Vikrant Rana, a 25-year-old bachelor and mechanical design engineer living in New Ashok Nagar in Delhi, tried surviving on coke, chips, boiled eggs and Maggi for the first two days after the lockdown was announced last month. Unprepared, Rana, who usually relied on his help for everyday meals, realised he couldn’t survive on unhealthy junk food for long and decided to cook on his own – a task he had never attempted before. Between calls to his mother in Nepal and innumerable YouTube channels – Kabita’s Kitchen and Bharatz Kitchen – he began preparing his meals.
After struggling for a day or two and often ending up with burnt food, Rana has also mastered a few life lessons. “What I realised is that when the need arises, a human being is capable of doing anything. If one works hard, anything is possible. Food is a basic need and a survival skill and we all should know how to cook,” he says. Currently, Rana has his own page Thali Bajao on Instagram, which boasts of his skills in the kitchen, from jalebi and gulab jamun to rosogulla and momos. Of course, he also has the staple dal, chawal, sabzi and basic khichdi that bachelors like him can take cues from.
Meanwhile Manish Poswal, monitoring media for Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, is struggling to make a perfect roti. Though he has the help of his two flatmates in Vaishali, Ghaziabad, “roti gol karne ki samasya hai (I still struggle with the round shape of the roti),” he says (laughs). Amidst fears of ordering food online, Poswal has concluded that online tutorials don’t always yield the best results. Sometimes, the dishes don’t taste as good as it looks on screen. But the 26 year old’s experiments with “rajma, choley, dal, ghia ki sabzi and kaddu” have yielded edible results, unlike those made by his cook who was always in a hurry. Poswal reveals how pickles would often salvage the taste of a meal. “I last remember cooking when I was in college. Of course, I cannot make Chappan Bhog (56 dishes) but we should all at least know the basics,” he says.
Cooking for Mukul Kumar, though, is a stress buster and helps him keep a routine. The 21-year-old, final year BTech student in computer science from GL Bajaj Institute of Technology and Management in Greater Noida, had little inkling of what lay ahead when he landed in Coimbatore to pursue his internship at Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solution this year. Stranded in a new city amidst the lockdown, with a college senior’s help and a couple of YouTube videos, Kumar, began cooking at home. “I never learnt cooking till Class 12. Whenever I went home to Muzaffarpur, Bihar, during college breaks, my mother and grandmother spoilt me by preparing my favourite dishes,” he says, “This time, all I had to do was watch a few online videos to get an idea of the ingredients.” He is proud of how he has discovered the chef in him and cooked his way through vegetarian biryani, chocolate cake made from biscuits, halwa, kadhai chicken and tadke wali dal.
Kumar would often visit a nearby dhaba before the lockdown. “Now I also realised that while a single meal outside can cost anywhere between Rs 200 and Rs 250, a thali of sabzi, dal and rice made at home costs merely Rs 35-40. I have decided that once my course is over, I will fill up my fridge and cook my own food, especially on Saturdays and Sundays,” he says.
For Abha Godiyal Kakar, 58, an English teacher at Montfort School in Ashok Vihar, Delhi, “cooking has a healing effect when one puts in their heart and soul”. “It gives immense happiness. Cooking helps channelise our energy, gives a direction to our anxieties and helps us overcome it. It makes people forget that they are going through a bad time and binds people together,” she says. The proud mother of 27-year-old Devyani, who would never set foot in the kitchen before, declares her daughter now rustles up mushroom omlettes, parathas and rajma. She posts many of these photographs on Instagram under her popular food handle insta_aunty. “Since people have plenty of time, they are now discovering what they like to do, which they wouldn’t do earlier. Cooking gives a sense of achievement and happiness,” she says.