Sunday, 19 July 2015

Heavy Matters

        It was the button and the hole that did it. Of that old and comfortable jeans.  When the twain refused to meet because the kabab (euphemistically employed for the flesh), for a change, played the spoilsport, the alarm bells went ringing. Damn! Should have oriented to the selfie taking mode!  That  would have kept a check on those lards settling comfortably in the places they ought not to be. Timely selfies would have reflected that one plus one free chin; or that paunch lurking under the loose kurta. Now look what  has happened! The paunch has developed into a bulging tummy that could inspire the commuters to give up their seats for fear of a baby slithering out right there in the Metro!  The final test of course was going home and facing this hyper active mother who has remained in the same frame ever since anyone can remember. It was not fair to compare actually. It was the genes you see. She got them from her mother which somehow got lost while mine were  in the making in the womb.

   A day after arrival, a period that is deemed decent before the brickbats came in, I was expected to do the Suryanamaskar  under the watchful hawk's eye. I mean, it was supposed to be a vacation! And at my maternal home at that! Healthy sprouts were pushed my way. And a 'no rice' dictum was applied. Can you imagine having a fish curry without that heap of fragrant, soft rice in the middle of the plate? Well, fish is almost like a regular vegetable dish in a normal Assamese home. And okay, a few spoons of rice was scattered on my plate that lost themselves between the piles of vegetables and salad and the bowl of dal and curd. Tucking into it like there was no tomorrow, while the others helped themselves to more servings of rice and all the while the chants grew into a chorus joined in by the children on the same side of the table as the grandmother, " have more vegetables and dal".

 The battle with the tyres has been going the yo-yo way for quite sometime now. The morning walks are not enough, some said. Yoga, is the answer to all the maladies of this world so what are these mere adipose tissues, huh? Precisely that. Stubborn sticky adipose tissues snugly wrapped around the frame and refusing to budge like those  tenants who are every landlord's nightmare . Another gave a sympathetic look...with age it is harder since the metabolic rate slows down. Metabolism. That had to be the culprit. On a random medical check up the doctor had affirmed, so many years ago.
   The doctor's cabin is glum and sad. Wonder why is it always so. Brightening it up would be good for everyone's health, the doctor including.  Come to the point says my distracted mind.
Reading the mind the physician prompts, yes what is the problem, Ma'am?
 I must be the nth person he has prompted since morning.
Yes doctor, you see I have thyroid.
Good, he answers gravely and looks me squarely in my eyes, we would indeed be in great trouble if we didn't have one.
Right, feeling a little peeved at his banal joke I said, I think mine is a little erratic.
And out came tumbling all the woes, imagined and real.
We will see after these tests are done.
That was a few years back. Since then, when the scales lean heavily, I have a valid reason . It is that errant gland, at work or not at work, to be blamed.

   Now that the clothes are bursting at the seams and some even refuse to let me in; and the love handles are all but lovely; and the chin is threatening to give another bonus, standing on my toes, the hand reaches out to that bottle of oats that had hitherto existed incognito at the back of the topmost shelf.  Trying to acquire a taste for it, with different twists and turns, I realize after all,  oats  could taste like, well, just oats.

  Meandering through the internet, the links ramble on to that  magical secret vegetable or a fruit or a weed, whose  goodness  is stashed into a capsule promising age old secret of slimness of the Chinese, the Polynesians, and all the other '-ese', '-ans, '-eans' of the world. And those screamers,  " Doctors puzzled by an Indian Mom...", have waylaid me so many times into staring at the before - after pictures of slimmer women in trousers triple their present size, holding out the waistband to let it sink in that they actually lost all that mass with a magic pill.  Have you ever clicked eagerly at  "Ten Vegetables For A Flat Tummy", only to estimate that stocking up on the avocados, the asparagus et al would rip the household budget apart. Not to speak of the diets. They have me snapping my head off at everyone. So for the peace to prevail in the home front, the diets are kept off the threshold.

  So the battle is on still and if you have any expert tips, do pass them on. Wait! There is an sms. Maybe be one of you has already sent across a tip...
But this is an unknown number...and there is a deluge of them...
" Motapa ghatane keliye call kare 98xxxxxxxx..."



Friday, 3 July 2015

Meditation On A Drive


     It was those bunched up bright yellow pumpkin flowers that made me stop. Dipped in rice flour paste and deep fried , the ronga lau phulor bor were a delicacy that hadn't touched my taste buds for many years.   Rumu, whose cab we had hired for the journey from Goalpara to Guwahati, indulged and let me reinstate  my connection  with the land that never ceases to fill me with a warm feeling. The overcast sky threatening to pour down notwithstanding, the car came to a halt .

       This Deobariya Haat, the  Sunday market  somewhere between Boko and Soigaon took me back to another era when these were the only produce we would see. Available in accordance to the seasons, tasting right just then. A common utterance during meal times comes to mind reiterating the importance of seasonal fruits and vegetables,
Botoror pasoli  khabo lage…”
So we were told when the nose screwed up at the sight of gourds, gourd shoots, tender drumsticks, ripe jackfruits and all those vegetables and fruits that seemed unpalatable.  The produce of the land is ready to be consumed only at a particular time of the year because that is when it is full of virtues that benefit the body and yield best to those discerning sensors in the tongue. The colours, the sights and sounds of this little bazaar where the fresh seasonal produce of the nearby villages are brought, were a treasure of long forgotten fruits and vegetables. Where it was a part of monotonous lives in the smaller places, chancing on it was like an excitement of discovering  what was thought to be long lost.

          These little markets that spring up along the highway are the best places to source from.  Squatting in colourful mekhelas, the bright faces of the local Rabha and Garo women glisten and glow. The fresh ghost chillies that the world is raving about, tender ferns, cucumbers , banana flowers, bamboo shoots and gourd shoots, those fragrant kaji lemons… and that maddening aroma of pineapples. All organically grown. All arranged in little heaps, in groups and the larger ones kept in singles to be sold thus and not by the scales. You have not tasted pineapples unless you have walked past some of those from the Garo hills. Relishing them begins from the sweet aroma that they tantalise you with. A nick with the knife and a burst of juice trickles down. The best way to get them ready is to wash and remove the peel, core out the 'eyes', salt and wash them and then cut them into chunks over a plate or a bowl so you don’t waste the juice.


  Incidentally, this is a market where the vendors are women barring aside one or two. These Garo and Rabha women are said to be extremely hard working and enterprising , threw in Rumu as we continued our journey with our fresh vegetables in the boot of the car. He elaborated that these women are up at daybreak tackling the household chores, tending to the livestock, the vegetable patches and field. Whereas majority of the menfolk awaken just before the sun touches the zenith and nurse their homemade liquor through the day between spurts of work.


 You’ve done well to pick those vegetables here, baido, he continues. You will not regret. Whenever I've passengers on this route I always pick vegetables from here. They don’t spoil for many days unlike the ones picked from the town market. And they taste the best too. For the simple reason that they are not injected with chemicals to help them grow or ripen overnight. What were those bamboo hollows for, I ask. Are they to be filled with rice and slow cooked on embers? Oh those! Rumu explained that the women in these parts, stash a particular smaller variety of fish, caught in their jakois, into the bamboo hollows and leave it to ferment and dry on bamboo racks over the earthen stove at home. Once it is cured, this dried fish is then cooked in small amounts or made into chutneys. It is a popular delicacy and is also said to have medicinal  properties to prevent malaria in these densely foliaged parts of the countryside.


      I looked out of the speeding car watching the distant landscape with the rolling hills and young green of the paddy fields  change it’s orientation while the nearby trees and roadside homes ensconced in the privacy of a verdant  buffer offered by the  tall jackfruit,amla, mango, areca trees, mausandas,  zipped past.  My mind went back to the little market again and again, triggering a thought here and there.

      The red bag I’d noticed in the market contained some white cotton roll like stuff. These are eri cocoons , the lady had offered.  Just then a customer had come, checking the cocoons, he tried bargaining but she was not to budge.  Weaving at homes had always been a part of daily life in Assam just as raising a vegetable patch, or cultivating a bamboo grove or fish in the pond backyard. Just enough to fulfill the daily needs of a household. Threads would be spun out of these cocoons on a wooden spinning wheel. These then would be mounted on a wooden loom resting under a thatched shed usually placed near the kitchen that allowed women of the household to alternate between their chores, cooking and weaving. Memories came tumbling down of my grandmother and my aunt in Tipling ; sitting at the loom combing in the warp and the weft; of sliding the shuttle between the threads; clicking the bamboo pedals with their feet in a neat orchestra . Basic mekhelas, gamusas and fabric emerged from these looms for the family then.

  The looms now feed the many boutiques and shops  in the towns and cities. A week back we had dropped by an NGO, Grameen Sahara, at Soigaon that was involved with many self sustaining programmes for the local people. Strengthening eri silk weaving was one of them. Right from developing a system of  providing cocoons and threads on credit, the NGO untiringly supports the local people to weave the eri fabric that has found a niche market in the western world. Their adherence to quality has earned them the stamp of approval of Silkmark.  For the uninitiated, eri is a tenacious warm silk fabric and it’s thread is derived from the Ailanthus silk worm. It is also known as ‘ahimsa’ silk since the cocoons are used after the moths leave them. You can be sure to find an eri shawl stashed in a trunk in every Assamese household that will be brought out with the first hint of a chill in the air. These have been handed down from generations, capturing and bequeathing the warmth of the ancestors in their threads, mostly woven by a grandmother or a great grand mother.

  As the car nears the outskirts of the Guwahati city, the idyllic landscape is dotted more frequently with concrete structures peeping over distant green canopies or jostling each other. The mind humours the little ideas that bubble up now and then. It is heartwarming to come across spaces that rekindles the bond with the roots. And it is heartening to see the social development efforts striving to provide a better life to the simple rural people by empowering them. Retaining the unique identity of an area while developing it to provide basic amenities and bringing prosperity to it's people without churning out concretised clones of cities and towns, is the challenge. It will be worthwhile to keep in mind that the sight of the pumpkin flowers and fresh pineapples in the roadside farmer's market with the paddy fields and the distant blue hills in the background will continue to charm the travellers in the now and forever.