Is your refrigerator a multipurpose repository?

Onam has come and gone leaving behind, among other things, satisfied smiles, expanded waistlines, high sugar levels, empty wallets, weary policemen, mounds of stinking garbage, heavy electricity bills for the government and, yes, fridges stuffed with leftover food. While everyone else had been planning the menu for Onam, my concerns had fast forwarded beyond the cooking and the feasting to dwell on what to do with the body, or rather, what to do with the food bound to be left over after the elaborate Onam lunch.

Indians believe in cooking for a battalion at the slightest opportunity. Where do I store it? You might answer, ‘the fridge, of course, silly!’ Cool, but then, you haven’t seen my fridge. Mine is less a fridge and more a multipurpose repository of all things great and small. The invention of the refrigerator is believed to have changed the world. It changed mine all right.

It began by giving me a place where food remained fresh and safe from the many legged rulers of night life in the kitchen. The food’s in the fridge, all’s right with the world, I’d say as I hit the sack. From storing milk, vegetables, fruits, fish and meat to progressing to flour, daals, masalas, and then to coffee powder, tea, biscuits, chips and on to medicines, pens, toothpaste, deodorants and nail polish were but small steps. The inventors of the fridge (there are too many contenders for me to name them) would have been stunned at the immense possibilities their invention had opened up. Some people, I believe, even keep their gold there — talk of frozen assets!

Onam’s the time for the annual harvesting of my fridge. You’d be amazed at the things it had collected and every year is a revelation. My tall, grey and handsome fridge is a prized possession. It was a purchase necessitated when its predecessor, our beloved first fridge, having long outlasted its designated lifespan and been repaired beyond repair, gave up its struggle for existence.

We had been as devoted to it as parents to their first born and were loath to give it up. It had served us so well. It taught us magic — how to stretch a single meal over many days. It gave us many practical lessons in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. Solids would change into liquids and then to gas. The process of fermentation became clear especially when gravitation took the fermented batter through two shelves to the vegetable compartment, cleaning which taught me how long it takes for mutated life forms to invade vegetables in cold environs.

It gave us geography lessons too. It had its own frigid zone — the freezer looked like a piece of Antarctica, the icy peaks left no space for any foreign matter. It honed our carpentry skills; we had to chip off the ice in the freezer carefully with a screw driver to make space for stuff.

Its functions started slowly but surely shutting down. Frequent repairs didn’t help any. There came a time when the freezer, now no longer the home of icicles, was the only cool part and the rest of the fridge became a storage cupboard. Soon even the freezer failed, the wires caught fire. But it needed a shock, got when I touched the handle, for us to decide on a replacement.

The excellent tutoring at the hands of the old unreliable made us go in for a big fridge, with a huge freezer. We availed ourselves of an exchange offer. But one look at our old fridge and the sales agent shook his head, ‘Scrap metal. Even that, doubtful.’ We bid the beloved scrap metal a tearful farewell and welcomed the smart newcomer into the kitchen.

A sense of adventure took hold of me as I began emptying it before Onam. ‘Last year’s ginger curry mix!’ I exulted, before saner counsel prevailed. Foreign chocolates? Oh no! Packets of cherries, buried under half opened packets of condiments, vanilla essence, unidentifiable liquids that had begun life as respectable solids and an assortment of things with ‘keep in a cool, dry place’ on the cover, surfaced. What blind obedience to instructions! Then came the surprise items – a nail cutter, shoe polish, a CD, my husband’s glasses, house keys....

The emptied fridge is once again full. I’ve taken a vow to cook only what is required. The vow is now in my freezer.

(khyrubutter@yahoo.com)

(A weekly column by the city-based writer, academician and author of the Butterfingers series)

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