The missus had been craving for fried chicken ever since we had passed before the KFC outlet, and remarking it, she had exclaimed sharply, “I didn’t know, we had KFC here!”

Well, since then she had been asking off and on, “When can we go?” I had been putting it off, not for any stronger reason than the silly one that I find it difficult to get a parking nearby. Her daydream of eating fried chicken out of a pack had been delayed until the Valentine’s Day started nearing. Then, I noticed, she started regaining her confidence to get all greasy and salty on her fingertips, soon.

But, on that much celebrated day I did manage to put it off again, saying, “You know, it is going to be really crowded today. I don’t feel like jostling with a horde of young boys descended to prove to their valentines how crafty they are when it comes to getting their orders filled before the others.” Demure as she is, she said, “OK, but you owe me a good dinner for this.” That evening we went to the club and picked a few dishes. Returning home, I put most of them away in the fridge, not knowing I was doing something a-la ‘the rainy day’.

The next morning it dawned bright and cheery – well, not quite so! There was a hint of some despair in the air, with a strange alternation of moist warmth and dry chill. I finished my morning communion with the Facebook friends and looked out of the window, wondering “What next?” I found myself staring into a vacuous silent haze that had sprung up outside, attenuating a diffident sunlight. From the balcony, I saw that the sky had become overcast all of a sudden, and the low clouds were invading and overrunning the distant hills. I retired to my room, feeling low in spirit. The winter was already almost gone, but it had not rained this season. I had been praying for some rain, looking at the dust-laden leaves on the trees, which were anyway going to dry up and fall to usher in spring. Nevertheless, to have such a somber miasma just after the day of Valentine. Was I going to be punished for what I had done to my wife (or not done for her, if you look at it the right way)?

The day progressed miserably. Wife left for school, solemn because it was a Saturday, normally off. When she came back, we had lunch and watched a movie before retiring in the descending gloom for the siesta. The siesta seems unavoidable since our grownup children moved out and the house began to die in the afternoon. When we woke up, she said she would have tea at the club and then we would go to KFC. But, cupid was restless, and probably still busy with the nouveau valentines of yesterday. As she spoke we heard the pitter-patter of raindrops, and she said, “Oh, no! It is going to rain!”

We made a pact. She would make tea and I would make dinner.

We had tea in silence drowned by the sound of the rain, which, by that time, had become an outburst of emotions long restrained in a heart filled with utter grief, waiting in frozen silence for spring.

Here is what I did for dinner.

I chopped some vegetables, about a pound in all – cauliflower, carrot, French-beans, chili pepper, and cabbage. I put them to boil with a cup of water, two crushed cubes of seasoning and a blob of butter. I put the lot on high heat, and soon the aroma of butter and seasoning arose.

I washed and soaked some long-grained rice. I finely chopped three medium-sized onions; heated some oil; fried the onions with a pinch of salt; added a large heap of ginger-garlic paste and fried some more. When done, I added the rice, mixed well and left on low heat.

Turning my attention to the vegetables, (I had a sort of ‘vegetables sauté’ in mind) I found they were swimming in a boiling mass of water. Obviously, the salt in the seasoning had extracted their water. I checked and found the vegetables had become ‘al dente’. Quickly removing the vegetables, I put them in a baking bowl and put it in the microwave, set to ‘auto crisp’. The buttery flavour resumed its invasion.

I drained the vegetable stock on the rice and made up the rest of required amount of water – twice the amount of the rice. I took out the ‘Tandoori Chicken’ (chicken seasoned with yoghurt and spices and roasted on fire until tender) – one leg and breast each – and cut them into smaller pieces. I added some cardamom, bay leaves, a pinch of turmeric and a pinch of salt. I had to be careful with the salt as the chicken and the vegetable stock had ample of it. I put the rice on low heat.

In about ten minutes I was done. The Vegetables Sauté was done couple of minutes back. The rice had risen and risen and then the water was all inside it with a thin wisp of vaporous aroma rising from it.

Dinner was ready – Chicken Biriyani and Vegetables Sauté with butter. I announced it.

Then this is what followed. As we made progress through dinner, my wife’s cellphone rang. Her sister was calling. She prefers to call when we are in the middle of dinner, uncannily divining the time, no matter when. And with her sisterly love on trial, my wife leaves dinner and has a long chat letting the food get cold. But this time she asked me, “What should I tell her?” and I said, “Say you are having dinner and will call back.” Without a protest, she obliged. We finished dinner, eating in somnambulant stupor of butter and spices. After dinner, she took some more time to clean up the table and put away the dishes for washing. Finally, she went to call back her sister. That call followed another call to our daughter, each equally excited. By the time she finished I was engrossed, watching a film about someone looking for his son from his divorced wife. My wife came back, her animation tempered by satisfaction, to tell me about her conversations. But I waved her off. She went away not getting offended, as I had feared.

Turning into bed, I asked, “How was dinner?” Sleepily, she replied, “Good!”, and rolled on her side, decoupling her world from mine. Nevertheless, I knew she had spoken the truth. For the first time she had interrupted her sister’s call to continue with the dinner. Also, she had not taken offense when I had not interrupted my film to listen to her excited chatter.

Indroneer / 16 February 2014