How cooking taught me one valuable lesson about life!
I remember the day I finally decided to learn cooking. ‘Insanely delicious’ hostel food and tight student budget meant I had succumbed to looking for alternatives. Plus, there was this distinct charm of students making their food (illegally) in their hostel dorm. So, in 2013, the second year of my college, I asked my close friend to teach me how to make Maggi noodle. What happened next both shocked and disappointed me.
The dude just opened the packet and put the noodle in the boiler, only to proclaim “it’s done” two minutes later. “That’s it? Like seriously?” — I had never felt such total dork my entire life before. Now looking back, what on earth was I expecting of him to do with that packet of noodle? But I had always imagined cooking to be some mini rocket science. So, there I was, not only dumbstruck but also disappointed. After all, my plan to learn ‘actual’ cooking had fizzled out.
Fast forward 3 years, I was taking help from my sister over a Whatsapp call on how to make pasta. Only this time, I was in a distant far-off land, living on my own, and didn’t even have the luxury of surviving on hostel food. When my flatmate made the obvious query after catching me cook the same dish (that beloved pasta) every day, I simply told him that I didn’t know how to cook. Perplexed, he then asked — “How does a 24-year-old not know how to cook?” — not to ridicule me but out of pure curiosity. It was a long story. But I just answered in short — “It’s actually common in my part of the world”
Except my answer was only half true.
The gender stereotype related to cooking, which I guess is prevalent across different parts of the world, is even more prominent in my society. In more than two decades of my life, I had barely ever seen my father cook at home. Cooking meant something reserved for mom or my sisters, and the notion that “Men don’t have to cook” had always been normalized in my head.
It was not like every man in my society felt like that. Some of my friends and cousins knew how to cook, and I had even seen them enjoy cooking. But still, cooking was more about a hobby thing than a necessity for most men in my society.
Then I had my own story. The truth is, I never saw cooking as “work”. Work meant either studying as a student or working professionally later in life. Therefore, even when other men around me tried their hands in cooking, I never had the desire to learn it. And guess what, I was getting away, fairly smoothly, without ever knowing the basic ABCs of cooking. Well, at least up until I was 24 and living in a far-off land, learning how to pasta over WhatsApp calls.
Despite finally being forced into cooking, I undertook cooking with purely survival-based tactics, mostly cooking the same one or two dishes, or even surviving on frozen pizzas from the nearby store. Of course, there were flashes of excitement at times, or even moments of discovery, like the one time I “discovered” that making gravy chicken was just adding some onion and tomato in the already fried chicken. But moments like those were few and far between, and I still saw cooking as an ordeal required for survival. So, when I returned home, I drifted back to the same routine and attitude.
But that was to change.
In one Start-Up where I was working back home, some of my colleagues made the plan to cook at the office for lunch. Most of us had this new interest in eating “everything organic”, and there we had, an office kitchen, lying almost unused.
It’s interesting how our outlook towards things changes depending on the role we play. The same guy who had zero interest in contributing to kitchen work at home suddenly had the urge to contribute at the office. Perhaps it was down to my mind suddenly seeing cooking in a different light, as it was being carried out at a workplace. Seeing my colleagues cook, the same people that I had only seen code, changed my perspective towards cooking. Cooking suddenly felt like “actual work”.
Gradually, I discovered the other side of cooking that I had never experienced before. Cooking slowly became our moment of respite at work, a much-needed break for all of us to switch off from our work mode. Instead of seeing cooking as a survival chore, I started seeing it as a fun playful activity that helped to relieve my stress, and soon started cooking regularly at home.
Afterward, my sabbatical from work made me experience another aspect of cooking. Every time I learned and cooked new recipes from Youtube, I started experiencing a small sense of achievement. Especially on dull unproductive days when I felt down, cooking gave me that sense of doing something productive — or let’s say a little victory — even if it meant making a normal poached egg (sunny side up, obviously!). I also started feeling more confident, knowing I could survive even in places with no frozen pizza!
Of course, it’s a long way before I can share my story about “Cooking as an art”. But I am happy (and very surprised) seeing cooking — which honestly seemed like a distant next life pursuit not so long ago — become an important part of my life. And to tell you a little secret, this urge to recount and share my cooking journey came out because of one recent cooking-related incident that taught me one valuable life lesson!
Two months back, when I had finished delivering one computer programming (R programming) training session, I thought to myself — “Why are these people paying money to learn from us when they can learn the same content from experts for free on Youtube?” Suddenly, it hit my own memory of that WhatsApp video call that I had made to my sister. “Shit, why didn’t I myself just look for Youtube food recipes then?”. Not like I didn’t know about Youtube having tutorials of almost everything possible. So, how on earth did my mind skip such an “obvious” solution?
The realization struck me, that the word “obvious” is a very subjective term. Often in life, we are too quick to judge others if they do not know something that we deem to be obvious. But the truth is, what seems obvious to one person may not be obvious to another. Even if it means not knowing that making a Maggi noodle is the same as boiling a pot of water, or even failing to think of the “obvious” solution that you can look for free recipes on Youtube.