'Could you not boil the cauliflower a little bit?' he said, irritation abound in his voice. Mridu shivered. The lunch has just started. Somesh has not even started eating; he has only served the food onto his plate. These 'suggestions', as Somesh liked to call them, will continue throughout the meal. 'It only takes one whistle in the cooker, you know!'
Somesh was not a bad husband at all. At times, Mridu even liked him. And he was a doting father to their 3 month old. But he was very particular about his food, and way short of patient. Somesh said something about the chapattis undercooked. Mridula fought back the emotions building up in her throat. She wanted to say that she'll remember that next time, but couldn't. Her voice would probably choke of emotions, she thought. Not that Somesh would notice, Mridu knows by experience. Her silence fueled Somesh some more.
'But why would you?? You just don't want anyone to enjoy their food, do you? You derive sadistic pleasure from my plight. '
Mridu had left the water jug in the kitchen for precisely this moment. She got up from her chair and rushed to the kitchen. She wiped her dry eyes. Why should one need to wipe dry eyes ? May be it's psychological. It's like giving a threat to the tears, welling up somewhere in a dark, unseen corner of the eye. .'Don't you dare come out in the open!!' Mridu fetched the water jug, and goes back. Back for more insults'
But she was lucky today. A phone rang ' someone from office. Indeed, Somesh left the table to attend the call. Mridu quickly gulped down her lunch. She must finish before the call ends so that she can excuse herself to look after the baby, and the daily ordeal would end.
The call was too short to allow that, but it must have been something really urgent ' it took his mind off the cauliflower. Somesh started to discuss about someone's resignation at office. Mridu felt relaxed. She felt nostalgic. She had forgotten how it felt like discussing something other then food at dinner table. Back home, when she was in school, mealtimes used to be her favorite. The whole family sat down to eat together, as Ma made hot chapattis for them. They never talked food; it was always something else ' School, Politics, Relatives, Maids, Neighbors, Dreams, Plans ' Anything, but never Food. Was Ma a perfect cook? Sometimes, she remembers, the food was less than good, but no one criticized Ma. They would say, for example, Pass the salt. Mridu had never instead heard Papa say ' 'So you have forgotten to put the salt in sabji? Can't you pay a little more attention to food! Careless as ever.' Until after marriage, that is.
She also remembers her first time ever in the kitchen cooking. She had made dal, without Ma's help. Everyone was eagerly waiting. They all cheered as she got the bowl of dal out in the dining area. 'How Delicious, so much better than your Ma's', Papa had remarked teasingly. Mom smiled proudly, as if he was congratulating her. How vivid the memories are, when her elder brother said 'It's perfect, except for one little detail'. Almost defensively he had added that the dal was not a homogenous mixture of water, pulses and spices, as it is supposed to be. How angry she had been with him, for ruining her First-Dish-I-made-Day with such insensitivity. How little she knew then'
This train of thoughts is broken abruptly by Somesh's raised voice. His demanding eyes are waiting for an answer to the question Mridu hasn't even heard.
'Are you deaf? Shall we go for a checkup?' He says, sarcastically.
It's like a 'fast forward to Present' for Mridula. She manages a polite 'What?' Somesh wants more sugar. The kheer is bland, he informs. Why hasn't she put more dry-fruits in it, he wants to know. And the almonds were not even peeled, he adds as he shuts the door. Office Beckons.
Mridula takes a deep breath, and reaches for her baby. She's sound asleep in the crib, a picture of peace. Mridula smiles, and calculates. Ii is six hours to dinner.