Aug 10, 2011

The invisible man

I am an invisible man in a foreign land. When I say invisible, I don't mean the invisible man from H G Well's story of the same name or even the unnamed hero of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man.  I am not complicated like that, nor do I have existential issues. No, my dilemma is simple one. The people I live with are my son, Suresh and daughter-in-law, Tulsi. I do not care much for them but I am stuck living with them. I don’t like their museum like house with its modern furniture made of angular lines and hard surfaces, the dark brown walls and white crockery that reminds me of a hospital.

I know my son asked me to stay with him out of a sense of obligation after my wife died. I agreed because I had no other option. He was always close to his mother than he was to me, not that I blame him. I was never the ‘involved father’ like these younger generation boys with their fancy strollers and carriers.

In my time, it would have been considered outright laughable if not ridiculous to be so involved with your kids. My wife took care of the house and the kid; I went and earned a living. Life was simple, with clear demarcations, not like the hodgepodge of today. Our fruit basket had only fruits in them.  My son's otherwise neat house has this one big bowl on the kitchen counter that catches everything from stray fruit to phone and iPad chargers. Just looking at it drives me nuts but I restrain myself.  "It is none of my business how they want to lead their lives," I try to reason.
The photo cue

My son is nothing like me. He helps his wife in the kitchen, they clean the house together and I am sure when they have a kid, he will get up in the middle of the night to bottle-feed the crying infant. I mean what do you expect when they call each other Sur and Taal (Rhythm and Beat)? What is wrong with calling each other by their full names, Suresh and Tulsi? How hard is it to pronounce two more syllabels?

Sur is the proud owner of a fancy camera that he carries with him everywhere. Taal encourages him, pointing to all manners of objects to be photographed. He twists his body into uncomfortable positions to make her happy but I suspect he doesn’t much care for the things he shoots. I just don’t know what the big deal is in shooting a clump of fresh pulled garlic or a zuchini. If you have seen one, you have seen them all. Why go around taking pictures and wasting film?

Apparently, the two of them have a food blog and all this photography is for that purpose. Taal also spends a lot of time in front of the computer researching food and re evaluating her diet. When I first arrived here from India, there was not a drop of milk to be found in the fridge. “Pappa, Taal is a vegan,” Sur had explained when I had asked for some milk.

“I thought vegetarians drink milk,” I had asked, confused.

“No Pappa, there is a difference between vegetarians and vegans. Vegans don’t eat any animal product, including milk,” he had said with a faint irritation in his voice. He had explained how Taal was against exploiting animals for their milk, eggs or meat. It was the strangest thing I had ever heard but I kept my mouth shut. It was a good thing too because I soon realized that Sur and Taal experimented a lot with their diets.

There was a time when they went on an all fruit diet for a month. The house was filled with fruits of all kinds. They would make fruit chaat and experiment with using fruit purees in desserts instead of butter and sugar. I drank a lot of smoothies and ate a lot of pies that month. The only fruit I could never get used to was grapefruit. More bitter than sweet, I did not care for it. But some of their diet craze must have rubbed on me too, because I started drinking lemon juice three times a day. Sur started buying a whole bag of limes for me that lasted me about a week.

I should have known the fruit diet was not going to last long. One day Taal came home with grocery bags of milk, eggs and something that looked like a cut up chicken. “We have decided to add milk and lean meats to our diets,” the two of them declared. “So far so good,” I thought but experience had taught me that it was never that simple with these two. I waited for the kicker and was not disappointed.

“We did some research and realized that whole grains are bad for you,” Taal said. “From now on, no more oatmeal, whole wheat or grains of any kind,” she said with that annoying know-it-all shake of her head.

So far, their crazy diet had not affected me that much. The smoothies were ok and some were even delicious. The soy milk I had learnt to tolerate in lieu of real milk. The oatmeal and the rotis had been left untouched but now they wanted to take it away from me for some crazy diet that said whole grains were not good for you. I had never heard such a crazy thing in all my 68 years. “These two need to lighten up on their diet and work on making a baby,” I thought.

Like I said before, I am an invisible man. It didn’t matter what I thought and I did not have the strength or the filial love to argue their flawed logic. If they wanted to eat meat, eggs and vegetables and forgo whole grains, it was fine by me. All I cared about was my two rotis in the morning and my rice at night. “Believe me Pappa, you will feel better and your body will thank you for not eating all that grain,” Taal had tried to explain her nutrition jargon like I was a five year old child.

After that lecture, Taal declared that all the flours and whole grains had to be thrown out to minimize temptation and craving. I sat in a corner as the two raided the pantry and started throwing out packets and emptying containers into a garbage bag. Back home, the maid would have gladly taken all that food and fed her children. But in this strange land, one did not give open groceries to the less fortunate.

It was around that time that I found her or rather saw her. The weather had turned for the better and I could go out every morning and evening for a long walk. One morning I spotted her sitting in the window, reading a book and drinking from a cup of tea. She looked Indian with a comely face, unlike the stern, thin lipped face of Taal. "She probably ate whole grains as well as fruits and milk and eggs," I thought.

I watched her for a few days before mustering up enough courage to walk up to her front door and ring the bell. It was late in the evening and I wasn’t even sure what I was doing there. Her husband opened the door with the manner of someone expecting company. He seemed like a decent enough fellow who seemed to be confused at the moment.

“Yes, can I help you?” he asked.

“Beta, I was just passing by and thought I will come and visit,” I was surprised to hear myself say the words.

To give credit where it is due, the fellow, Ajay, was polite enough to invite me, a total stranger, in. I went in and chatted for a while, looking out for the girl in the window. I learnt her name was Naina. She came in a little bit later from the bedroom, dressed in a salwar kameez. She was very polite and nice to me. She said they were expecting company and excused herself to go in the kitchen. I could smell the aromas wafting from the kitchen, especially of bhindi fry. It was one of my favorite vegetables but in the carb-free house okra was a vegetable neither Sur nor Taal liked.

I would have taken them on their offer to stay for dinner but my pager started vibrating and I knew I had to head back home. The pager was my son’s way of keeping tabs on me, making sure I did not wander off or get lost in the cookie cutter houses and lanes of this community.

I went back home that day and had some stir fried vegetables and a piece of chicken for dinner. Taal did know how to cook good food even if she didn’t care to cook traditional Indian food. At the end of the meal, she took some brown ladoos from the fridge. “These are very nutritious,” she explained in her annoying voice. “They are made with dark chocolate and nuts and dates mixed together. Feel free to have one whenever you feel like snacking,” she said.
Chocolate balls (ladoos), adapoted from here.
 I added a lot of honey to sweeten them up.

I almost gagged at the bitterness of the chocolate in those ladoos. “Beti, did you forget to put sugar in them?” I asked.

“No Pappa, sugar is so bad for you. I sweetened them with raisins and dates puree. Eat some more, you will get used to the bitterness and after a while you won’t even miss the sugar.” Taal looked at her adoringly as she explained to me, once again, the benefits of a sugar-free diet.

I nodded and waited for them to go to bed before I took out my secret jar of honey. I had foreseen the sugar-free phase and had hidden the jar inside an empty plastic container under the sink. I took a small bowl from the cabinet, poured some honey in it and dipped my chocolate ladoo in the golden liquid and took a sugary, sweet bite.

"Tomorrow, I will go over to Naina’s house around lunch time. Hope she is making bhindi fry again. I just might stay for lunch if she asks."


This is my entry for Of Chalks and Chopsticks, an event started by Aqua and currently being hosted by me. This story is in response to my earlier story, To Stalk a Brinji. A lot of you wanted a part two to that story even though I thought I had brought it to its logical ending. I hope this satisfies your curiosity.


  1. This is so funny - and true of everyone who lives with diet-conscious enthusiasts. I'm totally confused about whether to be carb free or not or do something else. (I was low carb for over 10 years and eat a little more now on the advice of the dietician - it doesn't seem to have made any difference to how I feel or weight-wise.)

    This is too funny - "She probably ate whole grains as well as fruits and milk and eggs," I thought.

  2. Sra, glad you caught the humor in it. :-)

    Notyet100, thank you.

  3. Jaya, thanks for his pov! I feel the story is complete now.:) I liked that line too and how you have used the various diets here. My father double checks with my husband whether he is drinks tea and have dahi at home.:)

    As always engaging and gripping.

  4. Harini, I am glad you liked it from his POV. I feel it still needs some work. I wrote it last night in one sitting and did not have a chance to go back and work on it.

  5. I love, love, love this story :) Total point on with the dilemma the older generation has with so many things the new generation takes on. Sur-Taal indeed !!!

  6. I must say that as a fellow vegan I felt some sympathy for the "stern, thin-lipped" Taal, pitted as she was against the more comely Naina who probably ate milk and eggs. :) But seriously, this was a great and very engaging read. And I could just imagine the old man pulling out that jar of honey to dip his bitter laddoos in!

  7. Ha! This has shades of a very familiar food blogger couple - even the Sur and Taal ;-)

  8. Beautifully written Jaya! Really enjoyed reading it.

  9. Sandeepa (Bong Mom), thank you.

    Vaishali, I don't think Taal was thin-lipped from being a vegan. It is more because she couldn't decide on a diet and stick to it. That kind of uncertainity can make you rather 'stern' towards life. :-)

    Manisha, shhhh! :-)

    Amruta, thank you.

  10. I loved, loved, loved reading this for more reason than one ;)You've really covered the old man's angle very well, in fact in the previous story, I was mildly irritated with him. Now, I understand him better.
    Sur and Taal, the names had me in splits.

  11. Very nice story Jaya. I loved reading part two of the previous story. You have very good writing skills. I look forward for more stories.

  12. I love reading your stories

  13. Ha! The moment you said only fruit diet, and then changed it to meat and eggs, I figured out your inspiration :D

  14. Aqua, I wasn't trying to make the old man sympathetic but it is hard not to feel sorry for older people, no matter what their personality.

    Anjali, thank you. Hopefully, there will be more stories to come, if I get enough encouragement.

    Anonymous, thank you. I would love to know your name next time.

    Nandini, I had no idea they were on a fruit diet. I would think the names would have tipped you off. :-) I have to say, I do not know them at all and this was not a personal attack. Like you said, just an inspiration for the story.

  15. Loved reading the story, Jaya. You have described well the way the elderly man feels, frustrated yet helpless, lonley not able to convey his feelings etc and I really feel for him. In the earlier story it was a totally differnt feeling about him. Keep up the good work.

  16. Nice story Jaya!! Reminds of somethings ;)

  17. What a great story, loved to read the uncle's part from the previous story. Keep it coming :)

  18. Hey Jaya.. thanks for stopping by. I loved both this one and the brinji stories! How diff the Uncle-ji seems here! That line "she probably ate.." really is hilarious..

    It's very tempting seeing all your stories and the open invitation. Thanks! :) But I am just just too busy to actually post much. Here's a brief potential story..

    The tray could have a secret sliding slot which contains a will. The limes/citrus juice would be used as invisible ink to write a map to a secret treasure.. her top-secret RECIPE BOOK! The tray and iphone charger would be the only things the lady will actually pass on to her daughter.. The charger is her clue.. it would charge an iphone that can capture an infrared image of the invisible ink.. the bhindi for her unscrupulous lawyers is just the lady's way of giving them the..

    Ok, why else would you put bhindi in that photo? You are asking for that joke!

    Cheers Jaya, and thanks for the cue, hosting the roundup and the lovely stories!

  19. Sorry, prev comment became very long haan!

  20. SS, I love long comments. I loved it so much, I included your bried, potential story in the roundup. :-)


Thank you for visiting my space. I miss my former editors, so any form of criticism/ appreciation is welcome. :)

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