Monday, April 23, 2012

The Jugaad of baking a cake

With the first bite of the cake, my four-year-old daughter brought together the thumb and forefinger of her right hand to indicate just what she thought of Mama's cake. Her mouth was full of cake, and she couldn't wait to empty it before digging her teeth into yet another bite. Feedback had to be given, meanwhile, but there was no reason why she should call a halt to the eating process while doing so.

Her little mouth, all smeared with icing and crumbly cake, brought a broad grin to my face. For this Proud Mama, it was Mission Accomplished all the way. Of course, there were miles to go in the cake decorating department, as you would see if I had the courage to upload the pictures, but for someone who had been hoping and praying that the baking effort would yield something edible, it was extremely heartening to know that the result was so delightful. My spirits, like the cake, rose wonderfully.

Baking a cake had been on my mind for a long time now. The kitchen and all the adventures it promised had begun to take centre stage in my life ever since the birth of my daughter. The thought of cooking something for her gave me a great deal of joy. Then as she grew older and I discovered that she had a very sweet tooth, I began to take delight in rustling up sweets for her. The desire to bake grew as a natural offshoot of that.

In my childhood home, birthdays were given special treatment. Mum and Dad tried their best to do something special for the person whose birthday it was.

We would all go for Mass to pray for the health and well being of the birthday baby. Mum would cook the favourite dishes of the child whose birthday it was. It was only when I grew older that I realized that I didn’t really have any idea about what dishes she and Dad liked. Even on their birthdays, we got to eat our favourite dishes.

One of the birthday treats that we really looked forward to was Mum’s cake. It was a no-nonsense crumbly sponge cake that would fill the house with its special aroma. I would inhale deeply of that redolent air, gulping by the lungful that precious scent which offered such a foretaste of the treat that was in store for us.

We didn’t have an oven back then. So Dad, ever the resourceful one, conjured up a provisional oven for her. I am using the word 'conjured' because even then it seemed incredible to me that something so heavenly and fragrant and crumbly and moist could come out of a whatchamacallit like that.

A large vessel would be placed on the gas, the burner knob stationed at Simmer. The base of the vessel would be strewn with a one-inch-thick base coating of white sand. Upon the sand would be placed an old rusty trivet. And upon that trivet Mum would place our lone aluminium cake pan, all greased and floured, with the cake batter in it. Then Mum would cover the large vessel with a lid and pile a few burned-out embers of coals upon it.

It was hard to imagine that such a contraption, so makeshift in appearance, could produce such a euphoric feeling. Modern Indian corporate literature on innovation has a word for this. It is called ‘Jugaad.’ Using one’s creativity or imagination to make do with whatever apparatus or conditions are available at hand to produce the desired result.

Dad was always good at doing this kind of Jugaad at home. Thanks to those attempts, so unbelievable to other people, we children would have our very own birthday cake.

For an hour or sometimes more, the cake would bake. There was no transparent glass, as is provided by modern-day ovens, through which we could view the spectacle of the rising cake. At length, Mum would check the doneness of the cake by gingerly removing the lid, complete with embers. Then she would hold her head back for the first gush of steam to dissipate, then poke the cake carefully with a knife. We children, encouraged by the aroma of a baking cake, would wait eagerly for that moment when we would have our cake and eat it too.

After my daughter was born, there was simultaneously born in me the urge to re-create all the little treats and traditions that my parents had so willingly created for us. But I was only able to do so most recently after the purchase of my brand new oven.

Today I realise that in spite of not having so many of the appliances that make life convenient to us, Mum and Dad managed to do so much for us because they wanted to. Maybe successful parenting, like successful anything else, cannot do without its fair share of jugaad.

I want to be a supermom

When I was a teenager, I happened to catch a small snatch of an American TV series on Doordarshan, our state-run television. I don't remember what it was called, but a song on that show, sung by an 8-year-old boy, caught my attention. I won't pretend that the words were exactly as I've reported them below. Only the first two lines are absolutely accurate. The rest I have forgotten and made up but they do catch the spirit of the original. The song went something like this:

"My mom thinks she's a supermom, but I don't think that's true.
She works on the computer and the telephone, but I can do that too.

My mom thinks she's a supermom, but I don't think that's true,
She works on the computer and the telephone,
And knits and sews and cooks and bakes, but I can do that too.

My mom thinks she's a supermom, but I don't think that's true,
She works on the computer and the telephone,
And knits and sews and cooks and bakes,
Plays football and mows the lawn, but I can do that too."

The little boy on the show was singing these lines and acting them out at the same time. So he would pretend to be stabbing away at an invisible keyboard while speaking on a telephone held between his shoulder and ear at the same time, then suddenly break away to bring two knitting needles together — you get the idea. Of course, the kid utterly failed to do justice to all the tasks that his mother managed with consummate ease, driving home the point that mothers are indeed supermoms.

My mother was a supermom. She cooked for us, baked the occasional cake on our birthdays, nursed us when we were ill and supervised our studies, was always home when we got back from school, all this while running her own sewing enterprise successfully. While I mentally acknowledged with gratitude all that she did for us, and even occasionally spoke of her in glowing terms, in conversations with friends, I am ashamed to admit this now — I don't remember ever paying her a compliment or letting her know that her efforts are appreciated.

In contrast, I barely manage to do a tenth of what my mother did for me, and my daughter responds with as much admiration as if I had accomplished three or four impossible things before breakfast.

The other day she told me, "Mamma, whatever food you cook for me, that I like." For someone who enjoys cooking post-motherhood, but is not exactly flooded with compliments (every time I cook, I have to ask the husband, "How was the so-and-so?" at least twice, before he will condescend to reply once, "Nice."), that was sweet music to my ears.

But I'm not one to take praise where it is undeserved. I have been trying to cook more, spend more time with the kids. I have already promised myself that I will always strive to be totally involved in my kids' lives, to be there for them always, to make them feel loved. I am trying my best to truly deserve the epithet of supermom.

There is another element of being a supermom that I long to have. Of course, mothers have always had eyes in the back of their heads, besides the near-magical ability to kiss the most horrendous boo-boos and make them well. And in my own case, I have discovered that I can function most admirably even on the strength of just  hours of sleep. What's more, I have been doing that for nearly 8 months now with my son, and for another 3 years prior to that with my daughter. Sleep deprivation? What's that?

But in today's world, it would be no mean thing to boast a super power or two. Super speed, super strength and flying are highly over-rated. But as a mother, I can imagine a day far into the future, when my kids will enter the volatile world of Teendom (or is it Tweendom now?), and then I could really do with X-ray vision, long-distance hearing, mind reading and seeing the future.

Meanwhile, I look at my 3-year-old daughter, so precious, so precocious, and I tell myself that if there is any super power that I would like to have right now, it would be the ability to stop time and savour each moment of my children's childhood.

Mothers today could certainly use some super powers. As a prelude, I had better get myself a cape.

This entry was chosen as one of the winners in the My Family Memories contest, organised by in association with


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