It was about 6.30 or 7.00 in the evening. I was sitting at my writing table invoking the muse. My wife bulldozed into the room and said-Heiti Sunucha. These words are untranslatable in English. Only married Oriya man gets to hear that. For that matter all married Indian men get to hear those words in different languages: Ogo suncha in Bengali, Eji Sunteho in Hindi and so on. And when one hears those words spoken in a slightly nasal tone, like purring of a cat, he senses trouble. As I did and tried to avoid by not answering it. But she like the proverbial limpet or like an insurance agent (come to think of that she would have made an excellent insurance agent. Pity, how real talent is wasted in this country) never gives up. She sauntered near me and shouted - Sunucha (Do you hear me). After that amount of noise no self-respecting muse could linger on. So I put down my pen and looked at her-all ears.
"We need a pressure cooker", she said without any further talk. Direct. Matter of fact.
"Pressure-cooker! But, why? I asked.
"To cook, what else?"
I am already cooked by your pressure, Srimati. Why then do you need a pressure-cooker? I asked that to myself. I could not venture to say that loudly. Could I?
"You see", she dragged a chair and sat beside me, "A pressure-cooker would save much time in cooking and fuel"... It would also cost me 500 rupees, I thought ..... "You go to office at 9.30. And often you have to ear half-cooked rice and curry, because it takes so long to cook in a handi. If we have a pressure-cooker, I could cook you a hearty meal. Daily. And in time."
I know perfectly what would happen. She would get up even late. But I did not say anything. Seven years of married life has wizened me.
"Why are you sitting like a mummy? Say something. I want a pressure-cooker." She said, "All our neighbors have pressure-cookers. We don't. Don't we have any prestige!"
I did not understand the relation between having a pressure cooker and social prestige.
"Whenever any one of them comes to our home, she would say - hey, you don't have even a pressure-cooker. How do you manage to cook without one? Phulei! (this again is one of those untranslatable Oriya terms. Better find out its meaning from your Oriya-knowing friends) You must get a pressure-cooker for me. Immediately. Tomorrow."
I sensed, Srimati was in a real militant mood. If I fail to get her a pressure cooker there would be calamity of the worst kind.
So I went and coaxed one of my friends to give me a loan telling him a lie (or, did I speak the truth?) that my wife was sick and I needed money for her treatment and bought a pressure-cooker, appropriately named - 'Prestige'.
"Prestige" arrived wrapped up in a cardboard box, and my Srimati was predictably happy. She planted a kiss on my hollowed cheek and ordered, Go and get a kilo chicken".
"Chicken? - another 80 rupees down the drain or more appropriately down the throat, I thought.
"Yes chicken, You don't think we would 'inaugurate' the new pressure-cooker by cooking dal?", thundered my wife.
"Are you not scared of the Bird Flu"? I tried my best to refrain her.
Don't you read newspapers? If the chicken is cooked properly, there is no flu.
Now I realize why wise men do not bring newspapers home.
So I went and bought a kilo of chicken. She opened the pressure-cooker with a flourish, and put it on the choolah. Now she would pour oil and fry the masala. Then she would put the meat on the masala and fry. They the cover would be put. Three seetis (Whistles). Bas, chicken ready. That was the theory. But there is always a gap between theory and practice. And this time the gap remained in the form of an obstinate cover that refused to close. I read the instruction manual; There is an arrow mark on the body of the pressure-cooker, another on the cover. Keep two arrow marks facing each other and gently move the cover to the left. She did exactly as per the instruction. The cover did not smugly close. Instead it rotated - Khad Khad, Kharar. My wife tried again and yet again- but to no avail. The cover was as obstinate as she was. 'Made for each other' - I thought in a feat of black-humor.
Five minutes later, the pressure cooker cover won the battle. Srimati gave it a savage look and then turned to me - "That cover is defective. You should have checked that before buying. Useless bum!" She cursed her fact for perhaps the millionth time for marrying a good for nothing man like me, who could not even differentiae between a good pressure-cooker from a defective one.
Then I decided to take on that obstinate cover and by closing it teach a lesson to my Srimati that I was not that useless. So I literally tightened my belt and thought about the achievements of men to boost my morale. It was men who built space craft, Empire state Building, Submarines. Phoo Dorji climbed a top Everest without oxygen, Mihir Sen swam across English channel. There is virtually nothing that a man can not do, if he sets his mind to it,." I thought, and could I not close a pressure-cooker cover? What is closing a pressure cooker cover to climbing Everest.
I squatted down, holding the pressure cooker between my two knees and tried to close its cover with all my force, intellect and ingenuity. But it beat me. Some men are born to be defeated everywhere, and I guess I am one of them. The cover rotated and rotated with that cranky, metallic sound. It never fitted in, like so many other things in my life.
I heaved a sigh, and gave up. And then, for the first time I saw our ' mine and my Srimati's reflections on the polished convex surface of the cooker. There they were. Small limbs. Small round eyes. Large crooked noses. Two 'dressed' chicken, cooked in the pressure of life.