Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sensitive dependence on availability of onions

The butterfly effect. A beautiful term that is a nicer, simpler way of saying “sensitive dependence on initial conditions”. For those not in the know, this term evolved back in the times when a weather forecaster named Lorentz realized, using a primitive computer and a set of equations that he formulated to model the weather, that long-term weather forecasting was a pipe dream. To put it dramatically, a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo today could alter storm systems in New York next week.

I have often thought about the butterfly effect in my own life... what if I had not sat next to that chap during my engineering college counseling? What if I had been allocated a different room in my first year of college? What if my eyesight had been better than it was during the medical test of my first campus interview? What if a professor in Austin had not mixed up my name? What if I had found the bigger onions that Sushim wanted and not the little ones that were eventually available this evening, when we settled down for another communal dinner?

Okay, maybe the last one has not had a tremendous impact on my life... yet. But maybe it would. Maybe I continue to cook sambar, get really good at it, and maybe there is this girl... but wait. As always, I believe I have done it again. Starting off in the middle of a story, I mean. It seems to work for Tarantino, but it would not do me a lot of good to be that presumptuous, would it? So I shall begin, as all by-the-book writers do, at the beginning.

These days, we have been indulging in a lot of communal dinners. By which I mean that Sush and KP do the cooking, while Shrik and I do the eating. Which was an arrangement that suited me so perfectly that I even didn’t mind washing the dishes from time to time.

So as it happened, we were issued a command by Sush to get some Tomatoes and Onions en route to his place. I also got myself a set of AA cells – I was getting tired of switching cells between my TV remote and the remote of the VCD player, though I was getting to be reasonably fast at it. In fact, you could say that if there were a state level competition on the shortest time elapsed between pausing a movie and switching channels on the TV using only the remote controls and one set of AA cells, I would beat the opposition to a standstill. If any of you readers attempt to rival me at this, a word of friendly advice would be – keep the rear covers off, and perfect the technique of ejecting the cells using a single flick of the index finger and the thumb. It’s not easy, but you’ll get there.

There I go again. Now where was I... ah. The onions. So Sush wanted me to get these huge onions, which were nowhere to be found in that particular shop. I hunted around a bit, and found this bunch of the small, teardrop-shaped onions, and since an onion by any other name would be just as pungent, I decided to substitute B for A and hope Sush does not notice.

Now Sush is this bright sort of chap who has made a career in software that makes three-dimensional models, so he immediately noticed the discrepancy in size, and made an astute, penetrating observation.

“These are small onions.”

I explained. Sush, however, was not satisfied.

“But these will take ages to peel.”

Shrik saw that Sush, however good his culinary skills were, had a lot to learn as far as onions were concerned. He intervened.

“No, these are easy. Just peel them and throw them in the cooking-pot. Swish.”

“And they go well with Sambar, too!” I added.

“We’re not making Sambar.”

“I didn’t say we were. I just said they go well with it.”

One thing led to another, and finally Sush rebelled from all cooking activities for the night, leaving Shrik and yours truly in charge of the kitchen. And thanks to the above statement about Sambar, we found ourselves thinking, “not a bad idea, that...”

Except for one small hitch. Neither of us knew how to make Sambar.

Thus I did what all grown, tough men do in the face of a crisis. I called mom.

“Hi ma, we’re making Sambar, and realized that we don’t know how to do it, so can you give us a few pointers?”

“It’s eleven in the night! You’re going to make Sambar NOW?” My mum has always had the constant nagging feeling that somewhere in my upbringing, she has gone horribly wrong.

However, she was up to the task, and gave us instructions, pointers, and useful thumb rules, which, of course, had to be translated for Shrik into engineering-ese: “If the food is liquid in nature, the chillies need to be cut longitudinally. If the food is solid, then the cuts need to be transverse.”

So after much slicing and dicing, leaping away from hot splashes of oil, arguments on whether transferring B to A would be more optimal than transferring A to B, and ‘adjusting’ the proportions of ingredients till we realized that the vessel was too full to accommodate any more adjustments, we were finished. With the Sambar, that is.

Sush, the only culinary expert within a ten-metre radius, peeped into the cooking-pot while we waited for his critique.

“Not bad. This actually smells like Sambar.”

Which was as good as it could get. So, with dinner under my belt (quite literally), I returned home, and sat back, thinking of the butterfly effect and reasoning that if there is this pretty girl out there who is looking for a guy who can make Sambar on impulse, and at the same time dispense with useful cooking thumb rules, then I would definitely have storm clouds gathering on the horizon. And all because the shop did not have large onions. What can a man say when something like that really happens?

I’ll tell you what the grown, tough men say: Thanks, ma.