Cooking is not a symbol of domestication but an art and necessity [Modified from Vidya Balans statement in TOI] Five out of ten being girls in our house I had no chance to enter the kitchen even to get a glass of water. When I got married Mythili came with two trunk boxes and three volumes of cookery books by Meenakshi ammal.She had been brought up under stringent orthodox conditions.My mother started teaching her our house style of cooking and also how to keep the jewellery hidden in mustard,jeeragam dabbas.It was an independent house and almyrahs were not considered safe by my mother.Having understood Mythili’s orthodox background I had the forethought to fix our house next to Saraswathi mamis house-a genial lady who became a friend philosopher and guide to us. For some time it was blind leading the blind and we could not get a hang of palam,azhaku etc. weighing scale referred by Meenakshi Ammal. However both of us enjoyed the thrill of excess salt,tamarind and chilli powder in the food joking and laughing all the time.That is what marriage does to you. We were in Hyderabad and my two daughters were eight and six.Suddenly Mythili had to rush to Chennai to spend a few days with her mother who was unwell. I reassured her that I would take care of the cooking.My menu was carrot sambar and bhendi poriyal. I lighted the gas stove and found that the gas cylinder was empty.After searching[women keep things hidden in such a way that the house cannot function in their absence] I located the kerosene stove and lighted.To my horror I found that the eight wicks were almost non existent and my efforts to bring them out failed and my fingers were bruised I sought the assistance of Mouli my neighbour.Thanks to the strict monthly three day quarantine business observed in his house he had become an expert cook.He was a nuclear scientist and there was logic in every thing he did.He fixed up the new set of wick and I assured him that I would finish the cooking in a jiffy much to his disbelief.Tired by that time,I put Dal,carrot,tamarind essence and sambar powder together to boil for making sambar.Even after forty minutes carrot and Dal had not cooked and the masala had not blended properly.I washed the bhendi pieces thoroughly to remove dirt and when I tried to make poriyal I found that the bhendi had aged and lost its shape .I served the children, who commented nice but refused to have another helping.When I ate, I understood that my attempt was a disaster.Mouli had foreseen this outcome and took care of us for the next two days.On the third day we faithfully received Mythili at the station and there was hushed whisper among the trio followed by a sympathetic look at me. At Poona,Mythili and children left for Chennai for Christmas holidays.I could not join them.I took down receipes from Mythili for selected items. I had Meenakshi Ammals book as back up.Good girl Mythili had made vatha kozhambu ,coconut chutney,fresh lemon pickles etc to tide over.My only weakness was the fear of the pressure cooker flying off.I t had happened in my friends house and the boy[now 60] carries the scar even now.I used to keep the main door open to run out incase of emergency ,tie a towel around my head to prevent head injury and don’t move till I put off the stove after four whistles.With enough finished goods left by Mythili I had to cook only rice. My boss[tamilian] came from Goa and I jumped up at the unexpected opportunity to cook.The menu was Morkuzhambu[kadi],Aloo kara kari,Rasam and tomato pachadi. I referred to Mythilis receipe again and again and also Meenakshi ammal to be on the safe side.To make it taste better I added 25% extra to whatever was given in the receipe.The finished product looked like this.Oil was floating in the morkuzhambu,aloo curry had conjunctivitis,rasam was a little better than water[forgot to add pepper jeera powder] .My boss ,a frugal eater complained of stomach upset and ate very little but however complimented me on my culinary skills. But I knew that nothing was alright.After reaching Goa,he had informed colleagues not to visit Poona during Christmas holidays as LAXMI[my name]was like a released tiger chasing a prey.Thank God that it did not form a part of my appraisal. Just after retirement I decided that I should learn proper cooking as a matter of caution. I firmly believe that when two people are by themselves both should know cooking.Nobody has the time or patience to come and cook for you if you are unwell.I surrounded myself with “Dakshin”by Chandra and Iyengar samaiyal by Sujatha.Under the watchful tutelage of Mythili I trained myself to be a good cook.This skill was extremely helpful when Mythili was racing towards her final journey. Today I can take care of myself even for a week though I refer to the receipes every time.If I am not considered immodest I give myself a rating of 7/10. My guides are Yogambal Sunder,Hebbar kitchen and Jeyashri’s kitchen ,courtesy youtube. The reasons for the confidence to give myself a high rating are two fold. One-I enjoy my preparation and two- that none of you may come home for conducting practicals .