The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Friday, August 01, 2014

The Aroma Wafts on...

The Aroma Wafts on...

 It is a question that oftentimes bothers me: If I were not the one what I’m now known for or, more precisely, known to my friends as, what else would I have become? A farmer, for all that quiet pleasure I always find at the mere glimpse of an expansive paddy field undulating into sparkling waves in the swishing September breeze? Or a gardener, for all the rapture a sapling sends me into as it grows from strength to strength, from its dainty existence into its fragrant efflorescence? Or a teacher to root out the rote learning that catapulted all the obedient kids of my time into the legendary gold medalists? Or a crusader against poverty, seeing people offering their dilapidated aluminium bowl on pawn for a bowlful of water-rice? Or an entrepreneur, for all my readiness to struggle and suffer and learn and excel? Or a writer trying to identify with the environs and gain insights into the phenomenon called relationship? Or a philosopher bent on unravelling the purpose of existence? Or a priest? A thief? A beggar? What exactly would I have become had I not been pushed into the stream and chosen to swim downstream? Where is my alter ego that has been eluding me for ever?

The other day I met him, my alter ego—I think I met him. I met him in a party, amongst my friends; say among some thirty of us who could assemble for a nostalgic get-together. It was a kind of reunion of all those who passed out from Utkal University, Vani Vihar in the year 1980. Not all of us were present, but the crowd was compatible enough to rekindle my feelings and guide me straight up to my insight where lay the answer to my question.

‘Aha! You Nanda. Do you remember me? I’m the same XYZ that lived upstairs, the room above you in the third floor, while yours was the one in the ground floor?’

‘Well, Well, you’re MNO, I know, you’re living upstairs in the third floor of our Fourth Hostel while I occupied the room in the ground floor, right?’ I faked as if his tone had kindled enough.

‘We’re meeting after forty-three years, you know, after donkey’s years,’ he spouted. I knew we were meeting after thirty-three years. It was an inconsequential arithmetic slip-up on his part, a rounding-off error. And I ignored.

‘Meet my wife…and tell her how I was like forty-three years ago,’ I introduced my wife to him. ‘Meet my most bosom buddy who lived two floors above me, the floors important pupils used to choose to avoid mosquitoes.’

‘Ha-ha!’ No doubt my words made him happy. He was, in fact, important in my view. And he continued to spout, ‘Nanda used to cook excellent dalma and we’re the beneficiaries of its rich smell, day in day out.’ I was happy too, for my friend did exactly as I intended him to do: unknowingly he had opened a PR blitzkrieg to impress my lifelong critic, my wife.

She proved an attentive listener every inch. And she was curious too, to discover what I was like when she had not extended me the benefit of all the sublimating and civilizing strokes that, according to her, I badly needed then. Every saint has a past…and…and a woman is nothing if not a born investigator!

But I was suddenly reminded of my nagging question: ‘If I were not the one what I’m now known for or, more precisely, known to my friends as, what else would I have become?’ I’d have become a cook, or to choose a more glorious word, a chef. Forty-three years ago, thirty-three to be precise, I had enough talent to impress my friend living upstairs merely by the scent of my pan and ladle. Not a joke!

Let me flash back…back…and still back. My first cooking lesson started when I was a thirteen-year old greenhorn. My teacher was my necessity; my stove was one that was of cutting-edge technology then, a sawdust hearth that was to be vigorously stuffed; and a meticulously lit kerosene-smeared plank in the middle shaft-tunnel was to make the surrounding wall of sawdust smoulder and burn. No issue—I had succeeded in a single session even though the sawdust was damp.

This is how I understood how different was salt from sawdust!

Then...then I learnt so many things, all by self-effort. It needs less of labour to make batter out of wheat flour than to knead it into dough—a discovery that helped me to make pancake as tasty as those loaves of fresh bread sold in the streets of Old Delhi during Ramzaan. I became nutrition conscious and added egg to the batter…and the result was marvellous. The pancake bloated like puri swimming on bubbling hot oil. A friend asked me, ‘What’s the name of the recipe?’ and I remember to have replied, ‘Well, it’s Italian Pizza.’ And by the time my friend got the proof of my culinary talent from the aroma of my dalma, it was six long years after I was introduced to the sawdust hearth. No wonder I was experienced then. So skilled I was then and so uninterrupted was my progress since my acquaintance with salt and sawdust that another friend of mine at Rourkela, after savouring the meal I had served him a couple of years thereafter, advised me: ‘I don’t want you to suffer owing to your skill. Your wife is going to make a cook out of you. In order to avoid being a lifelong cook in your own house, you’ve to forget everything. I say this in your interest only. Why don’t you understand, buddy?’

Fast forward…. Somehow I forgot what I learnt so early in life—I won’t blame my friend for that. He had merely discharged his friendly duty, warned me to be careful. Aha! The good old days! Now I am like a precocious school boy turning into a half-witted dullard by the time he reaches his high school. I’m like a marathon runner finishing the last even though as a nine year-old boy he had come on the front-page news running fifty miles at a stretch. But I continue to be an eater, a committed eater of sort: more people are interested in feeding me now than in helping me to refresh my culinary skill. What a change! The wheel has turned a full circle.

But my only satisfaction is that I can still make out salt from sawdust. I have retained at least this much of basics, even to this day. Nobody can forget cycling and swimming: it’s as ingrained as that.

And I’m convinced; I would have become a good cook had I not decided to do hundred other things my way, had I not been pushed into the stream and chosen to swim downstream, the easy way. The other day I met my alter ego—I think I surely met him, thanks to the billowing aroma of dalma my dear old friend is still able to smell after forty-three years have elapsed. Nay, to be precise, it was an aroma that had once wafted up to the third floor of a hostel room some thirty-three years ago.
A N Nanda

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