Bewildered, I stare at the cashier of the local bakery of our village who for some reason, instead of taking the €10 note from me and billing my items, keeps on pointing towards me and saying “seek…seek?”
I look left and right and back at him, trying to find some help with the weird situation that seems to be going on. I have seeked all the goods that I wanted from this shop. What else is this grinning lanky teenager telling me to seek? my dreams? my hopes? the ancestral ‘Navlakha Haar’?
Is he a psychic telling me that I am not seeking enough from my life or am I hearing him wrong and he is saying something entirely different? Teak? Reek?(God, I hope not) Beak? Is he saying my lips look like a beak?? The cheek of him! Have I been pouting too much for all those selfies?
As this goes on for around a minute or two, my eyes suddenly fall on the object of his interest. He is pointing towards the steel bangle I am wearing on my right hand; the hand with which I am holding out the money. Aaaaaah…I get it now!
“Oh, you mean Sikh?” I smile, relieved that finally I could make sense of it “Very good! Well, technically I am not a Sikh (follower of Sikhism- a monotheistic founded in Punjab, India, in the 15th century by Guru Nanak Dev) but my husband sure is half-sikh from his mum’s side. This bangle or ‘kadha’ as we call it, was a gift from a friend. I have been wearing it since many years now.”
We go on chatting as he (finally) bills my items and proudly informs me that he has visited India and specifically The Golden Temple, twice.
“You get the best ‘Chaaai’ there. You know chai?” He excitedly asks me as he hands over the heavy carry bag to me.
Assuring him that I did have a vague idea what chai was (indian tea) and wishing him a good day, I step out from the cozy little shop and make my way home.
It is a dreary grey monday evening and hubbyji is working from home for a change. I had stepped out for a stroll before dinnertime and as I am about to reach home, I get a call from my mum-in-law who is currently in India. She is calling to ask how ‘gajar ka halwa’ (a carrot-based indian dessert) for which I had taken her signature recipe last week, turned out. I catch up with her on the usual chit-chat and also enquire how the celebrations of the festival of holi went back home.
“It was nothing special beta” she says “nowdays people are more interested in celebrating Valentines day and Rose day than Holi and Diwali I think. Back in the day, the whole locality used to gather and play games and have food together after the festivities. What fun it used to be! This holi we got a small packet of gulal and did ‘teeka’ to each other. Our maid’s daughter won’t even let us do that as she said it was bad for her skin. The local newspaper also ran a feature about how we are forgetting our culture”
Laughing and assuring her that hubbyji and I had put teeka to each other using the turmeric powder from my kitchen (what? Its good for the skin after all) I hang up, rummage for my keys in the pocket and enter the apartment.
Hubby dearest is sitting infront of his precious laptop with his hands crossed tightly across the chest, shaking his head and letting out deep sighs which is always a sign of him being indignant.
“Problem?” I ask as I go into the kitchen to put away the carry-bags.
“Not specifically” he replies, trotting over to help me “Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting India for the first time and all media is interested to write about is which designer outfit the Duchess is wearing each day of her trip. Next thing we know, Mr Kejriwal will be sporting a muffler designed by Anita Dongra”
“and you think this is a sorrier fact than seeing all our bollywood stars queueing up like school children to greet the royals at a fancy spread serving Awadhi ajwaini macchli and Dal langarwali?” I ask him.
“No” he says ” the sorrier fact is that you remember the name of all these dishes..you and your obsession with food. As for the celebrities, I would have enjoyed seeing more pictures of guests from other sectors as well but apparently all these bollywood actors too are all ‘Padma bhushans’ and ‘Padma shrees‘ nowdays, so who are we to say anything”
“Leave it. We are just sour because we didn’t get invited” I grin “Anyway, You remember tomorrow we go to Bombay Bazaar for our biweekly shopping?”
“Oh yeah, the sacred tuesday. How can I forget?” he grumbles, walking away “I couldn’t cancel it even if I had a meeting with Mr. Ambani”
“BIRYANI?” I look at him and shriek “I can’t make biryani today. I have made ridgegourd sabzi and rotis. How can you spring these demands on me at the very last minute?
As hubbyji turns towards me and gives me a glare that I know too well by now, I instantly know that I have misheard him……AGAIN.
So lately he has started claiming that there is something wrong with my hearing. In my defence, I got my ears checked just a few months ago and apart from a little waxy obstruction which the doctor sucked right out with a lethal looking instrument, he could find nothing wrong. Hubbyji though still insists that there’s a problem. In turn, I too repeatedly keep on pointing it out to him that we won’t be having this issue if his own volume would be a little higher than that of a baby’s whisper.
“Ok..ok you said something else” I say hastily “So, tomorrow after you get home from office, we go to Bombay Bazaar ok?”
Bombay bazaar is an asian grocery store located not too far away from where we stay in Dublin and it is one of the very few shops where we are able to find the required items of an indian household. From spices to desi vegetables to rice brands and chapatti flour, you get it all there. Tuesday is the day when the fresh stock arrives and all the indians/asians living in the nearby vicinities flock to this shop as if it is the Kumbh Mela where Vishnuji himself is distributing boxes of ghee and paneer instead of the mere drink of immortality . Thus, every alternate Tuesday, we too take a bus to do two weeks worth of shopping at Bombay bazaar. Also, limited groceries and several desperate indian wives- one can imagine how peaceful and quiet the place must be!
When we reach the shop entrance next evening, I look at my man, nod slowly and say- “Let’s do this”
“For heavens sake, stop being this dramatic” he says, rolling his eyes ” you really should stop watching excess ‘Game of thrones’. Its creeping me out”
“Shush” I snap “Winter is coming. Well, not technically.. but whatever. Ok …1,2,3 …GOOOOOO!”
Hubby ji grabs a trolley and as always, almost runs to the far left corner of the shop first, where the meat monger sits. The shop is extremely noisy & crowded and he keeps calling out to me for confirming the quantity of mutton to be bought. As I wait for him to finish, I see an asian gentleman approaching me with a friendly smile from the other side. Two seconds later, I am scolding this person in the earnest.
“HE’S NOT BUYING BEEF!!!!!!!!” I yell “Yeah, a cow is a holy animal in our country and let me tell you that we are not beef eaters. My husband is buying mutton and let me assure you that goats are NOT AT ALL sacred in India and nor are chickens and pigs and fish and eggs and after the beef ban, all the other animals be like ‘Why do gais have all the fun‘ you know.. so anyway, my husband can buy all the goats he want and you can’t stop him and I want to stop eating non-veg at some point in my life to be a “politically correct Indian” but can’t seem to do that because its so damn tasty and ok I lied..I did try a beef steak yesterday and it was yummy yum yum. Bits of it can still be present in our digestive systems… so what are you going to do about it, huh.. SUEEEE MEEEE????”
The man stares at me wide-eyed and after a minute, clears his throat and meekly says-“Actually what I said was- Weather’s nice today, that’s some relief…….”
“Yeah, sure you did” I say, steely-eyed.
“It was just a friendly greeting….Umm..I m going to walk away now….you..you take care dear” he mumbles before scurrying away hurriedly.
I turn to look at my husband who is sure to shower me with accolades for defending him from the mean judgy man but alas! hubbyji is now standing with his back turned, cheerfully counting his change and totally unaware of the scene that just took place.
Sighing, I take my trolley and proceed to the vegetable section entering which is like entering a full-blown war zone on tuesdays. With the expert motions of a ninja warrior, I leap, lunge, swing and duck around the other shoppers to get the desired vegetables. When the shopkeeper emerges from the backroom with armful of coriander and curryleaves bunches, we women all run towards him as if he is Shahrukh Khan handing out personally autographed artifacts.
After snatching 2 bunches of each herb, I ask the shopkeeper where I can find a semolina pack of a certain brand.
“Umm..I may have a box left in the store room somewhere….” he says, scratching his head “my brother is busy at the counter. You have husband with you? I take him with me to the store room.”
“Why husband?” I ask him with an eyebrow raised. I wonder if there’s a secret Shani temple at the back of this shop where women are not wanted/allowed.
“He can help me move some boxes to find your semolina, madam. On Tuesday there’s lot of stuff lying helter-skelter in the store room”
“Aah!” I say, nodding ” That seems like too much trouble for a tiny thing. Leave it! I’ll get it next time”
After collecting all the remaining items on my list (had to fight over the last remaining box of an instant panipuri kit with another person) I hurriedly rush towards the counter where hubbyji is waiting, tapping his foot and sighing……
On our way back home, we strike up a conversation with a local lady on the bus, who is a professor in the Castleknock college. As usual, we arrive on the topic of India and one statement that she says would go on haunting me through rest of the evening-
“The thing that I love about India is the multiculture and the diversity…so many religions, so many languages…yet the secularism as well as the democracy..that’s the best combination you can dream of having in a country, isn’t it? I think It’s simply incredible”
Later that night, I am reading up on random topics on my phone while I wait for hubbyji to finish his work and turn in for the night. My mind keeps on revolving around the words of the lady on the bus and I wonder if India is really keeping up to its image of being a liberal, secular place that the world seems to think it is.
Our country is suddenly full of groups that are quick to protest hurt sensibilities whenever they encounter the mildest criticism. First they threaten violence. The authorities quickly cave in and issue a ban, taking shelter behind the limitation that can be imposed on the freedom of expression on the ground of a possible threat to the national peace. This cowardly behavior conditions all groups to threaten violence and carry out the threat on occasion, if their fragile sentiments are hurt by adverse opinion.
Take for instance the commotion around the whole ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ slogan. I mean, come on! Why are we suddenly being subjected to these tests to prove our commitment to our country? Hell, are these politicians even qualified to do that? Most of them have criminal records. Anyone can chant any slogan and not feel a thing for the country. I love my country simply on the principle by which we truly love all the precious things in our lives – by a sense of belonging. Get me one indian citizen- hindu, muslim, parsi or christian who doesn’t get misty-eyed when the Indian delegation marches onto the olympic opening ceremony stage, wearing crisp blue blazers along with sarees and turbans, waving an enormous tiranga at the crowds. You will find none. The extraordinary frisson such moments create within all of us is nothing other than the enormous love we hold in our hearts for our motherland. As the tests of patriotism go, we have certainly passed ours.
On the other hand, a nation also generates the feeling of love and respect towards itself through its actions and equal loyalty towards all its citizens. These feelings just cannot be artificially induced.
Right now I am not feeling too “patriotic” towards my ‘mahaan desh‘ due to various reasons. From the top of my head…lemme see…the beef ban? So we really really LOVE our cows all of a sudden. Here’s an interesting fact about that- banning beef consumption will probably not reduce the number of cows being killed. India is one of the largest producers & exporters of cow-hides. The sale of Animal products including leather made from cow hide is still legal. Unless the ban is specifically against cow-slaughter and not just against beef consumption, our ‘gau-matas‘ are as unsafe as they always have always been all these years- roaming the streets and eating out of garbage dumps. This particular move was a sheer political agenda to put a certain religion on a pedestal higher than the others and has initiated communal unrest between hindus and muslims throughout the country. The minority has been attacked with ridiculous untrue notions about the origin of beef consumption in our “formerly uncontaminated culture” and several men have tragically lost their lives before they could make sense of what was even happening. This is plain and simple more about politics rather than about any religious sentiment.
Next would be the PF sword which is hanging on the head of the working class. The forced amendments in Employees Provident fund scheme which state that one can’t withdraw the full amount before retirement (thank the Lord that it has been put on hold currently at least), seems highly unfair on the salaried section of our society. You care so much about creating a pension-aware society? The existing provisions are already apt enough for that. One does mandatorily get a certain portion of their pay deducted, the employer matches the same, the govt. then invests it in the profit making businesses and gives us the interest. This whole model is working fine since many years and doesn’t need any further carvings. Moral of the story- Don’t FORCE overdose of ‘good-saving ethics’ on us and snatch the emergency cushion a common man uses to sleep peacefully at night.
The government is seriously deviating from the path of democracy and instead is taking us all on the dangerous way of veiled tyranny. Too many attacks, too many ignited protests, too many intrutions and too much of interference in each one’s personal way of living. We are slipping back into crude tribalism and that is surely a cause for alarm.
Just then, hubbyji enters the room yawning like a hippopotamus and breaks into my reverie.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” He says, peering at me with a frown.
“Nothing” I scowl.
“You know what?” He says ” I think you have lost a couple of pounds. You have been looking a wee bit thinner to me since some days now. “
“THATS ITTTT!” I shout, clenching my fists and standing on the bed ” FINE!! I ADMIT IT! I HAVE A PROBLEM OK? HAPPY? HAPPYYYYYY?????“
“What on earth happened?” hubbyji asks, taking a step back.
“I am going to call the clinic and take an appointment for that hearing test tomorrow. If I have started hearing you say that I have lost weight, there’s something seriouslyyyy wrong with my ears. I may as well be hallucinating.” I say, with my nose high up in the air.
“But…but…actually that’s exactly what I…..” he stammers.
“Don’t want to hear what you actually said…” I say, holding my hand out like a traffic policeman “.. OR your mocking after that. GOODNIGHT!!”
Leaving hubbyji looking as clueless as Hodor for some reason, I fall on my pillow and curl into a ball at the far end of my side of the bed. If the coming times are going to involve shutting up and just listening, with no right to freedom of speech whatsoever, I sincerely doubt that going deaf is the right way to go…ZZZZZZZ……