During Baba’s visit to the Siddha Yoga Ashram in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1979, I was offering seva in the kitchen. One day Baba told me he would teach me how to cook. I was thrilled and awestruck by the opportunity.
At Baba’s request, I set up all the ingredients and utensils needed to prepare bhajias, an Indian snack of vegetables that are battered and deep-fried.
We began by preparing the batter. In a bowl, Baba added chickpea flour, water, and spices without measuring anything. I watched Baba, wondering how I would learn the recipe, especially since Baba would not allow us to take notes while cooking.
Baba noticed my nervousness. Very gently, he hit my back with his open hand and said in English, “Relax.” Baba’s touch completely put me at ease. I became focused on the task at hand, stirring the batter as Baba kept adding more water and flour.
Baba showed me how to let the batter flow down my hand as a ribbon, and he said to me, “Do you see that? That’s how the batter should be when it has the right consistency.”
Baba tasted the batter, and so did I. Baba asked what it needed. “More salt,” I said. Baba agreed and then said, “More chili and lemon.” I mixed in the ingredients and we tasted the batter again. “Bahut accha,” Baba said. Very good. “Now the flavors are balanced.”
Next, Baba turned to the oil that was heating in a wok nearby. He sprinkled a little water in, and the oil made a sizzling sound. “Did you hear that sound?” Baba asked. “That’s the sound oil makes when it’s ready.” His skilled ear was the best thermometer, and he was training my ears also.
When it was time to deep-fry the bhajias, Baba taught me how to dip florets of cauliflower into the batter and how to flip them over so that the excess batter didn’t drip into the oil. I recall marveling at how skillful Baba was; in a matter of seconds he had filled the wok with bhajias. Then he said, “We don’t need to do anything. The fire is working for us.”
We stood there together, watching the fire do its work. I still remember how peaceful this moment was. Baba turned the bhajias over to cook them evenly, and then, when they were ready, he pulled them out, shaking off the excess oil. They looked delicious—beautiful, golden, and cooked to perfection.
Baba gave me much more than a recipe that day. He taught me how to be at ease, how to focus, how to use my own hands and train my senses, how to listen to my inner wisdom. Many times, while cooking or engaging in other activities, I remember this experience. Sometimes I mentally give myself a gentle pat on my back and I say, “Relax.” It brings me back to being in Baba’s presence, back to witnessing and learning from his skill, wisdom, and compassion.
A Siddha Yoga Swami