(This article appeared in an edited form in a local paper called Friday Gurgaon)
January is a month of beginnings and I began mine with the odious task of party hosting. Now, there are lots of folk who enjoy entertaining, who excel at putting together a great menu, who have exquisite chinaware that draws ‘oohs’ of appreciation from the most discerning guest, and whose home is in a permanently immaculate state. I’m not one of those folk.
A month of beginnings
My house always looks like it’s been hit by one of those north Indian summer aandhis with lost socks nestling in corners, month-old newspapers obscuring the side tables, family photographs permanently askew and a sofa set that looked like it had suffered the onslaughts of a teething puppy… even before I had a puppy.
My collection of tableware is, to put it politely, somewhat mismatched: tribal curry bowls made from gourd jostle for space with glazed turquoise china, dented steel plates, and a whole pile of chipped this-and-that.
The powerful maw of the er hound
Then, I’m a slave to the domestic staff. I love eating but I’m a nincompoop in the kitchen, the sort who might absentmindedly put salt in a cup of coffee! This means I’m always sweet to the maid because I live in terror that she might abandon me and move in with the neighbouring memsahib. Chetan Bhagat recently wrote a long and sanctimonious piece about how the help should be treated. I could give him some tips. I treat them better than I treat my awfully wedded spouse (yes, I am being ironic but only about the awfully wedded bit).
Anyway, one day, late last year, the aforementioned spouse swung through the door and announced that he had invited a bunch of people for a new year’s bash. Remembering that the maid had just left for her year-end break, I almost swooned like a lady in a Victorian novel. I could hear the sound of my dreams of a quiet new year’s eve quaffing someone else’s premium alcohol crashing in a valley of despair.
“But, but, but,” I blubbered, “How will I manage?”
“Find a way,” the man of the house muttered “I’ve already sent out texts to everyone”.
Eventually, the big night dawned. In preparation, the progeny, rather unexpectedly, spent the day retrieving socks, rearranging the furniture and even removing smudges of pigeon poop from the balcony plants.
Some order in the dining area after the boys deigned to help
The itinerant cook was, ah, impressed upon to do the kitchen duties while I attempted to be sparkling company. I succeeded mostly thanks to a very polite gentleman called Mr Johnny Walker but hey, that’s not belittling my achievement. My sole brave endeavour in the kitchen was the simple strawberries in cream, which I had developed a taste for in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra.
“Very Wimbledon,” someone said appreciatively, proving yet again that if you pass enough alcohol around and provide enough finger foods, everything tastes like ambrosia.
After the last guest had left, the esteemed spouse turned to me. “We did it!” he said while I wondered about the use of that “we”. In the interests of marital harmony, however, I let that pass. Besides, I needed to get a move on -- I was scheduled to spend the first few hours of the brand new year washing a mound of vessels.
Agatha Christie once quipped that she got her best ideas while doing the dishes. I’m not Agatha Christie. The only idea that came to me at the kitchen sink was to pray fervently, to whichever deity deigned to listen, that the maid return and that I not be doomed to labour in the dreaded kitchen, the entirely outsourced heart of my home, throughout the year.