A Thanjavur bobblehead doll

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Mrs Kumar was unsure of everything as she entered the market. The hustle and bustle of the market felt removed from her as if she had been left behind from it. She realized that each of the thousand times she had entered the market she had always had a to-do list or a list of ingredients to collect for a recipe. And here she was at this late hour of the evening, without a list of ingredients for her life or a recipe for how to cook it.

Mrs Kumar decided that she had wandered into the market because it was familiar. She hoped that the tired alleyways and the small shops of the market remembered enough of the items of her life that she may be able to pick up a decision about it in the next shop around the corner.

The smell of the fresh flowers wafting from the flower vendor reminded her of her husband. She had never really liked Jasmine, but he liked them so much that she had grown to like them too. The memory of a thousand intimate moments made her blush in the fading sunlight. She could always go back to him, her husband. The fight they had was just a fight, everyone fought. She could just go back to him and it would all be back to normal. She looked at her phone, it had been two days and he hadn’t called even once. Mrs Kumar covered her nose and moved on. 

The toy shop down the road reminded her of her son. She would save up money each month for his birthday so she could buy him his favourite toy. And it was always worth it to see his tiny face light up. She could always go to him, he was a dutiful son and would always take her in, but she could never fail to notice how her presence dimmed his eyes just a little nowadays. There was no toy she could buy to fix that.

The bangles on the bangles vendors cart twinkled like her daughter’s laughter. Could she go to her daughter? No, it was too early to even consider that.

And then she saw it, in the window of a fancy shop, a Thanjavur bobblehead doll. Mrs Kumar froze in place, as she watched the doll nod her head and sway her hips. She had had the exact same doll when she was a little girl. It had been her most prized possession. When her father would play songs on the radio, Mrs Kumar would run to the table where the doll stood and nudge her gently, and she would join the doll in her dance always in tune with the songs.  Read more

The recipe

todd-quackenbush-x5SRhkFajrA-unsplashRadha paced in front of the closed kitchen doors. She passed them and sniffed, she could make out the faint aroma of the dish wafting from the kitchen. Her mouth began to water and a smile played on her lips as she reminisced about the dish. She had set up the lunch table already. Everyone in the house was waiting eagerly for the meal. Radha was jumping up and down with anticipation. The kitchen doors were closed since the morning coffee. Any moment now her mother in law would open the kitchen doors and she would walk out holding her world-famous Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha swallowed as her mouth watered more. This year, somehow she would convince her mother in law to give her the recipe.

At long last, the doors opened, and her mother in law walked out, sweat gently dropping from her brow, her fingers stained with spices, a gentle smile playing on her radiant face. She looked like the goddess Annapurna herself come to serve her devotees. She was closely followed by Amba her faithful maid, who carried the large vessel filled with the aromatic Bisi Bele Bhath. Radha eagerly took in the aroma of the dish and almost joined get hands in prayer.

The table was laid and everyone was served. There was silence while everyone ate the dish. “Shanti, you have outdone yourself again. I am convinced when I die I will be sent to your kitchen, cause the door to heaven must be through there…” her father in law said licking his lips.

“Amma. Best. Dish. Ever.” her husband said licking every one of his fingers.

Her mother in law blushed and brushed their compliments aside. Radha was always surprised by her humility. Everyone knew she made the best Bisi Bele Bhath and yet she was always so humble about it. The rest of the meal was spent in silence as everyone licked their plates clean.

When they were cleaning away the dishes Radha finally mustered the courage to ask, “Amma, will you please teach me the recipe for the Bisi Bele Bhath?”

Her mother in law’s face changed, her smile dropped and her eyes hardened. She dropped the plate she had picked from the table, “No!” She said and walked back into the kitchen. Read more

The Polls

 

The polls

A warm morning sun shone into the courtyard of the school. The tree that stood in the centre of the courtyard came to life with the cries of birds. Shiva sat in the shade of the tree, hard at work on a thick rope that he was tying into an elaborate knot. He had been up and working for a long while already. He had set up a stage that now stood beside the tree. He had brought out chairs from the classrooms in the school and placed them in neat rows in front of the stage. As the school peon, it was his duty to set up the booth on election day and the stage on the counting day. It was also his duty to prepare for the results. He inspected the knot that he had tied, he pulled on the rope to make sure it held in the correct manner. He tied the loose end of the rope to the tree and hid the other end in a nook behind the trunk of the tree. No one liked to think of the rope before the results were announced. He inspected the stage one last time and went outside the courtyard to smoke a bidi before the counting began.

As the sun climbed in the sky, the courtyard was slowly filled with the buzz of the villagers gathered there. They greeted each other and sat in small groups among the school chairs exchanging news and gossip. The women sat to the right though there was no rule that they had to. Their whispers were loud but quickly suppressed like a bee caught in a bell jar. The men gathered to the left of the stage, they greeted each other loudly at first. But their conversations grew quieter, like a bullfrog that had grown tired of its own mating call. The children ran around the playground that they were so familiar with. They found it funny that they had to visit the school on a holiday and the empty classrooms rang with their shouts and laughter. By the time the appointed hour arrived the whole village had gathered in the school courtyard. Read more

The Cyclone

Mr. Rao saw the first dark clouds gather on the horizon and the waves rise as if to lick them. He pulled the plastic chair close to the balcony. His knees groaned as he made to sit in the chair and he plonked into it. “The cyclone ‘ekla’ will make landfall around midnight. Evacuation efforts are underway and most people along the east coast are being evacuated to shelters…” the news presenter told Mr.Rao from the television. Mr. Rao looked at the watch still ticking away on the wall, it told him the time was around six in the evening. He looked back at the black clouds rolling on the horizon, “take your time…” he told the cyclone.

Mr. Rao chuckled when he saw the first lightning streak through the clouds. The doorbell rang again. Neighbours perhaps or some official trying to ensure everyone had been vacated. Mr. Rao ignored it. “The cyclone is the strongest one to be recorded in more than half a century…” the news presenter was saying. Good Mr.Rao thought. The electricity was cut and the TV feel silent. “Now it’s just you and me…” Mr. Roa said to the storm.

It thundered in response.

Mr. Rao sat starting at the approaching clouds, he just wished he had something to chew on like a gumdrop, but they were all the way in the kitchen and he couldn’t bring himself to go there. But then his bladder groaned in protest. He sat there debating the urgency of it, until he had to push himself out of the chair and waddled to the restroom, his knees groaning in protest. The worst thing about old age, and there are so many, Mr. Roa thought is the number of times you have to use the restroom.

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What I protect, protects me

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Shastriji raised the metal vessel filled with water to the sun as he muttered his shlokas. He closed his eyes and let the water drip onto the Tulasi plant. He joined his hands in salutation to the sun. He gazed at the city that was waking up to the warmth of the sun, at the hundreds of saffron pennants that flew on all the rooftops, at the many gopurams that loomed over the entire city keeping it in line with their omniscient gaze. Temple bells began to toll through the city, the sacred scriptures could be heard being chanted everywhere. Shastriji smiled, they had saved the city and the country. He was glad he had played his part in it, “If I protect Dharma, Dharma will protect me” Shastriji said.

“They are here. They are here…” his wife said in a panicked tone as she joined him on the rooftop.

“Who is here, woman?” Shastriji turned away from the sun, whatever peace he had had was now over.

“The priests, the priests of the Inquisition…” the wife said. Read more

Joining the dots

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Mrs.Mani stared at the last two rows of white dots on the ground. She set the bowl of white rangoli down and stood up holding both her knees. She winced as her back cracked like an old twig. It looked like the vermilion on her forehead was seeping into the violent shades of the morning sky. The sun was not yet seen on the horizon, and judging by the cold sunlight that had just reached the wide metal gates of the house, it was well before six in the morning.

Mrs.Mani wiped her forehead as she looked down at the rangoli she had been drawing for a while now. It looked like a chariot, well an artist’s rendering of a chariot. And the last two rows that formed the wheels of this chariot were the only ones left to be connected. It looked simple now, the chariot design with all its dots joined the right way, but Mrs Mani knew how joining even two dots the wrong way would spoil the whole design. She stared at the road that led to the gate, they must have landed at the airport by now. Her son and his new wife, a woman she had never met. They would be home in another hour. Mrs.Mani sighed and knelt down again. She picked up a pinch of the rangoli and could feel it instantly slip out of her grip. She hesitated, which dot should be connected to which one next. More of the rangoli slipped out of her fingers. She rushed her fingers and joined the last two rows. Read more

The toxic straight male virus

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“Sir, there is another individual here to see you about Avalon. Claims his…um apparatus is in working order” Jeffrey, my butler, announced as he placed my nightcap on the coffee table.

I paused the TV for the first time that day. I was watching a rerun of one of the seasons of my TV show “Style fails for the straight males’ from what seemed like a lifetime ago. I liked this particular episode, I had done a brilliant makeover for a mid-west truck driver if I do say so myself. And he had had the audacity to tell me Pocket squares were not a necessity in his line of work. It was memories like these that made me think that perhaps the epidemic was justified. I am sure this truck driver was amongst the first wave of victims claimed by the virus.

“Ehm…ehm..” Jeffery cleared his throat. Being a man good old Jeff had also fallen victim to the TSM virus, but had somehow managed to maintain his will to clean up and look after me, which was all for the best. But it did make one wonder which way the butler swung in such matters, not that that was a question that could be discussed obviously. I had simply placed him in that esoteric basket of asexuality, shuddered at the thought of it and moved on. Read more