Hari Stories – Part 2

His heart raced and palms sweated in anticipation of the punishment he was going to receive. His father had never gotten so angry with him before. He wasn’t entirely sure why he was angry either. In his head, he frantically searched for a reason. One moment he was proudly showing his parents the little transistor radio he had bought, and the next his dad was shouting at him, and raging into kitchen to get the chooral out. His mother had immediately followed his father, trying to calm him down, and placate him, while Hari stood transfixed.

It was of no use. Twenty agonizing seconds later, his father stormed back into the hall, the chooral in hand. “Put your hand out!” he barked. Hari instantly obeyed. As terrified and confused as he was, it never occurred to Hari to not obey his father. His mother was still trying to reason with his father, but Hari couldn’t really hear it. In that moment, it was just him and his father; the chooral ready to give, his hand ready to receive. There was a low whistle, and then SMACK! It hit his palm. His palm stung as though he had touched one of the smouldering pieces of charcoal in their wood-fired stove. He winced, his hand flinched involuntarily, but remained outstretched. Tears streamed down his face, more from not knowing how he had caused his father this much anger, than from the pain.

“Stop it! That’s enough punishment!” Hari heard his mother saying. “Don’t you see he’s hurting?” His father looked at his mother, then looked back at him. Hari was still looking up at him, still with the silent tears – no sobs, no drama. He looked at Hari’s mother, and after a brief while, threw the chooral behind him, turned, walked over to the settee and sat down, glowering. Hari was still standing there, rooted to the spot. “Go to your room, Hari,” his mother said, gently lowering his hand. He turned to look at her face, searching her eyes for some explanation of what had just happened.

“Go on. It’s alright. Go to your room,” she coaxed him, softly, wiping his tears. She held his shoulders and gently pushed him to help him move from the spot. Hari lowered his eyes, sniffled, and crossed the hall to his room.

The chooral lay against the wall, looking benign. It had never been used before. It was kept on the shelf above the stove in the kitchen as a potential consequence of disobedience or bad behaviour. Just that was enough.

“He’s a good boy, you know he is,” Hari’s mother said to his father.

“That does not mean he can do anything he likes.”

“No. But he doesn’t know what he did.”

“What is there not to know? He spent money. He didn’t think it was necessary for him to ask me if he could. He didn’t even tell me he wanted a transistor. He is big enough, is he not? He doesn’t need me anymore then. He thinks the vishu kaineettam he got is money he earned, for him to spend as he likes. He’s independent now, is he not?”

“You don’t mind so much when he is independent about his studies, ” she retorted, sharply. Then she softened immediately. “Look,” she continued, “he doesn’t understand that. He probably thought that by using his vishu kaineedttam he was trying not to burden you. He’s 11 years old, still a boy. He adores you, looks up to you. He’s doing what he thinks is right by you. You need to let this go. He’s heartbroken that you are so angry with him. You saw that. I know you are upset too. Just let this go.”

His father sighed. “I know his love for music. I would have bought him a transistor. A better one. Why didn’t he just tell me? He never asks for anything. Why couldn’t he just ask me?”

He got up from the settee, walked over to where the chooral lay in the corner. He picked it up and looked at it intently. “My father…he always preferred the chooral over a simple scolding when we were growing up,” he said quietly. He walked into the kitchen. Hari’s mother heard the sharp snap of the cane breaking and the sound of the pieces being tossed into the stove. His father then walked out the back door. “I’ll be back in some time,” he said as he crossed the threshold.

Hari sat at his study stable looking out of the window, absently stroking the welt on his left palm. His books lay open in front of him. The new transistor stood on the right top corner of the table, against the wall. He was still hurt and confused about what had happened a mere hour ago. The transistor didn’t matter anymore.

Outside, the light had faded, and the crickets were coming to life. Somewhere close to his window, a frog croaked, Hari broke out of his reverie. He had homework to finish, lessons to revise. He picked up his pencil and restarted the math problem that he had been working on unaware that his father was watching him from the door of the room. “Hari,” he said, as he walked in, “homework nearly done?”

“Not yet, acha. I have two more problems to do.”

“Hmmm…Are you going to show me your new transistor or not? Tell me how it works,” his father said and sat down on Hari’s bed and smiled slightly.

Hari quickly brought the transistor to his father, explaining this and that feature. His father listened with interest, and nodded.

“So it runs on power?” he asked.

“No acha, batteries.”

“Then I guess you’ll need these before you can listen to music,” his father said fishing out a couple of batteries from his shirt pocket.

“Yes! Oh, thank you, acha!” Hari’s excitement made his father’s smile wider. As Hari was taking the batteries from him, his father got a glimpse of the angry, red streak on the boy’s palm. He took Hari’s hand gently, stroking it, “Does it hurt really bad?” Hari was silent. His father looked at his boy’s face, and after a moment, leaned forward to pick up the little bottle of coconut oil from the window sil. He poured a few drops on Hari’s palm, and spread it with the lightest, most tender touch. A single tear drop fell on the back of his father’s hand.

“It’s alright, acha. Doesn’t hurt all that much.”

“Hmmm.” His father got up from the bed and walked to the door. “Make sure you’re done with your homework before dinner,” he said without turning and walked out of the room.

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Hari Stories – Part 1

He stood at the very edge looking at his toes, wiggling them slightly.  The earth felt damp under his feet. He was standing on the wall of the irrigation channel that his father had built along with the other farmers. Five feet deep, he had heard them say, and three feet across to the other side. Usually there would be at least a foot and a half between the surface of the water and the top of the channel. Not today though. Today the waters had swollen and lapped gently on the top of the wall as it flowed down the channel. And it was flowing quite rapidly too. A paper  boat would be out of sight in less than a minute, he estimated as he stood there following the man-made stream with his eyes.

Although it looked like half past six in the evening, it was only two in the afternoon. There had been warning of a thunderstorm and they had let all the children go home before the rain started. He’d come home, happy that he’d get to eat a warm lunch at home with his parents. As always, he’d changed out of his uniform and into a pair of shorts and a vest, washed his hands, feet and face and gone into the kitchen to eat. His father was already at the table set up on one side of the kitchen, along with his sister. His mother was serving rice in all their plates. He sat down quietly in his seat, and waited for her to serve him the morukootan and vegetable, and sit down to her own plate. Once she started eating, he started his meal. He was the first one to finish. As he was washing up, his father asked him to check on the cowshed and the coop to make sure all the animals were fine. “Come straight back in after that,” his mother warned him. He nodded dutifully and went out the back to first check the coop.

The cows were his friends. And now there was a little calf too. He talked to them, and patted their backs. Just as he was refilling the hay for them, the calf licked the back of his neck. A big wet sloppy kiss. He laughed loudly and playfully smacked the calf on his head. As he stepped out of the shed to head back to the house, he glanced to the fields. They were at a lower level, and from where he was stood near the shed, the paddy looked like the waves of a rocky sea. The channel snaked through the fields, dark and glistening, even as the clouds gathered overhead. “Just a few minutes,” he thought to himself.

And that’s how he ended up here – standing at the very edge of the channel, following the path of an imaginary paper boat. “Hari!!” His mother’s voice broke through the wind and his thoughts. “Hari!” She sounded worried, he thought. “Amma!” he called back. “Come back…..” The wind took away the rest of her words. “Coming, amma! Just one minute!” He looked up at the sky. It had become really overcast now. It didn’t worry him though. It was the monsoons, and he didn’t understand all this fuss about the rains.

He looked beyond the channel, beyond, as far as his eyes could see – where the paddy fields ended and the coconut groves began. The leaves were swaying wildly the in wind. It looked like some of the trees were bending all the way towards the ground. The clouds were in conversation, in their deep rumbling voices. CLAP! He saw a streak of silver strike the ground beyond the trees. The rain was starting towards him now. In that instant, he decided he would stay ahead of it and reach the house before it. He turned around – it was a good 200 meters to the slope that led to the cowshed. But the rain was still in the coconut grove, he had enough time.

He ran. As fast as he could. He knew the bunds well, knew the slippery parts, the portions where the mud was squishy wet, and jumped over them. When he reached the slope, he glanced back towards the rain. It was approaching quicker than he thought. He scrambled up the slope, using his hands to pull himself up faster. Once on top, he started running again, and didn’t stop till he reached the steps at the back door. His mother looked up from washing the dishes from lunch, and took in the panting, the grazed bleeding knee, the cuts on his hands, the soaking wet clothes, and the triumphant look on his face. “What kept you?” she asked.

“I ran ahead of the rain!” he said, grinning. CLAP! This time it sounded closer home, and the sharp drizzle turned into pouring rain. Mother and son looked out, and up at the sky.

“Go, wash up, and put on some dry clothes,” she told him, turning back to the dishes.

“Yes, amma,” he said, and walked towards the bathroom.

 

Boori-Masaal

If you are Indian, you’ll probably wonder why this, of all things, deserves a blog post. Well, I’m feeling nostalgic. And when you are feeling nostalgic, there’re very few dishes that will transport you to some part of childhood like this one. For me, its train journeys, as may be evident from the way it is referred to in our house: Station Alu. Puri with potato or Alu Masala was something we got when we were on our oftentimes-longer-than-24-hrs train journey from wherever to our “native place” Kerala. As kids, we rarely ate this combination anywhere else but in trains; at most in those train station restaurants. Mostly because the alternatives (Dosas or Bread-Omelets served with suspect-looking chutneys or ketchups) looked distinctly less attractive, and also because, Puri.

Puri was a family favorite. It was a family tradition – Sunday breakfast was always Puri unless extenuating circumstances (like not being at home because of vacations or social events) prevented its making. But, at home, we always had it with Chole or Rajma. The literally handful of times my folks made Puri with Station Alu, my brother and I frowned and grumbled through the entire meal. Station Alu was a compromise, one we were willing to make in a combination involving Rotis (again, because alternatives. In an effort to make us eat all vegetables, my folks invented some pretty ghastly dishes. For example: there was one thing they called “Red Kootan,” meaning red gravy, that was an unholy  combination of potato, carrot, and beetroot, and optional ingredients, peas and beans). Puri-Chole and Puri-Rajma were sacred combinations, not to be messed with. There are several stories in our family around this combination, including one oft-repeated legend of a 6-year-old me eating 18 Puris and a substantial amount of Chole that my mom had packed for me and my friends, by myself.

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Puri-Station Alu, ahem, Puri-Masala is a more regular component of S’s childhood. While it wasn’t a family tradition like our Sunday breakfasts, it was still one of those special dishes that they looked forward to as kids. He would make what he calls “Puri dogs” and consume them by the ..er..half dozens. Which is a lot if you consider the size of the Puris his mom makes – slightly bigger than your average hotel Puris. He still eats them like that at home actually, because its fun and because why the hell not.

Of course, with all this Puri in her parents blood, there is no way the love of them has escaped A. She is puri tarah se mad about Puris! (See what I did there? Hyuk hyuk) As much as love eating them by the 1.5 dozens, I’m not very fond of making Puris at home. There are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is my level of skill at making them. We shall not get into those now. Instead, we shall focus on the fact that I did make Puri-Masala tonight. A ate more than she usual would, because Puri. S enjoyed some Puri dogs inhibitions-free. And I sat sniffling (because unexpectedly spicy green chillies ok!) reliving some memories and thinking this could be a blog post.

One more drink

Could go either way.
It could make you grin
Or have you grimace.
It may make you want to
Never take your eyes off these words,
Or off me;
Or make you want to unsee,
Unread, and unknow things.
Might have you laughing
unexpectedly, all tears of mirth,
Or make you wonder
When and how the mood changed,
Completely.
Either way, it would change things
From the way they are, maybe even
The way they are meant to be.
And you may sometimes think
Change could be favourable, even
Promising, all good things; though really
There is no way to know for sure.

When She’s Away

Thunks of toys on the floor;
Sound of her walking on tip-toe;
Conversations with bears and dolls over
Castles with lots of rooms and gardens,
And bedtimes and baths and cherry buns;
Singing, lots of singing,
To herself, to me, to the universe,
Then a bit more for me,
Claps of glee and stomps of anger, a tantrum,
A smile slipping through a frown,
Followed by giggles;
Some dancing to my tunes,
Some to her own;
And a lot more singing,
All of it from the heart.