Sunday, October 12, 2014

THE HONEST CRITIC - A SHORT STORY. (Read time: 6 mins.)




It is quite interesting when a professional gets challenged by an amateur at something.

Thats what happened with David and Shanthi.  Shanthi only started cooking a year ago, but David was pissed off to hear through their common friends that she had been telling everyone that she was a better cook than he was.  He was a professional cook for Christ's sake!

But the truth was, he secretly liked her food.  He was too proud to admit it.  And then one day, she said something out of the blue that made him cringe.
"Why don't we see who is better once and for all?"

"And how are we going to do that?" he said with an awkward smile.

"I know the perfect judge.  A honest critic." she said with a twinkle in her eye.

David agreed to it.  Actually, she didn't give him a choice.  She taunted him till he accepted it.

The judge was someone they both knew very well.  To keep it as unbiased as possible, they decided that they wont tell him that he was being a judge.  They were simply going to casually make him say which of their dishes he liked better without him realizing he was making a very important decision.

They decided they would each prepare something simple.  Something they were good at.  This critic had a sweet tooth, so they decided they would each make a sweet dish.

On Judgement Day, David told Shanthi that he would make his dish, which he decided was going to be vermicelli kheer (pudding), at the hotel where he worked and bring it over.  But she didn't feel it was right.  For all she knew, he could get one of his colleagues to make it for him or cheat in some other manner.  So, she made the stipulation that they were both going to cook their respective dishes right there in her kitchen.

A disgruntled David bought the ingredients for his kheer, and they both started off.  Shanthi had started mixing the flour, eggs, and coconut for what she thought was what she made best:  Coconut cookies.

David kept complaining about how uncomfortable it was for him to cook in her kitchen.  He said he was used to his hotel's kitchen and found her kitchen interfering with his "flow."  Secretly, he was worried.  He was worried that the critic might like the cookie more than his kheer.  What a shame that would be!  Hell, he made the kheer everyday at his hotel.  He was supposed to be good at it.  He couldn't afford to lose.  Imagine her boasting this to their friends!

Things didn't go smooth with both cooking in the same kitchen.  David was almost done and the only thing left was for the kheer to be slowly cooked for sometime on the stove.  He went to check his phone, which he had left in the living room for charging, and when he came back, he found the kheer spurting over.  He ran to it and found that the stove's heat was set at high. No, it wasn't a mistake!  He didn't accidently set it high.  He never made such mistakes!  He frowned at Shanthi from the corner of his eye.  She ignored him and continued with her preparation, all the while humming a tune.  David decided not to say anything.  He was going to wait for his opportunity.  He was going to wait till she left the kitchen for something, and then he will have his revenge.  Shanthi, who sensed this, never left the kitchen.

All of a sudden, they heard the doorbell ring.  At first, David and Shanthi looked at each other.
"I think he's here already!" she said.

David nodded, and they both walked towards the door.  David mimed following her, but quickly dropped back and turned the timer on the oven, where her cookies were being cooked, up.  Then quickly caught up with her.

She opened the door, and a boy, about 6 years old, wearing a school uniform, pushed himself in.  He threw his bag on the sofa, grabbed hold of the TV remote, and started watching TV.

David and Shanthi slowly walked over to him.
"Buddy, we got a special birthday treat for you!!" said David.

The boy jumped up excited.  Shanthi guided him to the kitchen and made him sit in front of the kitchen table.

David quickly poured out some of his kheer into a bowl.  It seemed a bit overcooked and slimy.  He felt like forfeiting the challenge right then and there, but forced a smile and set the bowl of kheer in front of his son.

Shanthi opened the oven to find that the cookies were slightly burnt.  She went red in her face with anger when she realised what had happened, but she too managed to put on a smile and selected few of the cookies which she felt were not too burnt and placed it in front of her son.

The boy looked a bit confused at the dishes.  This wasn't his idea of a “birthday surprise.”  After waiting for a few more seconds and realising that this was all there was of his "birthday surprise", he went ahead and picked up a cookie when David quickly said,
"Daddy made the best kheer in the entire world for you!!  Dont forget, after this, I am going to take you to Domina's Pizza and you can have all the pizza you want!"

"Coool!" he exclaimed beaming and unconciously putting the cookie back down on the plate.

"Yes!  All you have to do is tell which one is better!  Those cookies or this kheer that daddy made for you with a lot of love!" David said pushing the bowl of kheer closer to his son.

The boy looked all excited and was about to grab a spoonful of the kheer when his mom interrupted,
"Hey, remember, how you keep saying about that amusement park?!"

"Wonderland??" the boy exclaimed with a look of shock on his face.

"Yes! Well, guess what! I am going to take you there this weekend!”

“WOOOOAH!!” he exclaimed.

“All you have to do is to tell us if you liked the cookies better than the kheer!" she said putting the stress on the word "cookies".

David scowled at Shanthi for a moment.  Shanthi scowled back.

The boy suddenly looked confused.  He took turns to look at both the dishes.  Then finally slurped a spoonful of the sugary delicious kheer.  Then, he spent a few seconds frowing at a random spot on the table.  He had the look of a food critic seriously considering what he had just tasted.  Then he went ahead, grabbed a cookie, and took a bite of it.  Again, the same look of consideration followed.  David and Shanthi looked at him and then at each other with blank faces.

There was something wrong.  May be they both screwed up.  The kheer must be overcooked and the cookies burnt.

The boy was about to take another bite of the cookie, but then a look of confusion came over his face.  He moved the cookie towards the kheer and stopped.  A look of uncertainity on his face.  After a moment's consideration, he dipped the cookie in the kheer, took a bite of it, and his face lit up with a big smile.  As David and Shanthi watched speechless, he continued to eat the cookies dipping them in the kheer until he finished all the cookies that Shanthi had given him.

"Can I have more!??" he exclaimed.

"Thats enough buddy.  Thats enough sugar for right now.  You can have more later." said David sounding a bit stern.

The boy geniunely looked dissapointed.  Then suddenly looked excited and said,
"Then lets go to Dominooos!"

"Yes buddy. Go get changed." David said with an awkward smile.  The boy hugged them both, and before running to his room, turned to his mom and said,
"Mom! Can't wait to go to Wonderland!!"

Shanthi smiled and kissed him on his head.  The boy then ran to his room.

A few minutes of awkward silence followed.  Finally, David took a cookie out from the oven, dipped it in the kheer, and took a bite.  Shanthi followed suite.  Both sat down before the table nibbling on the kheer soaked cookies in complete silence except for the munching noises.  Finally, David put away the cookie he was eating and turned to Shanthi and said,
“Do you get the feeling our son just outsmarted us?”

*****


- Rejo John



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