Sunday, June 4, 2017

Miss Monsoon Has a Flair for Drama

Miss Monsoon reached Kerala a few days ago, chuckling lightly to herself. She knew the Weather Usurers were closely watching her every move and were weak with relief that she had stuck to schedule. She enjoyed making them nervous.

All of last month, her apprentices had managed to arrange for some pre-monsoon showers. They were patted on their backs and quickly shepherded away as soon as the news of Miss Monsoon's arrival came. She needed a lot of space and could not be distracted (she was very easily distracted).

Miss Monsoon along with Wind, Sky and Clouds are part of a very successful drama club. They have a few standard acts, but people fall for it every single time.

It usually goes thusly:

Before and between rains, the world turns shades of purple and orange.

Lightning rips through the sky, loud peals of thunder reverberate inside people looking hopefully skywards.

A wind stirs in the trees, swirls to the earth and picks up leaves, unsuspecting insects and blows expectant umbrellas inside out.

A light drizzle may begin, or a few heavy drops may fall in a distracted sort of way.

This can continue or alternate for hours.

What this drama club has perfected over many centuries, though, is a sense of suspense that bewilders the weathermen and does not amuse the Weather Usurers.

Its favourite finale is to stop mid act, just when everyone has held their breaths,waiting expectantly. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

If Mangoes Were People

Three good things happened this summer and all of them have to do with mangoes.

Thing #1: I was introduced to a new variety of mango called Imampasand. It tastes a little like Benganapalli, but is much stronger in flavour and makes my taste buds quiver and go weak in the knees. I think it has displaced Malgova from my Pedestal of The Most Awesome Mango, you guys.

Thing #2: Mango curry. But this needs a post of its own, once my taste buds have recovered from their blissful coma.

Thing #3: I heard about two mangoes local to Goa called Musarat and Mankurad. Musarat and Mankurad! Mankurad sounds like an underground mafia lord. Musarat definitely sounds like it was named after an Israeli spy.

So of course I had to make a list of some other mangoes and what they'd be like if they were people.

If Mangoes Were People

1. Imampasand: An affable sufi poet with a large belly.

2. Musarat: A dark, handsome Israeli spy with a dense, bristly mustache and a suave smile.

3. Mankurad: A feared mafia drug lord with perpetually flared nostrils.

4. Malgova: A freckled, plump aunty who loves feeding people.

5. Benganapalli: An IIT aspirant who is so thin people sometimes think he is two-dimensional.

6. Alphonso: A rich, pompous businessman who dazzles people with his smile.

7. Neelam: A beautiful artist who is the object of everyone's attention.

8. Badami: An old historian who wears thick glasses and grandfather chappals.

9. Tothapuri: A talkative little boy with a red nose.

10. Raspuri:  A gossip-loving cook who likes to pretend she lives in a Bollywood movie.

11. Safeda: A cleanliness freak with OCD and a love for minimalism.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

How to start a fire in a sandstorm

A sandstorm is brewing in a dusty village in Kutch, sixty odd kilometres shy of the Pakistan border. Dust devils are born and dance around, spinning faster and faster, gathering specks of dust, reaching for the sky, dissolving into nothing. Where once, the horizons were visible for miles on end, visibility suddenly reduces to a few metres.

A sandstorm is brewing

There is a maldhari- a nomadic herdsman in this sandstorm. And he wants to start a fire. He ignores the derision in the howling wind. He would like a cup of tea.

His sheep and goats bleat somewhere in the distance. They are obscured by clouds of sand.

He emerges from this cloud holding a vessel of freshly milked sheep milk, his baggy salwar billowing in the wind.

A heap of twigs are gathered and placed in a heap which is hollow inside. Into this, he places slivers of barks peeled off from branches.

Then, he sits around this heap of twigs, his legs straddling it. He arranges his salwar- his long, baggy, billowy salwar so that they form a barrier to the wind.

And leans in close to the heap of twigs.

And strikes a match.

A fire soon escapes its cage of twigs and licks the bowl of sheep milk.

How do you start a fire in a sandstorm? The trick lies in baggy salwars.

(For the curious: the tea tasted something wonderful)

On a day when the sand and the winds were relatively calm

This post was originally published as an Untold Short.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Zen Toilets

Remember the Epiphany Toilet? There is a whole episode in Scrubs dedicated to it: a toilet atop the roof of a building, on which you can sit and watch the world pass by beneath you, blue skies in full view. If you sit on the toilet with a burning problem, you will be struck with a sudden epiphany on how you can solve it and you might then victoriously stand up to celebrate your epiphany with your pants still rolled down.

Waiting for an epiphany to strike

I haven’t had the good fortune to find an Epiphany Toilet yet. But I have found other similar, celestial toilets which I will call Zen or Euphoria Toilets. A Zen Toilet must be in the open and in the wild. The actual pot is just a formality and not really essential; a light breeze caressing your bare posterior is always welcome. Here is the important part, though: to experience true zen/euphoria you must be in full view of anyone who happens to pass by, but you must be crafty so that you are not spotted while in the process of relieving yourself.

Zen Toilets gather and brew a concoction of feelings in you. The concoction contains in no fixed proportions: relief, from emptying your bladder; contentment at the breeze around your ankles and bare bottom; happiness from being able to hear bird song or animal calls or the wind swaying through leaves; mild worry and mortification that you might be spotted.  This heady mix simmers and culminates in blissful zen, causing a beatific smile to spread over your face. 

At night, there is the added pleasure of emptying your bladder in complete darkness with a sky full of stars above you. I experienced this in Kachchh on a cold winter night. I had at first reluctantly wriggled out of my sleeping bag and into the freezing night, not wanting to take off my layers of thermals. But at the insistence of my bladder, I found a Prosopis tree behind which I could squat, turned off my headlamp, exposed my hindquarters to the cold night air with a little whimper and looked up in the darkness.

I was greeted by a star-studded sky: a black slate etched with constellations and galaxies and the brown swathe that was the Milky Way; it seemed as though there were so many stories pinned up in the sky, waiting to be told. My beatific smile still lingered when I crawled back into my sleeping bag. 

Another Zen Toilet which gave me much happiness (and happened to have an actual toilet) was in a little village called Hewale in Maharashtra. The loo was outside the house and next to tall evergreen trees which langurs often frequented, and adjacent to a rice field from where you could hear people and cows calling. The toilet was on a stone slab and enclosed by straw mats on four sides and a tarpaulin on top. There was no door, just two flaps of straw mats in the front. While on the john, a friendly breeze had a habit of wafting in and twirling around my ankles. Sometimes, the breeze was a little too friendly and blew the flaps of the loo wide open. I soon learned to anticipate when this would happen and quickly grab the flaps before it swung open. Gradually, however, the Zen Toilet taught me to Let it Be and this I did (but of course, this was after I made sure that people from the fields outside couldn’t really see someone inside the loo). Zen was then attained with the help of the noisy rustle of langurs in the trees, fluty bird song and the grating call of the cicadas.

Next on my list: peeing into a stream or off a hill which I am told is euphoric too. But first I need to master that thoughtful invention that allows women to stand up and pee.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Passing feelings that brighten up busy evenings

I was sitting in the deafening silence of the library one evening when three whispered conversations were struck up behind me. Forgetting completely for a moment that I was in a library, I had the most pleasant feeling that I was in a dark forest instead with whispering trees around me. I just had to close my eyes to prolong the feeling.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In Which I Reveal a Morning Routine to the Internet

I am not going to go in to glorious detail about my ablutions or ceremonies on the water closet.

No, this post is about a different morning routine altogether (someone shrieks). If your guess had sinister underground dungeon in it, then you're wrong again. I will reserve that routine for another post.

It starts when I leave my house each morning. I go in search of a sleeping brown dog.He has three favourite sleeping places, so this does not take too much of my time.

One of Goofy's favourite places is right outside my gate

When I find him, either curled up by the edge of someone's house or lying sprawled on the road, I whistle from afar to announce my arrival so that he does not jump up with a start.

On some days, he is buried under several layers of sleep and I have to call him several times before he wakes up red-eyed, wags his tail once and then sinks back to sleep.

On other mornings, he opens eyes for only as long as it takes to determine who woke him up and whether that person is agreeable to him being there(a lot of the inhabitants of the colony object to the friendly bandit dogs, you see).

"Oh it's you," he seems to say every morning, closing his eyes again, greeting me with sleepy wags of his tail, turning around imperiously to present me with his belly that I obediently rub.

You might think it evil of me to wake up a sleeping dog each morning. You will be comforted to know that he pays back for it most happily by startling me every other day. His way of greeting me when he spots me idly walking about is to stealthily creep up behind me and stick his damp nose into the palm of my hand. I almost hear him chuckle every time.

"Touche, pussycat!"

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

So Long and Thanks for the Mangoes

Monsoon is here! Which means the mango season is almost over. Which means I will have to wait another year for the next mango season.

Horn OK Please: Mango season
Malgova and Jim Corbett for a rainy evening

I love mangoes. My seafarer's nose(more about it here) picks out the sweet scent of mango flowers sometime in February. Once this happens, my pining for mangoes which until then, had simmered deep within me with occasional spurts of urgent cravings, would burst forth impatiently until I satisfied it with the season's first offering a few months later.

My dad shares my love for mangoes. This makes him very particular about how we cut it. A knife was purchased in preparation for the mango season last year. It was hidden from everyone else in case we carelessly and blasphemously used it to cut something other than mango and made it blunt. The fine art of cutting mangoes requires a sharp knife, you see. Dad taught me this art when I came of age. It requires precision and finesse and I'm sure there must be a secret clan of mango cutters which you can only join when you completely master it.

The fine art of mango cutting goes thusly: the mango is held in one cupped hand with its top towards us. Wielding a sharp knife, we begin by shaving off slim slivers of mango skin which fall hither tither. Then, we sink the knife into the yielding golden flesh until we hit the hard seed and make horizontal and vertical lines along the fruit. Once that is done, starting at the top of the mango, we cut along the seed so that perfect cubes(irregular trapezoids in my case) slide off and topple in the most endearing way on to the plate. One of the perfect cubes(trapezoids) is put into our mouths and our thoughts about it declared. And then finally, we divide the mango into equal heaps of gold and pounce on it. The flesh on the seed is reserved for the mango cutter. 

My favourites are the rotund Malgova which is best eaten when not entirely ripe, the slender Benganapalli which I use for my mango cheesecake and Sindoori, because I like its name.

Horn OK Please: mango season
Raspuri for a carefree afternoon spent
 under the trees

The taste of the Neelam I just ate still lingers in my mouth. And in the back of my mind, are the beautiful, pale yellow freckles that adorn the mangoes sitting in a box of hay in a dark room in our house and slowly getting riper by the day.

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