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Writing 101 : Serially Found (Part II)

It was quiet, so quiet that Thuli could hear crickets singing in the forests above her hut. She went to check on her baby brother who lay fast asleep in the hammock. She touched his little fingers and then the toes. How she wished he would wake up. But he slept blissfully. Humming a tune she began combing her long locks that were entangled. Finally she tied it into a high ponytail. The little hammock lay still. She went into the hut to bring out a book to read till her brother woke up.

Thuli heard some movement outside and rushed out the door to find the cradle empty. She frantically looked around and then to the little footpath leading to the house to find nothing. She looked at the path leading to the forest to see some movement in the trees above.

‘Mother, father’, she cried looking towards the corn field below. No one heard her cry for help.

She decided to take the foot trail closely covered with red rhododendron trees. Being young, she ran swiftly into the woods. Before long she was high up on the hilly forest but there was no trace of her baby brother.  As she continued to run she wondered who could have taken the baby. No man in his right senses could take away the baby, she thought. Now she was truly scared being in the middle of the jungle and with her baby brother no where in sight. She was scared and decided to return home.

As she turned to retrace her steps, she heard a baby crying loudly. She turned and ran towards the sound. In a small clearing further north she saw a small bundle on the path. Running towards it with all her might, she found what looked like a baby and yes, it was her little brother. Something or someone had left him.

She collected the little bundle into her arms and quickly headed home.

Writing 101 : To whom it may concern

Dear Loss,

I know you’ve been with me through thick and thin. But somehow I dread your presence in my life.  You’ve witnessed the loss of my childhood to become a young woman only to be married to lose the comfort of my parents’ home.

OK stop smiling – I did enjoy having a normal life, but over the years I’ve experienced extreme losses – the gradual loss of my hair.  What I fail to understand is why did you have to take away the natural color too?  Also, I will never get over the loss of my youthful body when I could fit into anything nice and pretty.

Grow up Loss! Don’t you know that you’ve lost yourself in the process?  Why, we don’t even see you in person.  It must be hard going unnoticed only to be seen through someone else’s loss.  I can vouch you can’t grow old and die like us normal folks.  You must be everywhere and nowhere – how absurd is that?

Sincerely,

Writing 101 : Festival and Food

Sumptuous, delicious and extravagant food shows up at home during festivals – just like magic. My mother had memorized the secret recipes, passed down by word of mouth through four generations. These women prepared nourishment for their families whose very lives depended on their art to protect them from hunger. They controlled the fires at the right temperatures while sharpening and wielding their knives as if preparing for a showdown.

A week before the big festival took place, I followed my father to purchase a he-goat. The bazaar was filled with goats brought all the way from the mountains. There were spotted, black, brown, white, with moustaches and most had a pair of handsome horns. We returned home with a nice little black goat in tow.

Mother scrutinized the goat and nodded with approval. It was just right – not too young and not too old. A day before the festival the men prepared the meat for her.

The heated wood stove was fed with firewood. The spices already roasted and ground. Red hot chillies, turmeric, cinnamons, garlic, ginger, cardamoms, coriander and cumin seeds lay in a bowl by the stove. A huge iron cooking pot was placed on the heated stove on which generous amount of golden mustard oil was poured. The oil began heating up giving out a strong mustardy scent all around the kitchen and beyond. It was now time for the onions to go in which created little bubbles before turning light brown.

‘It has to be brown not black, you must remember this’, mother said.

This was one important recipe that needed to be passed down to my next generation and so on. The brown onions now mingled with the rest of the spices emanating more fragrance into the air. The big chunks of meat were slowly dropped into the pan. I could smell the coat of the little black goat and shrugged. She stirred the meat and spices with a big ladle, almost the side of a spade and stood guard to check on the firewood.

The meat was ready within two hours of slow cooking after which it was stored overnight for the ingredients to seep into the meat. I slept with the strong fragrance of the spices floating around the house and dreamt of the goat.

The next day we wore new clothes and visited the elders for their blessings. Members of the extended families were invited over to lunch. Brass metal plates were filled with white rice, the goat meat, vegetables and pickles served. The meat melted in my mouth. It was simply marvelous. We ate till we could not move.

But now, things are different. Most of my elders are no more and the younger ones have moved on to other places leaving only a few of us to celebrate festivals. The goat has long been replaced with purchases from the neighborhood meat shop. Though the tradition of cooking must still go on, it will never be quite the same for me again.

Writing 101 – Characterization

Monu was almost a nurse.  She was tucking my father into bed when I saw her for the first time. She wore a faded cotton saree that covered her rounded figure.  My sister had hired her to nurse my ailing father.  Well into her late thirties, she moved about her patient with ease and confidence.  Then she turned around to look at me with her huge dark eyes with black hair pulled into a tight bun.

‘You must be the elder daughter’. I nodded in silence.

‘Do you think my father will be able to walk again?’ I asked with hope.

‘Of course, he should be. I’ve nursed back men who were much older’. She made my father sound much younger than his eighty seven years. I was relieved.

She sat down on the carpeted floor to begin telling me her story. Though I wasn’t ready to listen she pulled me into her life. My father was asleep anyway and so I had no other choice than to spend the afternoon listening to a real life story, sipping tea.

She was married off at fourteen resulting in the birth to two girls. Her husband died of a heart attack leaving her with two young children along with herself to fend for. I looked at her, she was quite a small woman not taller than four feet seven.

‘After my husband died, I continued living with the rest of the members of the joint family.   Being harassed and verbally abused, I saw no reason to live there anymore. So I went with my little belongings and my two girls to live with my younger brother. He was single and took me in happily. Then someone said to him that he shouldn’t take the burden of looking after the three of them as he would be responsible for the marriage of the girls when they came of age’.

On hearing this, she went off with her little entourage to live with her sister in the city.

‘Please sister, I need to learn something. I’ll do anything to be independent, to be able to feed my girls’.

She knew what hunger and poverty meant in this patriarchal society where men were revered. The constant reminder in the form of gossips that she had to undergo without a husband was like rubbing salt to the wound. She knew they blamed her for the condition that she was in now.  She also knew of her neighbor who was asked by his family to remarry when his wife died. The man needed someone to look after his home and hearth, they said.

Her sister took her to a nursing home where she was taught to assist midwives. Her sheer hard work made her independent, the girls educated, got them married off to boys from good families and even saved enough to build a little home of her own.

‘Now I am happy and pleased with my life’, she said with a big smile.

Her eyes twinkled like the rays of the sun. She had emerged victorious. Her hunger for survival for herself and the kids had paid off.

‘I need to have rice thrice a day with veggies and green chillies – that’s a must’, she confessed seriously.

‘But, don’t you think eating so much rice will make you fat?’

‘I don’t have time to make anything else. I will need to eat well in order to be able to work hard.’

I understood her explanation for wanting of carbs in her diet – the energy she needed.

‘Now it’s time for lunch and I’ve brought my own tiffin too’.

I followed her into the kitchen and opened the fridge to drink some cold water. Monu sat in the corner of the kitchen floor as she opened her lunch box. There was certainly a huge basket of white rice, egg plants and potatoes. She took out two green chillies and began eating her food with her right hand.

‘Why don’t you sit on a chair?’ I asked.

‘Don’t you worry about me’. There was comfort in the heavy meals.  It must be providing her with energy to fight off the loneliness. We returned to my father after the meal. She began talking to him and cleaning him up. He was in good hands.

Blogging 101 : Be brief

It was about to rain as I waited for the bus.  A woman came and sat next to me on the bench.  She was about fifty and looked like a middle class housewife.  She looked harried and lost as she rummaged through her old black bag.  It looked like a letter that she folded and placed it into her coat pocket.  An old rickety bus stopped and she hopped into it.

The bus moved away.  I saw a piece of folded paper next to me.  The woman must have left it behind.  I reached out for the letter which was crumbled and looked tear stained.  It read :

My dear Leena,

I think it’s about time we end this little episode of ours.  I need to get back to my life and you to yours. It is better this way.  Too many people could be hurt.  What will society say? I will miss you sorely but keep you in my heart.  

Goodbye.

My heart went out to her.  She must be heading back to her loveless life and the rigmarole of being a housewife.  There must be so many souls out there looking for love and happiness – at any given point of age and time.

Blogging 101 : Serially Lost (Part I)

Four generations ago, Thuli’s ancestors had cleared the forests to build a settlement in the forest hills close to the mountains.  It was high up and far away from civilization but they were surrounded by nature all around.   Natural springs and forests surrounded her little village which was sparsely populated. Their most immediate neighbor lived about ten minutes walk down the hill.  In fact their’s was the last house on the hill.  Above them were  forests from where a deer or two would drop by accidentally. The place was quiet and beautiful. Her parents tilled the land for their living growing maize, potatoes and mustard among other hardy crops.

Thuli was only fourteen but was strong in built, perhaps a little too strong for her age.   Being the only child in a farmer’s family, she helped around the farm after school.  They reared some cows for milk and dung to be used as manure.  She knew that their very lives depended on the farm which was a back breaking job.

She walked with a boyish gait and could engage someone straight in the eyes while talking – something village lasses weren’t supposed to do.  She climbed up high trees to collect leaves for the goats, carried cow dung in a bamboo basket harnessed to her head and raced uphill with the boys.

That winter, her mother gave birth to a baby boy in their cozy little thatched hut. The night was cold. She woke up to find her mother in the bed with the new born.

‘Thuli, look you have a baby brother now’, said her mother. Thuli jumped with joy. Now she could have someone to play around with. When the sun came up, her mother took the baby outside the verandah to give him an oil massage.

‘Thuli get me some mustard oil. It’s time for Babu to have a massage in the sunshine.’

‘Yes, mother’. The baby gurgled with pleasure as she placed generous amount of warm oil on his little body. She massaged his head first then the rest of the body.

‘Do babies need massages every day?’ asked Thuli.

‘Of course, silly. We need to get his bones strong enough to withstand cold.  Life is difficult for a farmer so we need to get him prepared, don’t we?’.

‘OK. now time for some milk’. She wrapped the baby up in a warm blanket and nestled him beneath her bosom to breast feed him. Soon the baby was fast asleep. She got up slowly to place the baby on the little hammock hanging from the ceiling on the verandah.

‘Thuli, you look after your brother. Your father and I will go and harvest corn in the lower field. We should be back by three’.

It was a Saturday and her school remained closed. She went in the hut to clean the utensils and have the little baby all to herself.  She was excited.