The chief benefits of TL going off to Hyderabad (okay, she didn't up and go like that, I gave her a big shove) have been the following:
1) I have regained a lot of my survival skills. Hanging out with a super-organized, emotionally intelligent woman who is cleverer than you has certain adverse effects on those tools in your mental toolbox. They rust. Sending her off to India has sharpened them to a degree nearer to pre-living together levels;
2) I have learnt how to cook. Properly. This is different from putting something together from a cookbook or dowsing a dead bird in some olive oil or yoghurt mixed with a marinade before sticking it in the oven. Cooking properly entails thinking a dish through before you embark on an adventure atop the hob. Like when you decide on the spur of the moment, inside Waitrose, that you want to eat some biryani. Today. Since you haven't made the stuff before, you pause to think how you could make it. You think about biryanis past. You think about biryanis present, future and imagined. You think about what the chauffeurs and security guards in Banjara Hills told you about the biryani in Hotel Medina in the Old City next to the Charminar.
You stop in the aisle. You think about the last Hyderabadi dum pukht biryani you ate; how it smelt and tasted. Then you try to figure out what must have gone into it. You have never done this before. Your pulse quickens. Your mouth waters. The aromas, the flavours, they all come back in a rush, screaming, flooding your senses. Star anise, saffron, cloves, bay leaves, cumin, onions, cinnamon... the grand pillars of Mughalai cooking, evocative, sensual, sublime. Suddenly, you know. Fry the basmati rice before you pressure-cook it, says a snatch of conversation, a secret shared gladly, a voice from long ago.
You walk into the kitchen. You know what you're doing, for the first time in that space, because there's no cookbook, there are no instructions. For once, it's all inside your head.
You start. You smell. You taste. You check.
Fate, ever conspiratorial, plays a final hand. It reveals a half-empty packet of MTR pulao masala in a cupboard. This is the culinary equivalent of a nudge and wink. I know I can use this.
An unexpected childhood memory. An unlikely source. Deep fry finely chopped onions and sprinkle them on top. A conservative Iyengar matriarch who loved biryani but couldn't eat meat, mistress of the kitchens of a sprawling Ayurveda vaidyasala, babysitter, nurturer, surrogate mother, has unexpectedly intervened.
I listen. I do.
It all works. And how!
I can cook.