However, if such a thing were to happen, that the Scorpios of the world (including cusps who are such wonderful blends of bizarreness) had to vacate terra firma, I would insist on one Scorpio staying back. My good friend, Anumita.
She invited me to her fancy party – with crystal, candles, and a glass table draped in an elegant chartreuse, lace tablecloth. Usually, I am not allowed around such things – at least not without someone hissing ‘Don’t go there!’ in the background. And here, she actually trusted me to go and help myself to delicious food that could so easily drip and smudge and spoil the sheen of her extremely well kept apartment. I must say that I didn’t spill anything anywhere. I think holding my breath while I took the food helped me balance china and pasta well.
And while the dinner was excellent, the true glory of the evening was the dessert – whipped cream and mangoes.
First of all, I’m not really a dessert person. In fact, I don’t much care for whipped cream in particular. But this was a work of art – the blend, the chilled sweetness, the visual symmetry of folds of cream, the bright yellow chunks of mangoes, each evenly and richly textured– it was a gastronomic Rubin. It was just one of those dishes that got prepared when the stars were in perfect alignment; those rare, jewel times when a culinary wonder is born.
Anumita’s whipped cream and mangoes were exquisite. And I use this word the way some Spaniard may have used it when he held an orchid for the first time.
In fact, had I not been on a strict vigilance of my surroundings, I would have gladly licked the serving spoon in the midst of the meal itself. However, I indulged in this guilty pleasure only after all the other guests had left (each of them peeked into the dessert bowl at least three times, as if expecting more mangoes and cream to appear magically). I am quite aware that I run the risk of never getting invited again, but in my defence, I am only human but the dessert was divine.
Usually, my deal with good cooks is that I appreciate them, not emulate them. So while I secretly write love poems about how people make mutton curries and jeera rice, I have never been moved enough to get into a kitchen and try anything myself. But that night, after tasting a little bit of the dessert, something deep inside my stomach or my heart, (it is so easy to confuse the two in such matters), stirred.
I realized that I cannot live by eating bread alone. I must try to bake it.
And try I did. It was for Anumita when she and her husband had come to visit me in Pune. Of course, it was monumental stupidity on my part – getting her to taste my very first attempt at anything involving cream when she was a virtuoso at it. But then, Anumita doesn’t expect me to be very intelligent anyway, so it was okay.
The cream was too liquidy, the mangoes were too sour..in fact, the only saving grace were the chilled glasses that they were served in. And to further distract her attention to what was a dismal attempt at a masterpiece, I served the dessert by the pool which looked pretty and poised in the moonlight.
Oh well, I’d get an A for effort.
But then, that wasn’t enough. I resolved to master that dessert – make it in such a way that people will actually like it even if it isn’t served beside aquatic elements. So last night, I decided to try it again.
I started grounding the sugar with a rolling pin. It’s a very pleasurable experience. I like the steady, methodical scrunching of the granules and the consequent waifish softness of powdered sugar – like snow that falls upon a glass city at Christmas time. It’s a little magical, the way you can get something ethereal with a wooden tool and some plodding.
Anyway, a few minutes later I had a neat mound of fine sugar. I tasted a little bit and suddenly, I had this yearning for something coarse, starchy, and sweet. So, what I did was mix a good bit of sugar with flour and asked my bai to make chapattis with that. The chapattis weren’t very thin though. They need to be a little thick so that the sweetness is more substantial. Then I heated some ghee, smeared it on the rotis, and topped it off with a lump of jaggery.
The best part of this kind of a roti is the layers of sweetness that roll on the tongue with each bite. There's the little melt-in-the mouth sugary taste and the hot, rich gooey jaggery and ghee mixture that's gorgeous too. You can have one such chapatti with a cup of tea or coffee without feeling overwhlemed with sugar.
It wasn’t in the same league as the whipped cream, of course, but my taste-buds, the ever objective ego-free critics, did say, ‘Yumm’.
The next time Anumita comes visiting, this is what I shall serve her. And I’m pretty sure she’d like that even if it isn’t served by the pool.