Recently, I was invited as ‘celebrity guest’ by a Bengali channel to participate in its daily cookery show. No one was more surprised than I. I do not consider myself remotely linked to the word ‘celebrity’ in a subjective sense though my profession makes me rub shoulders with celebrities every day. So, I asked myself – what went wrong? I have always been afraid of taking political sides because I do not care either for our Mamata Didi or for the film-savvy CM who happens to be a namesake of the peaceful and meditative Gautama Buddha. I have never cared being beaten up for living in an area dominated by Didi’s party and work in pockets dominated by the Ruling Party. So, if I had no ‘party’ to back me – mandatory backdoor politics in this part of the country, how did I land such a prized assignment? It later transpired that a budding television star had suggested my name. This was another surprise because I had never done him any favour like having an interview published or getting him some Page 3 coverage or anything of the kind.
I was delighted because I knew what was at stake – some goo on the face, a bit of patting down of my short hair by a professional hair-dresser, a reasonably good sari – “dark colours please” the producer had warned me, and the goodies that came at the end of the show irrespective of the quality of the dish concocted in front of the television camera. It would come in really handy in times of this tremendous stagflation – prices of consumer goods up – price of stocks and shares down. But, before that, let me tell you what really happens in the name of a cookery reality show.
On the D-Day, I was asked to report around 3.00 pm to the studio that is located almost in a different city. I thought mine would be the sole slot that day as I was doing a ‘celebrity guest’ show. When I arrived at the studio, I found several young ladies with thick make-up and bouffant hairdos that went out of style with Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh, waiting their turn. Some came with husband in tow – either he was unemployed or he had taken French Leave, some with a fussy mother, and one arrived with her entire family entourage – husband, two teenage daughters, younger brother and housemaid. I had to wait for the last slot that begins at 6.00 pm. The sessions had begun at 10.00 in the morning. So much for my ‘celebrity’ status. Understandably, the anchor person – a very popular face on the channel and the star of the show, had begun complaining about a headache coming on at the end of the day. She is not to be seen at any time except when you are already on the floors facing the camera.
The head chef then arrived to ask me if I had brought the ingredients for my recipe till the last thing like the pinch of salt. I said yes. He asked his helper to carry the heavy bag into the studio kitchen and sat himself beside me to check out the recipe I had written down to the last detail. He shook his head and said that they could not use a pressure cooker on the show because the camera would not be able to capture the right angle for viewers to take a look at the cooking method. I tried to argue out that I had already warned the producer about this but she insisted I go ahead with the dish. He stuck to his guns and said that the dish would be cooked in the kadhai and the method would be reversed. What method? That is not important. He divided the ingredients into two halves. One half he cooked his own way on a kadhai, took out a small portion and gave it to me to taste. It was fabulous but I was very sad thinking that this was not my dish at all. If you are going to try re-creating these dishes at home you can buy a pressure cooker from Kitchenistic.com. Then, he patiently explained that the other half of the ingredients would be placed in the studio kitchen for me to cook while the tired anchor lady would ask me mundane questions like where I had met my husband and all that. “There is no time ma’am to cook such a complicated dish within the half hour of the show,” he kept repeating. That shock was yet to register when the last one hit me. After doing some play-acting with the palak and the methi and the dal and the tomatoes on the kadhai on the studio gas stove, he told me that as I would cover the kadhai and put the gas on simmer, the camera would pan to focus on the anchor and this kadhai would be replaced with the kadhai on which he had cooked the original dish his way! It was his recipe, not mine! I had only play-acted for the benefit of the viewers!
As far as the goodies go, I got two one-litre bottles of kacchi ghani mustard oil, two half kilo tins of ghee, four packets of ready-to-cook masala from one of the show’s sponsors, one big bottle of a famous sugar-candy crystals (magic for throat and cold ailments) brand , a wall clock, a half-set of imitation dangling ear-rings that I would never wear and an elaborate necklace that would shock everyone were I to wear it at my age! There was more – one salwar-kameez set of shimmering silk and sequins that was promptly given away to my daughter, and one small brass statuette of a chef with the name of the show etched around his generous belly!
Anurag Kashyap and Madhur Bhandarkar and company, if you are reading this, let’s hope this gives you some more creative ideas when you suffer from a mental block on your creative juices!
The name of the dish? Does it really matter?