If food be the music of life…


I have vivid memories of my grandmother. Freshly bathed, towel wrapped sternly around her hair, cooking and singing. This musical affection to cooking has always existed in my family. My grandmother would start tadka with small invocations to minor Gods, fry with lilting prayers to obscure Gods and cook the main course in Pallavi, Neelambari and Kalyani. I asked her why, and she said she was calling divinity to bless her food and make it taste good. And boy was it divine! It was ambrosia. My grandmother strongly believed that the busy Gods had not much to do other than descend into random South Indian dishes, however, I mean no disrespect and she was undoubtedly the best cook in that hemisphere.

Things changed with Amma. Following the good Indian tradition of displeasing the mother in law in every way, not only did my mother cook differently, she also sang differently. Yes, Amma also sang, but god forbid, film songs. I for one enjoyed the musical medley. Amma blended past and present seamlessly, an 80’s soulful Illayaraja followed by a peppy Rahman. Boney M and Bappida. Nithyasree meets Nazia Hassan. Abacharam screamed the mother in law. But this only produced, if possible, better food. Music blending from all four directions, the gentle sauté in mild spices. New age organic tofu and spring onions in a Kumbakonam eeya chombu made for a divine gastronomic orgasm.

Occasionally a sour note would be produced, when Amma and grandma both cooked together. This was inevitable, after there are only seven swaras but eight notes, and when do-re-mi resonates with pa-da-ni-sa the odd dissonance shatters even the thickest of glasses. Weird tomato chutney and a soggy medu vadai, with lots of killer looks and heavenly curses. But it was soon forgotten, in the wake of fusion payasam and heaven-sanctioned tiramisu.

Appa also cooked. He would also hum sporadically, utilizing the pauses to decide whether he must add sugar, or salt to the concoction simmering away to glory. Appa’s food was like him, spicy, flavourful, hitting the palate like the rains on a Mumbai afternoon.

I recently discovered, much to my family’s horror, that I am a terrible cook. Amma said singing helps, good mood makes a good cook. Appa said humming helps concentrate, Grandma sent me a devotional CD. Only divine intervention can help now, was her diagnosis. I tried, but to no end. Probably growing up with too much good food, Newton’s third law at play, I reasoned myself.

But every time I cook, I can’t help but hum. A bad selection of odds and ends, songs neither here nor there. Not only does my wife have to be a good cook, she also has to sing, her own playlist.

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9 Comments

Filed under family, food, music

9 responses to “If food be the music of life…

  1. swatimala

    i pity the fool who marries u

  2. Elusive

    How about a “Cook book for those beyond help”? Perhaps, you just save the humming and singing for stage II, when the food no longer is served raw or over-cooked. Till you get there, try to listen to motivations songs..”I will Survive” ? :Pbtw.. if I come across Fair Intelligent Beautiful Tamil Brahmin proficient in the art of cooking, will let u knw

  3. buddy

    thank you o elusive one..thou art truly a matchmaker beyond compareps:fair girl???

  4. padmaja

    I enjoyed this post! I hum sometimes when I cook, but it does nothing to improve the taste!!

  5. buddy

    thnaks padmaja…humming doesnt help me either

  6. maami

    You must sing whilst you cook.It adds flavour to the cooking. Ask me:find cooking a chore, but I think my humming helps alleviate the boredom of making meals.

  7. Gargi

    nice funda no?i guess thats what amma and paati were trying to tell me

  8. buddy

    will try maami…hopefully it works

  9. Liberal

    really funny and entertaining!

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