BENGALURU: The other day while opening a new packet of chia seeds, my cook, who has been rather disapproving of my new diet said her husband also has chia seeds. “He has become obese and needs to cut down his weight. I’ve stopped his rice intake at night and only give him rotis or raagi mudde,” she spoke without punctuation.
“Santosh got these seeds a month ago. He told me that these were to make him slim. He soaks them in water overnight and has it after adding lime juice and some sugar the next morning before taking his auto out. I tell him to exercise instead of having these seeds but he has no time,” she added. Sulochna was delighted to have discovered the name of her husband’s dietary accomplice.
My cook has the ability to light a spark in me – a happy and an angry one. On days when she messes up making my morning cup of tea or if there’s extra salt or oil in my upma I know that she has fought at home and come. Food becomes the casualty of her pent-up anger.
Sometimes this arouses the demon in me but on most other days I feel the awakening of Buddha inside me because the frequency at which I go through food disasters courtesy of my cook there has to be a deeper meaning behind the practice she has put me through. I ask myself why must I endure her but find no answers to this rather existential question. Coming back to chia seeds I was happy to know that these dietary seeds are not unknown to the other rung of socio-economic order. For the rest of the morning, I found myself speaking about classless society to a zapped Sulochna, who was trying to cover up the smell of burnt rice by switching on the chimney.
Something similar happened to me when I was invited to a Jazz concert in November last year. It was a late evening event and I had requested my auto driver to pick me up from the venue. Amjad was used to doing my home-to-work-to-home trips and any deviation from the plan would unnerve him because he had to be back home at a particular time to ensure that he gets his dinner else his wife would throw him out. “My wife winds up the kitchen and goes to sleep because she is diabetic and cannot eat late,” he had told me.
I was thoroughly enjoying my evening listening to jazz when the alarm buzzed and I left midway. Outside I found Amjad engrossed and staring at his phone in the dark. The swirls of his beedi smoke had enveloped his rickety frame and had spread outside in the cold Bengaluru air. In fact, the smoke had let out the direction of the auto parked in the dark. I had reprimanded him enough and more times on his smoking habits but Amjad lived on chai and beedi.
As I came close to the auto, I saw a small, matchbox-sized screen on his dumbphone on which Amjad sat glued watching Rekha and Amitabh Bachchan jive to ‘Salame ishq meri jaan zara qubool kar lo..’ He sprang up, butted his beedi and threw hands in the air to disperse the strong crowding smoke.
As he drove me back home I was regaled at the thought that life can be lived and entertained inside a Jazz concert as much as it can inside a dusty, old, decrepit auto rickshaw by an equally decrepit man on a matchbox-sized screen inside a dumbphone. Amjad suddenly stopped coming. A month later his niece messaged me that driver Amjad is no more. The last indulgence that he had bought with his meagre earnings was the dumbphone and some loose beedis.