I remember it was a Saturday during the Gulf war ‘cos my brother and I were discussing over breakfast how permitting the US warplanes to refuel in India amounted to a shift in India’s Foreign Policy and might tempt Saddam Hussein to direct his Scud missiles towards India. After breakfast, my brother retired to the guest room which was a level lower than rest of the apartment, and I went into the kitchen to cook for the week.
The maid came in and went straightaway to the narrow space in the far end of the kitchen to do the dishes while I put the pressure pan on the stove with moong dal in it. Then I thought I’ll watch the morning movie for a few minutes and settled down in the reclining chair. I must have remained there for fifteen to twenty minutes when it suddenly struck me that the pressure pan hadn’t whistled. So I got up quickly and went into the kitchen. What I saw then was one of the strangest sights I’d ever seen.
The pressure pan was shaking like a space rocket about to take off. And then, it really did take off!! It raised itself up slowly from the gas stove, went up a couple of feet ever so slowly and then took a right turn. By now it was out of the kitchen platform.
If I had any sense in my head, I’d have run for my life, for I’ve always been told that a pressure cooker or pan which indulges in strange behaviour is the most dangerous thing on earth. But this strange inexplicable phenomenon fascinated me and I went forward towards it, spell bound by the pan suspended in the air and shaking and moving as though it had a life of its own. And my maid – strange woman that she is – was blissfully unaware of the phenomenal event that was happening next to her. She kept at the dishes, singing the latest Malayalam hit song out of tune.
And then it happened. The weight of the pressure cooker came off the nozzle like a bullet and whizzed past my head (it missed my head by the skin of the teeth), crashed into the wall, bringing down a huge chunk of the plaster off the wall. The minute the weight left the pressure pan, the dal in the pan (thoroughly cooked) started spurting out at the speed of light, at my face and head through the nozzle; and the pan crashed to the floor with a deafening explosive sound. The pressure pan then started spinning like a top at full speed on the floor while I looked down at it with fascination, and continued to be sprayed with the yellow cooked dal.
The maid, in the meanwhile, had run to the end of the kitchen and clung to the wall, her song turning into a wail. The pressure pan rotating at high speed on the ground, soon began to slow down while, like an idiot totally devoid of common sense, I stood over it, fascinated - and continued to be sprayed with dal coming out of its nozzle. Hearing a sound, I turned my head to the entrance of the kitchen and saw my brother standing there, eyes popping out of his face (like Jim Carey’s in Mask. 0ops! forgive the anachronism) and his jaw dropping incredibly low ( like Carey’s again but without its manipulative power). He had rushed to the kitchen to grab me and run out of the house. He thought Saddam’s scud missile had targeted Kochin! That was when he saw me with the yellow stuff plastered on my face and head, and simply couldn’t make out what had happened.
Soon the neighbours from the ground floor and the adjacent houses started shouting out to us from the compound, wanting to know what had happened. None of them had the courage to come up to find out for themselves. They later told us that they thought that the gas cylinder had exploded and were looking out for fire and smoke and panicky screams.
Ok. Once I came to my senses, I found my own solution to the mystery of the pressure pan taking off as though it had a will of its own. I knew enough physics to know that the pressure trapped in the pan and which was trying to escape weighed more than the pan itself. They say this can happen when you cook dal in a pressure pan.
But how come my face did not have burn injuries? With all that cooked liquid dal spraying at my face straight from the pan at boiling point? Unless someone gives me an explanation, I shall continue to believe that it had everything to do with this habit of mine for years, of waking up in the morning with the words: “God, protect my near and dear ones and me from all dangers, diseases and evil”