Amma had brought raw mangoes from the local farmer’s market, that very moment Radha knew her favourite chutney would be prepared. Amma would first peel the green skin and then grate them, add various dals – a combination that was passed on by Radha’s grandmother to her. She always believed it was the proportion of dals and coconut in mango chutney that made it so delicious. Radha just loved it and would often secretly sneak into the kitchen to dip her little fingers into the chutney and have more than her share while Rukmani the elder one had developed an indifference to this seemingly inane behaviour of her sister. Today amma had packed the duo, spicy chutney with rice for lunch. There were three classes that separated Radha from her favourite food. Between recitations and multiplication tables, her mind was set on how she would open the tiffin and dig her fingers into the tangy chutney and mix it with the white rice which might not be as hot as when amma packed them. Seated next to Radha was Sowmya- the saheb’s daughter. Saheb was recently posted as the new block development officer in the sleepy town of Neelamangla. When he moved to this new block his concern was if the daughter would get good schooling in this small town. Under duress of limted choices he decided to admit her to the government school where the principal promised him special care and focus. Today the saheb’s daughter had a twinkle in her eye, she was visibly happy. She had to share this happiness with someone, she silently signalled Radha. Now both of them were gazing at the steel dabba that Sowmya held in her hands. With restricted eagerness she slightly opened the lid- good enough to steal a glance but not long enough to let the aroma slip by. Curious Radha raised her eyebrows, “Appa got it yesterday from Bangalore- it’s called dark forest pastry. Amma told not to share but I will share with you in the break” whispered back Somya. Circumspect in the face of being caught by the teacher, both resumed looking at the blackboard. The bell rang and it was break time, Radha who would otherwise have been joyed by the prospect of Saheb’s daughter calling her a friend and sharing her favourite pastry, melted away as soon as they stepped out of the class. She was waiting for her akka near the water taps where they both would quietly devour the food that amma packed lovingly. Rukmani walked in prophesying Radha’s impatient wait. She was mildly disappointed by Radha’s muted expression on opening the dabba. Her reluctant mixing of chutney in the now luke-warm rice and conspicuous sadness made no sense to Rukmani. Radha quietly mixed the chutney and gulped it down, her impassiveness was palpable. No longer did the chutney taste good….
Rupesh stayed lazily in his bed and reached out for his smart phone. This had become a routine now, back home this infuriated the mother but here no one would bother. He started checking for updates from friends. The laziness maintained its tempo and the thumb which was now very trained by his master’s mind would occasionally pause so that the master could read an update from an old flame or carelessly like the update from a friend having a good time. Buried between these meaningless updates was a suggestion- sometimes he suspected facebook probably knew more about his interests, his fantasies than most of his friends- it suggested him to watch a 5 minute speech clipping of a politician from his state. Without much thought into it, Rupesh clicked on the link and listened to his speech in rapt attention, the leader had a deep baritone, an amazing command on the vernacular and perhaps equally better on his body language. Rupesh batted an occasional eyelid as the leader unleashed a virile speech laden with statistics confirming large scale migration from other states, he then drove his point meticulously how the local youth was losing jobs because someone else who did not grow up here and did not care to learn the language was taking that away. Continue reading
I have a habit of checking the mailbox almost every day, a habit that my wife finds irritating. Perhaps that is motivation enough to continue doing it! But the habit actually stems from my childhood. Back then, going to the US was a big deal and any gift from the far off land meant it had to be valued and savoured. So, chocolates from abroad were not to be distributed to friends but were to be devoured alone and a souvenir was to be placed neatly in the showcase in drawing room. An uncle who used to frequent US got my father a rather uncommon gift from one of his trips abroad- a letter opener Continue reading
Last November I was in Munich, Germany. It was a bright day after a series of gloomy rainy days but by the time I completed my work, the day was almost finished. Since the flight was next day, I decided to utilize some idle time for going around the city-who knows when will be the next time I come here. So I took some directions from concierge at hotel who handed me a subway map, I reached the subway station a five minute walk from hotel and reached the city centre in 20 minutes. It was five already, I thought the best thing to do would be to take a walking tour. The tour finished by 7, I was planning to collect some souvenirs, have food and leave for the hotel.
Just then I heard a voice asking me “Can you please take a photograph” without waiting for my reply the person handed his cellphone in my hand. It was a blackberry, without much thought I said yes. He was a well built, tall man in his mid thirties, black hair and a well kempt beard, I was nearly certain this guy is an Indian. I took his photograph and out of courtesy told him to check if the photograph was fine. It wasn’t, I took another one but the dark of evening didn’t help matters. I apologized, asked him if he had switched on the flash in his cellphone. He said yes and then stared briefly at the cellphone rolling it in his hand as if he was unsure of what to do next, he muttered to himself “pata nahi kya masla hai” (Don’t know what the problem is?) a knowing smile flashed across my face. He noticed my smile and asked me where I was from, “India” I said, he smiled back and said “main Pakistan se hun“(I am from Pakistan) It was similar sounding Amritsari accent that I so often hear my in-laws break into. Continue reading