The Inevitable Snake Gourd...
The Inevitable Snake Gourd...
That Inevitable Snake gourd
Ram's mobile phone sprang to life with the beautiful song from Silsila...
After a stint in Amsterdam where he was smitten by the beauty of the tulip fields- which he had so far witnessed only in the movie Silsila- he changed his ringtone to this song.
It was Jayshree at the other end. His face lit up and softened.
They had been married for a month and had returned just a week ago after a beautiful sojourn to Nainital.
"Yes dear, tell me."
Jayshree's voice bubbled with that extra joy one finds in people when they are happy. But then Jayashree was a happy soul with a cool temperament and could never get annoyed with anything. Nothing upset her and she took everything with aplomb.
"Had your lunch?" she asked.
"Yes, four rotis and a bowl of curd rice as usual" Ram replied.
" Okay, listen. Do come to Papa's home straight from work. I will be there. We are having dinner there and we can get back by nine or so."
"That will be nice," said Ram adding," What is the occasion?"
"Aw!! No special occasion. I just happened to come here in the afternoon and Amma insisted that we stay for dinner and go back together."
He loved his mother in law's cooking. Especially the way she made the kheer with milk and rice; it would be a condensed porridge, with the rice getting cooked in a lot of milk and sugar. Jayashree had inherited a little bit of her mother's talent in cooking. Ram was an incorrigible foodie and was not ashamed to admit it.
It was only a little past four and there was yet another hour to go.
He tried to get back into the file he was browsing through, when a sudden panic seized him.
What if Jay's mom cooks snake gourd!!
The mere thought sent a wave of abhorrence through his veins. He could feel the blood vessels revolting at the thought.
"I should have told Jay that I dislike Snakegourd...but then where was the opportunity? "
There were no dishes made with snake gourd in the hotel that they stayed in Nainital and after marriage he had not tasted this vegetable.
His aversion to this vegetable - snakegourd- went back to his childhood days.
He lived in a sprawling house with a vegetable garden behind and flower garden in front. There were also mango, banana, jackfruit and coconut trees. His grandparents loved snake gourd and a huge 'pandal' (a structure erected on four poles with bamboo poles across the top and creepers like beans, etc. grew here spreading their leaves and stems over this fabrication) was there at the backyard with these hanging snake gourds. His grandmother would tie a small stone at the tip of the hanging tender vegetable and it would grow straight down to a great length.
Once in the night, he had mistaken these for snakes and since then he had this aversion for the vegetable ...which clung on to him even as he grew up.
He discovered all of a sudden that he disliked even the smell of this vegetable...with the ash-like coating on its surface. Everyone in his household was fond of this vegetable and he would be eating this with great aversion. Call it ophidiophobia....or whatever sort of thing you wish to. But he could relate this only to snakes. And oh boy, he was scared of snakes. Mortally scared of them.
Mercifully for him, his grandparents returned from Benares and proudly declared that they had given up eating snake gourds along with Guava and a particular type of palak. One is supposed to give up a vegetable, a fruit and a leaf, his / her favourite ones. And so, whenever this vegetable was cooked, a separate vegetable would be cooked for his grandparents and he would happily partake this too. And was he happy, that this "blasted vegetable " was no more a part of his culinary spread?
But, what if his mother-in-law cooked this tonight?
He was restless.
The mere imagination of this vegetable occupying the huge six- seater dining table baffled him.
He left his office at five sharp and picked up a big basket of fruits, like apples, oranges, mangoes and bananas on the way. He knew that his in-laws were great fans of fresh fruits.
In an hour, he was at his father-in-law's home. He was welcomed with great joy and had a cup of wonderful coffee and some hot bajjis served. The father-in-law was talking to him non- stop, about his working days, he had just retired from a leading bank. His two sons, Jayashree's brothers were in Bombay and in London and the only daughter close to his own home. He looked a very contented man.
Once in a while, the thought of this snake gourd would spring up in Ram's thoughts and he even thought that he could get a whiff of the smell of snake gourd. Yes...a distinct smell.
When the cuckoo called out a single plaintive cry noting the time as half past seven, his mother-in-law announced that the table can be set.
She smiled at him and said,
"Son-in-law, I have made a special dish with snake gourd..I know you people from Palghat use a lot of coconut and I have added coconut too to the curry. The market had some lovely tender snake gourds..."
Ram could not hear anything else she was talking about. Actually, his Auditory System seemed to be failing him.
His worst fears had been confirmed.
Of course, he could sport a brave smile and say
"Aw!! That's lovely aunty. Lead me to it."
But he did nothing of that sort.
His facial muscles attained a weak, bleak sort of smile, and it looked as if a cat had caught his tongue.
Then it dawned on him!! A brainwave. Yes, he did have a plan.
"Aunty, let me help you with setting the table," and he proceeded towards the kitchen platform with a spring in his steps and a song in his heart. Very strangely, his father in law followed suit.
He grabbed the glass bowl filled with the snake gourd curry, as his mother-in-law and Jayashree carried the kheer and the rice bowl. His father-in- law had picked up the large bowl filled with sambar rice. Ram walked with a smile on his face (I should say, a sinister smile) the bowl in his hand. As he neared the table, he tripped and the bowl went flying from his hands and landed on the floor, immediately breaking into pieces. Smithereens. Fragments. Chunks. Lumps....
The snake gourd pieces mingled with the broken glass. He put on a grave expression on his face (with great difficulty) and lamented aloud.
His mother-in-law was quick to react
"Don't worry, Son in law. That is okay. Mistakes can happen to anyone. I can always make this dish another day for you."
She brought a plastic plate and a broom and started gathering the thingummy that had created a nice piece of rangoli on the floor.
"Don't worry, Ram We have fryums and other things for the side dish and we can start as soon as this place is spruced up."
The dinner went off very well and Ram delved into the sambar rice and fryums. He had a cup of that wonderful rasam, his mother in law had prepared. He enjoyed the mixed curd rice garnished with pomegranate seeds, green grapes, chillies and finely chopped coriander leaves and garnished with mustard seeds, cashewnut pieces and curry leaves.
Needless to say, the kheer was relished with great fervour.
As they were leaving for home, his mother- in- law chipped in,
" Probably, at the next opportunity, you can have the snake gourd curry."
The mother and daughter were enjoying a last bit of conversation while he opened the car's door. As he got in, his father in law, who had shimmered noiselessly behind him, whispered,
"Ram, what a pity, I never had this idea of dropping the bowl even once in these fifty-two years!! I know it was no accident. I hate this vegetable too but Aunty loves this and I do put up with this during the season. Hats off to you...though I don't wear one."