I waited with bated breath when she took the first spoon.
“How is it?”I blurted out even before she could finish the bite.
A thoughtful look came over her face “It is nice” she said while a gentle smile played on her lips. I finally relaxed and my big toothy smile was ready to shine when the dreaded words came out
“It needs more salt, some more masala and a dash of lemon juice ”
I instinctively pulled up a new spoon, the gravy seemed just fine to me but she was already on her mission. ½ teaspoon of garam masala, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of Kashmiri lal mirch was already in. Another bite and a few adjustments later, my mother-in-law (MIL) gave me a fresh spoon to taste while I stood there apprehensive and curious at the same time.
The moment I tasted the gravy, I realised the magic she had conjured. My original dish was good, but this dish was bloody great.
My expression conveyed the party inside my mouth and my mother-in-law smiled at me “It is all about creating a balance” and left the kitchen for me to do the final garnishing.
The word balance echoed in my mind multiple times whenever I attempted a new dish.
But the word haunted me when it came with the other set of words “Work Life”
As a consultant, I was used to working 10-12 hours a day. It was my routine for the past 3 years. But a strange kind of restlessness had taken over me in the past few months. My daily routine had become so erratic and disjointed that it was taking a toll on my sanity and of those around me.
Below are some of the ways I spent my days during those months:-
- Wake up at 7AM , work till 7PM, binge eat, binge watch till 12PM.
- Wake up at 9AM , work till 2PM and then take a power nap that goes way longer than even a normal nap by any standards. Sleep at 2AM.
- Wake up at 8AM, work till 5PM and then cook till 8PM. Followed by an awkward session with my family where they were forced to give my cooking compliments irrespective of the quality of the food.
- Work till 2PM and then obsessively watch YouTube cooking videos till 5PM, ignoring all calls and mails.
Did I mention these were different days of the same week?
Clearly there was something wrong with me.
I got a wakeup call from my husband after he found me sobbing at the last episode of a K-drama stuffing my face with Mama noodles. “Bubs, please take a break, you are burnt out”
And uncharacteristically, for the first time in our married life - I listened to him in the first go. I spoke to my boss and planned for my break. I daydreamed about the time that I could finally be off from work. I didn’t want to travel or pack my calendar with social events. I wanted to do - the fabled, the infamous ‘nothing’ for a while
The week went in a jiffy
But Guess what? I was still miserable
The infamous ‘doing nothing’? Well yeah, that worked out for entirely 2.5 days. Rest of the week – I was MISERABLE
I realized that while I did not have a grand passion for my job, I liked having a routine, a plan and some kind of purpose for the day.
I was back to work in no time, clocking in 12 hours again.
But guess what? I was miserable. again.
The sage my MIL is saw my predicament and put her hand on my head and repeated the line she had said before, “It is all about creating balance”
But how the hell do you get this work life balance?
So I did what I knew best – I researched. Afterall, I had seen at least 5 recipevideos, gone through comment sections, read numerous blogs and spoken to my mothers zealously before I finalized on the recipe. (BTW, I finalized on Kunal Kapoor’s recipe, It was so simple and people swore by it. Highly Highly recommend.)
Research (279840 medium articles) stated that 8 hour is optimal work time followed by dinner before 8PM. My boss wakes up around 5 AM in the morning to get all his tasks done. My colleague said he didn’t believe in balance as he never stopped after two beers.
Bit by bit, I tried to make my own schedule. Set my own boundaries and followed everything that was written in the 2794840 medium articles I read.
I was definitely better.
But guess what – I was still not great.
The day that I feared the most finally came.
“Can you pass the salt, and maybe some pepper?” said my husband’s uncle who had come home for dinner.
I looked at him uncomprehendingly while my mother-in-law quietly passed the seasonings. I had tasted the shahi paneer, and my recipe was full proof. Why the hell is he asking for more seasoning? Is his taste buds okay? He is old, he should be on a low sodium diet! Oh shit, I am a terrible cook and have brought shame to the family !
These and a zillion other thoughts raced my mind while we finished the dinner.
Later while cleaning up, I asked my mother-in-law “was Shahi Paneer bad today?”
“Not ata ll”, she replied. “The uncle is just more used to salt in his daily food. Everybody has different tastes and preferences”
And that is when it finally struck me, I was trying to find my own balance by emulating others while all I had to do was find my balance from within. I remembered that I had tweaked the original Shahi paneer recipe to suit my palette while omitting a few steps and adding new.
So I started to find my own meaning of balance.
And guess what – I was finally (fucking) great
In life, we often forget that all of us are different, our needs, desires and aspirations are all so different. So how can one meaning of balance work for all?
So while you can research, observe and analyze all you want, you will eventually have to find your own meaning of balance. Eventually you have to make the recipe your own.