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.