Not wallpaper as in wallpaper, but the newspaper which I’d taped on the kitchen wall behind the cooking stove which is meant to absorb oil and water and food particles that splatter while cooking. It is quite effective, really, after a couple of weeks when the paper gets all oily and messy you simply remove it and put up a fresh page and presto! your wall is protected, you don’t have to spend time scrubbing out dirt, and the paper is easy to replace; clearly a win-all situation .
My niece who was visiting from Coimbatore asked me if lunch was ready, and like any good aunt I said yes, heat up the leftovers and it’s ready to eat. So she went, heated up the stuff, and came out from the kitchen with her plate and a question in her mind:
“Did you add anything to the fried potatoes which I made yesterday? It is all slimy and tastes funny”
“No, I didn’t touch it at all.”
“It sure is slimy.”
“Let me take a look.”
She came over to where I was sitting and I inspected the dish. Yes, it was indeed slimy. And tasted funny. Definitely spoiled.
“Throw it all away. I will make you an egg curry, go heat some oil.”
She did so and I resumed what I was doing. It was ten minutes later when called out from the bedroom.
“Anite, can I eat now?”
Oh my God.
I jumped up and rushed to the kitchen. The oil was on fire! Large flames, mind you, not your average everyday kitchen fire. And the wall paper had caught the fire and was getting along nicely, like a house on fire. For a second I panicked. My first thought was – if the fire spreads the whole building will be on fire and I’d be held responsible.
Then emergency instructions rushed into my head. Never pour water on burning oil. Cut off the oxygen supply. I switched off the stove and covered the frying pan with a plate. The plate was a small one and couldn’t fully cover the pan, and flames were still coming out from the corners which it couldn’t cover. I grabbed the kitchen towel and threw it over the pan. Then I removed my slippers and started hitting the burning wall paper which luckily didn’t offer any resistance and went out quietly.
Once the fire died I was immediately aware of the smoke that filled the kitchen and started choking. Funny, isn’t it? While I was busy putting out the fire I wasn’t aware of anything else. Now that the fire was out I noticed the smoke and even thought about how people trapped in burning buildings died from inhaling smoke before actually getting burned.
Which made me think, they used to say before you die your whole life flashes before you. But how do we know if this is true? How many people do we know who died and had their whole life flash before them and came back from the dead to tell the tale? Near death doesn’t count. You have to die, or as kids would say - you have to die dead.
I wasn’t even close to near death (thank God), you could say I was closer to burning the house down, and my life certainly didn’t flash before me. There was no time to think about the past and the things I did and the mistakes I made and the good deeds I did…. My only thought was – I have to put out this fire before my name appears in the local newspaper tomorrow. Luckily the fire went out easily, nobody got burned, and the only casualty was the kitchen towel.