Friday, 20 December 2013

Of Life and a Secret Recipe

I saw him this morning almost after a decade. He'd grown very old and was walking with the help of a stick. I looked aghast. I remember him from years back when he was employed by my dad as a cook at our home because he had lost his job and was finding it difficult to make ends meet.
He used to be totally sozzled most of the time and called me "baby!" He was a strange character. He spoke clear English and sported a mustache that made him look like a military man and not a cook.
I had always found him amusing and crazy. He'd insist that I go abroad and had one day he did not turn up. Dad was upset because he felt that uncle (we called him that) was not being true to his work. The next day he appeared with a passport form! Apparently, he had gone all the way to south Delhi in his ramshackle bike that needed peddling at times to start and got the forms!
Dad was angry because he wanted him to pay for the forms and petrol. But, he was unfazed.
"Baby, you speak such good English. You must go abroad. Why do you want to waste your time here?"
I had a hard time explaining that I did not want to go abroad and settle down. He was nearly heartbroken. His face crumpled and shoulders sagged. Then, he took to coercing my dad that he should push me to get away from India. Thankfully since Dad never pushed me into anything so, the discussion came to rest after a few weeks of uncle carrying the passport forms prominently visible in his pockets. He used to sigh and make me French toasts and chicken sandwiches from scratch and breath heavily making the forms suddenly fall out of his pockets in front of me by design.
Then, he stopped feeding me English breakfast and also stopped carrying the form. Dad and I heaved a collective sigh of relief.
But, we realized soon that he was only changing tack.
One day he arrived home with a bunch of old National Geographic magazines. "Baby you love reading no?"
I said 'thanks uncle' and took them from him. They were imported and pretty new and I was happy to get my hands on them since they were not available so easily here.
He cleared his throat and said, "my friend's son. He lives in USA. Very intelligent boy, just like you. He is here on a holiday. I took these from him and told him about you..."
I was so happy to get the magazines that I did not read between the lines. He made me chicken sandwiches that day and asked me to help him out in the kitchen. I was slightly taken aback. Ma was surprised too because, he never made such demands on any of us. But, ma said, "go and help probably he is too drunk". So, I went and he said, "baby today I'll teach you how to make the world's best chicken sandwiches." I was happy to learn because he made the best chicken sandwiches and chips I'd ever tasted.
Later, when he was leaving, he told my ma. "Baby should be married off now. I know this great boy. My friend's son. He lives in America and is fond of reading just like her. And I've taught her to make chicken sandwiches today!" He was brimming with delight.
Ma did not think too much of him so, the story never blossomed nor did I ever set foot outside India.
Soon after this episode, he too found a job in a restaurant and got busy. We hardly met. Once or twice he'd leave old magazines for me with ma since I was now busy with my work as well. Once I remember he had left a bunch of old Filmfare magazines and I had picked them up and gone all the way to his house, rang the bell. When he opened the door his wife followed him out and gave me a hug.
I smiled at them and returned the bunch saying, "I don't read film magazines."
I think I had hurt his sentiments that day because after that he never hounded me to either go abroad, get married nor did he get me any more magazines. At that time I did not know how fragile a man's pride was.
After that, I left for Bombay and was away for many years. Whenever I came back I heard stories of how uncle had taken to the bottle and was almost killing himself. Sometimes, I'd meet his wife who'd tell me how he still loved me and spoke about me many times in a month. She'd be very happy to meet me and filled me in with most of the details of their humdrum lives.
Today, after returning to Delhi for three years, I saw him this morning, frail and old, wizened and bent. He did not recognize me from across the road despite the new set of glasses on his nose. I walked up to him and smiled. He looked at me and laughed! "Baby!"
I did not say much after that. Just walked him home and then walked back to my car and to work.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading the post and commenting. Please come back for more.