This story is from the book The Adventures of Rusty. Rusty is a 12-year-old boy, and as you read on, you might think that he is very much a part of you! The book has two sections, and Granny’s Fabulous Kitchen is the beginning of the first section.
As kitchens went, it wasn’t all that big. It wasn’t as big as the bedroom or the living-room, but it was big enough, and there was a pantry next to it. What made it fabulous was all that came out of it; good things to eat like kababs and curries, chocolate fudge and peanut toffee, jellies and gulab jamuns, meat-pies and apple-pies, stuffed turkeys, stuffed chickens, stuffed eggplants, and ham stuffed with chickens!
Granny was the best cook in the world.
The town we lived in was called Dehradun. It’s still there, though much bigger and busier since Independence. Granny had a house, a large rambling bungalow, on the outskirts of the town. In the grounds were many trees, most of them fruit trees — mangoes, lichees, guavas, bananas, papayas, lemons — there was room for all of them, including a giant jack-fruit tree casting its shadow on the walls of the house.
Blessed is the house upon whose walls
The shade of an old tree softly falls
I remember those words of Granny’s. They were true words, because it was a good house to live in, especially for a nine-year-old with a tremendous appetite.
If Granny was the best cook in the world, I must have been the boy with the biggest appetite. And I was very lucky, because not every boy has a grandmother who can cook like an angel. (That is, if angels do any cooking.)
Every winter, when I came home from boarding school, I would spend at least a month with Granny before going on to spend the rest of the holidays with my parents in Assam, where my father was the manager of a tea estate. The tea gardens were great fun, but my parents couldn’t cook. They employed a khansama — a professional cook — who made good mutton curry, but little else. Mutton curry for dinner can be a bit tiring, especially for a boy who likes to eat almost everything.
So I was always glad to go to Granny’s place for half the holidays.
She was glad to have me too, because she lived alone most of the time. Not entirely alone, though… there was a gardener, Kanta, who lived in an outhouse. And he had a son called Mohan, who was about my age. And there was Suzie, the Siamese cat with bright blue eyes, and a mongrel dog called Crazy because he ran circles round the house.
And, of course there was Uncle Ken, Granny’s nephew, who came to stay whenever he was out of a job, (which was quite often) or when he felt like enjoying some of Granny’s cooking.
So Granny wasn’t really alone. All the same, she was glad to have me. She didn’t enjoy cooking for herself, she said — she had to cook for someone. And although the cat and the dog and even sometimes Uncle Ken appreciated her efforts, a good cook likes to have a boy to feed, because boys are adventurous and ready to try the most unusual dishes.
Whenever Granny tried out a new recipe on me, she would wait for my comments and reactions, and then make a note in an exercise book. These notes were useful when she tried it out on others.
“Do you like it?” she’d ask, after I’d taken a few mouthfuls.
“Not too sweet?”
“Would you like some more?”
“Yes, please, Gran.”
“Well, finish it off.”
This was one of Granny’s specialities.
The first time I had roast duck at Granny’s place, Uncle Ken was there too.
He’d just lost a job as a railway guard, and had come to stay with Granny until he could find another job. He always stayed as long as he could, only moving on when Granny offered to get him a job as an assistant master in Padre Das’s Academy for Small Boys. Uncle Ken couldn’t stand small boys. They made him nervous, he said. I made him nervous too, but there was only one of me, and there was always Granny to protect him. At Padre Das’s, there were over a hundred small boys.
Although Uncle Ken had a tremendous appetite, and ate just as much as I did, he never praised Granny’s dishes. I think this was why I was angry with him at times, and why sometimes I enjoyed making him feel nervous.
Uncle Ken looked down at the roast duck, his glasses slipping down to the edge of his nose.
“Hummm… duck again, Aunt May?”
“What do you mean, ‘Duck again’? You haven’t had duck since you were here last month.”
“That’s what I mean,” said Uncle Ken. “Somehow, one expects more variety from you, Aunt May.”
All the same, he took two large helpings and ate most of the stuffing before I could get at it. I took my revenge by emptying all the apple sauce onto my plate. Uncle Ken knew I loved stuffing; and I knew he was crazy about Granny’s apple sauce. So we were even.
“When are you joining your parents?” he asked hopefully, over the jam tart.
“I may not go to them this year,” I said. “When are you getting another job, Uncle?”
“Oh, I’m thinking of taking rest for a couple of months.”
I enjoyed helping Granny and Ayah with the washing up. While we were at work, Uncle Ken would take a siesta on the verandah or switch on the radio to listen to dance music.
“And how do you like your Uncle Ken?” asked Granny one day, as she emptied the bones from his plate into the dog’s bowl.
“I wish he was someone else’s uncle,” I said.
“He’s not so bad, really. Just eccentric.”
“Oh, just a little crazy.”
“At least Crazy runs round the house,” I said. “I’ve never seen Uncle Ken running.”
But I did one day.
Mohan and I were playing marbles in the shade of the mango grove when we were taken aback by the sight of Uncle Ken charging across the compound, pursued by a swarm of bees. He’d been smoking a cigar under a simul tree, and the fumes had disturbed the wild bees in their hive, directly above him. Uncle Ken fled indoors and leapt into a tub of cold water. He’d received a few stings and decided to remain in bed for three days. Ayah took his meals to him on a tray.
“I didn’t know Uncle Ken could run so fast,” I said later that day.
“It’s Nature’s way of compensating,” said Granny.
“Making up for other things… Now at least Uncle Ken knows that he can run. Isn’t that wonderful?”