30 May, 2009

Footprints - II - The Journey

Footprints - I

He wasn’t a morning person but the clean sea air, the good food and no work pressure had him up early. After freshening up, he put on the water to boil on the electric kettle provided by Blaze. Dipping a couple of bags of the Earl gray he had picked up, came on out of the shack to look at the beach sipping the slightly bitter brew.

The sun hadn’t broken out. The beach was peaceful and he felt like a dip. In his trunks, wearing his floppy slippers,carrying a towel he dumped it on the dry sand and broke into a run for the water. It was warm , not chilly like home and he welcomed the dip with no one around. Did a few energetic strokes across and then settled in to float on his back. Dawn was breaking and the whole colorscape was filling up magically with various hues. He watched the sun climb up and was spell bound. Then a movement near him disturbed the water around him and he went back in. In the water he saw the long pair of legs and came up spluttering. In a dawn blue two-piece bikini was Peggy and he hadn’t even noticed her. Lovely isn’t it, said she and he was struck by the picture she made before him. Yesterday in the shadows he hadn’t been able to see her clearly. It seemed mutual as they looked at each other. She blinked first , he smiled and frankly said “was wondering how you look in the morning and here you are, pretty as a picture”. “Oh come on, but yes me too” and was that a blush, he wasnt sure.Her eyes were warmly twinkling, the same deep blue color and now he could see they had light grey flecks in them. He was completely lost and smiled to cover up the confusion of being caught staring.

They swum about for a while and suddenly she challenged first one to the shore gets to be the pillion and we took off. She was very fast and fit and beat me by an arm’s length to the towel. Laughingly she looked up and said, “You are the driver now”. “Of what?” and she pointed out to the scooter she had hired and said this is the only way to see Goa or had you forgotten, I am your guide. Unless you aren’t in the mood for company and you needn’t be polite. He shook his head and said; actually yes I had not forgotten but had not bargained for company myself. My objective here is to relax and de-toxify and may not be great company. She spluttered and broke up, where were you, have been searching for a plain honest man who doesn’t give a damn and answers straight all my life. You just drive us where I point you and should you get bored today we split up and go our ways, deal? She was persuasive and charming and having no counter he said yes and brushed the sand off and got up. Lets meet up around for Breakfast in another half hour and then start he suggested and she said ok. I am in that shack she said pointing to one close by his. Again he noticed the footprints as they started back. The sense of some magic was up again. He couldn’t figure it out and decided to bend with the wind and take it as it comes. He was filled with exhilaration as there was no plan only surprise in store. Unlike his days in London where every minute was accounted for this place didn’t have a concept of time as night merged into day and the circle of life continued unabated. Now he had to meet up with a girl who just seemed to have blended in so well with this country. But for her accent, the classically English look and bearing in her spirit she was all Eastern.

After a quick shower and change into blue denim folded up almost to the knees and a bright orange T shirt, he took along his knapsack and went out under the open shed for breakfast.Lilah, Blazes wife was in her apron behind the stove and she with her equally fat frame beamed at him, Patrao its eggs and fresh salami, toast and butter. The tea/coffee/milk and cereal is laid out there pointing to a side table. Its only melons for fruit today. That lazy Carvallo, our vendor must be all sloshed on feni again and would come by during lunchtime. How do u want your eggs, I make good Spanish omelets’ would u like some? Nodding he picked up a plate and piled on fruit and eating a slice of the sweet melon watched Lilah crack four eggs into the bowl throw in a slew of chopped vegetables and add salt pepper and some rosemary and vigorously beat it up to a froth and on the sizzling pan she put in some white butter and poured out the contents as it fluffily crackled. With an expert hand she picked up a chunk of cheese and grated a lot on the mixture in the pan.With a deft flick she tuned it once and neatly folding it into half ladled it on my plate. She pan fried toast and set them on as Peggy came in, just fried eggs for me today Lilah as she helped herself to some coffee. The aroma of the eggs was delicious and he picked up three pieces of thick salami and sat down. Peggy was wearing a white frock, a large hair-band and floppy slip-ons and she almost looked good enough to eat joined him with her eggs and toast. The omelet was delicious and the salami so fresh he could almost hear the pig bray in the distance. He didn’t utter a word as he tucked in. Only when he was done did he look up and saw Peggy watching him with a smile. You love food don’t you? Must say you aren’t a typical Brit the way you went about this. He picked up some more melon and refilled his cup of Tea and lit up offering her his pack and shetook one. This time when he held out the light she leaned across cupping her hand around his as she bent to light up and his palm tingled.

He looked up and their eyes locked and despite his not being a man of many words a wealth of them got exchanged in that look. Leaning back he looked up to the horizon and the sea crashing about.

What are you looking for Jon? Pegs voice broke into his reverie. Peace, completeness, the meaning and happiness, the words were out even before he could realize. He had confessed this to no person and here he was voicing them out to a perfect stranger, well not perfect but yet almost a stranger. She looked at him for what seemed like an eternity without a word. She hooked up her legs around the chair handle letting them dangle, blew a blue cloud from her shapely nostrils and said “and Love?” ‘Maybe, said he, only if I knew what it was?” Hmm she nodded and said seriously “ am no fancy philosopher or deep thinker but am smart enough to know that Love can be a solution to all that you seek, cant it?. "Yes it could be" he reflectively said looking into her blue orbs as they sparkled with a fire unknown and again he felt the connection. It was such a quiet discussion from the previous two interactions earlier that he was bewildered at the ease with which they connected on all levels of talk. This had not happened with anybody, neither woman nor man. He was a loner, friendly most of the time but no close friends really. It was constantly being in competitive ambiences that put him beyond others, his way of thought either put others off or had him switch off. At his job, it was just him, the telephone and the terminal. Now comes Winnipeg Ashton-Smythe who just crossed his path merrily asking him a light and he had articulated his search to her, what was it about her and them? He wondered to himself.

"Come on then", she jumped up, "No search should be without an exotic adventure and even if you don’t wish it am your partner for it today, it’s my decision. Tomorrow it’s your call" she looked at him with a hesitation and he gently said “Lead ye Mi lady am your Knight to command for the day” The doubt vanished , she smiled brilliantly and her light freckles around the nose bunched up into the crinkles “Knight eh, Jon the Knight of the Scooter, you shall drive, u can ride a two wheeler I hope?

He nodded and this contraption, make Vespa was a geared kickstart mini scooter. Easy as he kept the knapsack on the footboard and plugged in a cassette blindly into his walk man and asked her would you like one ear mike, she nodded and they hooked up. Which way asked he and she said drive forth and I shall point you differently when we have to turn… The small machine was really small. He could feel her soft long legs grip his waist as she got on and the light feel of her curves on his back. She put her arm around his waist as they started off. He was feeling thrilled as the greenery zipped past them, the wind hitting their faces. The sea was running parallel to the road as he saw it and they were zipping on it. Across a distant junction a barge was ferrying passengers and vehicles across to a land mass separated by the water and he heard the sound of Lennon and McCartney through the walkman, crazily singing almost tunelessly. It was at the height of their(The Beatles) beatnik phase… a hippie song ( rumour had it that it was their experiment with LSD and in that haze this song was written), a chart topper in its times…Again she pinched his waist and rested her head on his shoulder and whispered, Jon, just the number for now..and she started humming along to the song

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.

Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,

A girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

Cellophane flowers of yellow and green,

Towering over your head.

Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes,

And she's gone.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds,

Lucy in the sky with diamonds,

Lucy in the sky with diamonds,

Ah... Ah...

Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain,

Where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies.

Everyone smiles as you drift past the flowers,

That grow so incredibly high.

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,

Waiting to take you away.

Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,

And you're gone.

Picture yourself on a train in a station,

With plasticine porters with looking glass ties.

Suddenly someone is there at the turnstile,

The girl with kaleidoscope eyes.

The trip was proving to be an adventure like no other and he now could identify the feeling…Serenity ( Footprints III - The Destination )

28 May, 2009


The sun had gone down on the beach where he lay supine. His eyes sleep misted cleared up & he smiled at the sight before him. The child she must have been 3-4 years at the most, a plump fed version unlike most he saw in this country, shrieked as she chased the waves. Her tiny feet created impressions on the wet sand; for just an interlude, till the next wave that came filling them up and wiping it clean. The child was fascinated with the clean level of sand and jumped hard, then after a while tired of the game ran yelling across to the family relaxing a distance away. He too was fascinated by the gentle waves.

They came on to the beach with a rustle, broke up into foam and slowly sucked up the imperfections to leave the slate clean. Relentlessly it went on. There must be a message here he thought only he had not got it yet, eventually he would. Resting his head on the crook of his arm, he watched the sun go down the horizon.

This was a sabbatical that he had taken from his work back in the stock exchange in the square mile at London. He had grown rather fed up with the number crunching on the terminals of the last few years. He had made a lot of money but something was missing in his life. At 31 years of age, staying away from his parents, with no permanent liaison he had materially arrived. But then the mind and heart sought something more and he did not know what it was. It was then that he had applied for the sabbatical for a year and set out with no particular agenda. He had just his backpack in which he threw in some clothes, his music that he carried on cassettes and his trusted Sony-Walkman/Radio a mix of traveler’s cheques of HSBC, Credit Cards and some cash. On arriving at the airport he had checked out the formalities and boarded the British Airways flight to Mumbai, India. The bustle of that city and the crush of people was not his idea of a relaxation. After a quick lunch he had taken a bus for Goa and here he was after two days lying on the sands of Anjuna.

Sub-consciously he had taken the same route his father had taken in the late sixties when he had been a part of the world roaming Hippie movement. His father Charles Illingworth Esq. was a banker of the old school and looking at him today one would never even have associated him with such an adventurous past. Accidentally, Jonathan had stumbled upon some photographs in the loft when he was visiting the countryside house at Devon when his family was on a holiday in Egypt. The stiff upper lipped Pater was wearing the freewheeling attire of a beatnik. He not only was carrying it with aplomb but the beaded necklace, the bandana with a burnt out cigarillo in his mouth, a guitar slung across his back he looked dashing and blissfully happy. His smile with the sun shining down created the impression of a man who has found the truth. Rifling through the box he came across a few of his mother too and apparently though they were county neighbors had met for the first time in Goa and cupid had struck. This side was never revealed to him and Doris as they grew up and went to all the right schools. He had followed his father in the business of money making, only he made it faster on the stock exchange, and had his father’s bank take care of it for safekeeping and growth. The pile was growing. Amongst the Long Play records of Handel and Rachmaninoff symphonies were also the Beatles and the American poet Bob Dylan. Now he knew the reason for the gleam in the pater’s eyes when he listened to some Rock and Roll sneakily. The dude had been there and done it in his time.

Goa and especially Anjuna was a holiday maker’s paradise. It was as if time stood still in this part of India .The hustle and bustle had left it fairly untouched though construction happened at a rapid place elsewhere. Two days on reaching Goa he had called back home to inform his parents where he was and his mom had picked up. Jon, darling take care and do visit Anjuna its paradise. It’s where I met Charlie. There are no hippies in the world now but what Ginsberg began with his poetry against systemic & social norms had developed into an angst against conformity finding expression largely in the fields of literature, arts like music and theatre and other performing arts.Permissiveness into social taboos like free sex and usage of chemical boosters like Cannabis, LSD was the portion which turned Jonathan off. Today he just rolled over onto the blanket and stared into the dimming sky watching the stars, a light breeze was blowing.

A round stone half hidden peeking out almost looked like a cannonball fired and forgotten from a battle in the past. His thoughts flew across geography and time. He felt free for the first time in his life. There was no phone to connect him anywhere unless he called and he did not wish too. The shack he had rented from Blaze Machado a fat local who perpetually reeked of feni ( a local cashew liquor) was quite basic yet comfortable. He could hear Blaze shout out to him as he lay down, Jon Patrao come here, the fish has arrived. Blaze had a barbecue on which he roasted , braised, fried and cooked a sterling variety of meats and seafood. The Beer was chill and sweating as he popped the cap and put it before him and he took a long swig. The smoky flavor from the fire blinking on the darkening sands added the zing to the bubbles as he cooled down.

The tailed shell tiger prawns roasted and seasoned with garlic butter were simply divine. As he crunched on one, the butter dribbled from the side of his mouth. Blaze had peppered it so that his eyes watered but it was delicious. "Today’s special is Kingfish curry and rice… we will make you a Goan yet Patrao said Blaze with a booming confidence". "Jolly Good" he mumbled as he could not get enough of those prawns that Blaze kept dumping on his plate. Soon there was a small mountain of the crunchy shell tails and he had downed two Beers and felt sated.

As he bent to take the cigarettes from his back pack lighting one coming up, he heard an accent that was pure prep school Upper London. She was standing next to his table and asking him "Can I have a light too?" "Of course, Oh Sure" and he held his WWII Zippo and could see the bluest eyes in a fair freckled face. The hair was cut short almost boyish and she was wearing a singlet and shorts, the uniform of beach bums in Goa. She inhaled as the tip glowed and said a thank you, and held out a hand I am Peggy Ashton-Smythe and you sound from back home, British? She was tall, limber but curvy and did not hurt the eye. He got up and asked whether she would like to join him as he would start eating in just a while and didn’t like eating alone. She nodded and plopped into the plastic chair next to his and propped up her legs with her chin settled on her knees. So cool to meet an Englishman in this land, finally an accent that shall not grate across my ears she said. Don’t you find the Goan men a bit too loud and lazy? The women here do all the work and these buggers just sit and tipple their feni and count the cash. He raised an eyebrow as the word Bugger had come with just enough comical vitriol that can only be British upper class. Old army connections probably he thought.

So you don’t like India? He asked. "Oh no no.. Whatever gave you that impression, I can be a citizen here, and my folks are Indophiles. My Grand Dad was the Aide De Camp of Lord Mountbatten and didn’t leave India. My father was born in Mussorie and me in Westminster. When I feel the need to getaway I come here. No one to answer to no worries on which dresses to wear, which jewelry and accessories would go well and were repeated from the last party and no performance on the stage all the time. This is re-charge time." " Oh are you on stage?" "No am a genteel farming stock, only that we own half of the county graze lands and hate being the neighbor to Porky Percy who is waiting to slip a ring on this finger, said she with a flourish wriggling her ring finger." He couldn’t hold his laugh and uproariously let loose and choked on the smoke and started coughing and laughing with tears running down. Boy o Boy was she succinct in her description and crisply had brought him up to date on her life in quite a wicked manner. Leaping across she slapped him on the back and her cool firm hand stroking there did feel nice.

What about you Jon, you lost something? "Yeah Myself " said he, "in the hustle and bustle of wearing a suit and making money. Just ran away". Blaze came across and brought with him two more beers and walked off turning and yelling ten minutes the fish curry will be ready and you missy shall eat it too. Peggy rolled her eyes at him, of course Blaze dear she sweetly said and Blaze smiled broadly back missing it altogether. They just smoked and sipped in silence after that. She looked at him curiously once or twice but didn’t seem to bother him. He just brought out from the knapsack, his walkman that had a speaker attached and just depressed the play button. The raspy voice of Bob Dylan came through with his trademark harmonica

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly

Before theyre forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind, The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky?

Yes, n how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died?

The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind, The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist

Before its washed to the sea?

Yes, n how many years can some people exist

Before theyre allowed to be free?

Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,

Pretending he just doesn’t see?

The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,The answer is blowin in the wind.

I love that song she mumbled once. Jon you are deep and I simply adored the way you picked the right song for my moment. We must see Goa together while you are here, your first time? He nodded and she said confidently, then we shall make it memorable for a lifetime.

Blaze came with his kingfish curry that was steaming and put two plates before them and ladled a lot of rice on it. Plonked a huge fillet of fish on it and poured the tangy curry on it. "Now eat me sweet English people, the food of Goa raises no questions and anyway, the answers blowin in the wind" laughing loudly at his own witticism he ambled off. The curry and the fish under the stars on a beach with a gamin saucy lady for company, suddenly he was glad he had chosen to walk out of the humdrum life just when he did.

Chewing methodically and enjoying the superbly succulent fish they talked a lot comfortably and as they retired to meet the next day to start their sightseeing of Goa together he noticed the footprints; two sets coming in from a distant arc and proceeding parallel. A wave might wipe this slate clean too thought he. However for a tiny slice of life, they would go some distance together; a slice like the spicy fish fillet which had a promise to be memorable. His ticker gave a wee little flutter as a sense of Déjà vu settled over him; looking at the footsteps across the sands of time. .............................................................. footprints contd II

25 May, 2009

The Challenge...

He had been dreading this moment all along and it was unto him now.

Just as his eyes skimmed the headlines of the newspaper in the hands of the man standing next to him, he was irritated that Bhaichung Bhutia didn’t have his heart to play for Mohun Bagan again. Bhaichung had been the star footballer and team India’s captain. Ashley Lobo followed football with a keen eye in his native Margao in Goa. He remembered the first time he had opted to play for the school team St Ignatius’s High School there. The coach had literally put him through the grind and made him run ten rounds around the school ground. This total circumferential distance was close to a km and a half and when the feet flagged could hear a shout…”Lobo you lazy arsehole pick it up till you complete the damn ten within fifteen minutes you are not going to get anywhere near a ball till then”.

Coach Furtado was a devil but he had a sterling record of having coached Dempo during a winning season and he was well regarded. Now he was too old for professional football but even at 65 was as fit as an ox and his roar could be heard all across the stadium without a microphone. His lungs should be auctioned thought Ashley as he blundered through the fitness regimen. But over the years he came to appreciate what the wily old fox did for the team. They won the inter-school championship with ease. All of us thought Ashley were fit as prize fighting bulls. His training under Coach Furtado won him a sports scholarship through his University as he majored in Fine Arts. It was a unique blend of love of the game which demanded complete fitness and the softer side of his career option that required delicacy and precision. Margao had a lot of good ad agencies but he applied for a job in Mumbai. The day he had got his appointment letter from the agency in Mumbai he was thrilled and a wee bit scared too. He had heard frightening stories about it and now he would personally experience it.

It would be the first time he would be out staying away from his parents on his own. He landed up in a paying guest accommodation at Bandra two days early, Dolly aunties’ ( Mrs. Dolly Patrawala ) place. He missed his folks already. Dolly aunty was a warm but cantankerous old Parsi lady of nearly 70 but she had strict rules on hygiene and time. She served good meals and ensured all her boys ate well. When he broached his fear on the situation and decided to explore Dolly auntie’s expertise she snapped at him “Arrey deekra, it’s been a while and even then I didn’t like it, now I think it is beyond bearable limits”. Regretting asking her he said do I have any choice or an option and she firmly said No, not in this city.

Like any game he decided to practice for it and condition himself. He went out and ran across the park and loosened himself. Physically he was fit but the challenge was huge. He had played many a dirty game at college level but this one here, he was told was the dirtiest and the scrappiest of them all. On the fateful morning for the first day at work donning his sartorial best here he was. He had his permission in his pocket. His backpack was firmly slung across and he took stock of the scene. The noise level built up in his ears in a multitude of tongues and it emanated from the surge around him. And then it came thundering down the track, his nemesis, the local train. Flexing his shoulders, using his elbows for good measure nimbly chasing the target cab car even before the train halted he was flying as if chasing the imaginary ball which had been snatched from his possession. Tendons pumped, arms reaching out, he had broken away from the opposition and had caught the bar and muscled his way inside just as he had been told to. He was in. No one complained about his aggression as he stepped on toes and fought his way inside the car.

The coaches words in his ears rang, Lobo you bum, when you have to run, run as if your life depends on it and crush the bloody buggers who come in your way. It had worked and all the misgivings vanished. This is fun thought he, I was unnecessarily scared. Behind him a Guajarati trader who got in the first class laughingly patted him and said well done boy, I could get in easily because of you. You really should try football you know,you can actually be good at it. Just ten - fifteen days here and you shall be conditioned,absolutely ready, he sagely said and nodded.

He smiled to himself as he had won and overcome, the supreme battle facing most working commuters in Mumbai; The battle with the local train, the getting in, the getting out and the staying on.

20 May, 2009

Rubaiyya - A Strange Experience

Fuzzily my eyes opened and peered into the dark. Something had got me awake and it was not a mosquito. There was a fine mesh net here, over the bed. It was a huge double sized one of old teak the ornate kind that is often found in a Dak Bungalow; the ornate bungalows that the British had built in distant locations for their officers to stay and conduct their administrative duties. The only contact with the outside world would be through post or mail or Dak as it was called hence this nomenclature perhaps. Being an officer in the forest department meant one would be traveling to wherever the forests are and so here I was deep in Maharashtra with only one man for company. He is the “Khansaama”, Saadiq, an old wrinkled man, who did the overall maintenance and cooking. He was asleep on the floor.

The night had its own sounds and when one is from the city even the chirruping of the insects is eerie to the ears. But it was not those sounds either. It was the middle of summer and the weather was extremely warm. On the ceiling a very tall handled fan creaked and rotated displacing some air from one corner of the huge room to another. Then I realized the difference. Unlike from earlier, the time when I had got into bed, the night had been warm while now there was a sudden chill in the air. It was cold, very cold and I shivered. I looked down and could not hear Saadiq’s snores. He was awake and staring at the door. Where the door met the floor there is a gap and from here emerged a silvery glow of radiance. I heard a sound of heavy breathing and sniffling followed by the tinkling sound of anklets. I truly understood the meaning of a coarse term used by a colleague quite often to denote heightened fear ‘my nuts turned to H2O’ we used to laugh then. I wasn’t amused now. The sound stayed for a minute or two a period that seemed like eternity and then slowly faded, as did the glow and the chill. I had almost frozen into a motionless statue and so did Saadiq. He looked at me then and turned his back and started snoring. In that night sleep had been banished far away and I tossed and turned restlessly.

Somewhere in the early dawn when the first rays of sunlight hit the huge glass windows I fell into a tired sleep. This was my third day here. During my travels had heard about strange incidents and beliefs of far flung towns but having never encountered one I had little belief. This in itself was being challenged big-time. What was it that I heard last night? Why did Saadiq just stare petrified and not move? Why was there a strange chill in the air, one which was at once inviting yet hinted at a danger? Was it someone outside who wanted to come in or was it something not from this world? Any thinking person normally would demand a more logical explanation to this occurrence but here, far away from civilization was an atmosphere that easily relegated all these scientific thoughts to the trashcan. Even the lush green foliage that had seemed inviting and fresh in the daylight from two days back to now took on mystic shapes. The movements seemed curiously sinister when the wind rushed through the trees and the branches weaved a pattern like grasping claws.

Shaking my head, nervously smiling about last night moved to finish up my morning chores. Fresh from the bath went into the dining hall for my breakfast, Saadiq brought a fresh pot of tea the way I liked it where the brew had just begun its seeping process. I liked the first tea of the day to be light, the second medium with this I washed down my fluffy omelets and the third strong when I settled outside on the veranda with my smoke. The pot retained the heat and the seeping went about as the hot water absorbed the strength from the tea leaves to become rich colored liquor. My attention today though was far away and I called out to Saadiq, “Khansaama bahar aao”( come on out bearer) Kal raat ko woh kya thha? (What was that last night?). His wrinkled face added a few more wrinkles as he frowned and with a sigh sat down. He said that was my daughter Rubaiyya. What? I could not believe my ears, your daughter? Ji Huzoor. But then why didn’t you get up and go to her? Huzoor Rubaiyya meri beti hai pur kul raat ko uski Ruhh thhi. Ruhh? You mean spirit, is she dead? He nodded despondently.

My head started swirling with all kinds of weird thoughts but the old man was serious, sad and he had moist eyes. My irritation which had risen slumped immediately and asked him what was the matter how did she die? Huzoor, usey maar diya gaya thha, wahin darwaze pe uski laash padi thhi.( She had been found murdered right there outside the door) My nervousness index that had shown some signs of stabilizing suddenly shot up like crazy. Kya? I screamed. He dumbly nodded and out came tumbling the story.

Rubaiyya was his daughter, only daughter after 4 sons, three who were settled away into the cities and one in a Gulf country. “Bahut khabsurat thhi woh aur kisi ka bhi dil aa jaye dekh ke aisi thhi, isliye pareshaan rehata thha”( she was so pretty that those who saw her were spellbound, hence I would be worried). When she had finished her 12th standard her mother passed away and she started assisting me here. I too looked around for a suitable groom but they were either less educated or poor or asked for a dowry that I cold not pay had I even asked my son in the gulf to send.

She was a good girl and kept away from the sahib’s too who would be visiting here. But then one day Rupert Sahib arrived to take a census of sandalwood trees in our jungle. Rupert was an Anglo-Indian just like you sahib. Rubaiyya used to serve him his meals and before I knew she had lost her heart to him. He was not a very serious young man with any station in life; his stories too had come to my ears. Hence I cautioned Rubu about it yet the inevitable happened. The signals were there around me, one afternoon I was late for lunch and came from the lee side of the house unlike usual. Rupert had his arms around Rubu and she was giggling, I watched a while as he took liberties with her and she let him. Her eyes were full of love but he was different. “Tomorrow” said he “come to my room in the afternoon when your father goes to the weekly bazaar” and I could see her nod.

Deliberately went to the other side and knocked to see him rushing to his room, the same one you are occupying. Rubu opened the door flushed of face and I could see not my little girl but a young lusty woman. Her eyes though lowered had a disappointment of a tryst interrupted. During tea I enquired with Rupert sahib about his intentions in an oblique manner by saying Rubu is my daughter and I wish I could marry her off into a good household. For example sahib, would she fit into a house hold like the one you have back home. The scorn in which he looked down upon me made my toes curl and I knew then something terrible was going to happen. Saadiqmiya he told me, she is pretty but don’t dream above your station. I was humiliated as he told me my reality. It was true. But then what was he doing with her in the kitchen then in my absence? he naively said.

That was the last day I saw her alive and so also Rupert sahib, he too had vanished without a trace. I buried her there he said pointing to the Tamarind tree just outside the bungalow periphery. The one who cast eerie shadows on the windows. He said Sahib today is her 15th anniversary and I want leave to visit the dargah in the next village. I will be back tomorrow morning, is it ok? I nodded as he told me he had made a mutton curry and rice for my dinner. It was only after he left that the thought of being all alone hit me. The mind plays funny tricks in places like this especially when one is bereft of other human interaction. The work carried me thru the day without Saadiq’s absence troubling me. After having the excellent curry dinner I was sitting outside smoking and looking at the darkness and the shadows, felt sleepy and retired. The heavy meal lulled me into a sleep and then yet again…the cold descended. Again my eyes opened and there it was again the sliver of light and the tinkling. I broke into a sweat but wanted to get at the bottom of this and willed myself to get up and walk to the door and opened it.

Breathlessly I stared at a girl fresh as a dewdrop hesitatingly waiting and looking up. She was wearing a light pink chikan kurta embroidered delicately as if it was Eid. Apart from the anklets that cast the gentle tinkling sound she wore dangling earrings but was otherwise unadorned . The hair freshly washed was tied in a bun and the rose petal lips shyly broke into a smile. Rubaiyya? I could not recognize my own voice; it had thinned and had acquired a leer. Sahib.. said she and in her indrawn breath that accentuated her full blossom body and I could feel my hands rising and passing across her cheek and drawing her close to me. Gently with my arm around her slim waist we reclined on the bed and throughout the night made love, murmured sweet nothings. I was relaxed in the aftermath as the first sunrays brought in the dawn. She leaned across me kissed me full on the lips and said ‘isi ka intezaar thha ab mainey sukoon paya hai, allah hafiz” ( had yearned and waited for this, now am at peace) and she was gone. I dozed off and as my eyes opened wondered whether all that was a dream?

But as I looked up at the open door to the room, there was Saadiq and on his face was an expression of pure terror. My appetite surprisingly sated from last night casually asked him “Kyu Saadiqmiya kaisi rahi” again the thin voice which was not mine and he screamed “ tum ko to mainey maar daala thha zinda kaisey ho” and fainted. I turned to look in the mirror and saw a stranger. The brows were knit together while mine are wide. The nose was sharper and generally the face was of a handsome mean rogue. As I looked harder the face vanished and my original one came back. I shook my head again at the vision and was genuinely frightened. Saadiq looked dead and I walked over and sprinkled water as he spluttered awake. The terror was back as he looked around and asked “Rupert sahib gaya?” I urged him to tell me the whole story again.

He was shivering and was not really coherent but started speaking “On that fateful day after breakfast, I told the two that would not be back for lunch as would proceed straight to the market. The air of expectation around them was twanging as Rubu’s bosom heaved with delight and even Rupert sahib looked up with eyes twinkling. Chewing on his toast he muttered,Ok. As my back turned I could see their eyes connect once in this mirror and my resolve stiffened. I waited for him to finish eating, while I would take him in the jungles so he could count and make notes. I turned into the forest and followed the sahib deep into the clearing. Today I would take him to the Shaitani Bawdi (the devils well) a curious natural formation about 300-500 feet deep and a zigzag rocky fall, it was a rock pool but hidden. The locals avoided it. They thought it was haunted with the ghosts of all who had fallen in and perished. There were a few sandalwoods near its lip hiding it from view completely. Pointed to Rupert sahib location and led him near the spot. The root and a branch of the sandalwood hid the treacherous mouth of the bawdi and this is where I told him to step in. He was too surprised to even shout and after a couple of heavy thuds and slithers I heard the splash.

I traced back home to find Rubu getting ready for the sahib. With my step she thought the sahib was back and I saw red and hid along the staircase leading up to his door. She had worn anklets and her new Shalwar Kamiz from Eid. It was a chikan design. She stopped outside the door and raised her hand to knock. I heard her breathing deeply and saw her longing to hand over her precious innocence to that scoundrel, I lost my control completely. With a soft tread I slipped behind her and found my palms on her slim neck and squeezed. My own daughter sahib, lay dead at my feet. After burying her went and lodged a missing complaint for both the sahib and Rubu at the police station. Tearfully explained to them how or why the two of them disappeared together is beyond me. The police slyly suggested that “Bhaag gaye hongey saath saath, dono baalig to hai? (are both adults? Must have eloped) We shall catch them but wont be able to do much if they claim we went out together with mutual consent. They found his body days later, all bloated up and put up a “cause of death” as accident. Rubu was not found and no one suspected me. It’s been fifteen years to that day even our inspector at the station is the same. He has not closed the file on them. She comes in every alternate day.

I assured him , she won’t now and asked him to call the car for my return to the rather tamer concrete jungles of civilization.

09 May, 2009

Slick Fingers, Slicker Intent

The heavy dark brown shoes came into my line of sight and I thought that this is the end. Holding my breath I crouched on the edge of the nullah (culvert) six feet below the road and stood still delicately balanced. The stink filled my nostrils as the culvert carried a bubbling grey green muck in a steady fierce flow spewing venomous vapors. Luckily it is summer and thetime evening. In the rains one finds the gently sloping sides slimy with moss. It would have been suicidal even attempting then what I had done now. A wrong foot and I would be in the nullah. Being caught would seem mild in comparison to what I would contact in the flowing fluid was this to happen. 

He was huffing and being out of shape I had a head-start on him & given him the slip. He was persistent though and sensed I was around here somewhere. He waited and spat a stream of chewing tobacco straight into the stream where the nicotine reddish brown speedily melted in the torrent of grey green as if it never was. After a few minutes he lost his patience as he swore on my mother and sister in chaste street lingo. The tone carried more venom than the actual words. I could hear steps retreating away; apparently the stench around had got to him. I didn’t move for another hour. Only changed my position; from facing the embankment wall, I lay upright now with my back to it. There is a wide but low bridgehouse over the culvert and that became my destination; the space below it. Creeping lightly along the ledge I went into the gap below the bridge. Now I was invisible both from the road and the bridge.The bubbling noise of the water, warm vapours and the stench was terrible for a moment. Then the nose got used to it. Gently checked my trouser pocket to find it was there; the real cause of this chase from a while ago. His slim wallet stuffed with red lined Gandhi notes that he had flashed at the cigarette shop for the last time. It was rightfully mine now earned with skill and sweat. Truly hated these jobs that involved sweat, was kind of particular, but occassionally it was inevitable. 

Heard a squeak and from the red equidistant dots knew it was a rat. It sensed a soul brother in me & came closer. Standing very still as it sniffed around my ankle, nimbly jumped to the side and brought my heel hard on its neck. Heard a sharp crunch as it gave a shrill squeak and died. I left it there on the ledge; its blood would deter the others from venturing closer. Wiped my heel away on the wall and wondered what had that chase been all about? Then Laila’s image flashed before my eyes and I grinned at the answer. 

I felt my own grin as clearly; the way I see it in the cracked, wood framed, 6” x 8", board backed barbers mirror every day that I had in my kholi (room) in Khetwadi slums of Bandra, Bombay. The barber was my Baap (Father). He shaved people’s scalps for a pittance. It could not even keep him in his “pav sher desi” (quart of country liquor) that had become his need. Never knew my mother and from the talk around she had worked in a Ladies Service Beer Bar as a waitress. She was supposed to have been saucily beautiful, used to stay in the kholi next door on rent. The bar was raided and closed down and she had moved in with my father the barber. The lady next door was unrelenting in her rent demand; hence my ma had to move her lodgings. My baap and his kholi had been a soft target. Am sure though that he had his hard moments too else I wouldn’t have been born. She died giving me birth and he took to the bottle hard. It was a curious love story, the likes that can only happen in space starved Bombay. 

The cheap liquor consumed him and he just collapsed on the mirror cracking it. This was while he was shaving Dhondiba the slums scrooge. As he fell, so did his razor in one swoop, carrying with it, half of Dhondiba’s moustache and right nostril? It was poetic justice as Dhondiba had never once paid my pa a single rupee for his shaving. They hailed from the same village and did he take advantage of this fact? Now my baap in his dying moment had ensured that the snot smeared hair in his nose was on permanent display. The world had been a better place without this gross sight, but strange are the ways of the creator in his balancing act. 

My looks came from my mother and the rakish approach too. In fact the neighbors even said there was nothing of my barber father in me. My ma would have been sleeping around before she latched on to my father. In popular opinion the baker was another and the loaf was already in the oven before the barber came on to the scene. Whatever it was, the drunk barber did raise me. He shaved scalps while I grew up into plain scalping. At seventeen was already the best pick pocket in the area.Khetwadi pickpockets are second to none in all of Bombay. Bombay is a city that is second to none in all of India and hence fancied myself to be the best damn pick pocket in India. This is by relativity or transitivity or something similar that they taught us in school. Never was clear on which was the right term.

 My true education though had come from Maganlal, and he was a true artist. He was the ladies tailor of the neighborhood and I started out as his assistant from the age of 12 in his shop. I was tall for my age and was fascinated by the lines that Maganlal would throw at the ladies. I had seen him personally take measurements of blouses and the manner in which the tight assed ladies would simper at this scrawny man with a silver tongue. The quick silver though was in his fingers. This was my classroom, his shop and he allowed me the practice. Women here had the habit of keeping their small purses stuffed deep into their blouses. The trick was to lighten the purse from here. It was considered impossible in the pocketmaar kingdom and this was what my guru excelled at. 

The conversation would begin in a ribald style where he would have a lady wait for some time sweating. Then when she began fanning herself with her sari pallu our man would begin his action. Then he would compliment her on the curves, with the tape measure in his hands. Draping it around her would murmur, “Hmmm Ramu seems to have been active in the past two months. This has expanded, look how it is straining the seam.” The finger would pass over the seam and almost accidentally would feel the swell. Invariably the lady would giggle and he would have got the measure of the purse and its position. Craftily the purse would come out and while he kept his talk on his fingers would have relieved a note, never all just one. I had mastered all of his skills saving one. 

Some of the ladies would insist on being measured at the backroom in the shop and those he never touched. Their purses I mean, in fact back there everything but the purses would be touched, measured, relieved and the lady would emerge flushed and happy. I asked him about it, and he would give an enigmatic smile saying sometimes there are things far more important than just money. Spreading happiness is what he called it and then he seemed like the greatest of philosophers. You too would reach that stage one day when you are regarded as a man amongst thieves. The store dummies with bells on was where my lessons happened. When I graduated from here to practicing on the street with him, I had done very well. 

Laila was the typist who worked in a Xerox centre nearby and would normally wear Punjabi suits. Maganlal this month was out to his native place in Rajasthan for three weeks and I was in charge. She would be my third blouse of the month. The previous two had yielded Rs.62 in all.  As she approached the shop and the counter she said "blouse silaaney ka hai, master kidhar hai?" (Where is the master tailor got to stitch a blouse)? I told her I would do it and cased her from head to toe. A pert nose on flashing eyes and slim shapely but top heavy figure and I moved in with my tape. Casually started talking to her and taking the measurements.The tape around her, holding it with my arm had bent down to look at the number.  Our store rat at that very moment chose to make its appearance. She jumped forward with a half scream, I found my nose jammed right in her 34C’s and knew for sure there was no purse here. Blessing the rat in my mind I kept my arms around her and reluctantly removed my nose from its newfound fleshy scabbard, till she stopped trembling, “Arrey chuhey se darti ho?”(Scared of rats?) She nodded, “Ghabraana nahi, Main Hoo Na” In my best SRK impersonation as she laughed. Pressing my advantage, cockily remarked “my nose was in the grandest of places a few moments ago. “Dhatt, badmaash”, and I knew my education with Maganlal in all aspects was complete. “Kub milega?” “The blouse after one week but I shall meet you tomorrow outside New Talkies. Ayegi na?” I had till then only heard the line in movies but never in person as it popped out from her lips “Tum badey woh, ho” And saucily nodding went out. 

Maganlal would always remind me, never ever do a job because you need to. The job is an art where your gut will tell you this is the mark and don’t ever ignore your gut. People get caught because they don’t study their marks or listen to their inner voice. This was precisely what I had slipped up on when I saw the notes flashed in front of eyes. My gut had warned but greed and lust had overridden it away. Had followed the mark from the front and casually had relieved it from his pocket at the bus stop.My study of the area had not been complete though. The man hadn’t realized it, no one else was around the bus stop except an old lady waiting for a bus and she saw me. She screamed at the man as I had walked away and turned into a gully. Hearing the footsteps and “Chor Chor” behind me had vaulted a wall of a house and the lone pursuing footsteps, slipping down the culvert to where I was with a dead rat at my feet. 

Counted the notes, it was a rich haul of Rs.9200, no wonder that man had chased me so, must be his salary. Dropped the purse in the muck & transferred the notes to my pocket. Then changed my shirt inside out (It was stitched that way) from a flashy green to a creamy white, fished out a basketball cap and slipped out from the other side to meet Laila and her 34c’s at New Talkies. 

04 May, 2009

Mutton for Vegetarians - Jackfruit (Kathal ) Subzi

It’s that time of the year when the sun blazes down towards the end of April or May and its summer in Coastal Maharashtra. The region called Konkan ( Western Maharashtra, India) comes alive with its rich produce of fruits those that are unique to this region. The champion produce is the Alphonso Mango the king of all fruits. This fruit has put the region on the world map . The cashew nut is another but the one that actually never enters the mainstream is the Jackfruit, another summer marvel.

This fruit when ripened produces the sweetest fleshiest piece of fruit ever found in the fruit kingdom. It is a large fruit and varies in size from 6 inches to several feet. In appearance it has a thorny scaly thick skinned body and a strong green stem. This stem is very strong as it carries the enormous weight of this fruit. This fruit and its pods each of which has a unique seed is eaten for its fleshy pulp, used for pulpy jellies rolled into thick fudge ( called paapad or saath ), chips and wafers are made, but my personal favorite is the vegetable that is made out of the green jackfruit when it is not completely ripe.  

The vegetable the way it turns out is truly the vegetarian equivalent of mutton. Definitely the way the Brahmin’s of the coast make it. The recipe varies across the coastal line and it is popular in a vegetable form also across Karnataka and Kerala where they favor it as a curry. This hereunder is the Maharashtrian way,  where the Brahmins cock a snook at the others who tease them for never having sampled red meat. They convincingly say when we have this we don’t need to, and me a confirmed red meat eater do tend to agree with their conviction. This here is the recipe we tried from my paternal aunt’s kitchen and did it turn out yum...You just try it out and enjoy.



  • ·         Jackfruit , green around a kg of fruit weight. This yields around 600gms of pulp.
  • ·         Cashew nuts, peanuts or paavtey or green waal seeds about ¼ cup
  • ·         6-7 red chillies
  • ·         Turmeric powder ¼ tsp
  • ·         Asafetida or Hing 1 tbsp
  • ·         Jeera or cumin seeds 2 tbsp
  • ·         Mustard seeds 2 tbsp
  • ·         Coconut Oil/ Peanut Oil : ½  cup
  • ·         Red Chilly powder, 1 tsp
  • ·         Gur or Jaggery ; 2tbsp or 25gms shavings
  • ·         Fresh coconut : 1/2 , grated fine
  • ·         Coriander leaves ¼ bunch finely chopped
  • ·         Salt to taste.

Preparation Method :

The jackfruit is a tough fruit to get into. The skin is tough and thick and the fruit being raw has sap in it which is sticky. Apply a little coconut oil on the surface of your chopping knife and thinly cut off the skin from end to end. We shall have a peeled fruit which is longish in shape and brown in colour. Now hold it horizontal on the chopping board and make circumferential cuts about half an inch thick to get circular slices quite akin to cuts we execute on pineapples. 

The internal layout of the fruit is such that you shall see a thick central core attached to a pulpy outer core with close fibrous tendons. Now cut along the centre where the dices made keep the inner core attached to the outer pulp approx ¼ to ½ inch according to preference. Then once you have a single piece slice the fibers exactly midway. This way you have a dice which has pulp at one end and fibers at the other end, looks like the head of a toothbrush in appearance. Seeds if any are diced along and are included with the cooking material. Keep the chopped jackfruit soaked in water such that the sap is washed off. The toughest part of your job is done. The rest is easy. For those who don’t want to go thru this rigor can open a tin of dices in brine. They are available in shopping malls, but believe me it won’t taste quite the same.

Now sprinkle a little salt on these dices, and pressure-cook them till they are done. Typically 3-4 whistles. Remove and keep aside and crush lightly by hand such that they separate. If you are using peanuts instead of cashews then you can add them along with the jackfruit dices and pressure cook them too. Cashews you soak in water and keep aside to be added later.

In a large frying pan put a tbsp of oil and fry the red chilies till they start to crackle. Remove, cool and crush them by hand.  

Supplement the hot oil in the pan with fresh oil and when it reaches a boil add cumin, mustard seeds, asafetida, turmeric, chili powder , grated coconut and the nuts. Add the jaggery shavings, the cooled jackfruit dices and toss it till the ingredients mix properly. Cover lid and steam for a while and remove in serving bowl. In another pan take some more oil for a second tadka which has cumin, mustard seeds asafetida and add the tadka over the jackfruit in the serving bowl. Garnish with fresh coriander and grated coconut and eat away to your heart’s content.


Tastes best with Indian breads like chapatti’s and if not can be eaten like a snack dish as it is.