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.