Archive for the ‘BrainsOnChocolate’ Category

Z for ZT vs KJ

April 30, 2017

There were two factions. And neither would back off. Each one of them stuck on what they were endorsing.

‘It smells of Camphor.’

‘This smells of Eucalyptus.’

‘This has Camphor too.’

‘This has Eucalyptus.’

‘This is Panacea.’

‘This is Cure-all.’

‘Panacea is better than Cure-all.’

‘Cure-all is so middle class.’

‘Like your panacea is not essentially lowbrow.’

‘Okay, you list your virtues, they will list their virtues.’

‘Colds, cough, fever.’

‘Myynnnearrrghhh, of course.’

‘Body ache, joint ache.’

‘Yes, yes.’

‘Nicks, cuts, burns.’

‘Sure.’

‘Sunburn.’

‘Of course.’

‘Stomach trouble.’

‘Nothing better than this.’

‘My boyfriend’s Hyderabadi mum loved me because I love ZT.’

‘When she gets piles, give her a bottle of KJ and see.’

 

‘Oi. Stick to advantages.’

What followed was a listing of just about everything each of the products cured. They didn’t realise that it was more nostalgia driving the use than anything else. Eat this regularly and your won’t suffer the plague. No, no! Eat this regularly and you will never be ill again.

The reluctant moderator, I,  hated both the products with equal fervor. Zinda Tilismath as well as Kailas Jeevan. And the cacophony would not end. Not even when each faction produced the products and opened their lids, the smell of both make me hurl.

This made both parties extend their products as ‘cure for vomiting.’

I ran out of the room, to my bed. Covering myself with a duvet, I knew just what would make me well again. I hugged a small bottle of Vicks Vaporub, inhaling the fragrance…

 

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Y for Yuzu

April 29, 2017

Jaya looked like any Jaya of your imagination would. Slim, too large eyes set in a longish face with cheekbones that models would envy, skin like Kahlo would paint, and hair so long it resembled a fat snake down her back when plaited.

There was only one thing wrong. Or maybe not. She would not speak. I mean she wasn’t speech impaired or anything. In fact, she used to sing. She used to laugh too. A carefree laugh that made the whole Yoga class laugh when her long limbs would get entangled… and that would happen often.

She would argue with her teenage sons, tell them once, twice, even yell at them – from keeping their rooms clean to taking showers after school – then one day she stopped. The same with the husband. He would come back smelling of other women. Of course he would deny. She stopped asking. Maybe they worked like that at the bank. Why waste her breath?

Now she was like a ghost in her own house. The children had grown up without hearing their mum speak much, if anything at all. Jaya had mastered the art of anticipation. She knew who needed salt passed or the ketchup. She could anticipate when Deepak would need his grey socks and not black, Blue striped shirt instead of solid. If Deepak asked, ‘What’s wrong?’ she’d say something like, ‘I’m thinking of a song…’

With everyone out of the house by ten am, Jaya would sit on the rocking chair without rocking it and finish her chai. Then she would lean back and rock herself to sleep until the maid rang the doorbell at noon.

The maid needed no instructions, she was a pro. The in laws would call, to check if all was okay with her. Usually her eldest Nikita would answer the phone, make excuses about how Jaya was in the kitchen cooking and they would be happy at that explanation.

The shrink had told Deepak to give her time. She had just stayed mum all evening, serving some fabulous food to the boss and two of his bank colleagues. The silence drove Deepak so mad he almost hit her.

Next morning, he literally dragged her to that upscale office. He hadn’t stayed, of course. He had dumped her so unceremoniously on the sofa, she was rubbing her arm all through the session. The doc noticed, but didn’t say a word. Neither had she. He had just asked questions probing her feelings. Once she got over the excruciating pain in her arm, she had stared right back at the shrink, not in a hostile way or anything, just quietly, shrinking his questions to nothing.

He wanted to know what her silences had covered. He wanted to know everything about this not so ordinary woman in a plain saree, a blouse that reminded the doc of his mother. He wanted to know what was going on in that head of hers. Why her husband just wanted to make her talk, instead of finding out why she wouldn’t.

The driver was announced by the receptionist. The doc waved her off. Then looked at Jaya.

‘Fifteen sessions are paid for. If nothing, come for my Korean tea. It’s fabulous.’

‘ With Yuzu?’ she said.

X for Chocolate

April 28, 2017

Inspector Zhende could not stop giggling. His boss was lying on the floor dead. At the police station. And only he knew the cause of death. But he had burst out giggling, and the ACP had yelled, ‘Get out, Zhende!’ to him and Patil.

‘Patil, why you laughed, re?’

‘Sir, you were laughing at the tatti na, so I also laughed.’

‘I wasn’t laughing at the tatti, Patil.’

‘Oh sorry, sir! It’s just that your laughter is so infectious.’

‘Kya Patil!’

Others at the police station, the usual rounded up drunks, and petty thieves and ‘sir hamari car was smashed’ cases were watching Zhende closely. Must be a tough man. Laughing when such a horrific act had happened right at the police station.

The Crime brancch guys were always an arrogant lot. They were in no mood to ask any of the cops. They just assumed Shambhu the canteen boy had poisoned the boss. Poor Shambhu was being questioned for no reason. Shambhu’s screams did nothing to stop Zhende’s giggles.

Sathe, his best friend at the station parked his bike and came in. He was out investigating yet another domestic violence thing when he heard the news on his radio, but had to complete the proceedings (Lata madam had taken the poor woman to the hospital and Tawde had accompanied the husband to the other hospital, as both had beaten each other up over burnt daal).

‘What happened, Zhende?’ was the most innocuous question. Zhende began to giggle again. Patil facepalmed.

‘Sathe saheb, stop Zhende saheb from giggling. ACP saheb already ‘get outed’ us. Sir is lying on the floor in his tatti. Crime branch is here, and they suspect Shambhu put poison in Saheb’s Missal’

‘Dammit Zhende, come with me.’

Sathe dragged a red-by-giggling Zhende out of the police station. People outside thought the tears streaming down Zhende’s eyes were of grief. Patil followed with a hangdog expression.

They stepped out to the cigarette shop and shooed the college students gathered there for a smoke.

‘Now tell me why you are giggling despite this horrific death.’

‘I solved Palkiwala lady’s case. I can prove how she planned to kill her husband.’

‘That’s making you giggle?’

That question made Zhende giggle some more. Sathe casually flicked hot cigarette ash on Zhende to make him stop.

‘Tell me now. Everything.’

Zhende looked around, then casually removed an evidence bag from his pocket. There was an empty bag of foreign chocolates.

‘Palkiwala case ka chocolates. I found Saheb eating them. Told him they were evidence, but he would not listen, because chocolates se kya murder hoga? Now, see the label.’

Sathe cursed. Saheb was so fucking greedy. He had had pocketed gold chains and money, but chocolates? Five pound bag he finished! What an ass! He looked at the label: X-Lax Chocolates

‘X-Lax means Laxative.’

Sathe, Zhende and Patil laughed until the college kids came back. Then they decided to rescue Shambhu and relieve the Crime Branch of their investigation.

 

W for Walkabout

April 27, 2017

The Aborigines have a wonderful tradition. When a young man comes of age, he goes off for up to six months, in search of himself, living in the wilderness, fending for himself. A spiritual journey, a rite of growing up.

Asavari stepped out of the office and a wave of helplessness hit her like the humid heat of the city. She realised that walking out right now would jeopardise her future. She would have nothing but her meagre savings, but she would be killing her own spirit if she stayed. The boss was an asshole and she was fed up of being presented as a ‘look who works for us’ showpiece to anyone important who visited the office. And important people visited the office often. She was supposed to be the star who wrote a paper in college that the United Nations took heed and adopted it. So it came to her lot to talk about it, as she discovered, to whoever visited the financial company she worked at.

At first the work seemed interesting, and she was like a child in the candy store, writing papers for each of the products. They had given her a very sweet corner cubicle and no one would disturb her. The office boy bought her unending cups of coffee, and it was sweet that the five hundred or so employees ever so courteous, would come by to take selfies with her. Asavari felt over the moon. The boss had framed articles on her, her United Nations honor certificate on the wall by the cubicle.

Then it got claustrophobic. She wanted to ask the boss what were they going to do about all her papers? Her suggestions for product improvement? Her notes on product flaws? They were stalled in so many ways she could write a paper about it. She had giggled at the thought, and she had started a document adding new excuses.

Now, she was standing outside the office, unable to stop the anxiety that was rising up from the depths of her being and threatening to emerge from her eyes as tears of frustration. She needed to think. Mum, little brother who had special needs, the house, the college loans, everything that was weighing her down. She could not get away from those. Having a steady job helped. She wished she had had enough guts to stay back in Stanford, teach, and send money home. She wished she had stayed and looked for a job. She wished she had not given in to emotional blackmail from her mum and come back…

Asavari did not know when she had crossed the street. She did not know why she was getting on a bus. She did not know the destination. She knew mum would expect her phone call as soon as she got herself a rickshaw, but it was lunchtime. Mum would expect a phone call at seven. But she was not thinking of that at all. She was looking out of the window and watching the bus meander through strange streets.

Mum texted: Buy bhai meds.

Asavari realised that the bus was moving on a road with green fields on both sides… she asked the conductor about the last stop and when it would arrive. She found guilt envelop her like some heavy blanket. The conductor narrowed his eyes. He had seen this before. Must be heartbreak. Or some family problem. Or maybe she was in a crappy marriage.

‘Madam, daro mat. Yeh bus twenty minutes par waapas jaayegi. You can pray to Hanuman at temple at bus depot, drink chai, go home.’

That was reassuring.

The Hanuman temple was even better. She burst into tears, confessing.

She hated being the ‘dad’ at home. Taking care of family. Taking mum out to buy groceries, driving bro to his special school, dealing with bankwork, paying car insurance, property tax, even fixing the leaky tap in the kitchen. She was not dad. She didn’t want to be. Oh please, Hanuman, she could do with some divine intervention… And soon.

Chotu took back her tea glass that was untouched. She gave him the six rupees. Poor boy. He gave her such a big smile, she burst into tears. If only life would smile back at her like that…

The conductor playfully slapped chotu on his head, ‘You made her cry!’

She smiled at them both. A watery smile.

‘Madam, Bus will leave soon. My duty is over, but Ram here will take you home. Don;t worry about the ticket. Hanumanji paid for it.’

Two hours later, Asavari reached her office stop. Ram the conductor reminded her that it was her stop by waking her up. She had fallen asleep in a bus!

Ram got off the bus with her, practically shanghaied an auto and said something to him. The auto guy got her home at breakneck speed. Mum didn’t say a word. In fact, she looked so guilty Asavari wondered if it was some new tactic to make her feel terrible.  

Halfway through dinner, mum said, in a halting voice, ‘What do you think of Pune?’

Asavari looked at her, puzzled, ‘Pune?’

‘Dada called. He was saying that there is a holistic school for Vinayak, and that they wanted me to live in the ancestral home with them… But I told him that you were happy here and I was looking after you and…’

Asavari looked at her mum. Was she hearing right?

‘Pune?’

‘I have not said yes, yet. I only thought Vinayak will be taken care of at the school. It won’t cost us much because Dada is a trustee there…  I thought you might not like us moving to Pune, leaving you alone here… But Pune is so near, isn’t it? You could come visit every weekend… ‘

Asavari got up and hugged her mum.

‘Of course you have to go to Pune! How could you even think I would not want Vinayak to be taken care of? And mama’s house is so beautiful and big! Better than this apartment… Of course you should go…’

Mum hugged her back and wiping her hands on the saree pallu, called her brother.

Asavari stepped out as usual for a little after dinner walk. This time she stopped at the street corner mazaar of Aashiq-e-rasool and bowed her head, ‘Thank you, Hanuman-ji!’

 

 

 

V for Vangelis

April 26, 2017

Sudha was very happy that her family would be going to Los Angeles for the Olympics. Her husband Natarajan was lead project manager with Infosys, a company he was working for since its inception in 1981. Three years later the company was providing Natarajan a chance to live in Los Angeles for three months (how fortunate that the Olympics were taking place at the time as well!) along with family, and since they had been married only two years, Natarjan wasted no time in making sure Sudha’s Visa was also processed, and Miranda, the hetch aar lady managed to find a very comfortable one bedroom apartment for his stay, very close to the office he would be working with.

Sudha’s chitti Meenakka, her dad’s youngest sister was living in Los Angeles only, so it would be wonderful for Sudha too. But Natarajan had insisted on separate accommodations as Meenakka’s family was large and noisy and he did not want to take obligation. After all, he was lead project manager! He even booked Chitti and Chittapa’s tickets to the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games, which made Sudha very happy. Chitti’s children had already obliged them by booking tickets to events Sudha did not even understand. And all this organised over the phone! Sudha was terribly impressed by her husband. He made moving to a foreign land so easy!

She readied for her trip by making several types of podis and had them sealed for travel. Where would she find saambaar masala and puli powder in Los Angeles? Poppadums were packaged professionally by Shanker’s who was Bangalore’s expert in food packaging for America.

Los Angeles made Sudha’s already lovely eyes even wider and prettier. The sun was so strong, she wore her new sunglasses and felt like a movie star. The floor of the airport was so polished, she had to hold on to the hand rail when walking or she would have slipped. The whole city was ready for the Summer Olympics. Meenakka was busy cooking for them, so Chittappa had come to receive them at the airport. He said it would smarter to drop the luggage off at the apartment first and then go home and relax.

The apartment was very nice. Very airy and sunny. Sudha went to the bathroom and giggled at the thought of wearing sunglasses inside the house because it was so sunny. She took a quick look at the furnishings. There was only a foldable sofa for them to sleep (Chittappa called it ‘Futon’) and in the kitchen there was a stove and microwave and an oven but no kadai, and kadchhis and tava. But Chiiti was living nearby only and she had extra vessels and would give her some.

‘Sudha is the greatest cook. Her sambaar is better than amma’s!’ Natarajan was in a rare confessional mode. Chitti’s family was wonderful. They just loved Sudha and made her feel very welcome. Chitti assured Sudha that she could have as many cooking pots and pans and what have you. She even reached out to the bottom shelf and showed her a strange cooking pot and said, ‘Sudha, you can have this also. I don’t even know what it is for!’

‘Panniyarams!’ Sudha exclaimed, ‘I know how to make them!’

Soon Roger (Lakshmi’s American boyfriend), Murugesh, Chittappa, Chitti, and Natarajan became absolutely addicted to the South Indian fare Sudha could rustle up. And she did not just make dosas and saambaars, she made muligatawny soup and rasams of different kinds and pachadi and eleven different types of rice. She could take the Mexican tomatillos (from the neighborhood shop) and turn them into Chettinad curries and she could even make super fritters with banana flowers and green bananas. From Natarajan’s office Srinivas and two other North Indian colleagues also would drop in to eat food. Sudha had never felt so wanted and celebrated.

She did not even think that she was going to miss the pomp and the show of the opening ceremony because Natarajan’s boss and his wife suddenly announced that they would come for dinner after the opening. Naturally Sudha stayed back. They had a large screen TV which would telecast the whole show anyway. Why go in the crowds? Plus so many people wanted to attend the ceremony, they could easily sell the ticket. A chinna doubt crept in. Why Natarajan could not tell his boss that his wife was also at the Olympic ceremony? Why did they have to come tonight only? Sudha did not allow the thought to take over her head. Unknowingly, she added extra green chillis to the fresh coconut in the Sumeet mixer as she made chutney. The wonderful smell of vatta- kozhambu threatened to compete with paal payasam and she switched on the TV to the local channel and she watched people troop in happily for the ceremonies. She was washing the mixer when the Indian contingent marched by because when she wiped her hands on the edges of her saree, Yugoslavia was marching…

Why her luck was like this! As she took the payasam off the gas, some of it spilled and scalded her hand. Sudha wanted to howl in pain, but she decided to have a good cry instead. Just then, the phone rang. It was amma asking her if she had been observing raahu kalam properly. She said yes. Then she asked, ‘How did you call? I was supposed to be at the opening ceremony with everyone else, isn’t it?You took a chance, is it?’

What amma said made her want to throw the phone across the house.

‘No ma! Last week itself Natarajan had called to ask what day was auspicious to call his boss and wife to dinner, and appa had looked into the panchanga and had told him.’

Sudha put the phone down. So, it was not sudden. Why American boss would want to eat payasam?

She did not know when she gathered her purse and keys and walked to Pablo’s Mexican store and pub, and asked him and Maria to give her that tequila they kept offering her. As she drank the fiery liquid and sucked on lemon and salt at the pub, the summer Olympics were inaugurated in style. Something called Chariots of Fire had just started playing!

 

U for Ushi Gaadi

April 25, 2017

‘Nobody loves fat Usha. Nobody!

Nobody cares for Usha. Nobody!

Even Usha’s Mummy-Papa dodn’t love her!

They named her after a sewing machine.’

The mean song her cousins made up for Usha stayed with her for ever and ever. So when she was old enough to say, ‘No! I’m not going,’ she made full use of it and stayed away from family gatherings during summer holidays. She chose to go off for NCC camps that took her far away from family. Then she chose to study abroad and then made sure there was at least a thousand miles between her and her annoying family.

That was twenty years ago. Usha was still single (if you had a claustrophobia-inducing family, would you want to start one of your own?) and really happy. But now, she was dreading the reunion she had inadvertently agreed to. If it weren’t her niece (sister’s daughter… clarifying because Usha had an extended family of niblings that was at least twelve in number!) who was getting married, Usha would not even dream of showing up in Pune.

As the cool cab traveled the Expressway, Usha remembered. She had fallen asleep in grandma’s room. The kids had sneaked up on her sleeping form and had rested their heads on her rather large frame and taken pictures on Bhai’s new Kodak ‘Khataack’ camera (remember those?). It was put into the family album as Ushi Gaadi (Usha as ‘mattress’). Everybody had laughed and laughed. She had run away to the terrace and stayed until she could no longer ignore the hungry rats scrambling in her tum. Everybody had eaten except Sundari the maid. She was waiting for Usha to come down to eat. Sundari was the only one who did not laugh with others. But over aloo parathas and a generous portion of white butter Sundari did tell her to not let things get to her. Children were thoughtless.

Usha knew she was fat, so everyone assumed that she was supposed to have a sense of humor. But she had felt so ashamed, she could not taste a damned thing she was eating. That summer Usha spent most of the time in the kitchen where Sundari taught her how star anise gave that gentle aroma to the rice, how adding nutmeg to Srikhand meant everyone would be asleep afterwards and Sundari would get some much needed rest…

She had a backup hotel room booked in case the family got too much. Her sister had called her by the nickname when she had called to inform her about the wedding. Her mum had wondered if Inamdars had a readymade blouse in her size because she was so… Dad had started calling her squishy-ushi since she was five and had not stopped…

The arrival of the cool cab at a getting-ready-for-a-wedding home should have been unnoticed. But the cousins who were now old enough to know better were drinking spiked Panha on the verandah.

‘Maushi!’ One cousin called out to her mom, ‘Ushi gadi aali!’

Usha sighed and shook her head. That insulting nickname! She took a deep breath, and opened the cab door and stepped out.

It was only her niece, the only one who facetimed with her and video called her knew. She shrieked, ‘Maaaaaaassssssssssssssiiiiiiii!’ and ran to her and hugged her.

The rest stood and stared. Usha was no longer ‘Gaadi’, the mattress. She was now half of what they thought she would be. She stood tall and straight. They stood slack-jawed and their collective eyebrows had disappeared in their hairlines.

Usha raised her phone and clicked the surprise. Her revenge was done.

 

 

T for Ting-Tong

April 24, 2017

Aditya and Seema were celebrating their anniversary. This year they had escaped their five thousand friends and had decided to splurge on a retreat in Cebu.

Both had trampled their way through the tourist traps and smiled at the forever happy Philippine people, gorged on the mind blowing fatty lechon packed croissants for breakfast from La Vie Parisienne on the way to the Taoist temple…

Back at the rooms, they had showered, separately. They had tried the soaping each other into lust, and Mary Grace, their wonderful maid back in Hong Kong shook her head and muttered lots of prayers when she realised that she would need to dry the bed along with the sheets as well and had admonished Seema for behaving as if Jesus had left them and their home had turned into Sodom and Gomorrah.

Seema had stuttered and stammered and giggled. They had not showered again after that… But it was on Mary Grace’s recommendation that they had chosen the Philippines as their delayed honeymoon/anniversary break.

Now the two stared at each other and both knew they would not get any sleep that night. But the trampling and the sight-seeing and all the alcohol they had consumed, was beginning to take effect…

Of course they crashed.

And as she was wont to do, Seema woke up early. Nopes. Wasn’t early at all! It was almost nine o clock. Hadn’t they asked their driver/guide Peter to come at 10 am? Then she looked at her husband. Aditya looked so beautiful sleeping. Like some Roman god. She slowly slid inside the covers again and began exploring his body. The fact that they could shower in five minutes and step out was there at the back of her mind.

Aditya responded to her touch and Seema whispered, ‘We have about forty minutes…’

Soon neither cared how much time they had. Seema was dazed by this orgasm and was vocally egging Aditya to catch up when –

The doorbell rang, ‘Ting Tong!’

And Aditya answered, ‘Coming!’

Seema spent the whole day giggling about timing.

 

S for Sangria

April 22, 2017

Sanchari had just had her first fight with her newlywed husband of five days. He had hated Florence ever since he stepped on to the cobbled street outside their pensione and posed for a selfie, waiting for her outside the main door. She breezed out and her jeans and tee surprised him so much he slipped and fell.

‘I’m not about to wear a saree and wander about Italy with a backpack.’

Anando was sputtering, ‘But, but what will you wear when we go to kaku’s house in Milan?’

‘I’m sure your uncle will survive seeing me in jeans. Why? Have you packed a panjabi and dhuti?’

‘Of course! It’s our traditional costume.’

It was downhill from there. Her life in Delhi, her college, her Hindi-movie loving mom, her brother listened to EDM instead of appreciating Robindro Shongeet, how her poor dad had to put up with this weird cosmopolitan family…

Sanchari used to have a temper. Now her dream vacation in Florence was threatening to come apart at the seams. In fact, she was seeing a very different Anand than she had seen via skype before getting married.

What she could not get over was that Anando had come across such a cool person. He had spoken of Sanchari continuing to work after marriage, living in a separate apartment close to work instead of his parents’ traditional home in Alipore, even waiting to have children until they had trekked through Europe and South America… And within two days of their honeymoon, where he had been too tired to ‘do’ anything, he was bursting with some sort of anger directed entirely at her.

At first, Sanchari had thought it was his ‘non-performance’ which was bugging him, so she had worn the sexy lingerie her friends had bought for her.

‘What the fuck is this? You think you are some sort of prostitute?’

Sanchari had torn it off the baby doll lingerie and chucked it in the dustbin. She got dressed, picked up her purse and after telling Anando – who was staring out of the window – that she would be waiting for him at the restaurant downstairs for dessert, she had stepped out of the room.

It is at the restaurant below the guest house that the waiter/owner had introduced her to a drink with apple and pear pieces bobbing in the red house wine.

‘There is more to Sangria than just wine,’ he had persuaded, ‘It can fix anything.’

It tasted oddly refreshing that glass of Sangria. The fruits she ate with an Amitabh Bachchan spoon he had offered, and the wine itself… There was something more in it! She would google the recipe later. She needed to get dark thoughts about her marriage out of her head.

After pouring her a third from the large jug, the owner gathered away the second place setting, ‘Waiting is not good for anyone! So much of our life is wasted when we wait and and we wait and we wait.’

Day five. She had wandered Florence all on her own. Anando was pretending to be ill, lying in the room all day and all night, eating rice with kadi patta chutney his mother’s best friend had packed for him. Ugh!

Luigi, the sangria pouring owner of the restaurant had packed a flask of sangria for her, and given her the number of his cousin Alessandro who was in charge of security at the Uffizi museum. It was slow season for tourists (Anando found the pensione at dirt cheap prices). If she shared her sangria, he would make her trip to Florence memorable.

With trepidation she had held out the flask to Alessandro, who was nothing like the lothario she had imagined. He must have been in his 60s, but looked like he had lived at the museum since the Medicis.

‘No heels?’ he had observed, ‘Very good.’

She had followed Alessandro like a lamb. When opened the door to the hall, her jaw dropped.

The hall of San Pier Scheraggio was opened only for special occasions. She wandered as if she were on a cloud, fuelled by the Sangria in that flask, and walked staring at the frescoes on the wall. Andrea del Castagno’s detached frescoes… she stopped and stared at Botticelli’s work there too… She could not recall what it was called, but her head was reeling from the quiet serene expression on Madonna’s face, and she knew that she was going to go back home in a week single.

Alessandro was looking at her with an odd gentle expression, ‘No you won’t.’

Did she just say her thought out aloud?

‘No,’ He said. ‘I know what is going on in your head. Luigi told me. Come.’

She followed him through the gardens and into a quaint little house which could have been part of some renaissance painting. He said, ‘Wait, please.’ She waited, sitting on a daybed covered with red velvet.

She finished the Sangria, and slowly gave in… The velvet swallowed her up, and Johnny Depp carried her into The Black Pearl.

When she came to, Luigi was gently placing a cup of Illycafe (or coffee?) on the table where she had laid her head down.

‘Johnny Depp?’ he was asking, smile on her face. Then he pointed to the mirror on the wall, ‘Or some futbol star?’.

She looked like she had imagined she would look, on her honeymoon, where she would miss the entire Florence experience because she would be…

‘No signorina. Don’t be alarmed. Alessandro is harmless as human. His wife is, however, a very powerful witch. You met her, yes?’

Sanchari did not want to think. She felt different. She wanted to go back to the daybed, pretend she was Titian’s Venus of Urbino…

‘May I have another Sangria, please?’

 

 

R for Rumba Ho, Ho, Ho!

April 21, 2017

‘You’re not going to the party and that’s final,’ Aai said.

‘But Aaaaaaai!’ wailed Ketaki.

‘No, nothing doing. No means no!’ Aai had that adamant look on her face, and she had made up her mind. School Socials were for girls with bad morals pretending to be good in front of the nuns.

‘It’s not like that!’ Ketaki had tried to explain but failed.

‘I sent you to an all girls school for what? Because your dad is on the ship naa? Then why you want to social with boys from some random school?’

‘St. Xaviers is not random, mom!’

‘Saint this or saint that, your nuns are desperate to meet the priests from boys’ schools naa, that’s why these inter school parties.’

Ketaki winced at ‘Inter school parties’, but Aai was not about to budge. There has to be some other way to get permission. She would be called a bore in school if she did not go. Already she was known as the wus who wore the school uniform in regulation length. All the girls had shortened their skirts…

She could only snarl her disgust and as protest she marched past her mum, offering her a nazi salute before slamming herself shut in her room.

The next day at school was horrible. Everyone was discussing the social because this year the nuns had relaxed the rule and everyone could wear what they wanted. It was to be like the American movies…

She came back home from school after stuffing herself with samosas at Vidya’s home and pushed the plate of poha Aai had made as protest. Aai looked so hurt, Ketaki was tempted to give in. She loved her mother but…

Aai was no less. She dumped the entire plate of poha in the dustbin. And went off to her bhajan class.

It was Kamli who found a solution to this standoff. When Aai came back home, she found Kamli dancing with the dustpan and jhaadoo. Ketaki and Vidya were recording this dance on their phones.

‘Bas kara haan, Sunnee Leonee!’

Kamli knew Aai was without a man for six six months, but her dancing to music did not turn her into Sunny Leone.

‘O bai!’ she said as she took her earphones off, ‘Kaikoo your mood has been so bad?’

Aai realised that she was not upset with Kamli, but with her daughter. Who was being such an ass about this ‘boy-girl party’.

‘Sorry Kamli! For two days Ketaki has ruined my life. Tell her na party dancing with boys is not safe.I am sure Vidya’s mom is also not letting her go.’’

Vidya immediately said, ‘Aunty! Mom signed the paper ages ago! Only Ketaki is left who hasn’t got permission. Even the Asthma madam… I mean Aastha who has Asthma is coming!’

Kamli was looking at Aai now, ‘Kaikoo, you not sending Ketaki?’

Aai was too proud to answer to her maid. She huffed off into the kitchen. Kamli asked Ketaki, ‘Yeh music system se connect kar sakate kya?’

Ketaki took Kamli’s phone and connected it to the speakers through the amp.

Usha Uthup’s happy voice rang out in the room: Rumba Ho!

Kamli looked at Vidya and Ketaki, and as if the song was egging them to cheer up, the three began dancing like mad women, possessed by the spirits evoked by the old song.

Aai could hear the song in the kitchen, and their laughter. She stared at the tea boiling in anger. But the stupid song was getting into her head and making her foot tap along.

‘Jitne tum pyaar se jiyoge utni hee zindagi!’ Usha Uthup was bringing out her long forgotten self buried under responsibilities. Aai began to dance in the kitchen to the crazy beat of the song, ‘Ho, ho, ho!’

Kamli saw this kitchen scene. She pulled Aai to the drawing room where Vidya and Ketaki were now exaggeratedly beating their chests in slow motion, imitating miserable beggars on the road to some Arijit Singh love song, and laughing.

‘Madam,’ kamli whispered to Aai, ‘Yeh ladka-ladki wala difference is only in your head. These kids are still kids. And you need to trust Ketaki more…’

P.S. The DJ at the social did not understand why two girls requested for such an old classic disco song by Usha Uthup-ji…

Q for Quail

April 20, 2017

Five intrepid Sunday warriors were to set out with guns and dogs and horses and helpers to hunt for quail. Rajan had figured out quail recipes over the net and Gordon Ramsey made it look so easy and awesome. Everything had become so easy ever since they got on to universal hunters dot com. They would meet master hunter who would lead newbie hunters like them into the wilderness and they would eat what they’d hunt.

Of course, Jiten and Kunal had made doubly sure they had enough theplas and khakras for the trip along with Costco size bags of trail mixes.

The five had gone out to REI and Sharper Image purchased all the hipster thangs needed for camping. Even their suitcases were new. The airline refused to let them fly with butane cylinders and Abhishek had to come running out to hand over the banned items to Sarita who was asked to wait at the curb (the cops had asked her to move several times but she had a ‘damsel in distress quality about her and the transit cop had given up trying to communicate with an Indian lady who burst into tears when asked to ‘move on’.

The moment Abhishek emptied the butane into the plastic container in Sarita’s Tercel, and ran back with the empty containers, the cop was amazed at the transformation when ‘the sad Indian lady’ blew him kisses and zoomed off as fast as her lame red Tercel carried her.

The men had checked in way before their flight was to take off. Atul was finishing off some work on his tablet and Rajan was talking to his Amma and Appa in Hyderabad explaining how there were no tigers in the jungles in the US, and everything was going to be safe, and yes, he wouldn’t venture out into the water when it was Rahu kalam (he had that app on his phone) because he knew the family namboodari had warned them about his jala dosam… Abhishek dumped the empty butane canisters in his hand luggage (they would find a filling station at the camp) and then accepted the Starbucks coffee Kunal bought for everyone. This time Jiten was handling the accounts, so he wouldn’t have to worry about anything.

They boarded the flight and strapped their seat belts in, hi-fiving each other for having upgraded to business class and not told their wives. They also knew that some babes from Florida were expected to be in their camping group. It was going to be a good break from their Butter Chicken and Khakra wives.

Kunal called Deepa. The wives and kids were going to be staying over at his mansion. He had better check on them. The kids were going to order Lil Caesar’s pizza (buy one get one free today!) and the women would be bringing potluck… Same ole, same ole…

‘Hello, Deepa?’

‘Hello!’

‘What’s the noise at the back?’

‘We’re watching a movie. Dance wali.’

‘Accha accha, stop giggling! Why are you giggling?’

Sounded like the phone was snatched from her hand and a man’s gruff voice said on the phone, ‘We’re Chippendales!’

The phone was disconnected. Kunal was puzzled. The flight was taking off and they had to shut their phones in any case.

When the flight took off, Kunal asked Abhishek sitting across the aisle, ‘Yaar Abhi, there was loud music playing at home, and Deepa was giggling. What is this Chippendales? Some guy interrupted our conversation…’

‘Chippendales? The male strippers?’

‘Male strippers?!’

‘Yaar Rajan, try the air phone naa?’

Rajan was equally puzzled. But was sure his god-fearing wife Subbu had nothing to do with strippers. Kunal must have misheard.

Neil was available on phone.

‘What is your Amma doing, Neil, kanna?’ Rajan asked his twelve year old.

‘I’ll go peek downstairs and check.’

It felt like an interminable amount of time when Neil left the phone to go check on his mom, ‘Amma is the coolest, Appa! I peeked downstairs and she’s dancing with one of those dancing dude. Appa! They’re dancing in their undies! So funny naa! Amma and all are laughing so much!’

It was twenty five dollar charge. Rajan wished there were a chain on the flight – chain to pull – like in Indian trains. Pull the chain and stop the train… They had a three hour flight halfway across the continent.

Abhishek immediately checked tickets online. There were none available. No car rentals either. The quail hunting lodge would not return the money or cancel the booking. Meanwhile their wives were dancing with Chippendales.

The five quail hunters felt truly hunted and skewered.