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….
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