Bought a pressure cooker the other day. When it arrived and I unpacked it I realised quickly that lowered expectations would have served me better. But how low? This is not the continent, I remembered. Lower your expectations, my thoughts repeated. Sub and sub-par. One of the security guards who watches over our little gated community just sneezed. I can see him from outside my worst-writing office window. He sits in a stool glaring into nothing while watching the/our grounds. What is he thinking, I think. But he can’t be more than twelve years old, I add to my thoughts. At least he looks no more than sixteen. On the other hand, he has a job. Is it better to have a job watching over those from the continent or, perhaps, cooking in a shabby restaurant along side other earthly refugees? That was the last place I saw a boy that looked almost like a man–twelve or sixteen? He prepared my meal the other night when I went out alone to a local western-like mall. My better half was away on business. I need to get out. That’s what this place is starting to feel like. Not getting out but getting… I’m starting to feel confusion boarding hysteria–it’s getting me. My minds-eye therapist says: that’s perfectly normal–unless, of course, they deliver your golf club membership this week. But I digress.
Where am I? I’m on a subcontinent of earthly refugees. But before I get too far off subject. Our only protection from the wolves of the starving classes and their bigoted expatriates is a sixteen year old that looks twelve. I’m not sure if that will do. Golf anyone?
While getting used to this new culture I started wondering who cooks with a pressure cooker anymore/these days? I thought everything was done here with a microwave. You can tell how often they use microwaves here. Just count the amount of times the power goes out. I want to ask our napping security guard about how life is here. My therapist doesn’t think that’s a good idear. Reason, she says, he’s even further away from my language than the rest of them–that live here. You’re here as a guest, she reminds me. Besides, she adds, to think I thought that English was pretty prevalent here, I hope I’ll be proved wrong, but you are a bit naive. You know, she continues, with that colony history not all that far in the past, perhaps they don’t like English. Thinking twice before answering her, I say to myself, Oh but what kind of person would I be to ask a rinky-dink rent-a-cop about subcontinent cooking utensils and life as an expat? Besides, I have a read a book or three about this place to prepare me for being so far away from home. Conclusion? Men on the subcontinent don’t cook. If they do cook, they certainly don’t use a pressure cooker. Unless, of course, they’re paid to do it. And some of them are obviously paid well. That’s what all my books say. Pay well inside your pressure cooker. Don’t you know.
I was told by our maid… Wait. I was told by our housekeeper… Yes. That’s the politically correct way to put it. Is there anything politically correct in this part of the world where pressure cookers rule the day? Which brings me to the income-plete question: the things that come out of pressure cookers is what? Such questions don’t matter anymore. Hence, once again, before I forget while staring at our security guard who is still wiping the snot from his leaky nose and completely indifferent to the mannerism where I come from… But I’m off subject yet again.
I was told by our housekeeper to get a pressure cooker. So I did what any digitally aware sentient would do. I ordered it online. Even though delivery here is slow and painstaking, it arrived. The twelve-sixteen year old accompanied the delivery boy to our door. Yes, everything here is pains-taking. That’s clear to me now. Such pain and takings are probably best felt/seen/learned in the girl that packaged our package–it even confused the youthful security guard–who is probably not unlike our packager, if you will. And get this. The tape that sealed up our package was wrapped around the box perfectly and neat. None of the tape overlapped, crossed, showed sign of breakage or was anywhere pinched together. I mean, come on, dear worst-reader. Don’t you hate that when you are trying to wrap something and the tape tapes itself?
The tape was white and had some kind of handwriting on it. From stern to bow, from east to west, the tape was filled with handwriting that was done with a black magic marker. Of course, that’s not really the shocker here. The shocker is, the writing was in English. Still, I couldn’t make heads or tales of what was written. Was the packager practicing? Was she taking notes? I proceeded to remove the tape from the box and put it to the side. Since the side wasn’t long enough I stretched the tape on the floor. We have a thousand foot long living room that is connected to the dinning area. That should be long enough. But it wasn’t. I found a place on the tape that would allow a carriage return and then cut the tape. Lined side-by-side, the tape stretched one and a half times the length of our stone ground floor. The only other problem is, I couldn’t break away from the tape and what was written on it–even though our maid…. Even though our housekeeper was waiting in the corner of the kitchen for me to provide her with the cooking utensils she needs. How hungry was I going to be in a few hours, I thought. Hunger must take a side-seat.
Language is confusing enough and some day I must provide input here about what the packager, yes, she was female, wrote on that tape. Till then, I’m busy elsewhere. And so. I finally got through the package to the packaged pressure cooker inside. At that moment, which I guess could be a moment of truth, I realised that I wasn’t as far away from home as this whole trip may seem. Three thousand miles here or there, the consume-to-survive world knows no boundaries or nationalities or bigoted usurpers. In all my passivity our new housekeeper tripped me up and grabbed the packaging of the new pressure cooker. She left with the online delivery and its confused packaging. That surprised me. What was I to do with yet another box from Amazon?
The housekeeper said, while she freed the new pressure cooker from its factory packaging, in Indian-English gibberish, This is good, sir, I can save time preparing your Dal, sir, and if you like I’ll even start cooking for your dog, that way you can save more money to pay for me, industrial dog food is bad for the little guy. The only thing I could think about, as my dog slept in the corner that was infested with ants, how the hell is she really gonna save time? Obviously that question actually came out of my mouth. Within a few seconds my new housekeeper put the instructions from the pressure cooker box in my hand and showed me a small piece of paper. There, she said, pointing. There, she repeated, pointing. I read the small paper where her finger left a blemish. Indeed, I thought. She is right. And she should be right. This is her country and her pressure cooker was even made in her country. Within a blink of an eye she was off again whizzing around the kitchen, preparing my Dal.
We are scheduled to be here for three years, I thought to myself while sitting in the corner above my dog watching our housekeeper cook. We are at the front of a three year quest. The end of that quest has never felt so far off, though. How time doesn’t fly when you’re having fun, eh. Our contract says that we will be in India for three years. I bet my bottom dollar that that’s not possible. A high price to pay, I say to my better half. Not a price too little or too big, she says back to me. Now I’m worried about saving my housekeeper time when she cooks us Dal and also wondering how long it will take before our security guards stop sneezing or grow up–because there has to be an end to this (for lack of a better word) adventure sooner or later.
I was trying to worst-write about having purchased a new Indian pressure cooker. The thing is, when it arrived and I unpacked it, our housekeeper was all over it. She cleaned the new cooking device and put all the parts together, remarking that I need to eventually go to the store to get an extra o-ring. Can’t you get that, I asked her. She stared at me with those dark eyes. There was a glistening of jewellery that she hadn’t yet removed because she hadn’t started cleaning yet. That was her thing, you know. When she cleaned she removed her jewellery, when she cooked she put it back on. To top things off, she knows that the o-rings wear out quicker than one should assume. It’s the pressure and the heat, she said. The pressure and the heat kill the o-ring. She then proceeded to stuff the new pressure cooker full of Tuwar Dal. Aren’t you gonna put other ingredients in it as well, I asked. She turned to me, one hand sweeping the floor and the other stirring the Dal in the heated water. No, sir, she mumbled as though chewing on a mouthful of soft marbles. Listen, sir, hear me, on Tuesday when I come, not Monday because Monday is a big cleaning day, on Tuesday, I will show you how to make Dal. And it was at that moment I thought about what brought us here. We were brought here in a pressure cooker. A nice pressure cooker, at that. Probably made out of bronze with copious wings and a singing pressure valve lid that, when used precisely, will actually levitate in the releasing steam just above the valve–what a sight! Yes. I’ve seen the pressure of our cooker and it’s mesmerising in the odds of it all. Or something like that.