“The Fridge and the Omelette”
By Girijaa Upadhyay
a would run to the fridge every time she heard the Royal Enfield rumbling up the tree-lined road to check if she had six eggs in the carton. The fridge occupied a prime place in the large dining room in those old expansive high-ceilinged colonial bungalows.
Shutting the door ever so gently she would wipe it with a sponge dunked in a light detergent solution and then dry it finally with a piece of sharkskin- the remnants of the cloth left behind by the tailor after he had stitched Pa’s sharkskin suit. Pa wore it for those evenings of dance and gaiety at the club or aboard the ship. Of course with a dapper black bow tie and arose in the buttonhole.All set to tango!
She could hear the throbbing growl of the motorcycle, get closer to the gate, then its spluttering entry onto the gravelled drive lined with Damascena rose bushes. Dinshaw was here. He would park his tiger-machine at the foot of the short flight of steps leading to the door nimbly get off and adjust his trousers.
Then he would take off his brimmed hat and peel away his Ray Bans. Dinshaw was a petit man and one always wondered at the incongruity in the image of the man and his ageing power-machine. His brown corduroys were neatly pressed but the cream shirt tucked into the belted waistband looked tired. Perhaps the result of his work as a foreman in the ammunition factory.
Dinshaw would prance up the veranda steps like a mountain goat; one, two, three, four steps and stride towards the frosted glass-paned door left open for him. He would greet her with a Hello! Mrs…. and walk straight towards the fridge, cooing, “And how is my fridge?” After all the loving glances she would give the fridge right through the day–you do open it ever so often don’t you, if three to four meals are cooked every day in addition to those quick snacks for guests who dropped in–Dinshaw’s tones of intimacy with her treasure-house flusters her. She makes the first mistake to cover up her agitation and distract him away from the fridge by stuttering… “Will you have an omelette?”
Maaa…! An omelette at 11.30 in the morning? Anything to get his grimy unwashed paws off her fridge. The omelette would save her fridge from a long caressing trespass. Having thus lured him away to the dining table and making sure he was seated at a chair with his back to the fridge she would rush into the kitchen to prepare an omelette. For Mr. Dinshaw, who by now was glancing around the room, turning around once in a while to rest his gaze on the fridge, with great affection, as if he had created it, a treat was in the making.
Ma’s second mistake was making the omelette the laborious way; the way she would for all of us at home. This made Dinshaw irrevocably addicted to her omelettes and became the second reason for his frequent visits to the house. Finely chopped onions would be first sautéed in butter,and then the green chillies added and last the finely diced tomatoes. They lent that soft blush on the fluffy omelette. Six eggs would then be separately beaten to a foamy consistency with the eggbeater- a task usually assigned to me. The sautéed onions, chillies and fresh coriander, finely chopped would then be added to the beaten eggs. This whole mixture would be swirled and poured into the special pan with a heavy bottom kept aside for making the only non-vegetarian dish prepared in the house- EGGS. The‘vegetarian nature’ of eggs was emerging as a subject in drawing room discussions, particularly in ‘pure’ vegetarian homes. Since the jury was still out on the subject the pan was kept away from other cooking vessels; just in case.
The mixture of beaten eggs, sautéed seasoning with chopped coriander freshly plucked from the kitchen garden would be poured into the preheated pan and cooked on a slow fire. The generous amount of clarified butter lining the pan would be sizzling around the sides of the omelette. Just at the right moment Ma would lift the omelette and it would be a golden colour. She would then fold the sides over and flip it around for the raw portion to rise like a sponge. Meanwhile two slices of white bread would begently slipped into the toaster. This was no ordinary toaster, it was a pop up! It would also receive the same loving care, except for the sharkskin. Here its sides would be wiped to a shine with a nice soft cotton cloth. Once they were done, Ma would place the brown toasts on a side plate, generously spread butter she made herself with the wooden churner in the big vessel filled with the week’s collection of cream. The omelette and the two toasts would be put on a fine bone china plate with a dainty royal coat of arms around its edges and carried on a wooden tray to Dinshaw who was waiting, with drumming-fingers anticipation. He would tuck the starched napkin into his shirt front and attack the omelette with knife and fork. This would be followed by steaming cup of home brewed coffee. A soft burp later he would leave but not without stroking the fridge once again. A test of endurance for Ma about something that had altered her life and of many women of her time in wonderful ways, like always being able to have your favourite ingredients ready behind that white door, experimenting with puddings and trifles, delicate fluffy soufflés – and many other delicacies that could be stored away from the tropical summers- cold water (a delicacy for workmen and domestics), sherbets, chilled fruits…
After a few months I stopped hearing Dinshaw’s ancient bike heralding his arrival. Neither did I see Ma scurrying to fry those omelettes at 11.30 am. Pa had paid back his loan.
By the time the ‘mixie’ (mixer), the TV, black and white mind you, and the car became members of the family, Dinshaw–that grand omelette-devouring‘friendly’ moneylender on his tiger-machine had become unspoken memory. There were other sources to tap for the fruition of manufactured wants … savings, credit coop societies,credit cards,consumer finance– and of course there was no need for Ma to make those mid-morning omelettes. But those are other stories….
Notes -© Girijaa Upadhyay -Velazquez visual: Courtesy: National Galleries of Scotland. https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/5531/old-woman-cooking-eggs