It was a humid August evening in Ambala, India. Looking towards the pink sky from the kitchen window she said to her sister,“It's your turn today!”
“No! It’s yours!” replied her sister within a split second.
“Oh well !”the girl obliged. Rolling her eyes she shabbily walked over to the slab and started working. Beating and punching her fists into the loose flour,taming out her extra energy.
At the back of her mind she knows that this task will be judged and so she must do it well. In 7 minutes precise she rolls out a pliable and fluffy dough ball, feeling accomplished and relieved.
The huffing puffing teenager beating the dough was none other than me ,few decades ago!
Each day my sister and I took turns to knead the dough for dinner that our mom would then make “rotis” of , and depending on the quality of the dough ,we could be over the moon with her praises or walk away sheepishly with a sharp dose of her criticism.
This was one of the many essential skills that mom had enforced as highly necessary and made sure we practiced through our teen years.
Fast forward it to a quarter century later. I am talking to my 16 year old daughter “Beta, we need to set a time for me to teach you how to knead the dough!” She replies “ Mom, please don't worry I can see the youtube tutorial and learn, you don’t need to go through the hassle of giving me live demonstration!”
My jaws drop and eyes open wide, exclaiming with tension in my forehead I said “You cannot learn everything on the net! Kneading the dough is the one of the most basic but very difficult skills, it needs expertise and you will have to learn it through practice!”
“OK mom,I will if you insist!” she replied with a nonchalant shrug,“ But honestly what is the need of learning all this... when was the last time you kneaded the dough yourself?”
Now that was ‘the’ question! With a clueless look, I thought to myself.”When? Wait, I did last week ! Nope! Seriously, when was the last time I kneaded the dough?”
My daughter was right!
It had been quite a while now. Not that we had given up eating bread or had outsourced to another person. I was still providing my family with fresh and home cooked rotis but the process of things had really changed.
Until recently my kitchen was run in a very traditional way. Early in the morning I would put the pan on the stove and pound the fresh cardamom to make masala chai. It was similar to what my mother had done back in India, a whole generation ago.
I had adopted the conventional style of functioning in the kitchen just as I had learned from her. From tea to dinner, I still believed in doing everything from scratch, otherwise it was no good.
As the years went by, the topic of an immigrant Indian women bringing Indian traditions to the American kitchen observantly increased around my coffee meet ups.
While my friends would talk in awe of the convenience of using frozen meals and pre- made masalas or outsourcing dishes completely, I, in no ability to relate to them, would keep quiet of my reality of still choosing to chop fresh ingredients before every meal.
However, I was gradually realizing the cons of my lifestyle. It was time consuming and tedious, to say the very least. With a full time job and without any helping hands I often found myself grumbling and venting about my inconveniences.
The fact that this precious time being used on the chopping board and stove could have easily been an opportunity to unfold my creative outputs and hobbies, greatly bothered me.
Then, a visit from a dear friend one day, led to a series of drastic changes that my kitchen had never experienced before!
It all started with a gift of gourmet tea bags which simply prefered to to be steeped in a certain temperatures of boiling water rather than being boiled in a open pan, to bring out the subtle flavors. She suggested I get an electric kettle to enjoy the speciality teas.
Only for the love of tea and our friendship did I get the electric kettle to which otherwise I never had felt the need of.
Not only did it brewed that perfect cup of tea with the right temperatures , it also eliminated the hassle of scrubbing the pan with the dishes afterwards!
As my friend and I sat back sipping the aromatic brew, the topic of kitchen time management obviously came up. “ I love to cook, but it is becoming so time consuming”,no sooner had I started complaining,she gave off the looks as if I was living under a rock !
“There are many smart intelligent tools out there that you desperately need girl, what in the world are doing with this ancient style of cooking!”She stated in my face with a matter of fact concern.
It hit me hard in that moment that my kitchen was crying of modern technology upgrades and I had paid no attention to it in years!
That conversation initiated a splurge of investments in smart kitchen appliances. From an electric egg beater to an egg boiler, electric skillet ,grill and cooker (Instant pot ),rice cooker ,roti maker, I got them all!
I had clearly delaved into the evolution of my kitchen.
Most of the smart tools, not only helped a typical task in the kitchen, but were also amazingly helpful for my Desi style of cooking.
The tools became the helping hands that I had always missed. Like the roti making machine (Rotimatic) replaced the sieving , kneading ,rolling and cooking of rotis and turning it all into an efficient and automatic affair.
In this light, even YouTube tutorials on kneading dough seemed irrelevant.
The best part of using the smart technology was it didn’t need the babysitting typically needed in the manual methods. The satisfaction of still providing the family with fresh home cooked meals plus the benefits of being time saver sealed the deal for me!There was no going back!
And while a machine can never replicate the human touch, my zeal and enthusiasm of using it was infectious and my family adjusted well to the food being cooked in slightly different ways.
I felt as if I had transformed into a modern, hip version of myself, adapting to the urban lifestyle I had missed out on for so long in lieu of new and top of the line cooking technology.
This “hi-tech love” was new and I displayed it unabashedly , simply because like a personal aid the technology was there to help me anytime of the day.
So where did the question of teaching my daughter kneading the dough come in my mind?
Well it must have been the remnant effects in my subconscious of a phone conversation with my aging mother from across the sea back in India. Her concern and anxiousness about teaching her granddaughter the basic household skills (just like when I was a 16 years old) must have influenced me.
Mom, please don’t worry on that anymore. Not only will your granddaughter manage it all but even your middle aged daughter has finally got it all under control, on a press of a button!
Divya Attri is a visual art educator, an artist and a writer living in Princeton, New Jersey. When she’s not teaching art to kids , she is gazing at an empty canvas or paper trying to give her colorful ideas a life.