Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Domestic Bliss

I spend all morning cleaning the kitchen. If it’s death-defying window-buffing you’re after, Suresh is your man, but I don’t think he feels the same way I do, about wiping sockets. Don’t misunderstand me, in my normal incarnation, I’m far from as far from a Cillit Bang zealot as it’s possible to get, just this side of clostridium difficile, as you will know if you’ve ever had dinner at our house. In a strange kitchen, though, germs need to prove their pedigree, which means starting with a clean slate. The sockets can go unmolested now, until we leave.
Today’s about conquering dal. Or dahl. Or daal. Or even dhal, though I’m uncomfortable with that configuration. Anyway, it requires shopping, since all we have in is a mango and some porridge oats. (I’m sure deft Indian cooks could make dal out of these, but not me.) D-Mart it is, then. I try to hit the store at a different time each day, so’s not to become the three o’clock cabaret for locals. At two thirty, therefore, armed with my shopping-list, short-sightedly written in English, I stand looking hopelessly at the spices, while a shop-girl, on a tall, wobbly stool, lobs unwanted packets of rice-cakes over her shoulder, without looking, into the trolley behind. I try to concentrate on determining whether “Dhania powder” is cumin or coriander, as rice-cakes fly past my ear. With the aid of a friendly fellow-shopper, who rings her husband to find out what “cardamom” is in Hindi, I locate about half of what’s on my list, which is a result, in my book. Another lady, haplessly behind me at the till, is subjected to the Mumbai inquisition, about how she cooks everything in her basket. Not the toothpaste, obviously. “You finding out about India?” she says, with a smile. They’ll probably have a new sign outside D-Mart soon, saying “She’s here, come back in half an hour,” or “She’s not in, come quick!” – but I won’t know, because it’ll be in Hindi.
Home again, I set about messing up the kitchen I spent all morning cleaning. Sic transit, and all that. Then I discover we have no garlic – how this slithered off the list is unimaginable, since here, we have garlic on our cornflakes. But I have a cunning plan. Instead of going all the way back to D-Mart, I tackle the roadside stall almost at our gates. This is a first, and I nearly nearly swerve by. The stall-holder’s chum gives me the eyebrows-to-toenails once-over, and, for a moment, I think I’m in France. I buy six heads of garlic for 25 rupees, and return home as if I’d just bagged the Holy Grail. I’m just swirling my stash of garlic round my head, like a drum majorette, when I am accosted from behind. “Madame! Madame! You need massage?”
The dal turns out like lentil soup with attitude, but that’s what dal is, isn’t it? Roland eats it, anyway. He knows there’s no alternative, other than the aforesaid mango and porridge oats, and that’s for breakfast. With garlic, of course.