Cooking up some stress

August 10th, 2011

Stress and stress-busters can sometimes be like identical twins. It becomes very difficult to tell one from the other.

A few days ago, a friend said: “Work can be so much stress sometimes. I need a break. I plan to stay home this weekend and chill out. I will do nothing… Will watch TV and listen to music. That will rejuvenate me.” I replied with a mute and amused nod.

Perhaps it wasn’t anything amusing, but I had heard the same sequence of words spoken with the same expression by the same person so many times before, that I jolly well knew each word of what I was going to hear after the weekend. And, as it turned out on Monday, I was absolutely right. As I had guessed, the post-weekend narration of the chill-out experience was summed up in these words: “My goodness! TV shows these days are no good. And I don’t even want to talk about the stuff they play on music channels and FM radios these days. Pathetic! They give you headache. It was a terrible idea. I feel more stressed now. Next time, I am not going to ruin my holiday like that. I will do something really good.”

As before, my reply was a mute nod and a silly-looking smile.

I laugh it off every time this friend of mine repeats her stress-busting exercise and, disappointed, plans to do something better the next time. But I secretly empathise with her.

Not that I too do nothing better than sitting before the idiot box or listening to ear-piercing songs on radio weekend after weekend, but that exercise is not completely off my itinerary either. Besides these, I have tried my hands at other things too, perhaps everything that some or the other friend, at some or the other time, referred to as stress-buster.

Once a buddy said cooking was a good stress-buster so I should try it someday. I am not endowed with any culinary prowess. In fact, I am a horrible cook, to put it plainly. But I lent more than my ear to this advice and the next thing I knew, I was in a crowded bookstore, browsing through all sorts of colourful and flashy cookbooks, with recipes for delicacies from all corners of the world. If nothing, the excitement and the half hour spent in zeroing in on a good-looking cookbook of mughlai foods was certainly a stress-buster. So pumped was I that I even invited two of my close friends to dinner at my place. But what followed was quite an ordeal. Mounted on a motorbike with a backpack and in it, the cookbook, I was out in the market, shopping for such vegetables and spices and other ingredients that I had never even heard about.

Halting at each sabziwallah’s stall, bringing out my book, reading from it and asking for the stuff, only to get back amused stares, made me look rather stupid. But who cared… As long as I was doing something ‘interesting’? I somehow, after a marathon recce of the market, managed to get all the ingredients. And there I was, all set for my first real cooking experience.

From washing the vegetables to finely chopping them and pressure cooking or frying them, I went by the rule book, literally, word by word. I even used a stopwatch to ensure my food was not over- or under- cooked.

After a backbreaking 4 hours in the kitchen that also saw half the fluid content of my underweight body lost in sweat, my food was finally ready and it was time to enjoy the fruit of my day’s labour with my buddies.

With bated breath I saw my friends eat their first bites. At least one of the two managed to squeeze out a smile. The other, known to be vocally critical of everything less than perfect by her own standards, did not say anything. That, I assumed, was a stamp on the success of my maiden endeavour as the king of my kitchen.

But the joy came down from its peak the very next moment, as I could not resist the temptation and chose to eat some myself. I sprang at least half a foot above the ground and ran frantically for water.

It would take a lifetime of research & development to find out what went wrong and how I managed to fare so terribly in the kitchen. But when I was starting my work in office the next day my expressions and sentiments were not much different from those of my friend who spends her weekends watching TV and listening to music. I felt stressed.

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