Mind the Fish

Alone, restless and bored, I was tripping over myself in our tiny hostel room. No TV no phone, no Internet (yes I have been around since those days! Okay fine, TV was around but we couldn’t afford one then) when there was a knock on the door.

“Look what I got!” My brand new husband said huskily with barely suppressed excitement. His eyes sparkled like the diamond I secretly yearned for.

Eyes misting over in anticipation, I cooed, “What?”

“This!” He held up a bulging black polythene bag.

My brow furrowed. Then not

“And what’s that?”

“Guess.”

I shrugged. “No idea.” I wrinkled my nose. “But whatever it is, smells!”

“Yes! Don’t you just love the smell? Ah! The sweet smell of fish.” He inhaled wearing a blissful expression.

“Fish?” I fell back. “Why? So much?” I had sudden misgivings. “Do you eat it raw? Well even if you do I am not eating it!” I made my position clear.

“No silly. We are going to have fried fish for dinner. The entire gang is coming. It’s been ages since we had fish.”

“They agreed to fry it in the hostel kitchen?” I asked, hoping against hope.

“No! Where’s the fun in that? We will fry it here.”

“Here? Where?” I asked beginning to wring my hands.

“On that heater – don’t worry. It’s easy as pie.”

“But I don’t know how to cook pie either.” I wailed. “I don’t know how to cook. You know that. I have never cooked anything in my entire life!” I was all but drumming my heels on the floor.

“Relax! There is always a first time. And I have fried fish a thousand times. Nothing to it. Just wash, sprinkle some turmeric and salt and deep fry in oil. Voila!” he drooled.

I took deep calming breaths. That didn’t sound too difficult. But the entire gang was coming. “That’s all there is for dinner?”

“Of course not. We will get the rice and other stuff from the hostel mess. The fried fish will infuse fresh zing and spice into our dreary ‘vegetative’ lives.” He zoned off into a blissful trance.

So much love for the fish! May as well have married it, I thought sourly. I was not the average Bengali. I did not love fish. I could take it or leave it – mostly leave it.

He roused himself. “I better kick start this. The others will be here soon. We have a meeting…”

“You have a meeting?” Panic clutched me again.

“Yeah, we have a meeting to discuss the arrangements for upcoming Saraswati Puja.”

“But what about the fish?” Sweat beaded my brow.

“Relax. I am on the job. See, I already put the kadhai (a deep frying pan) on the heater and here I,” he tilted the bottle of mustard oil and poured it into the vessel. “There!” he turned to me with a self-congratulatory expression. “All that needs to be done is wash the fish and sprinkle it with a bit of this and that,” he worked swiftly and efficiently. “Everything is ready. In a bit, you can slip the fish into the oil, give it a turn or two and take it out on,” he drew out a plate and placed it beside the heater, “this.”

“Me?”

There was a knock on the door and a head popped in and withdrew just as suddenly. “Hey! Aren’t you coming? We are getting late.”

I looked at him with wide pleading eyes. “Please don’t go! How will I manage? I have never done this stuff before.” I looked with trepidation at the overloaded makeshift kitchen slab.

He held me by the arms. “You are over-reacting. There’s nothing to it. Really. Okay, think of it as a new experiment. Don’t you love experiments?

I nodded.

“There you go! Cooking is nothing but an experiment with ingredients and tools. And frying fish is as simple as taking the height and weight.”

“Of little squirming wailing babies.” I said feeling the noose tightening.

There was another yell at the door.

“Okay fine.” He gave in gracefully (ahh those were the days!). “Relax. I will come back and fry the fish.” He went off.

After he left, I wandered back to the ‘kitchen’. He was right. It did look simple. I had seen Ma fry fish so often. There was nothing to it. I was over-reacting. Maybe it was time to overcome my childish inhibitions and prejudices. How difficult could it be? I pictured my darling hubby’s face when he returned to find it all wrapped up – pieces of evenly fried fish neatly laid out on a plate, just waiting to be crunched into.

The others of the gang would be hungry too – the right time to impress them. Wearing a halo, smiling benevolently at the dinner guests, I girdled my waist and entered the battlefield.

I gingerly picked up a piece of fish and plopped it in.

“Ouch!” I squealed and jumped back as the fish reared up to bite me on the cheek. Relax! That’s not the fish you idiot it’s the hot oil. I berated myself. Rubbing my cheek, I peeped cautiously over the kadhai. It lay sputtering in the oil, reasonably calm and apparently resigned to its fate. I took a deep breath and cautiously slid in another piece using the long handled flat ladle from as far as possible. Yes! Excited I slid in another. Okay enough now. Let these fry.

I hummed a bit, changed the radio channel, a couple of minutes should be enough – mom used to dish up hot crisp fish fries in no time. I decided to turn the pieces over. Hadn’t he said a turn or two?

Disaster!

The fish seemed to have formed an everlasting relationship with the kadhai. It dug its claws, gills or whatever into the kadhai and refused to let go. I pushed and dug harder and harder but to no avail. At the best and toughest attempts they yielded the battle – in little pieces. I upped my efforts – a crumbly misshapen congealed mass reluctantly turned over and almost instantly reattached itself with equal if not greater tenacity.

It was a bitterly cold January morning and yet here I was sweating. Despair stole over me as I fought and struggled to detach the fish. They remained unyielding in their determination to avenge the relentless slaughter of their clan by overenthusiastic Bengali pescetarians.

Why me? I don’t even like fish! I have always been force fed fish! I pleaded as I waged a lone and losing battle. A huge pile of raw fish glaring balefully at me and on the other side, a pitiful messy mass of crumbling shapeless fishy bits mocked me.

How could I serve this? They would all laugh at me and point me out at gatherings – look there goes the one and only Bong bride who can’t even fry fish.

I looked at the clock -two whole hours. Where the hell was he dammit? I would murder him I swore as I wrestled another fish and came up with its mangled remains.

“Hi! What’s cooking?” He smiled at me, all bright and fresh.

YOU!” I bawled all over his shirt.

“Hey, hey. It’s okay. Relax. Put your feet up. I got this. You have never done this stuff that’s why…” he faltered as his eye fell on the broken remains of his dreams. He spied the untouched mound and made a miraculous recovery from a near death situation, “….you couldn’t manage it. I am a master in the art of frying fish.” He rolled up his sleeve and took my shovel and set to work.

I went to the other room for a quiet cry by myself.

And wait for the storm.

It wasn’t long in coming.

Curses, bangs and yelps tore into my sobs.

“What’s up?” a soft voice penetrated my consciousness.

“Shukla!” Never had two people been so glad to see her.

“What?” she looked from me to him.

“The fish won’t fry. Perhaps it’s rotten. Yes. Must have gone bad. I’ll throw it.”

“Hang on. Doesn’t seem rotten. Smells just fine.”

“Then…”

Shukla took in the situation and the kitchen at a glance. “Did you heat the oil properly?”

I shook my head.

Shukla tucked her sari pallu into her waist and kicked us both out. Within 20 minutes or so, she had placed a plate lined with neat rows of golden crisp shapely fish fry on the table. At the other corner of the table lay a forlorn messy mound of unknown antecedents.

Just in time for the gang arrived hungry and greedy for fish. They fell on to it like piranhas and didn’t even notice the difference. Or even if they did, they were kind enough not to mention it.

I refused to eat fish – I was stuffed to the gills.

Written for the Daily Post’s Discover Challenge – Mind the Gap (The distance between idea and execution can be a source of frustration — or of inspiration).

In this case, it was both – with a gap of almost 3 decades 😀  How about sharing your gap?

Thanks for reading 🙂

The Magic of Life

Isn’t life the most magical of all things? Don’t you wonder how a very few basic atoms (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur) can create life in it’s myriad and varied forms?

Moreover, it never fails to amaze (and inspire) me when I witness life thriving in the most unexpected of places.

Concrete.jpg

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen.

life

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ― Shel Silverstein

For the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic

Go on have a magical weekend, week, month, year, decade, century… 🙂

The Garbage Guy

Those were the days of chaos, especially mornings. There was breakfast to be made, lunch to be packed, milk to be boiled, toddler to be taken care of and get myself ready for college – before the water supply bid adieu for the day.

As you can imagine, it was a mad dash from the moment I woke up (mostly lateafter having slept fitfully because the little one had strong beliefs and strident opinions – nights were meant for play and not sleep).

So there I was, groggy, stumbling around the kitchen trying to brew tea and boil some milk on a rickety kerosene stove (yes – those days!), all the while trying to soothe the cranky warm bundle nestling on my shoulder when there was a knock on the kitchen door.

“Oh no!” I grumbled. Here was the dreaded interruption to my carefully choreographed routine which took me from the kitchen to the bedroom via the hallway (with intermittent pirouettes through the washroom to fill buckets).

It was the ‘trash guy’ who came everyday to collect the day’s trash for less than a rupee a day. And to make his deal more attractive – he offered to wash the trashcan as well.

Okay fine!

Except it wasn’t – 25 rupees a month to throw trash? I could do that myself and earn myself a few bucks in the process. But then I hardly had time to breathe, he needed the job, we were generating employment, keeping the food chain moving – okay fine.

So he began by adding his two bit to the morning bedlam. Unfailing in attendance, he had the uncanny habit of rapping on the door just as the pandemonium had peaked – and invariably trigger a panic attack. I was late! There goes my bus! Again!

All my frustration and irritation would come to the fore as I opened the door, keeping a tight grip on the now alert and frisky toddler – aha the door was open! The world awaits me! Let’s go out and run he would jerk, squiggle and wriggle adding strength and volume to his exhortations as only he could.

“Hurry! I don’t have time.” I would wail as my eel baby all but slithered from my grasp.

“Namaste Madamji.” He would offer cheerily while emptying the trashcan. “I need to wash this. It’s filthy.”

I would shoot a harried glance at the clock, fighting a losing battle with the now impossibly arched muscular bundle, “Maybe tomorrow. There’s someone in the washroom.”

Phew! I shut the door and get back to my dance routine with renewed frenzy.

It was the same old story –day after day. Except, his pleas to let him clean the bin grew more demanding by the day – but something or the other always took precedence – the baby was shrieking, somebody in the washroom, major water crisis, so on and so forth.

With growing guilt, I would shut the door on his disapproving accusing face.

“What the hell is his problem? He should be happy. Less work for him.” I grumbled to my husband. “And it’s not like I am not going to pay him his full dues. I know the bin needs a wash but I don’t have time for this right now.”

Finally on Sunday he caught me. Feeling expansive, I gave in. He demanded soap and turned on the tap – my heart fell to my shoes. Hold the water dammit!

Heart in mouth, I held my breath as he scrubbed the trashcan to his satisfaction. He turned to me his entire face glowing with pride, joy and triumph and a hint of censure. “Look madam, this is clean. You should let me clean it everyday.”

From illiterate garbage guy, I learnt some of the most important lessons of my life  – to take pride and joy in my work no matter how small or inconsequential it may be in the larger scheme of things. And to make sure I earned my salary.

***

Written for the Daily Post’s prompt Filthy

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Thank you for reading 🙂

Regret

Knee on his throat, the cleaver held high above her head, breasts heaving, her bloodshot eyes bore into the terrified eyes of her husband of 17 years. She blinked, the fury, the power went out of her as if a switch had been flicked off. The cleaver clattered onto the stone floor and she rolled away trembling with the aftermath of her fury. She buried her face in her hands, unable to stand the image of herself, what had she been going to do. Faintly she heard him scramble to safety, sniffling pathetically.

Later, Smriti narrated the scene to her friend, Nidhi.

“It was as if I had been possessed. I don’t know what came over me.”  Smriti said slowly. The memory of those horrific moments jolted her and the clatter of the knife still rang eerily in her ears.

There was a stunned pause before Nidhi rallied enough to speak.

“Never mind,” Nidhi brushed it away, “it happens to the best of us, a moment of madness when we are all but pushed over the edge,” she babbled, “but the best part is that you recovered at the last minute, regained your sanity and all’s well that ends well.

Smriti looked at Nidhi with tormented eyes, “But Nidhi, what if…?”

“No Smriti, you are not to think like that,” Nidhi was firm, “you just said as if you were possessed. It was a one off instance – you know you would never do such a thing again. So stop worrying…

“No, you don’t understand Nidhi,” Smriti whispered through cracked lips, “that is exactly what I am worried about.”

“What do you mean?”

“I am afraid that I will never be possessed again, that I missed my chance at freedom. I am condemned to spend the rest of my life with him.”

***

This week Daily Post’s Discover Challenge is In the Style of i.e. try out someone else’s style. Going through a few of my half finished drafts I came across this story which I have no recollection of writing. I was a bit taken aback and felt it (i.e the bloodthirstiness 😉 ) was rather different from my usual style. What do you think?

For readers of Moonshine, here's Chapter 100 and Calvin and Hobbes

 

WPC: The Number Game

The Daily Post’s Weekly Photo theme this week is Numbers. Quite topical don’t you think? Not only for America but also India as 500 and 1000 currency notes are banned with immediate effect, banks and ATMs closed. Takes me back to the good old days – cash strapped, yet a heart full of hope and faith, that better days will surely come – once the storm passes 😉 😀

Coming back to the photo challenge, I am terrified of numbers (honest!) so I am going to cheat. Here are a collection of fowards which I think suit the theme.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to begin 😉

One

one

Two

two

However, I feel compelled to add that if I were the artist, I would have exchanged buttons 😉 What say you?

Let’s jump to the next number

100

 

Told you my Math was bad 😛

Okay enough is enough

 

Enough is enough.jpg

Back to some manageable numbers

kerala

Hmm – I wonder if this sign is for real or is it photoshopped?

And finally something for my Indian friends 🙂

indian

 

Hope this gave you a smile or two – have a great day!

Disclaimer: None of this stuff is mine and have received all as messages.

Mystery of the Song

Hello folks! For a few days now I have been feeling restless and itching to try my hand at something different. And almost providentially up came the Daily Post’s weekly challenge Song. To be specific the challenge is “Tell us a story about a piece of music that stayed with you.”

Exactly what I wanted to have an in-depth discussion about – vent so to speak. But bear with me while I lay the background.

I live in relative seclusion, just meters away from a bustling arterial road. Much of the extraneous sounds are masked by the whir of the fan or the hum of the air conditioner. But now that summer has left us (phew never thought I would live to see another winter :D) the fans and ACs have fallen silent, the sounds from around the campus is louder, clearer and distinct.

Here comes the crux of the matter.

In the morning, around 7.30 a.m, someone puts on his (am pretty sure it’s a guy) music system to play one song.

The same song.

Each and every day.

A nice song I have to admit. Rafi sahab’s voice is melodious enough to melt the hardiest of hearts and the song is soft and romantic.

But for God’s sake who has a record with only one song? Where are the other songs? Bring them on! Perhaps it will help to get rid of this ear worm. If only I knew where he lived – I would have happily presented him with one of Rafi’s golden albums (and gotten to the bottom of the mystery).

The regularity and discipline with which this song is played is impressive. The mystery of it is driving us around the bend. Husband and wife have had endless debates and discussions on Why this song? Why only this song? What is the significance of this song?

We have come up several hypotheses:

He is trying to woo a girl. After all it is a romantic number and the lyrics go something like this:

My love is great (for want of a better word)

With her spring arrives

And when she leaves, spring too leaves

My love is great

My sweetheart is my life

And so on and so forth it goes – you get the gist right? Or this could be his way of publicly declaring his love without raising the hackles of his (and her) parents and other guardians of the society. This particular couplet from the song gives support to this hypothesis:

I cannot call out her name in front of everyone

Embarrassed, she is likely to be annoyed with me and

then where will I be?

Other hypothesis have been floated but they are neither tenable nor suitable for general broadcast.

By the way, my dear friends, even as I write, the mystery deepens. Yesterday morning, we missed the song – did he not play it or did we not register it? Was the guy okay? Had something happened to him? Had they broken up?

We (I) couldn’t help worrying. A diehard romantic, I said, poor chap is probably unwell.

Or – there was a distinct gleam in his eye – his music system has been smashed to smithereens.

Our fears were allayed (and hopes dashed) when he played the song in the evening.

Now we are just wondering (and hoping against hope) that he hasn’t decided to up the ante and switched from OD to BD dosage schedule.

So folks, without any further ado this is the piece of music that is with us these days – it’s only fair and neighborly to share ear worms 😀

Thanks for visiting – comments, takes and hypotheses, all are welcome!

For old timers and readers of SS please check out the following two posts - From DM's Desk and Another Diwali Party. Please dont forget to leave me a note.