|Home | Issues | The Daily Star Home | Volume 5 Issue 16, Tuesday, April 20, 2010|
The elaborate spread that lies on the table hardly matters; each dish ornate with its own condiments and garnishing, but eager eyes sway towards the kitchen door, with unbridled impatience. The build-up is too much to take, the atmosphere seeping with anticipation. And then appears the masterpiece, proudly presented in the best, porcelain crockery in the house, and pompously placed where it rightfully belongs, in the centre of the banquet.
The first bite confirms what was never doubted: Grandma's roast beef remains timeless, delectable and unparalleled in taste, as it has always been. Each morsel, lusciously succulent, bursting with flavour and aroma; it is gourmet at its best. And no matter how much her sisters or nieces or even her own daughter try to make it the way she does, it will never turn out the same.
The same ingredients in the same quantities, even the same time and effort will never bring out quite the same result, which confirms that the secret lies in the technique of the hand, and that is something that can never be imitated. The key to making Grandma's outstanding roast beef remains a secret, an enigma that will never be unravelled; even though she had learnt its perfection by the time she was 15.
Grandmothers in every household, through generations, seem to have held the secret keys to the world of culinary delights. Every grandmother has a specialty, a signature dish that is undoubtedly titled as the best, and attempts by anyone else to achieve the same results somehow always turn out futile. The recipe becomes a family saga, to be forwarded through the generations. Come to think of it, grandmothers seem to have a magic touch that can turn any mundane everyday dish into a truly delightful gastronomic experience. A simple meal of khichuri and beef cooked by my grandmother seems to be a feast fit for royalty.
I have never understood why the meals cooked in our home never really taste this good. I remember waiting impatiently for the weekends to arrive so I could rush off to my grandparents to be pampered all day and treated to the yummiest delicacies, which my grandma would cook lovingly for us. The taste still lingers in my mouth, as do the memories of some of the happiest times I have spent so far.
It is not only cooking where the grandmothers have unparalleled expertise. If it's a zit bothering the teenage grand daughter, pat comes a paste of clove, neem and whatnot with the skin problems being gently kissed goodbye. If the new mother in the family is being kept awake all night by a crying baby, the grandmother comes up with concoctions that will help the baby rest peacefully and restore the much-needed sleep to the mother.
It really is a wonder how these women, most of whom were married off as teenagers, managed to learn so much on their own. They didn't need recipe books to learn cooking or required the Dummies' Guide to learning how to take care of their newborns. And yet, they are wonder women we know we will never be. When we hear stories of our grandmother's youth, we cannot help but wonder how, as teenage brides, they managed to take the reins of an entire household, starting from being the perfectly homely daughter-in-law to their mother-in-law to the stylish wife our handsome grandfather always wanted beside them.
While our father or mother were growing up, your grandmas found the time to give them the healthy upbringing they needed and yet was never too busy to be the welcoming hostess to friends on weekends or the shoulder for all of the eight siblings to cry on.
We can only marvel at how a woman can be so many different avatars built into one and how she can carry off each role with equal poise and sincerity. This is the story of all our grandmothers' youth.
They didn't have washing machines to ease the burden of laundry, nor were there any pressure cookers or vacuum cleaners to accelerate their daily chores. Many of them even held prestigious jobs in those olden days when women had to overcome countless barriers just to step out of their homes.
Even in their ripe, octogenarian age they show an insatiable desire to live life. Ailments weaken their body but the soul remains young as ever. They walk, taking small strides, around the house inquiring if the grandchildren are already up for university or if the sister-in-law left for office after a full breakfast.
They often push themselves, making the occasional pickle during the season of mangoes and then fall sick. They crave attention, and maybe never receiving what they deserve. And yet, they are wonder women we know we will never be.
By Wasia Mehnaz
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