lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Famed odors

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks ago, and he said I could write about dreams and dreamscapes. I don’t dream much, I said. But there are things you want, wish that would happen, surely, he said. That is not dreaming, I said. That is thinking about things, wishing.

When you ardently wish for a situation, you’ll contrive to make it happen. That is when dreams turn into aspirations and goals. That is the difference.

I do think of a few impossible things, though. Famed odors is an anagram of food dreams, for instance. I don’t think of masala dosa or hot steaming rasam, though, thank you, Chenthil, Neha.

Heat emanating from the perfectly puffed out circle of batura, awaiting a nail to puncture the tissue thin top layer that makes a globe out of a circle and let out clouds of steam; glistening with oil and darkly, richly, fragrantly inviting chole. I think of that.

A white mound of rice, almost too hot to handle; the ephemeral aroma of fresh and pungent mustard, still plump mango pieces, and oil seeping slowly into the rice; the dollop of sinfully red new avakaya awaiting the first mouthful of the year. I think of that too.

Thin and crisp all over, gold and brown shading into saffron and russet where the heat was too intense; dotted with green titillation of chillies and curry leaves; a vast expanse of aroma and taste explosion waiting to happen; the crackle crinkle pop of breaking off the first piece, the ineffable invitation of a rava dosa. I think of it.

A sea of sambar in a plate, dotted with islands of baby onions; a white raft of idli to navigate towards the gleaming ecru dunes and shores of chutney. I’d settle for that.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Din dhal jaaye

I leaned back in my cane chair and smiled. You smiled back. The cool aftermath of rain left the evening scented and becalmed. Too early for frogs. The balcony had some puddles left still, but our corner was dry, our chairs in the usual places, the table between.

I hadn’t bothered to turn the lights on against the arriving night. We sat savouring the evening. The scent of raat ki raani arose presently, and I smiled again. You smiled back. So many memories hinge on that shrub and its fragrant flowers, do they not?

As dusk deepened into night I went in and fetched a drink. You raised yours in silent toast. We sat together, as always. On the balcony, among the scents of night blooming shrubs planted by some thoughtful gardener long ago, we sat together, as always.

The descending night brought its own haunting sounds. A flute sounded plaintively, poignantly. It was untutored, utterly without sophistication, but the melody tugged at the heart. Some workman from the nearby construction site, surely. We exchanged smiles, my question unasked and your reply unnecessary. What did it matter what raga it was?

A car sped by. I frowned. You must have sensed that frown because we were sitting in the dark. I felt rebuked by your silent reproof. Well, I suppose people did have to get from place to place.

There was no need for conversation. I thought your thoughts, and you could read mine, always. A glance and a smile, a squeeze of fingers or a nudge spoke for us. That distant sound of drums and cacophony, we shrugged at another procession to immerse another idol; that mournful hoot of a goods train before its wheels beat a rhythm on the tracks that lingered a long while after the train passed, we sighed in unison. So many memories attached to the sound of trains.

I went to fetch another drink, negotiating the furniture easily in the dark. I sighed as I sat down. You looked disapproving. I was sighing in contentment, mostly, in gratitude for all the perfect evenings that went before. One more evening... You nodded.

Something brought the fireflies out. I watched in surprise. I always liked fireflies and all that they evoked. Some flitted close enough to try and grab. I didn’t, of course. You wouldn’t have liked that.

It was getting late. A distant dog barked in impotent fury at some slight. I got up regretfully. I folded and put away the chairs, dragged the table to a safe corner so it wouldn’t get rained on. I murmured a good night to you. Another evening gone by.

I went to eat my solitary dinner.


Thursday, June 05, 2008

On the second day of the third month

Directive for missionaries or substitutes? (12)*

When you go to bed at nine because you can’t sit up any longer, you know you are in trouble. There isn’t a single chair I can be comfortable in for long. Not the chairs’ fault, of course, but it feels like the furniture is ganging up against me.

When you wake up all slept out at one in the morning, you are in trouble too. No position is comfortable enough to sleep long in, and the pain always seems worse at night. You are all alone with the pain, and there’s no reasoning with it. You toss and turn, try deep breathing exercises, you sleep sitting up until your back feels less fragile and try to lie down again. You check the time and discover that barely half an hour has passed since you last checked.

The air seemed cool. Thunderstorm perhaps, I thought hopefully. Goodness knows it’s been a few hot and sultry days. But the thunder I heard seemed too far away to matter. The pain was getting worse. I counted backwards and decided that I could take another painkiller.

And then I remembered that today is the day of Gemfos. I dislike this medicine. I am supposed to take it

“at least 30 minutes before the first food or drink of the day other than water.

To facilitate delivery to stomach, GEMFOS should be swallowed while the patient is in an upright position and with a full glass of plain water (200 ml). Patients should not lie down for 30 minutes after taking the medication.”

Drinking a whole glass of water in one go is a pipe dream these days. (Literally a pipe dream, since I will be able to manage such a feat only when they insert that stent.)

Naturally enough, since the instructions say I should sit up, I ached to lie down, no matter I felt all slept out less than five minutes ago. Waiting half an hour before I can make myself a cup of tea is torture. I sat with my knees drawn up to my chin and tried to rock the pain into a distant sensation. Like that thunder, where is that thunderstorm happening, I wondered.

As I waited for the water to boil I counted my woes. Time was, morning tea meant veena practice, learning a new composition, perhaps. Now I don’t know if I can lift the veena off its stand. I need two hands to lift the kettle off the stove; ditto, to pick up the mug of tea on really bad days. I needed to return books, buy refills for my pens … small things, but I had no way of doing them.

There’s a bandh today, I reminded myself. I dislike having to ask favours, anyhow. No matter how sincere the person’s intentions when they declare, ‘just call me if you need anything done’, in reality, my needs and their convenience or schedules clash. Needing an escort to go to my salon or library is absurd, but there it was, the stark reality.

If I wanted to be really miserable, I could consider other things that are beyond me now. Playing the veena, cooking a decent meal or being able to eat it, going for a walk, ha, standing for longer than few minutes at a stretch, puchkas, or arranging my bookshelves at home, reading fat books… the list was getting too long.

One painkiller, swallowed carefully. As I waited for it to go down and stay down before I attempted sipping my tea, I stepped out into the balcony. And broke into a smile.

The sky glowered at me in that characteristic dark grey of monsoon clouds. This was no summer thunderstorm. This was monsoon, and early at that. The Met. Office can claim it was a pre-monsoon shower, but they don’t know everything.

I turned on my computer, and as I started on the day’s crosswords, I heard the decisive crack of thunder. Before the rumbles died away, the rain began with a roar. More lightning and thunder, and it was clear. This here was the monsoon, arriving dramatically and announcing itself.

There is always a silver lining, I smiled to myself.



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