It was on gloomy, rainy days like Monday that Smita fought the greys with her colourful cooking. She woke up to grey clouds and lightning and mild rumbling thunder. She expected a wet day and as she prepared her morning coffee, she also soaked some split Bengal gram and checked her pantry for jaggery and coconut milk. She had the milk, but no jaggery, so she would improvise with demerera sugar. She was going to bake something that her neighbor in Poona, Swatitai, taught her, a baked gram cake, Ninaava. Although Smita was a novice at cooking when she entered the Athavale household as a 19 year old bride, she was quite sharp at quickly picking up techniques and adding to her repertoire. She mastered everything she learnt and her skill lay in improvising, where she could replace rice with white corn meal in an idli, or even the black gram (urad dal) in the same idli, morphing it from a south Indian preparation to a quasi Mexican or Latin American steamed dish. She had felt a load off her heart after the chat she had with her son the previous evening.
She had picked up the phone and dialed 0011 – 91 – 20 – ………, and after just ring it was answered. “Hello, aai”, was the familiar voice from the other side. Smita’s voice choked, as she spluttered, “Shekhar”. There was sniffing on both sides of the line, but Smita composed herself and started in Marathi, “How are you? How is everything at home?” But Shekhar did not want to converse the banalities, he wanted to know the truth, of why she left her family. Smita was not sure if she should tell all, but she convinced herself that by talking about it, she would not only reduce her burden that had got her into some depression, as well as help her family to recollect their broken lives. Madhav was the insensitive husband that she had devoted her life to. She had not much of formal education, but was content leading the life of a homemaker, raising her smart children and meeting the demands of her family especially the husband. Her culinary skills were a rage in the housing colony (though the possessive Madhav did not approve) and she was often called for lecture/demonstration sessions. She would do it in the afternoons and she enjoyed it. One day, Madhav returned early from office and found her missing, and when she returned, he forbade her from entering the house. This was not the first time she was abused. She pleaded and the Godboles from the next door looked through their grilled front door with pity and nothing more. She cried at the door for about an hour, till Shekhar returned from college. He escorted his mother into their home, and when she entered the kitchen, she was shocked with what she found. The expensive baking dishes were shattered. The microwave door had been smashed and the wires plied out. Her pots and pans were banged out, out of shape. He had not even spared the pressure cooker, he had poured a cup of sugar into it and broiled it to a charred black. The kitchen, her home, her heaven looked like a scene from a war movie – smoke, destruction, dust. That night, the family called for takeaway food from a nearby restaurant, but Smita was left out. She spent the night on the terrace with her Night Queen and Jasmine, except that they did not flower that night, almost like they too were either in sorrow like her or worse, they had spurned their love towards her. The next morning, she tried to make some tea, thanks to help from Shekhar and the other 2 sons, but Madhav did not touch the cup. He left for office in a huff. He called from there to tell his sons that they should not let their mother cook at home as she was interested in cooking for the neighbourhood. Shekhar tried to reason with his father, but he did not listen. That night, Smita’s bag was packed with all her belongings, and Madhav took it out after the kids had settled down to study or sleep. He loaded them on a taxi and asked the driver to wait for the “madam” and went back. No-one had noticed, but a silently weeping Smita was nudged out of her house into the waiting taxi and sent off to her maternal home in Nasik. She pleaded as she was dragged out of her house, and at times, Madhav had gagged her mouth and almost shoved her down the stairs. She was bruised but she did not care for her physical self, but what about her home, her children? Madhav did not listen and the taxi left.
Smita sniffed and stayed silent for a long time. Till Shekhar spoke up – “Aai, you could have told us while you were in Nasik. We could have found a mid-way to resolve this domestic dispute. It was a distance we could have traversed. In fact we could have walked all up the way to Nasik, but Australia was physically so far away”. Smita stopped him, “don’t you see the meaning in all this – the divide is so large now, it is separated by the vast oceans and distances. We are no longer at a stage where rapprochement is possible. The seas will remain between us, but just as time has allowed for communication over long distances, I am available for you as I have nothing against you. I never wanted to leave it all. Your father forced me to.”
The D Boyz woke up to a grey and cloudy week. The monsoon clouds were one thing, but the dust kicked up by the coal scams was another. The coal dust had greyed the atmosphere and the D Boyz were feeling depressed. And during days of depression, they sometimes resorted to trading on their SENSEX. Unfortunately like their minds, their SENSEX also weighed down and lost some of its monsoon green colour to reveal shades of red. But on Friday, the mood changed. The coal dust had blackened every possible part of the functioning “rulers”, and it felt like it was time for some of them to be banished from their homes in the parliament (and many D Boyz are actually looking forward to it). And then on Friday, when the news from foreign lands across the seven seas and oceans came, it was like a breath of fresh air, as the mood on D street felt uplifted, also lifting the SENSEX up to end extended at 17750.
And then I needed something to get me out of the depression and you know how cooking is so therapeutic for me. I participated in a cook-off with international participants at the vineyards near Nasik. I won the India round and here I am in Australia. Ron was part of the team that organized the event, and in him I see a person who is sensitive and he was my guide who also goaded me to push my limits and be what I am today. I love Ron, but he is not my lover. He is my guru in this reborn life. He is about 10 years older to you, but he has been instrumental in getting me out of my previous life. And why did I not call you earlier to explain? Shekhar – Ron says time is a healer, and just as it is healing me, I know it will heal you as well”. Please keep in touch, and I will talk to your brothers soon. With that she put the phone down. She did not realize that she was crying, though she did not feel depressed any longer. She got up from her seat and went to her computer and browsed her way to her blog. She had a new subscription request that she had to approve. It was from shekhar.athavale@…….. She smiled and accepted the request.
I know that there are many people out there wanting to do what their hearts want, but end up doing what they are expected to do. So just get up and follow your heart!
Have a great week ahead.