5 course meal

 

“Abbu, look hotel!”, Salim shrieked in delight and tugged at his father’s kurta. Abdul looked at Salim and smiled, he pulled him back from entering the hotel through its huge majestic gates, “We go through the back door okay? Its the service entrance”, he told.

Abdul held his son’s hand tight as he took him through the security check, the old security guard looked at Abdul and smiled, ” Salim’s first time in the hotel isn’t it?”, Abdul shook his head in affirmative and gave him a courteous smile. He didn’t want to get Salim to the hotel, but he couldn’t refuse when Salim requested him, it was the only thing he asked his father in 8 years.

Abdul  stared at Salim while he met with the other waiters and chefs at the hotel. How happy he was! Abida would be so glad to see her son this happy, he thought. Salim was a good boy, he always went to school on time, did his homework and studied well, he took care of himself and the house, after Abida’s death Abdul had to scrounge for another job to make sure that there was enough money at home.

Abdul worked in an electrician’s shop from morning to evening and then as a waiter at a hotel till midnight, he never had any vices, would manage to tell his prayers at least once a day if not 5. Never had Salim complained or requested for anything. He too understood the hardships that his father had to face to make ends meet. But he wanted to go to this hotel, after all it was the biggest and the most grand hotel in the city, he wanted to brag about the visit to his friends.

Abdul changed into his work clothes while Salim ate the sandwiches, cookies and pastries that were gifted to him by others at work. Good, atleast today’s dinner has been taken care of, Abdul thought.

The hotel was overbooked for a convention of business men. The staff were busy round the clock and they needed more people working. Abdul warned Salim to not move from his place and remain invisible, lest the manager’s eye fell on him it would be a jackpot as he would have cheap labor and an extra pair of hands to wash the vessels, since he had promised Abida that no matter what he would make sure Salim finished his education and never work at such places.

Salim looked around the kitchen in delight,he was over joyed with the sight huge vessels and the heavenly aroma of food wafting through, the beautiful crockery and how everything was laid out and timed to be perfect. The other waiters explained him that this dinner was a special 5 course meal. He was amused as to why someone would eat 5 times while eating once itself would be filling enough, after all that was how he would eat.

It was well past midnight when Abdul’s shift ended. He picked up an asleep Salim in his arms and walked his way back home.

The next morning, he asked Salim how the trip was, Salim explained in detail how he loved everything about the hotel and that once he grew up and became rich he too would have the 5 course meal and be really happy, saying this he left for school.

Abdul’s heart filled with uneasiness, he wanted Salim to know that to be happy you didn’t need a lot of money and definitely not a 5 course meal.

Abdul called in sick at the hotel that evening, after Salim came back from school as per his daily schedule he finished his homework, played for a while then stayed back at the neighbour’s home for dinner and slept there till Abbu returned. But not today, at dinner time Abdul called out for Salim. Salim was delighted to find Abbu home but his house lay laden with darkness.

Right in the middle of the room was a small table on which, was a flower, a lit candle and 2 disposable plates, Abdul served Salim with his own 5 course meal – nimbu pani, boiled and roasted potatoes, rice with dal, a cup of curd and ice cream.

As both Salim and Abbu had dinner which was engulfed with lots of giggles and stories of school, Abdul looked at Abida’s photo on the wall and smiled, life was not bad.

For to be truly happy, you need to be at peace with yourself and where you are in life.

Choice

 

I plonked on the couch after a long day. With my fifth rum cola on the rocks in one hand and the other hand free for scratching my dog’s ears, This was by far the best part of my day. I’m not too fond of alcohol, its just that sometimes I need a catalyst to make the night easy for me, to help me sleep in peace.

As I sat sipping my drink, feeling the immediate chill of the ice cubes in my mouth and the warmth in my belly, I slowly drift away into my thoughts. The dim lights are comforting as opposed to the harsh lights at work, always forcing you to stay up and on the job, the silence that night brings in contrast to the sounds of the day.

Somehow nights aren’t my favourites, especially since I live alone. It compels me to think, it unlocks all those doors behind which I have safely stashed my feelings and secrets. It makes me feel alone.

I shut my eyes tight and see him standing in front of me. Its during nights like this that I go back to him. Very few times in life you meet someone who is perfect, so bloody perfect that it scares you that you yourself may ruin it. How can someone be in love with your flaws and imperfections? How can someone just figure out the right things to say at the right time? That one reassuring smile or touch, always having your back, always keeping you happy, pushing you to do more for you, fanning the fire inside you to achieve more.

I look around my home, I now own my own home, car and independence, have a heavy bank balance, can indulge in all my whims and fancies, not think twice before splurging. However I have lost just the one thing that beats all of this anyday.

I gulp in the last remnant of my drink, I can feel tears running down my cheeks. I reach out for my phone and dial his number, it keeps ringing, after what seems like centuries, he picks up. He keeps saying hello for quite a while, I remain mum holding my hand over my mouth, didn’t want to let my sobs escape for he may know who I am. He cuts the call, I keep looking at his photo on my screen.

I push myself out of the couch and drag myself up the stairs and into my bed. Sometimes decisions can’t be reversed, sometimes regret is all we have.

The Lunch

Like little boys of his age, Amma was his super woman. There was nothing Amma could not do, no problem was ever too big for Amma to solve (including maths!). But the place he loved spending time most with Amma was in the kitchen.

Whenever anyone asked him what he wanted to become when he grew up, he always replied he wanted to be Amma, some of the children would laugh at him but he remained undeterred, the answer never changed. As he grew older he would still give the same answer only that now he learned to justify it.

All the aunts in the family and neighbourhood and his teachers called him a gem of a boy. Appa however had a distinct irritableness towards him. “Go wear bangles and a sari and sit in the kitchen. Do you want to be an uneducated woman like your mother?”, he would shout. Every other day he would start a fight at home and end up shouting at Amma. After Appa left Amma would console him, saying that it was one of the occupational hazards of being a police officer.

He wanted to become a chef but Appa wanted him to join the police, he knew that his decision would open a pandora’s box hence he chose to play it safe and do engineering, that way he could stay close to home and Amma and not upset Appa.

He was at college when Appa called to inform him that Amma had a heart attack and didn’t survive. He reached the hospital as soon as he could, but alas! she was gone. Amma looked peaceful, beautiful like she always was. He felt his entire world crumble right in front of eyes and couldn’t stop the stream of tears, he only wanted Amma back. Appa didn’t shed a tear, he remained his rigid self. With a heavy heart he performed all the required rites. Now his world had only him and Appa.

They stayed back at a relative’s home that day and went home the next day. The entire house screamed of Amma’s absence. He knew Appa didn’t eat anything the entire day, he seemed to like only what Amma cooked so he walked into the kitchen and cooked lunch, it was a simple meal of rice, dal, curd and cabbage curry.

He placed the serving dishes on the dining table and served lunch to his father. Just like he would always do since childhood, he walked into the kitchen and waited till Appa ate, so that Amma had company while she ate, however today he had to eat alone. As he was filling the bottles with water, he heard a sob. He walked out of the kitchen to see Appa weep, that was the first time he had ever seen Appa cry. “You cook just like your Amma , you are a good son”, he told.

He walked towards Appa, hugged him and they both cried.

He could feel Amma looking over them from heaven and smiling.

Advice

She stood by the stove, watching the milk come to a boil, her eyes welling up with tears. She bit her lip so as to not cry, her lips hurt too. She traced her lower lip and found that the cut had deepened.

She switched off the gas, walked to the spice shelf, took a tsp of turmeric in a bowl and mixed it with a bit of water to make a paste. She applied it on the cut on her lip, the scratches on her hand, and the bruises on her arm, hoping and praying that they would heal and not leave a mark, after all she had a visit due to her home next week.

She took the tomatoes and chillies out of the fridge and placed them on the chopping board. She recollected and followed her mother’s advice, “Cut them fine and curl your fingers to avoid getting a cut” , “Remember to always season with less salt, you can adjust it later if you want” , “Fry the groundnuts till they turn dark brown to render them crunchy”.

Mother was never wrong, she always had the right advice.

” It must have been your fault”, her mother chided her when she complained that her husband would beat her up. “Why will he hit you otherwise? Afterall he is your husband. Its been just 2 months since you got married and instead of adjusting, you complain?”

“All men who hit are not bad. Haven’t you seen your father? He also hits me. Does this mean he is bad? Hasn’t he given you a good life? Its just a year, try adjusting and doing things right and eventually it may stop”

“Its not even been 2 years since you got married and you want to leave him? Don’t come back to our home if you do. The doors of this house are closed for you, that house is the only place that you have. What will people say if you come back? We have spent so much money in your marriage that your father is still paying off those debts. You have a comfortable life, you don’t have to work, you just need to take care of the house and watch tv. Don’t watch these english shows, God knows how those people are and what their parents teach them.”

She washed the puffed rice under the running water, and recalled her conversation with her mother. “Dress up well, don’t slack because you have been married for long. We are awaiting the time when we can play with our grandkids. If you have a child then maybe his temper also will cool off and you can finally settle down. Don’t forget to buy rat poison, its monsoon time and the last thing that you want is for the pests to ruin your life, kill them before they cause trouble”.

She tempered the oil in the utensil, sautéed the tomatoes and chillies in it, put the spices in carefully and added the puffed rice. “Don’t forget to add a bit of sugar to make the perfect poha”, she smiled as she could almost hear her mother admonish her. She emptied the contents of the utensil into a plate, placed a spoon next to it and walked out of the kitchen.

She placed the plate on the coffee table while her husband read the newspaper. As soon as she turned to walk back, he held her arm tight and gave her a sound slap. She felt she went deaf for a minute and winced in pain. “Where is my tea?”, he demanded, he jerked her hand and pushed her away. She wanted to reply back, tell him that she didn’t get it out of the fear that it may turn cold since he would eat the poha first. She cried and walked into the kitchen silently fearing that any response from her would be awarded with another slap.

She made the tea as quick as possible, cursing her fate, cursing that she was a woman, cursing that she had no power in her hands but being careful of the 1.5 tsps of sugar that was a must in his tea.

She walked out of the kitchen, placed the cup of tea on the table and stood next to the kitchen door. He drank his tea, sipping it slowly, engrossed in the newspaper and taking bites of the poha as well. She knew it would happen some time now. She continued staring at him. Suddenly he clenched his throat and glanced at her, signalling her to get water, she didn’t budge. His eyes popped, it turned red with rage, he was now holding his chest and tried reaching for anything, anything with his hands to throw at her. She looked at his helplessness and stood transfixed. He fell on his knees and called for help like a man drowning in a sea, few more minutes he struggled and finally his heart gave up. He fell on the floor with a thud, the foam from the corner of his mouth spread on the floor.

All this while she clasped the empty bottle of rat poison in her hands. Now you know what it feels like, she thought.

“Don’t let the pests to ruin your life, kill them before they cause trouble.”

Mother’s advice.

The Voice

 

She looked at the time,  10.15 it read. “7 more hours to go”, she sighed.

At 21, her life had already become monotonous . She checked her emails one by one. All of them seemed to be saying the same thing- reports, reports and more reports. “Why do people need everything in writing”, she moaned and proceeded to jot down the things to do for the day, prioritising them into pre lunch and post lunch tasks. Just as she was about get down to writing the reports her eyes fell on a mail, her eyes widened in excitement, she hadn’t expected such a prompt response.

Please list down the places where you can volunteer, the mail read. She quickly searched the places where they required volunteers on their website and jotted down the places close to her office and immediately shot out a mail. Within seconds they responded, how much time can you dedicate they asked. She made a mental calculation of the time she had free right before she was expected to reach work and replied back. She sat in anticipation, refreshing her mail every few seconds, grinning ear to ear for just no reason! How she was waiting for something in her life to change, any change in routine, anything which made her feel like her life was meant for something more useful than writing reports.

Her thoughts suddenly interrupted by a sound, new mail – the notification read. She quickly scanned the mail, at the bottom was a name and a number, an instruction to call the person mentioned at 3 and the place where she had to report tomorrow morning. She was overjoyed! It was something she had never done before.

All day long she waited for the time to turn 3. She winded up her work by 2.30 and sat staring at the clock waiting for it to turn 3, her heart pounded harder with every passing minute. At 2.55 she picked up her phone and walked into the pantry and drank a glass of water, she sat down on a chair and took deep breaths, she didn’t want to end up fumbling or saying anything stupid out of excitement.

2.59, the time read. “Thats it!  I cant wait for another minute”, she thought. She dialled the number given and waited patiently for the person to pick up and then she heard it.

That Voice.

The conversation hardly lasted for 30 seconds, but that voice.   It stuck to her.

The sound of bells, the smell of the wet earth after it rains, the feeling of warmth when you wrap your body in a blanket on a rainy day, the heat that you steal from a cup of chai on a rainy day, the sight of lush green trees dripping with water against the grey skies, none of it compared to what she felt on just listening to that voice.

 

 

Her phone vibrated, she saw his name appear on the screen, she smiled and picked it up.

“Shonaaa!”, he cooed. Her heart did a cartwheel and her insides felt cold for an instant and then melted, the butterflies in her tummy danced. She could feel her cheeks turn pink and hot as she blushed.

 

It was 1.5 years since she heard his voice,everything between them changed.

They travelled a long way- from being strangers to lovers.

 

Everything had changed, but still some things never change.