Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Rice.

Although he was not weak looking, he would hunch while he walked or sat somewhere. Or maybe he hunched only when sitting on the pavement. I wouldn't know because, of all the times I had seen him, he was never on a chair or a bench as he was not supposed to sit on any of those things, except the bare sand or pavements or the thresholds.


But I do not think he ever did mind sitting at any of these spots, because why would he possibly. I loved each of those three very much...


Sand was always one of my favorite things to play with, sit on, lie above, pasted all over... The way sand could run in between my little fingers and fall back to earth; the way it pierced through my bare toes and reach up to soil my feet so beautifully; the way it tasted like unsweetened crunchy sugar crystals; and the way I could create a rain when I would threw a handful of it up above towards the sunny sky and stand under it when it caught all over my hair. I can go on and on about the simple versatility of an awesome toy called sand...


Next being the pavement, stretched so long, slightly longer than my mother's beautiful sarees infact, in its transient glory, as my very own running track. The straight alley started right from the doorstep at the back of our house, up until towards the big washing stone in the shape of a cube with its top slightly slanted. The boulder was guarded by a giant open well. It had the shape of a monster's round scary mouth, ready to engulf me. Maybe because it was always hungry as its deep dark groaning stomach was filled with only half full of water and plants and fishes. But for me, that scary grumble would excite my guts enough to make me rescue myself from the monstrous well, by running as fast I could till my little tummy hurt. Off I would reach towards our house's door leading to kitchen where mother would be, whom I knew would always protect me from anything and everything under the sun, with all her power of unconditional love...



Sometimes when I got bored of playing with the giant, I would gallop along the pavement, back and forth screaming 'P. T. Ushaaa' at the top of my voice, in my utmost enthusiasm. The scream gave me an extra push
to my heels and a stronger beat to my young heart. My iron rocking chair would be on the middle of my path, which was a bit of an obstacle when I ran, but was of course not enough to tame me down. And I didn't want to move it too, nor could I move it anywhere, because it wouldn't rock on sand. Neither could it be placed inside the house as it would make scratches on my mother's spotless mosaic floors.




And then there was the humble threshold... where I loved to sit after my fore day bath, wearing a fresh frilly frock. Whilst I would breathe in and devour the crisp morning air that brushed through the paddy fields across our neighborhood with all my zest for bittersweet life, mother would offer me my favorite fresh ripe tomatoes. I was always happy to sit on its warm welcoming lap... I could almost feel an invisible hug encircling me with its warm open doors, making me ever so homely.


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So why would he he ever mind sitting at any of these three spots, my innocent past might very well ask. In terms of seating provision, a five year old child and an old man had same choices, though the former chose it very happily, and the latter might have chosen it... well, without any other choice. And therefore, contrary to my then apprehension, nor we, neither our seats, were ever equal but always torn apart by thousands of miles, from each other...


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Mother would always give him a coin or two and a bowl of rice gruel with pickle on the side. Over the years, I have seen many like him, but his is one of the faces, that I remember quite well. Just like the ever deepening wrinkles imprinted on his skin, his face has a permanent mark in the depth of my mind. Not because he was my fun loving playmate; nor was he a loving old relative who would offer me colorful candies. But because he always used to make a spoon to eat the gruel with. A spoon made by folding a fresh but slightly ripe, yellowish green jackfruit leaf and then securing it with the leaf's stem. He would fold it quite easily, though it seemed very complicated to me, and he would start eating the food with much love and gratitude.


Whenever I would see him coming to our house, I would stop playing, and start staring at him, as I knew he would start making the unusual spoon sooner and then eat using it. The way he would apply the red pickle on his tongue and slurp slowly and tastefully each and every drop of rice; It intrigued me to the core. I was so curious to watch his eating etiquette always. But he was passive on my lack of civility; anyone but him might have felt that I was impolite to stare at them and their food. He was patient with the five year old me, he
gave me time to become ladylike in my own pace... And with all my gratefulness to him for accepting me as I was, I gave him back my attention with awe and admiration to his manners, especially when he could do all of it without anything grand banquet around, and I couldn't be anywhere near to his sheer elegance...


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I never liked the taste of rice gruel myself. Our mother would give it to us, if we were feverish or ill. I never enjoyed it. For me, it was bland and tasteless. Just like a day down with fever, no outdoor games and no play in water during bath, as bath would be strictly nil that day. But our old man loved each pearl of rice and each drop of water and each tiny grain of salt floating in it. My five year young heart was convinced that its the spoon that makes it tasteful. Its a magic spoon. My mother couldn't succeed in teaching me how to make it though, poor patient her, she tried a lot. My little fingers, my less flexible hands, my growing brain... All I learned was to fold the leaf in to a half, or tear it whilst folding.


But then again, I was busy with my life. I had dolls to whom I was mother to, chocolates in fridge to eat, sometimes my brothers' sugary homeo medicines to steal, keep scores of their cricket on my slate like a fair responsible umpire... And the most important of all, I was untiringly busy growing up and gaining strength to play and equally fight with my beloved siblings till no end.



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For years, whenever our mother would come with gruel, I did wish though, again and again, that I could make it tasty and flavorful with the magic touch of a jackfruit leaf. I never succeeded in that. I was never been able to become genteel and graceful like the old patron... But my mind do still succeed in reminiscing him often without fail.



Many a time, when I see the forehead of a shy bride, beautifully clad in saffron colored vermilion,my eyes recapture the fresh picture of the old man's dry tongue with a stripe of bright red pickle, from my past young heart. I now know, his untouched palate had more chastity than any newly wed; And that, his barren throat was more pristine than any divine consummation...


When I grew up, I gradually started to understand, a bit deeper than the surface, about many things. I learned that I had to look thoroughly through the gruel to see that, most of the rice was buried into the depths with the translucent water floating above. If I didn't look, it was just a plain old foggy veil without any pearls of wisdom waiting underneath to be discovered... I also painfully and hence ruthlessly stomached that, while fasting is not eating by choice, starvation is sadly, not eating out of choice...


Through those inevitable chapters of life and the lessons it taught me, I did finally manage to find out the secret magic delicacy I was searching, from the age of five; the trick that I thought, lied on the creased leaf, waiting for me to unfold it.





It was pure hunger.


But by the time I realised that...


I knew I had lost my appetite for it.



P. S. :- I would love to dedicate this, to our mother who has told us many many wonderful stories, and taught us the moral of each one of them... And above all, for giving us a good life that is worth telling.

Afterword: All the incidents described in the above story is real. The chronological order may vary slightly, nevertheless it effectively holds the authenticity of the chain of events and my thought processes that happened along with them. 

8 comments:

  1. "while fasting is not eating by choice, starvation is
    sadly not eating out of choice"... love this

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    2. very happy to know that... thank you. :)

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  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  3. I really enjoyed reading this, Husna. Especially the lines "But then again, I was busy with my life. I had dolls to whom I was mother to, chocolates in fridge to eat, sometimes my brothers' sugary homeo medicines to steal, keep scores of their cricket on my slate like a fair responsible umpire... "

    From the very beginning, you managed to capture the reader's attention and draw us into your richly detailed story. It is as if, for those few minutes, those who were reading your story became part of the very scene that you were describing. Thank you for sharing this memory :)

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    1. thank you so much Nadia for the generous words ! :) Means a lot.. :)

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