Samar Halarnkar started his career as a crime reporter. After that, he worked with a variety of publications – The Indian Express, India Today and Hindustan Times. He recently penned The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and believes that cooking teaches men respect for women who stay home. The Flexidad speaks about the need to be more focused and organised when working from home, and how work-life balance is something that is a matter of continuous striving
The cooking connection. My mother made me and my brother help in the kitchen when we were boys. I started serious cooking when I couldn’t afford to eat out and craved good food. I had to cook so I could eat good food. I had to learn, improvise and improve. Not so difficult, really. As far as family goes, what’s not to like? They rarely have to bother about food on the table. Seriously, my wife has no problem at all. My father, I don’t know. I think he struggles with the idea, he could not understand why I quit at what he considered the peak of my career, so to say… Cooking is just a part of my life, like brushing teeth or waking up. I do not consider it extraordinary.
Cooking betters men. Indian sons are victims of the mera-raja-beta syndrome. Learning to cook helps you appreciate the effort it takes to run a kitchen and feed a family. And it teaches you respect for women who stay home; it’s a respect that Indian men sorely lack.
Working at home. The thing about writing is, you just have to do it. Everything else is an excuse. I say this because I am constantly finding excuses not to write this piece or that. I realise I just have to find the time and do it. Not that I succeed each time, of course.
The balancing act. The work-life balance is something that is a matter of continuous striving. I can’t say that flexi-work has got me the balance, but it is much, much better than it was when I was working. I mean I miss the newsroom and working with colleagues in an office. On the flip side, there’s time with the kid, exploring and thinking of new things to do…just need to be more focused and organised at home, I find, than at office.
Being a Flexidad. It’s no different from being a Fleximom, I imagine. It’s a struggle sometimes, but it works very well. I get to spend time with my daughter, watch her grow up. It’s priceless. My wife does get jealous — that my daughter gives me more kisses than her. But, of course, there are sacrifices.
Working freelance in India. The going is not easy for freelance writers. I have fixed columns, a legacy of my previous job. So, I’m lucky. Otherwise, it’s very tough. It’s not so abroad. We are just unprofessional around here!
Getting published. It was quite easy to get published because I am a man. I suspect it would’ve been far more difficult if I wasn’t. Most women do what I do every day, with no fuss. You’re having this chat with me because I am male because it all appears very novel (when it should not be). If I was a fleximom, I don’t think this would be happening.
What I cook best. I cook meat and fish best, though I learned to cook veggie food after marriage because my wife is a vegetarian. We both do the dishes, but I end up doing them more often than not. Hard to expect my wife to do it after a hard day’s work.
A ‘jugaad’ recipe for all Fleximoms. The big bang stir-fry
Ingredients: 1 tsp sesame seeds, ½ tsp black-onion seeds (kalonji), 6-7 dried chillies, 8-9 large garlic pods, smashed or chopped fine, 1 tsp fresh, grated ginger or galangal (Thai ginger), 1 flat tsp red chilli powder (or paprika), 1 medium broccoli, reduced to florets; 1 small zucchini, halved and sliced; 1 small red pepper, deseeded and chopped long; 1 small yellow pepper, deseeded and chopped long; 1 tsp fresh rosemary; 2 tbsp soy sauce; red-wine vinegar (or red wine) to sprinkle
Method: Season a medium-size wok with olive oil. Throw in sesame, dried chillies (snap them into half) and black-onion seeds. When seeds start to sputter, add garlic. Cook till lightly brown. Add ginger. Stir quickly. Add chilli powder. Add broccoli and zucchini. Sprinkle with vinegar (or wine) so it sizzles. Add soya sauce for next sizzle. Toss on high heat until almost cooked. Add peppers. Add salt. Toss all vegetables. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary and grind fresh pepper. Serve.
Try these. Sridatta Boarding House in Mumbai (Lalbaug) and Royal China at VT. In Bangalore, Sunny’s. The Naga kitchen in Delhi Haat and the Italian restaurant in Jor Bagh market. Sridatta has the simplest and best vadi (masala puris) and Konkan-style fish and meat curries. Royal China has great dim sums; Naga kitchen is perfect for experimenting with pork varieties.
Cooks in the making, listen up. Just do it! If I can, anyone can. When I began cooking, I stumbled all the time.
The last word. It’s been great talking to everyone, though I had to persuade the wife to be a fleximom today and pick up my daughter, so I could do the chat.
The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and Other Dubious Adventures by Samar Halarnkar, Westland, Rs 495