My mother and I shared a love-hate relationship. I always felt that she favoured my brothers, and I came second to her sons. This was something I never stopped fighting about. And my most vehement argument towards my claim was this: whenever she made dosas, I always got the broken bits and pieces of a disintegrated half-burnt dosa, while my brothers were always served perfect, round crispy dosas. This was solid evidence which she could not dispute. It always happened. I believed she cooked for them with love, never for me.
To my mother, anything I did was never enough. I was the abominable girl who always snuggled up with her books. I could not sew, embroider, knit, and worse, couldn’t cook. She never gave up admonishing me about how my marriage would fall apart due to my lack of culinary skills. Proving her wrong on this count was my biggest challenge.
After I got married, as she predicted, the kitchen turned out to be a huge hurdle. I had hardly spent any time experimenting in one. Worse, I was married to a man who loved his food. I distinctly remember my initial forays into dosa making.
After compiling advice from several Tamilian friends, I managed to make the batter. It wasn’t easy. I nearly burnt down my food processor trying to grind huge proportions of soaked rice to the right consistency. It was frustrating waiting for the machine to cool down, then pressing the red reset button at the bottom – before starting each new batch. It took hours. Sometimes I got fed up with the long time it took, and mixed the improperly ground rice with the urad dal. The dosa batter naturally wouldn’t rise properly the next morning, leaving me in tears. I tried the packaged versions and the dosas would taste horrible.
When I finally perfected the art of making the right dosa batter, my next struggle came with learning how to pour out perfect dosas on the tawa. I tried all kinds of tawas– the iron tawa, the non-stick one and a huge square dosa tawa that a colleague gifted me. But nothing worked. The batter I poured would often get stuck in a clumpy coagulum. My dosas were invariably thick and gluey.
After several dosas hit the bin, I mastered the knack of pouring out perfect circles. The key was in thinning out the batter to the right consistency. But then my dosas would wickedly adhere to the tawa. The circular beauties would simply refuse to give up clinging to the tawa as I used maniac energy to push with the spatula. My attempts at scraping off the stuck batter often lasted till my dosas charred. The perfect dosa always evaded me.
Eventually I was rescued by Sanjeev Kapoor’s television shows, recipe books, and online videos. I never stopped telling my Mom how Sanjeev Kapoor taught me more than she ever did! I realized that it was a classic case of naach na jaane aangan tedha (a Hindi idiom which roughly translates to ‘a bad workman blames his tools’). The problem was not with my tawa, it was with me.
Patience was never one of my virtues. I never had the patience to wait until the tawa was heated to the right temperature before I poured the batter. I had been using the same tawa after making dry chappatis– and when the surface was not oiled enough, my dosas stuck to the tawa. Once the first few dosas had been discarded, the right temperature was usually attained, and the oiled surface was suitable to produce perfect dosas. Now that this puzzle was solved, I was in dosa heaven! Nothing taught me more patience that the art of dosa making did.
A month before my mother died, we were having dosas for breakfast. As I served my mother the perfect round and crisp dosa, I couldn’t help launch into my perennial squabble. “See, I don’t serve you disintegrated dosas like you did. I love you enough to serve you round dosas,” I bantered.
My mother first ate quietly. Then she quipped, “Did you ever realize that you always got the broken dosas just because you were always served first? By the time your brothers started eating, the tawa usually reached the right temperature!”