. However, this spirit of being temporarily in charge of the home had fired up my confidence and I got to it. Within half an hour, the dessert was almost done and Alhamdolillah, it felt and tasted EXACTLY the way my mother made it. Feeling wonderful (really, where were the endorphins coming from?) I sent off some to a neighbor, some for the maid, stored away some for my mother and have reserved the remaining for dinner tonight. Dinner… yes, I think I need to get to that after maghrib.
A very important point here, which really is the centrepoint of this whole post, is that today, with all the running around and tasks to get done, I realized how I was aching in a number of places and my feet were tired with all the running around. Most of all, my head was a little woozy with the thought machinery being exhausted by a succession of tasks… I had a long afternoon nap. I wondered how my mother did this every single day? I used to think she, being a stay-at-home mother with a maid coming to clean up, did not have it very tough. I even used to brush aside Amma’s questions of “What shall I cook for lunch? Will rice do? And what about dinner?” telling her to make whatever she felt like. I had wondered to myself, “how hard can it be? There’s a long list of possible dishes she could make for dinner… it’s all about picking one.” I eat my words today, it’s not as simple as that when you’ve got ten thousand other things to plan, such as picking my sister from tuitions, running errands outside home and at the same time, keeping in mind the available veggies and meat in stock from which to start cooking.
I really appreciate my mother’s role in the house. She’s set it in perfect working condition, we’re just “managing” her system. The cupboards are clean, organized and well stocked… the linens and bedding are in their right places… I can now really, really understand the importance and the challenges of keeping a good home in order, not for a day or a month, but all your life.
Today, I gushingly told her over the phone how everything’s fine and about my cooking being just like hers. I wondered, though, whether she would like knowing the home was working fine in her absence, as if she wasn’t needed but see, as I said, us siblings are just “managers” in her home. I think she did like it because it pleased her to know that her girls were doing a good job and passing this crash course would give an indication of what we could be like in their own future homes. That’s what is every mother’s secret (and often declared) desire for her daughters. And you know what, having learned so much from this experience and also realized that I’m not as hopeless a home-manager as I thought I’d be, I can say that I agree with her.
There’s the Maghrib adhaan… got to go off and prepare dinner afterwards. We’re having Ras Malai for dessert… and the best part is, I’d love to see what Amma thinks of it when she tastes the portion I’ve set aside for her.