Friday, May 06, 2005

The Artiste

They say path to the heart of a man is through his stomach. And I am a strong believer in this saying.

I have been staying in hostels of one kind or the other for almost 7 years now. And the first question people ask, after knowing this, is, "where do you have your food?". "In the mess, of course!" I answer.

The mess. It has been an integral part of me. In every sense of the word. I have seen all the "seasons" of various messes. The new academic year, with the rains bringing in new delicacies for the boarders. The menu matures as the climate progresses towards the winter, and it's the season of blossom, as then the markets are overflowing with fresh green vegetables. The blossom is not forever though, and we soon have to taste the dryness of summer. Nevermind, the mess takes enough care to provide enough water and juices cooled to correct temperatures.

The mess food is life. The days are remembered by the food we eat. The dosa reminds us of a peaceful Sunday morning - ah, who can forget the delicious fish fry of a Tuesday evening? And the food is not only remembered for the very taste of it, but for the wonderful time one has had at the institute. These two things are not separable.

All this comes as the result of a very mature process, developed over the years, called "cooking". And perhaps we tend to forget, that it's not only a process, but an art in itself. The hands that cut the vegetables, fry the dal, mix the curry with the right ingredients, and what not, move gracefully at a rhythm. The concentration and energy that goes in cooking food for such a large hungry crowd must be enormous. Every dosa made has taken a certain energy out of the cook, and maybe, a lot of emotion. I doubt if a machine-made dosa would taste even half-as better! The cook is a painter, a composer, a writer, a true artist. Spices, veggies, the meat, merely being the colours- or the words at his disposal. And what of it, if sometimes the artist jumbles them a bit too much, he knows how to improve upon it. The artist knows what the audience is like - and comes back very strongly. And he believes that his audience will surely wait for him!

Last week one of the cooks in the C mess passed away. A truly unfortunate event. The messes paid their respect by closing the kitchen for one day. The mess lost one of its artists. I never have really gone inside the mess kitchen to see what really happens there, and unfortunately never have thought so deeply about the cook who feeds me everyday. But I know, now the kitchen will be filled with a silent note amongst the hissess and sschhharrrs in the frying pans. The studio will always miss two of the dexterous hands. Forever.

I like the spicy rasam they make everyday. The spice always brings drops to my nostrils and eyes. I am so addicted to it. But today, I am not sure if the drops were entirely due to the spice in the rasam. I am not sure.

As it so happened, one of my friends suggested I write about the cook who unfortunately expired last week. Sincerely, I had never really thought so much about the mess, the food or the cook for that matter. I have taken for granted that the Mess is always there for me. Perhaps I should think about it again, as I have to leave the institute in less than two months.

I have always wondered if the writers really live the life they describe in their writings. Or is it only the power of imagination that allows them to weave the web including some real threads with many imaginary ones. In simple words, is writing only the matter of "preaching without practicing?" I am not sure. As I am not quite sure if I really shed those drops for the cook. No. I am not sure.

I guess I'll write more about writing soon.

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