Monthly Archives: July 2011

the orchard

He hated the rains. They made him nostalgic and reminded him of all the good things in life. There is something very bad about the good things in life – they make letting it go very difficult. He sat on the wooden rocking chair in the verandah waiting for the rains to stop so that he could come out into the open. How ironical he thought that his name should be Bhaskar, Hindi for the sun.

As he sat, waiting for the rains to stop so that he could take one final walk around his orchard, he looked around. There was a huge clock ticking away on the wall. No one ever knew how old it was but every hour it has chimed religiously for the entirety of his memories related to this house. He had donated most of his furniture but he could not bring himself to give the clock away. He could not take it with himself but he had decided to the leave the old clock behind to give company to his old house till its new owners move in.

He stood up and walked out. The empty house did not make him feel very well – it was like he was breaking off an age old friendship. A mild drizzle made for a mischievous weather outside. It rained for some time and then stopped, only to rain again after a few seconds. A game of hide and seek was on. Bhaskar decided to play.

The orchard added the beauty to the estate. It was his father’s pride and one of the primary reasons why he had never considered moving to the more populated parts of the city.  “A man is known by the trees he plants,” he used to say.

“How is that?” Bhaskar had innocuously asked.

“Well you see,” his dad spoke very rarely but when he did Bhaskar loved the way his eye brows rose and fell, “there is a very intimate relation between the kinds of trees a man plants and his character.  Not everyone likes to plant all kind of trees. We pick and choose our trees, very much like we make the other important decisions of life.”

“Most of my friends, who live in the town, do not have any trees in their house,” Bhaskar had enquired.

“Well most of the people, who live in the town, do not have any character either.”  His father winked at him.

Later that year when Bhaskar had sought permission to plant the Peepal sapling, which he had won in the debate competition on the Environment Day at his school, in his father’s orchard his dad had asked him a question

“Who’s going to look after it? I already have enough trees for myself.”

“Me” Bhaskar had replied, “Just as you look after the other trees.”

“Would a Peepal tree fit into an orchard of fruit trees?” his father amused himself at little Bhaskar’s expense.

“You have a big orchard. I am sure there is place for everyone.”

Impressed with his answer, his father had volunteered to help him plant the sapling. As he dug the earth, placed the sapling with care and filled its roots with the soil, his dad had stood a little away watching him and the mango trees that had just started to blossom. With lots of mud and a faint smile covering his face, Bhaskar walked back home with his dad just as the sun was about to set in the western sky.

“What can you tell about my character now? I have just planted a Peepal tree” he asked.

“You are going to have a long and stable married life” his father replied. Bhaskar had chuckled at the response. Long and stable married life is good, he thought. He had seen his dad after his divorce and he did not quite want that kind of a life. A man is made for a woman, for his kids, for his family and not for a bunch of fruit trees that blossomed once a year.

The rains had made the ground muddy and unless you watched out very carefully you would definitely slip. But Bhaskar, having spent most of his life among these trees, knew where to put his foot down and how firmly. At first came the long Papaya trees, then came the wide trunked mango and the jackfruit, a little to the left of the jackfruits stood the guava and on the right of the mangoes, just a little far away stood the mighty Peepal that Bhaskar had planted as a kid. He intended to walk up to it and then retrace his steps back. He would have done so had he not spotted a young girl atop the Peepal tree trying to scratch her name on the bark of one of the many sturdy branches.

The girl, having seen Bhaskar and his walking stick, tried to conceal herself at first and then having realized that it was futile was trying to sulk away.

“What are you doing here?” Bhaskar asked; his voice stern and grave.

“Trying to write my name on that tree,” she replied, a hint of fear in her voice just like the one when you were caught by your teacher eating your tiffin in between classes.

“Why would you do that?” Bhaskar’s voice softened a little.

“Because it is my tree and I do not want anyone else to take control of it. I have put my nameplate for everyone to see.”

The answer amused Bhaskar. She was barely ten. She had a white frock on with colorful polka dots all over. With her whole set of front teeth gone, she had a smile as mischievous as the monsoon but just as the monsoon filled the whole atmosphere with a sudden chill her toothless smile filled the whole orchard with a warmth, the warmth of the burning stove on a cool wintery night.

Bhaskar indulged himself. “Who are you?” he asked

“The evil twin sister of the tooth fairy. She took all my teeth for a reason.” She giggled. “And who are you?” she asked.

“Ohh I am the sun” Bhaskar said looking up to the sky “The clouds have covered me, you see. I had nothing else to do. So I thought I would take a walk around my orchard. Can you do me a favor?”

She looked confused. Bhaskar continued

“You see the clouds would be gone soon and I would have to return to the sky. Maybe I will never ever have time enough to visit these trees again. I am a very busy man. Would you look after these trees when I am gone?”

“I would love to” She smiled. Bhaskar smiled back.

“I would be watching you from the sky. You must keep your word.” She nodded back in acceptance. Bhaskar started walking back, his last walk among the trees in the orchard.

“Where are you going?” She asked.

“Well there got to be some place for a setting sun. I am going there.”

“Do not worry. I am sure there is place for everyone. And besides the sun never really sets, does it? When it does set in one part of the world, it actually rises in another.” She told the above line with the wisdom of a grandmother, slowly but surely. Her words comforted Bhaskar. In the tranquility of the orchard he thought he heard it echo, all the lessons of life rolled into one sentence.

He glanced over his shoulders and shouted back “You are going to have a long and stable married life!” and then hurriedly walked back to his house. The taxi that would carry him to the station would be coming any moment. He would then leave his orchard and his house for ever. The doctors were convinced he did not have much time and he wanted to spend the last few days of his life with his grand children. They would never come down to live here. So he had decided to go there.

But before that, he had to call his lawyer and make a small change to his will. The orchard and the Peepal tree would no longer belong to him. They will henceforth belong to the evil twin sister of the tooth fairy, who had lost all her teeth for a reason!

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the onion pakodas

My Guest Column at The Viewspaper

“Taste is the feminine of genius.” – Edward FitzGerald, English writer. (1809-1883)

I do not think that at any point in my life, I have considered my mom a genius. She has always been the epitome of care and affection but somehow among the regular mundane dealings of life I had never paused and reflected if it would really take an enormous amount of effort to be the person that she is. Pretty much like the salt in your food, its presence is never acknowledged but its absence is always felt, she added the taste to our lives, literally and figuratively, without any one of us ever noticing the same. And then one fine evening, after I had moved out on my own, I decided to make onion pakodas!

When I was a kid, we used to have frequent load shedding in the evening. While the entire colony was in a black out, it was family time for us. My dad would have just returned from office and my mom would have just completed all the chores for the day in anticipation of the power cut. Huddled around an old oil lantern, we would discuss politics, play word games, analyze the actions of a particular neighbor or a relative and read out the headlines from the newspaper. However, none of these evenings were ever complete without munching on the delicious onion pakodas that my mom made.

Every day just before the power cut, she prepared them in three varieties – the salty ones for me, the spicy ones for my dad and the bland ones for my sister. For almost twelve and a half years, we munched on them –  almost every day –  and strangely we never got bored of the taste.

The onion pakoda is a traditional Indian snack made out of onion, as the name suggests, by dipping it in a batter of gram flour and then by deep frying it. However, it is not as simple as it reads in the recipe book. The flour has to mix well, the oil has to be hot enough, the frying has to be proper and the amount of salt has to be constant from pakoda to pakoda. Even though I gave my best shot that evening, by the end of my herculean effort, I was left with a dozen of inedible pakodas, a bunch of utensils that needed to be washed, oil all over the stove and a realization that making pakodas required one hell of an effort. To think of the fact that she went through this every day for twelve years and prepared them in three varieties seemed an enormous effort now. And she did it with a smile on her face, least perturbed by the indifference we showed to her efforts. I made a mental note of thanking her the next time I meet her.

We met sometimes later that year. During one of our many conversations I brought up the topic of onion pakodas and told her “You know I never thanked you for the efforts you took in making them. I should. Thank you mom for those wonderful evenings.”

She looked at me with awry eyes, smiled sheepishly and mumbled “I did have my rewards.”

“And what exactly do you mean when you say rewards?”

“Well the reward came from the way your eyes twinkled when you saw a plate full of onion pakodas and the delight with which you relished them. Making onion pakodas every day was a tenacious job but I so loved the smile on your face when you saw a plateful of them that I can go through another twelve years of making them. No work is as pleasing as the one that makes your loved ones happy. And in that happiness I found my reward.

Someday when you will have kids, you will see to what extent you can go to see a faint smile on their face. And you would realize, that faint smile, those little words of appreciation can make you do crazy things again and again. Like making onion pakodas every day for twelve years – the magic will be passed on to you then.”

My mom is not a genius or she would have known to put it better. That magic is called love!

In a world where not finding the charm in your work is the buzz word, my mom had figured out the magic in making onion pakodas in a small kitchen every day for twelve years. Ask her if she has ever complained. You would get a sheepish smile and a plateful of onion pakodas!