Of all the objects in our kitchen this blue oven is by far my favorite. We've had it for 25 years now and the story of how it came to be in our kitchen is unlikely and wonderful.
When we first came to India, we were bone poor. We had sold everything we owned to buy our air tickets and once we had settled into our first flat and set it up with the most basic of furnishings, there was very little left.
Ravi's salary was Rs 2500 a month and I didn't have a work permit. So the oven I dreamed of having was out of the realm of possibility. Just for fun, we had gone around pricing various options, but there was nothing available for less than Rs 3000 and spending more than a month's salary just didn't make sense (to Ravi).
Some friends had an oven exactly like the one above and occasionally I would borrow it for a special occasion. I would then "forget" to return it (they only used it a few times a year so they hardly even noticed) for months. But eventually it would always go back, leaving me sad and somewhat stymied, as so much of my cooking is oven-based and so much comfort derives from food when one is a stranger in a strange land.
Two years later, we were living in another flat, Ravi had gotten a small raise and we had our first child. An oven was still out of the question, but living in Delhi, with temps of up to 115, a fridge was an absolute necessity. Unable to afford much, however, we had decided to rent one. I went to the rental place (called "Happy Spray Painting" for some unknown reason), selected the smallest model, gave the address to the owner and was just turning to leave when I saw the oven of my dreams sitting off to one side. It was obviously a second-hand piece, and exactly the same model as the one I borrowed from my friends.
"Is that for sale?" I asked casually, trying not to sound too excited.
"Yes it is," the man answered briskly.
With Anand perched on my hip, I did some rapid mental calculations. We could do without a few things, I reasoned. I could write an article and make a few extra bucks. "Even if he says 1000 rupees," I said to myself, "I'm going to get it."
"How much are you selling it for?" (Calmly, Jo. Don't show your hand.)
"400 rupees," he said firmly. "I don't bargain."
Did God send me to this place? Did this man sense my desperate desire for an oven? "I'll take it." The words burst out of my mouth even though I only had ten rupees in my pocket. "Can you wait fifteen minutes? I'll be right back. PLEASE don't sell it to anyone else."
I rushed to a friend's house and borrowed the 400 rupees, dashed back to the shop and arranged for both fridge and oven to be delivered that evening. I didn't even bother to check that it was in working order.
It was, however. In fact, it was perfect, the best investment in any equipment I have ever made in my life: 25 years of dependable performance, 25 years of breads, pies, cakes, lasagne, baked potatoes, grilled eggplant, quiche, scones, muffins - the lot. I didn't know any of that at the time, of course. All I knew was that at last our kitchen was a real one and that I could make anything I wanted now.
The first thing I made was a cake for Mr Happy Spray Painting and I took it down to his shop as one might take the first fruits of the harvest to the church: in grateful thanks, staggering, the golden sheaves in my arms.