On Thursday, my daughter took my car and driver to the market — no, not to buy clothes, that would hardly be unusual. But for white butter and baking flour, edible colours and farm eggs, cocoa and chocolate, and icing sugar and other bits and things that she brought home in cartons to make cupcakes. Since this was the first time in her grown life she was entering the kitchen, I did not mention that it might have been cheaper to have ordered a batch from the neighbourhood confectionary instead of bringing in kilos of stuff to bake a handful of muffins.
Enthused by her group on Facebook and strangers on Twitter, and encouraged by friends on Skype who instructed her live on the recipe, my daughter proceeded with her task, taking a whole day where an hour might have sufficed, during which photographs of the process made it to every social site. She seemed to spend more time networking than kneading.
When I got back home from work, she was still adding finishing touches to the icing on the miniature cakes. Being a good father, I offered to taste one, only to have my outstretched hand whacked by my offended daughter. “These aren’t for you, Dad,” she snapped, “these are for my brother.” Any other time I might have been shocked – the two had spent most of their growing years fighting, shouting, sulking or baiting each other – only now she seemed to have joined the queue fawning over my son.
For some days now, special meal orders were being catered for him (while I got leftovers), my wife had taken to asking him his choice of breakfast, or dinner (while my request for how I wanted my eggs done remained ignored), the cook prepared dishes for his friends who dropped in at all times of the evening (while mine were greeted with frowns).
It wasn’t just the dining and entertaining that were directed his way. My driver wondered whether bhaiyaji wanted to use his services (ignoring the fact that I paid his wages), the cleaning ladies tittered when cleaning his room and putting his things away (while my piles of laundry remained ignored), and in spite of my platinum account at the bank, the executives acceded to his requests ahead of mine.
At the end of every day I call up my parents to give them updates from Delhi while they natter on about goings-on and gossip in Bikaner, but now they wanted me to hand the phone over to their grandson while he told them about his day. All telephone calls – whether from my siblings or our friends – were for him: How was he doing? Was he looking after himself, eating well, not working too hard? “How come no one asks me if I’m working too hard?” I asked my wife after a long day at work. “Get out of my way,” she said, “I have to grind the meat to make shammi kebabs for my son.”
All the hysteria was because he’d got himself a job, though in my three decades of toiling I’d never had the kind of reception he gets after a mere three days in office. Chilled drinks and edibles await him on his return, his bag is taken from his hands, the television is pre-set to his favourite sports channel and his sister has the hookah ready for his friends who soon appear at the door — while my request for a cup of coffee goes unheeded. Can I at least taste the fruits of my daughter’s first culinary effort? “Gosh,” says that little virago, “you’re so greedy!”