There is some footloose gene in my family that gets triggered by the sight of dark billowing clouds and the aroma of rain falling on parched earth. Come rain and cloudy weather and members of my clan begin pacing to and fro (somewhat resembling caged wild creatures). Then someone, generally from the female species announces that she is imposing a travel ban on going to the kitchen (much like the Trump Administration). The announcement comes as a relief to our cook, who raises his hands to the heavens, in joyful thanks and makes a beeline for his quarters.

Then begins, what can best be referred to as pandemonium, as everyone rushes about collecting what they consider necessary for the oncoming event – a cookout somewhere in the pines that grow some distance from my rustic dwelling. As the senior member of the clan with many privileges, one of which is Head of Domestic Administration (a position often hijacked by my better half), I stand at the top of my front steps surveying the growing pile of items considered necessary for the excursion by various members of my family.

The first group of items that catches my attention is an assortment of six woks of various denominations collected by individuals according to their own size and appetites (five out of these are returned to the pantry with a lecture on gluttony). Then the roving eye rests on three types of cooking oil cans conforming to ‘doctor’s orders’ for different members of the family (out of this only olive oil is retained as a universally accepted safe product). Then I spot a gas stove and LPG cylinder, which is immediately sent back with a well-rehearsed glare, to be followed by cardboard with cans of peaches carefully arranged over a small icebox containing ice cream (the finger of guilt immediately locates my granddaughter, who is given a lecture on cookout etiquette and the laws of physics related to why and how ice cream melts into milk.

With the issue of unnecessary stores and equipment sorted out, everyone piles into the transport, only to discover that the youngest member of the family is missing. Speedy detective work reveals that the culprit, who happens to be my grandson was last seen entering the guestroom toilet armed with a batman comic book. It is also established that this particular room is now locked. My, otherwise cool witted daughter, rushes into the house to return moments later with her errant offspring in tow.

The HR and logistics finally sorted out we move out and on reaching our destination discover that the spot has already been claimed by another group with plans much akin to ours. We drive on an ascending dirt road to an alternate site and finding it unoccupied begin unloading the cars, setting up the tent and putting stones together to make a hearth, while a couple of youngsters amble off to look for dry pine cones, which make excellent fuel.

Glancing around, I notice that a male member of the family assigned with the task of loading and unloading the meat container is taking an unusually long time in getting his task done. I stroll up to him and am confronted by an ashen face and the look of a convicted man about to be executed. Crisis management training and experience now comes in handy as I walk back to the family group in a nonchalant manner to announce that the core ingredient of our cookout – the meat, has been left behind. There is a shocked silence for a few seconds and then all hell breaks loose, as ‘the mob’ advances menacingly towards the culprit. As tempers cool, a quick family ‘heads together’ dispatches two youngsters to a ‘dhaba’ that we had seen on our way up. This team returns thirty minutes later with a tolerably cooked chicken curry and a watery concoction with some vegetables floating on the surface, which (we were informed) was vended as mixed veggie ‘bhujia’.

We sit round the hearth made of stones watching the curry and vegetables, now reinforced with our own spices, sizzle over a ‘pine cone blaze’. Troubles are soon forgotten and the forgetfully errant young man forgiven, as a tantalizing aroma rises from the wok.

We return happy and refreshed. It is late in the evening that while musing in my study, I pay silent thanks to my Creator for what he had bestowed upon us, especially the gift of a family that was united and one. I looked up as my wife entered the room with the words, “You know, when we found ourselves without anything to cook, I almost ‘lost it’. But it was the spirit of the cookout that took over and turned the day into a winner.”