Eighty Five

The doctor told her that her husband needed more proteins.
His recommendation? Eggs.

While the rest of the world raged over the lineage of the egg, her sensibilities raged over very practical matters. What would her in-laws say?

Her mother-in-law, a woman prone to heaving histrionics to have her way, would probably find faith flexible enough to accommodate her lone son’s one, and only factual failing: the disability to assimilate enough proteins. And her father-in-law? He was too caught up in prime time drama – different from the kind his wife doled out – to care.

But. What would the neighbours say?

It’s easy to hide many things from the prying eyes of neighbours. A scandalous affair. A lisp. A divorced sister. A year’s worth savings lost to gambling. A scar. A tattoo.

But the kitchen, that traitor, emitted these whistles and bubblings and odours that would completely expose the most elaborately planned hypocrisy. No hiding the garlic. No hoarding those super-famous gulab jamuns you have no intention of sharing. No hushing up the costly porcelain you’re taking out for the grand feast you’re throwing for your husband’s battalion of bosses and their wives with their startlingly cut blouses.

And definitely, no silencing the evil hiss of the eggs sizzling on the tava, meant for harmless, sterile dosas. Just how could she gag that infernal smell?

God, she’d have to buy a separate Teflon pan, a separate Vim bar with a separate scrub. She’d have to take the pan out to clean when no one was looking, to the washbasin at the back of the house, where the men gargled and spat, and the maid would sit on her haunches and slave at the greased pots.

And what did she think?
How did that matter? She would do this. For the man she was bound to for seven more incarnations.

The doctor had said that her husband needed the whites, not the yellows. Up until then, she didn’t even know eggs had more than one colour. Not that she’d noticed in the cookery shows on TV. How do they sell eggs? Can she buy just one egg? How do they transport them if they’re so fragile? What’s the difference between whipping an egg, and beating it? Is one less violent than the other? Where in her fridge – already stuffed with twisted ears of ginger, long forgotten halves of lemon, four bottles of ketchup with different expiry dates – would she store it?

Will the departmental store boy understand it if she called it, it?

To avoid this confrontation, she went to the supermarket farthest from home, and faced a fresh dilemma. Packaged eggs? Slightly browned eggs? White eggs in plastic holders? She picked one egg gingerly, and gazed at it, feigning expertise. To her rescue came a swashbuckling youngster with noisy slippers, and looked at her with weary question. She mumbled “one”. The lad expertly whipped up a transparent plastic packet (to her utter vexation; she would’ve liked an opaque one) and with ease, slid in a dozen eggs, pinched together the ears of the packet, tied a knot, and sent them home with her.

Back home, her mother-in-law managed to concoct a complex karmic connection between her, the proteinlessness of her husband, and him having the dishonour of eating… that. That abomination. Oh god.

Biting her venom, she marched to the kitchen. The no-dowry insult burned like a brand.

Determined, she hovered over a clean bowl, E suspended between the tripods of her fingers. She looked at it intently, afraid of its fragility. Her will for it to succumb and break stronger than the pressure she actually applied.

She waited. And then picked up a spoon, licked her lips, and knocked politely. A distant hollow sound. Braver, she persisted. And it caved in. The insides lurched. She abandoned caution and tore it apart, and its innards just fell out with a plop. Like an echo, the yellow nucleus orbited the bowl, as far as the leash of surface tension would allow it.

She’d done it. Broken open the ovoid world. And it was just like truth. Binary.
There was the transparent misnomer white. And there was the yellow.
She moodily prodded the yellow, whisked it around, and slowly, like forgiveness, it gave in. Round and round she turned it, like an argument in her head – till it became a bubbly golden solution. Cooking common sense told her to put it to the fire. And she did.

The pan crackled, hissed and popped. And instinctively, she clamped her nose with her pallu.
It had broken the silence of her home. She had broken the silence of her home.

Surprisingly, the first to stir was her father-in-law. His curiosity sensed that there was greater drama brewing in the kitchen. He walked in, with the unimaginative excuse of drinking water. Holding on to his panche’s end, he craned his neck over the god-forbidden pan, eyes squinting in examination (He’d left his glasses behind. Years of hovering over a cooking item had taught him that his glasses would fog up and hamper inquiry.)

Inhibitions vapourized, he asked her, “how does it taste?”
She paused. Then wrinkled her nose, and shrugged.

She burnt the first one. She mixed the shell into the second. She tried water in the third. Baking soda in the fourth. Onions and chillies in the fifth. Onions, chillies, tomatoes and chopped up coriander in the sixth and seventh.

The last two, she kept in the casserole usually reserved for chapatis. She scrubbed the pan, spatula, stove, wall, counter, spoons, bowls, floor. She opened the windows. Put the exhaust on full.
She pulled out the porcelain, lay the table, waited for the kettle to whistle.

And he came. The tired, hungry, protein-deprived husband.
Eagerly, she presented her magnum opus. The feat. The feast.
And she sat to his right, and watched him.

Distracted, he bolted it, and washed it down with the tea in the pretty white cup with paisleys.
He wiped his mouth and motioned to get up, and caught his wife’s eye. She smiled indulgently.

“You forgot the salt.”

The chair moved back, scraped the floor.
And she sat there, and cried.