Authentic and Hospitable

01 September 2011

“OH, GOD. What in the world will I cook today?” Jaya looked at the pile of vegetables on the counter. Her mother, sitting on the threshold between the kitchen and the work area, nursing her first cup of tea, knew better than to respond although many answers itched inside her. First of all, those beetroots would make a nice pachadi, with some of the sour curd from day before yesterday. And the eggplant would not last very long, so maybe an eggplant curry with coconut. If this were her kitchen, she would have already asked the maid to start grating the coconut. It always came in handy. But here, in her daughter’s house, she was a guest—a permanent guest—and she held her tongue while Jaya went through the hand wringing that was daily routine before she started cooking.

“What shall I do?” she wailed. “The man here does not like eggplant, why did Kamala buy so much eggplant? And we just had beetroots yesterday, the boy won’t eat beetroots again today.” The ‘man here’ was her husband; he sat on the verandah reading his newspaper, a cup of tea steaming next to him. The boy was Jaya’s son, visiting from Mangalore, where he was getting a degree in hotel management, gift-wrapped from a shady private college.

“Chechi, you never tell me how much to buy, and then you always find fault with what I buy,” Kamala, the maid, muttered from the kitchen as she changed into her work clothes. She was 21, and unlike the older maids that Jaya had kept in the past, insisted on combing her hair and changing into a purple sari when she went out on errands.

Shahnaz Habib is a freelance writer based in New York City.