As a magazine that caters to a wide demographic spectrum of women, we are blessed with the opportunity to meet with enterprising women from different faculties. We get to peek inside their lives and, many times, inside their kitchens too. Today we will take you for a journey through the life of Dr. Aruna Sharma, Secretary - DeitY, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Government of India. She's a dynamic Madhya Pradesh Cadre IAS officer of 1982 batch.
Tell us about your journey. What made you take up this profession?
I was a very naughty teenager! A neighbour once inquired about my future course of action and I told him that I was in the final year of graduation and had not yet thought about the future. That's when he advised me to take up IAS and introduced me to an IAS couple. That's when I decided on my career path. It was as if an angel had introduced me to my future journey.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Kitchen”?
It is a place that brings joy, both to the cook and the one who eats. It's a fun activity. I really thank my mother who besides, studies did introduce us to good food and cooking, as well as other fine works like embroidery, tatting etc. A very positive thing one imbibes is the tendency to complete any work to perfection, once you have made a beginning. Thus, the moment I hear the word “Kitchen” what comes to my mind is experimentation with logic. In the Kitchen, the focus is to best utilize the resource to optimize the outcomes.
Recall the first time, you made something alone in the Kitchen and how your family reacted after having the dish.
As a college student I had taken a fancy to experiment with recipes that appear in magazines. I tried to make 'Yam steak' that takes hours to make. It was a dish that is very complicated, you cut Yam (suran) into fingers, then cook them in coconut milk (during those days ready-made coconut milk was not available). The spices used were cinnamon, salt and pepper and the dish was garnished with a bit of cream and coriander. The entire kitchen platform had the spread of my activities provoking the wrath of my mother and the cook. Another experiment was when my mother had gone to visit her parents and I attempted 'gulabjamun'. They turned out well (as certified by my father) but the pan in which I made the sugar syrup got burnt, I did not allow the cook to wash it and immersed it in water for three days and cleaned it myself before the return of my mother. But the cook spilled the beans and rest became history.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
Well, I am now a systematic cook but I rarely get time. That's why I cook presentable dishes that take the shortest time in the kitchen. My son has recently presented me with an air-fryer so my fun moments are with it. I make kurkure bhindhi, dahi balls (hung curd rolled in corn flour), pizza, stuffed capsicum or tomato, baked vegetable, seek kabab etc. It's quick and oil free. Cooking with an air fryer is my latest craze.
How do you balance your professional and personal life?
One has to balance it if he or she wants to be happy in life. Professional life is important. It is my passion and gives me the opportunity to give back to society. But for an efficient professional life, one needs to have equally passionate interests in one's personal life. This enables you to have fresh ideas and peace of mind.
In a busy schedule how often do you cook for your family?
I cook only special meals, not routine food. On a holiday, I cook for all family members and servants. So it's a day when madam cooks for them.
Do you get any help from your better half when you are in the kitchen?
Yes, if we throw a party, we decide the menu together and the dishes are divided between my husband, son, servant and me.
How do you prove your culinary skills while hosting guests at very short notice? Any secret ingredients that you use?
Yes, I do. I like to make sweet pudding by using a few spoons of milk powder-that gives it a creamy texture. If guests show up at short notice, the menu will definitely have one baked dish. The secret is to opt for special cuisines such as Lebanese, Chinese, Italian—few dishes and the job is done.
Do you prepare your own ingredients or do you go for the ready to use ones?
I believe in fresh ingredients. That way, I can be satisfied knowing that the outcome is wholesome and safe for my family.
If and when you cook do you experiment or do you cook traditionally following your mother's recipes?
Like I said before, experimentation is the key, it has to be tasty, well plated and of course made with ingredients that are easily available and quick to make.
What's your role in planning & designing of your Kitchen?
I've stayed in government quarters all my life, hence there hasn't been much of an option in designing the kitchen space. But yes, the modern concept of modular kitchens is wonderful and I like a kitchen that's equipped with all the latest gadgets.
Does it matter to have a modern well equipped kitchen or simply convenient kitchen? What difference does it make in your life?
Modern and well equipped kitchens always have an edge over their traditional counterparts. New age electronic gadgets are making cooking easy and safe. That is one reason I see more men in the kitchen these days, enjoying cooking their special recipes. The well designed kitchen does give more space and ease of navigation within the kitchen. A smart kitchen is the future.
Where do you go when you feel like eating out?
All places where food is tasty, from street food to star hotels. It has to be the perfect taste.
Do you snack while at work - if so what do you prefer?
Well, not much now, used to do a decade back, now it is more of fruits and lunch.
How do you maintain your health through diet? Are you conscious about calories while eating?
I believe in being healthy and energetic, hence no strong diet regime or missing meals. I do eat healthy and home cooked food, and once a week a jaunt out.
Who is your role model?
A committed professional, who does justice to their job and has a vision, is my role model. I believe in doing a job to the best of my abilities, in both professional and personal life. And I do it with honesty and sincerity.
Do well in the job at hand. And yes, own a nice modern well equipped kitchen. I am known as a professional, it's not a bad idea to also add a feather in the cap and be known as a good cook.