Thursday, August 16, 2007

A kitchen lesson

My father is the third of four siblings: two older brothers and a younger sister. My grandparents had three children prior to four siblings but they died in infancy, of which the first two were twins. His eldest brother is a bachelor and the middle brother died several years ago, hence my father became a "surrogate" father to his middle brother's two children.

His family were poor. His father was a forest ranger, and mother a house-wife. My grandfather was not that educated and my grandmother only had a second-class education. They never had electricity but lanterns. Because all the siblings had to study a lot, the lanterns caused such strain on their eyes that practically everyone in the family eventually wore glasses.

Due to my grandfather's job, the family moved so much that my father attended at least 10+ different schools throughout his childhood! Nevertheless, wherever they lived, they often had relatives who visited. My father had a favorite aunt who was his father's sister. She used to regale him with stories that had him riveted to his seat.

His aunt came to visit the family one day which happened to be close to my father's birthday. She wanted to celebrate my father's birthday by cooking his favorite dishes. (It was common in India for families to celebrate birthdays by cooking his/her favorite dishes. They did not give presents or go out to eat. Not even have a party. My mother changed this tradition after she had me and my sister).

As I mentioned in my early blog, kitchens in India have their own doors. They usually have portable gas stoves, just like the type you take to camping. And sometimes those stoves are either placed on counter, if you have a modern kitchen, or otherwise on the floor. My grandparents had the stove on the floor.

My father's aunt insisted on surprising everyone with her cooking, thus closing and locking the kitchen door. She asked not to be bothered for few hours.

The whole day passed and no show.

My grandmother knocked on the door.

No answer.

My uncle banged on the door, shouting for her.

No reply.

Finally, a family member went outside and pried the kitchen window open and went inside.

My father's aunt was found sitting beside the stove which was still on, holding a frying handle.

My uncle tried to move her but her body was stiff.

Apparently, she had died from carbon monoxide.

It was a big educational lesson to the family NOT to close the kitchen door/window while cooking.