About Me

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Hi, this is somebody who has taken the quieter by-lane to be happy. The hustle and bustle of the big, booming main street was too intimidating. Passing through the quieter by-lane I intend to reach a solitary path, laid out just for me, to reach my destiny, to be happy primarily, and enjoy the fruits of being happy. (www.sandeepdahiya.com)

Friday, January 27, 2023

A mauled shoot

 

Amid continually fevered perceptions and pell-mell severities of modern life, you don’t have to cross seven seas to do something purposeful and creative. There is an unperturbed spot of repose within. All of us are endowed with it. Don’t get petrified. Don’t flinch looking at the tumult. Abandon that haggard and agitated look.

In the brick-paved yard, there are gaps where peepal saplings try to get a foothold. A solitary shoot is well trodden over. There is an effort of ‘life’ to raise its head and expand from every nook corner. The mauled little sapling is a wonder of nature, a fertilized seed in a bird-drop getting a space. It needs your help to retain its wilderness and freedom. If you don’t care, it will be trampled to dust again. It needs your support to become a majestic tree some day.

I keep an eye for such orphan saplings and pick them up, half-squashed and plant them in nursery bags. They heal and recuperate with twinkling agility. Why be weary and inarticulate if you cannot break bigger mountains to be a newsmaker? Dig your toes in small openings. Beaming and broad will be your joy. Salvage a little shoot of plant life from getting crushed on a busy pathway or a yard or roadside, plant it in a nursery bag, give it a little dose of love when it’s a child and see it maturing into a handsome tree. Then serve yourself papaya slices, toast and piping hot tea tucked away in a corner at a cafĂ© to celebrate your victory. Ensconced in your celebration, all sweet-faced, rub your hands in anticipation when your tree would have shade for the humans and nesting place and fruits for birds.   

Uncle Satbir

 

As a boy uncle Satbir had lots of issues against going to school. So much so that Grandfather would hoist him up like a fodder bundle and dumped him in the class. In his childish keenness uncle Satbir would prefer to be out of the school. That was his first choice. Grandfather was once a teacher and his injunctions about life centered around school and mashakkat, hard practice, on mathematics primarily. So, despite uncle Satbir’s protestations, it was foreordained that he had to go to school and love mathematics.

Then some mysterious nerves tweaked in his brain and uncle Satbir grabbed the mathematical sinews in their entire minuteness. The teachers would be found to be inadequate to handle his mathematical wizardry and unrelenting queries. With a jingling enthusiasm uncle Satbir cracked the IIT entrance examination. It was a commendable feat for a village boy who loved wallowing in the pond holding the tails of buffalos. Uncle studied aeronautical engineering at IIT Kanpur. But the fleeting quotients of the mathematics of his life found it a perfidy to be stuck up in an institution. Despite doing really well in studies there, Uncle stood by his unadulterated scruples and ran away from the august institution. Grandfather got a letter from the premier engineering college that his ward had gone missing. With a sly lightness, Uncle simply vanished in thin air. Maybe he found institutions as a kind of ferocious and hideous iron collar around his neck and broke free.

After five years of absconding, my father tracked him in Yamuna Nagar. When Father reached the spot, Uncle was the undisputed king of accounting in the truck union office. Father saw him on a rickety desk, a panama hat on his head, a bottle of local liquor in front, an account book open and the mathematics wizard expertly settling the transporters’ sums. It was very difficult to extricate him from the brotherly grasp of burly Sikh drivers, who thought the truck union would fall to pieces without its young, three-quarter IITian.

Back home, despite the outrageousness of his deed, he was convinced to enroll in B.Sc. degree course at the local college in the town. Uncle resplendently declared that he would top the university. And he did. Meanwhile, he made life impossible for the professors, who would fold hands and ask him to enjoy life outside because he knew all that they had to teach. Uncle walked and talked mathematics. It made Grandfather pardon all his goof-ups and sins against education.

A friend of Uncle was struggling to clear his matriculation exams. There was a chance to join police but the matriculation certificate was the roadblock. Uncle loved the idea of appearing in matriculation exams as proxy for those who won’t pass even fifth class exams of their own. He got a few of them pass with first class degrees. Unfortunately, as he appeared for this friend he was caught. Uncle always thought that he did the job with an incorruptible conscience because he never took monetary remuneration for writing exams for poor students. Anyway, he was caught and a case lodged against him. He had his very own rallying points and said no to hire any lawyer to fight his case. He appeared before the judge and gave his declaration:

‘Your Honor, I know I have broken the law but I have done it for a good cause. This friend of mine is very poor. He has lost his mother also. A matriculation certificate would get him a policeman’s job but he cannot pass it himself. I did it for him. Had I taken money for it, I would have accepted my crime.’

Wonder of wonders, the judge let him go with a warning against repeating the same in future.

A marriage proposal came and Uncle just shook his head that meant neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’. In any case, they got him married without pondering over too much about the purported meaning of the shake of his head. After six months of conjugal experiment, Uncle again heard the lugubrious echo of freedom from all institutions. Amidst the engulfing tumult of protestations by his young wife, Uncle declared he cannot live with her. When Grandfather protested against this declaration, Uncle flatly countered, ‘She can stay in the house but I will leave!’ And he vanished like he had escaped from the clutch hold of the IIT college. He ran away. This time almost forever.

Even while on the move like a nomad, he would have many admirers involving both institutions and individuals. Mathematics wizard as he was. After a lot of escapades for freedom, he opened an IIT coaching institution at Dehradoon and raised a fantastic breed of IITians, many of whom settled abroad. He did all this with a limping leg and continuous, niggling pain. 

Destiny seemed to hunt him with a grievous and fatal precision. At the age of forty, he met an accident while riding a scooter. He was dragged by an unknown vehicle and the scooter’s handle tore through his stomach, exposing the whole mass of intestines. He held his organs tightly in his grasp till help came and only then fainted. At New Delhi AIIMS, critically short of staff under the onslaught of the entire country’s critical cases, he lay waiting for some doctor to be free as life slowly crept out of him. Death peeked over perilous precipices. But Uncle was braced against the final fall. He called a junior doctor and told him, ‘Roberts you have to do this operation. Don’t worry, I am not going to die. You will simply be an instrument of my survival.’ The surgery went for almost twelve hours. And as he had promised, Uncle survived.

He carried a huge line of stitch marks along his abdomen. From the same accident, he carried a leg injury that won’t heal. A kind of gangrene ulcer. It was almost raw flesh around the shin. Look at it and you would shudder with horror and pain. ‘The pain that would make you cry is normal for me now,’ he would say. It would need multiple dressings in a day. He got accidental hernia also along the stitching in his abdomen. It protruded with a big growth but he could not be operated because of the non-healing nature of his leg injury. So Uncle had to tie himself in a belt to hold his hernia growth.

He tried all forms of medications to cure his leg and finally became an expert homeopath in search for the ever-elusive cure for his injury. He muzzled up the classic Homeopathic treatises and in fact became more knowledgeable about Homoeopathy than the professional degree holders. He kept on searching for some miraculous concoction of herbal medicines that would cure him. He always had a firm belief in a solution because mathematically every problem has a solution. This was the toughest problem that kept him busy for the last twenty-two years of his life. And carrying all this burden of physical pain, he raised a very successful IIT coaching academy that produced hundreds of IITians.

But no institution was strong enough to hold his formidable and raw sense of freedom. He made the institution and after a decade broke it himself. One of the teachers was almost like an adopted son to him. He stayed with Uncle with his very courteous and diligent wife. It was a happy family in every sense of the term. They made a huge house in the luxurious foothills of the Doon valley. The academy was doing perfectly well. They had big cars. Then one fine day, Uncle again broke loose from the shackles of normalcy. Like a child suddenly scatters the sand castle it had so laboriously erected on the beach, Uncle suddenly swiped and closed the system. He parted from the son-like teacher. He divided the assets, gave them everything and kept just the residence with him. The academy was given to the teacher who had served him like a son for a decade. When they left the house, the teacher howled with pain and struck his head against the wall. It may seem an ominous fall, egged by the spasmodic blasts of destiny, but I know it was more of Uncle’s own choice well deliberated as a mathematician.

Uncle stayed all alone in his palatial house during the last four years of his life. A housemaid stayed with her family in the servants quarter. There was a pair of Labradors to fill up whatever was left of the home in the brick and cement structure. During these four years, Uncle would go to Mumbai for a week every month to give lectures at prestigious academies and would return with an attaché case full of money. He was after all much in demand. From Delhi airport he would hire a taxi to reach Dehradoon. And during one of such journeys, Uncle reached home finally, due to cardiac arrest, at the age of sixty two.

Trummp

 

Trummp arrived with greenish pomp and reddish glow on its nose. The guy had a talismanic greed. Give it anything from fresh salads to cooked kadhai paneer, it would sumptuously eat whatever it saw you eating. The kind intention to keep him swiftly glided into an arduous task. When we got him, we held him in high consideration. But all respect for him lay hither thither just within three weeks. My temper raised its stick with an iron-shot end. Joyous countenance scampered away. Enormous and formidable was its appetite. All this while he was riding the high and mighty horse of gluttonous enthusiasm. I helplessly let out guffaws of desperation.

Well, Trummp was a parrot. An ascetic lives in a hut by the canal outside the village among the fields. He arranged for a community feast in memory of his guru. He had invited me so I went there a bit in advance while the prasada we still being prepared by the cooks. The parrot was leisurely patrolling the cooking area, nicely gobbling boiled potatoes, cooked pumpkin, puris and ladoos. They tried to shoo it away but it would take a little flight and come back.

The ascetic proposed that I take it. Agreeing to the proposal, we procured a cage and it was ceremoniously carried into the house. There was lingering, delectable charm about the bird. It was fat and lazy. It had philandering appetite. Its only motto seemed to be, ‘You have to give something to eat the moment you see me’. The cage tray would soon get flooded with its drops. It was pretty vocal about its eating aspirations and hungry assertiveness. It was almost paranoid about its eating habit. Deprive it of anything that you were seen eating and it would try to break the cage, the only time when it showed some physical exercise. The rest of the time, it was content to just sit on its perch and scan any opportunity to eat something.

I knew that it was a female because the red collar on the neck was missing. Still I treated it as male, in fact christened it as a male so that I could use cuss words on its person to vent out my frustration. It’s imperative to maintain decorum and one shouldn’t use ill words against a lady bird. So I imagined it to be a male rascal.

One day, I had put the cage under the sun so that Trummp could sunbathe and get vitamin D. A male parrot, vow what a sight with its red collar around neck, came screeching for companionship. He saw the pampered fat woman in the cage and immediately fell in love. Trummp also looked at it with a friendly regard. But it didn’t look too eager for free air as if it was enjoying a kind of sad enlightenment inside the cage. The passion of the love-blinded parrot was fiery and spiraling on the other hand. My compulsions were wearing thin under the constant bombardment of its demand for more and more varieties of food.

The parrot in love returned the next day also as the lazy, fat ladylove contentedly sunned its feathers. It would have been foolish not to see it happily married and lead a happy married life. After that it would be the husband’s duty to see to his wife’s culinary tastes. The first choice should be to transfer the responsibilities—instead of cutting them altogether—if you find them too heavy to carry on.

I opened the cage expecting the fat woman to go flying with its lover instantly. But it won’t come out. Food was dearer than any lover in the world. The lover was hovering around with measureless mirth. I had to literally prod out the lady’s prodigious and imperturbable laziness. The shy bride finally came out and the groom encouraged it to take a bit of flight for conjugal bliss. I immediately shut the cage and ran away with it lest the bride got its groom into it also to make him a ghar jamai.

Well, sadly though, one cannot survive with a luminous conscience and radiant uprightness during the present times. Anyway, hope they had a nice married life. Moreover, a few days of freedom are better than years inside a cage.

Pa's childhood experimentation with beedis

 

Father started experimenting with smoking beedies while he was in class three. Grandfather notched up many devices with squirming moralities to teach him a lesson. Father was tied to a wall peg like a tiny bale hanging in air against the wall. He was made to sign a declaration that he would never smoke and sign it 1000 times in the presence of witnesses. He was hoisted in air and dropped multiple times on the ground as a deterrence. He was made to draw lines on earth with his nose, each time saying ‘I won’t smoke!’ Teachers were asked to be extra punitive. While all this was being done, everyone around was smoking hookahs. So the tactics failed and Father happily continued smoking beedies into his seventies. We also tried smoking on Pa’s leftover beedi stubs. But it was bitter and the thing never appealed to our taste.   

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Village marriages of the bygone era

 

We eagerly looked forward to weddings at our village during childhood, especially the girl weddings. Cheap, various-colored sweets looked like divine desserts in those days. But then a girl’s marriage would mean the groom’s wedding party coming to the village. It’s very difficult to decipher the entire set of monstrosities unleashed by the sloshed wedding party members. It was a special day for them under patriarchal rules. So even their most goonish conduct was viewed as funny at the most. They were entitled to the entire set of follies expected from a sloshed person.

They would mistreat the music band members, kick the groom’s horse, wallow in mud, shout profanities, make lewd gestures and make passes at the entire village womenfolk. Save the groom, whose face radiated some semblance of grace for getting a wife, the rest of his party would be a perfect example of ugliness and puerilities. It was a kind of unutterable indulgence that chucked out the entire village’s peace.

No wonder, thrashing the groom’s party before seeing off the bride wasn’t an exception. They would unleash a firmament and the helpless villagers, cumbered with fathomless woes, would forget the sublimities of welcome offered to the party a few hours ago and pounce upon the evil. It was a gigantic necessity to do so in most of the cases.

The drunk revelers would do snake and monkey dance to the drumbeats and throw coins and even 10 rupee notes in the air. It would enkindle a stampede among the onlooking village boys and they would rush to pick up the coins. Then the impervious baratis would beat the culprits who had picked the coins. And the beaten boys would take revenge later. As the buses and other vehicles started to go back, they would throw stones to break the maximum number of windowpanes and rival heads if possible.

Once we felt well recompensed when we hammered a wooden piece into the exhaust pipe of a wedding party bus and it won’t start causing a lot of anxiety and inconvenience among the foes. This slimy novelty was hurtled in their face because one of the boys from our group had been slapped because he had caught a 10-rupee note mid air that was hurled into the skies by a wildly drunk barati in celebration. So the bus won’t start for a long time and once it did there was a hail of stones. That’s how weddings were celebrated during our childhood in the eighties of the last century.

Pet-pals of our childhood

 

My brother loved pets during childhood. We still remember those dogs, cats and birds. A few of them stand out. Kalu was a tiniest, skinniest puppy that was bought for fifty paisa from a neighborhood urchin by my brother. It was touted as a bad bargain by the elders as it was almost on the verge of death. It kept its neck tilted as if as a declaration of misery and sickness.

The village school was nearby and we would come during the recess more to check if Kalu was still around and less to have a hurried lunch. But Kalu was a hard life in a frail body. Mother would go to the fields to get fodder and keep it chained in a wall’s shade and would return before the sun crossed over and baked it alive. Once she got late and found Kalu stretched out under a merciless sun, struggling for breaths. She thought these were death pangs. But once in the shade and some water dropped in its mouth, it made a comeback and never looked back.

Kalu wasn’t an all-black dog, it was speckled black and white and we chose black from the binary scheme of its coat to name it as such. It came to be a sturdy dog in its youth. Childhood frailties don’t always mean the same in youth. It was now a big dog and well behaved in manners. But it would lose its temper slightly at the sight of a farmer in the locality.

One day, in anger the farmer poked at Kalu with a hayfork. Kalu lost one of its eyes. Father worked at Delhi with Life Insurance Corporation. On his return at night, we shared the catastrophic episode. We had never seen Father leading a quarrel with his little pack. But that day he led all of us to the farmer’s threshold and all of us delivered a handy condemnation and wholesale remonstration. More than Kalu losing its eye, the fact that we the educated guys went for a verbal fight made the news in the village. Kalu was nursed back to health and performed well even as a one-eyed canine. It looked very cute with its squinting look. But then one day, it followed the ladies, Mother being one of them, going to the fields. It involved a kilometer of walk along the tar road. There it met its end under a truck like most of the village dogs did during those days.

Village dogs went to the roads to die. They actually ran into the vehicles to escape from them. A few other pet dogs met the same end. Rikki but was a different sort. It was a large, handsome brown and white dog. It looked a canine rockstar from all angles. It always created a timorous creak in the hearts of all the female canines. There was an ominous fluctuation in the jealous hearts of rival males as Rikki wooed almost all the females in the entire village.

After its love episodes, it looked solemn, drowsy, almost venerable. An ineffable moonbeam lurking on its august face. Its love-sorties took it to all corners of the village to shower its dreamy gaze at all its fans. Jealousy of rival dogs knew no bounds. A dozen of them banded together and ambushed the handsome Romeo. The destiny’s gale was blowing against Rikki now. It was a frightful and shadowy attack in the fields outside the village. The gusting billows of their anger poured out their immeasurable agony. We were crestfallen as it was declared dead in the attack.

Almost daily pestered by my younger brother, Father came very close to buy an eagle from old Delhi. My brother had been carefully deliberating over the menu of mice and frogs for the esteemed hunter. But then the prayers of our mother were heeded and the hunter bird didn’t arrive. But many pigeons and parrots did arrive, most of whom would die and my brother would mourn the death of his pet birds with loud tears.

Once there was a pair of little Australian parrots in the house. One of them flew away one day. My brother led a frantic search operation after a nippy discussion with his pals. They led their search party across the fields surrounding the village, peeked into hundreds of trees, and shot queries about the runaway parrot at the farmers from the neighboring villages grazing their cattle.

Imagine trying to spot a little bird among thousands of birds chattering among thousands of trees across many square kilometers. But a valiant marksman is undaunted by the unfavorable winds. The relentless search operation made it a local news item. Who says efforts go waste? You always stand a chance of finding even a needle in a huge hayrack if you are diligent and persevere in your effort. Someone informed that a boy at the farther end of the village has a beautiful parrot. My brother and his band sneaked over their yard to check. There it was. Sitting on a stick with its leg tied. The boy was condemned as a wicked and impious brigand, smuggler and poacher (all together) and the bird was retrieved.

Pushed by the benevolent gaiety of childhood, we once saved two hare babies from the fields. But in reality, we had kidnapped them from their house. We customized a big wooden chest as a cage. They grew fabulously. But then they started quarrelling all day and emitted stanching white urine. They had to be given to a bigger pet lover along with the huge wooden chest, sack of feed, a few rupees and plenty of cajoling.

Given their unbecoming ways, they did rounds around the village. Finally, an enterprising one ate them. We raised a protest at this but he flatly told us, ‘See, you weren’t the owners. I was the owner at the time.’ ‘But they were pets for playing,’ we tried to reason. ‘For playing, yea! We tried to play with them. But they were so angry that bit the finger of my grandson. Left it bleeding! So there was no other use. Moreover, there were guests at home that day and we were drunk. So made use of them.’ We demanded back our huge wooden cage contrived from a chest. But to him it belonged to the last occupant. So the question of ownership got muddled along the series comprising all the owners along the line of occupancy across the village. So we lost our claim. We tried to retrieve it by stealth. It was too big for being stolen over the wall of his yard. It crashed and Bablu, the most muscular one in the squad, got a blue toe. We had to run away to avoid a beating.   

Once a cat ate mama squirrel, leaving three orphaned finger-length squirrel babies sticking on an unplastered wall. My brother used all his boyhood expertise in catching them and raised them as their single parent. A slim plastic eyedropper, having a very thin nozzle, was salvaged from the waste heap. The squirrel kids would have a semi-fluid made of milk and crushed bread. They would hold the dropper’s tube with their front paws and cutely drank the nourishing drink. It was a successful rearing. They grew strong. We left them on a neem tree where they grew still bigger and enjoyed the sweet-sour offerings of this world.  

While the village boys hit the hard cork ball to neighboring field around the school playground, my brother once hit upon the scheme to fish out three handsome, full-grown parrot lads from their hideouts in the school’s roof. They were just a few days away from flying and their beaks gave him a bloodied taste on fingers. I would say it was outright kidnapping. They were force-fed for a few days and raised lots of squeaky protests in the room. Then luck smiled at them. Mother inadvertently opened the door and they had their first free flight. It amounted to a real flight to freedom.

A cat mom was once staying in our barn with her week-old kittens. Grandfather turned a cat-killer for her sake. Well, we siblings turned very fond of the kittens. But then a burly male cat came at night and broke one kitten’s neck leaving us fuming for revenge. We were ready for it the next night. Father had his hockey stick and Grandpa had his well-oiled stick. Grandpa was in his late seventies at that time. The rascally cat gave a tough challenge and would have escaped over the high wall if not for Grandpa’s masterstroke. He jumped in air and hit the climber on its back. The cat rolled down and after that Grandpa showed amazing skill and agility in hitting maximum strikes within the shortest time. Very soon the murderer cat got murdered itself. We were so happy but Mother was apprehensive. ‘They say if you kill a cat, God will demand a golden cat from you,’ she reminded us. ‘For that God will have to first give me that much of gold,’ Grandpa seemed ready for atonement. 

Sherry the black German shepherd was Father’s darling. She was the only one who understood his fabulous literary English and responded to his philosophical talks. The rest of the village was clueless to his high-standard angrezi. But then Sherry developed a taste for running after humans and sometimes even taste some scraps of skins on human calf muscles. Complaints arose in very exaggerated proportions. Maybe the people held a grudge against her for her English skills. Father left her with a friend who stayed at the town twelve kilometers away. I think he forgot the basic fact about the canine sense of smell. But he realized it the very next night when Sherry scraped her paws against the door, whining to be admitted in. Father thought that she must have learnt a lesson and would behave well. But Sherry looked for revenge now. I think she understood that the entire neighborhood had conspired against her. Father tried his best to put reason in her brain in classy English. But she scaled up her pursuit of human calf muscles. Complaints swarmed when Father would come back from office at night. So away they went as co passengers in the train to the capital. Father left her in the bathroom, safely locked for a long journey. That was a sad decision but that’s what he could think of as a solution.       

Then there were a few little mushy cats that would sneak into our quilts and give purring, pampering sounds on cold, shivery nights. These were expert cherubs and would materialize in the dark and would look out for the most comfortable quilt. They had a lot of choice.  

Once one little kitten rolled on the ground to kill a common wolf snake, a baby pink, beautifully pattered little snake. Father declared the kitten to be a hunter. He gave special instructions for this particular baby cat to be treated well. He was sure that it would turn into a majestic hunter and would wipe away all the rodents and reptiles in the village. It grew fat on that promise and ran away one fine day, pursuing a girl cat and forgot all our affection.  

I, on my part, had my modest share of stealing eggs from holes and nests under a conviction that if I keep them in my custody, the baby bird coming out will be my friend for life. I kept them in alcoves and skylight ledges, repeatedly checking if my birdie friend had arrived. The eggs but remained good museum pieces. I would only realize and understand the reasons in middle school science books about hatching.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Uncle Surje's Wife

 

Thousands of fungus gnats, tiny insects of the size of one-tenth of an inch, flew into the lighted verandah. They seemed in great spirits, almost in party mood on a special night. I find them dead in the morning. But then maybe they danced to death. There are heaps of tiny dead insects among dry yellow neem leaves and dead rose petals. Dying together with so many of your species must be a strange experience. I broom the floor and almost countless tiny fliers form a fistful of brown sawdust. Where did so many individual points of consciousness go?

It’s a windy mid October morning shoving away the lugubrious, sleepy shades from my little garden and small courtyard. An extremely chatty purple sunbird couple sounds like an excited sparrow played in fast-forward mode on an audio tape. It builds a momentum and lots of yellow and old neem leaves tumble down. A very soft, light drizzle gets inspired, almost wispy brushstrokes of mist, or you can say stormy mist at the most.

Marigolds love October and are quick to give the flashiest of smiles. The bougainvillea is also doing well. It’s a bonsai variety to check its rapid sprawl and the consequent overtaking of the garden walls. During its purchase, when it was a tiny sapling, the nursery guy thrice corrected me on ‘bonsai’. ‘It’s bone-size!’ he informed me emphatically. I stand corrected and call it ‘bone-size’. He had earlier worked at Pune and sold it under the same name to far more important and significant looking gentlemen than me, so that acted as a validation for his name and I accepted it. So the bone-size bougainvillea is trying to break the limits imposed on its wild growth by our scientists.  

In a crack in the wall, there is a sprout of common purselane. It’s slightly sturdy but quite stubborn to grow even on the roofs and walls. It has yellow flowers, which later dry to thorny bulbs and give a pricking retort when you try to pull them out. We call them bhaakri in local parlance. I decide to be stubborn like bhaakri in my restful or call it idle ways. Varied life situations try to tickle at my spine with their urgent toes. I, but, sit cuddling fodder like an old, relaxed ox.

The flowerbeds in the garden give a wild look as ubiquitous weeds take a foothold. Allow, sometimes, mother nature to leave its unrestricted footprint around you. It’s a peculiar medley of weedy world. The shovel, digging fork and hand trowel have lots of rust bestowed by prolonged rest. Human idleness is maybe a boon for wilderness. Mother earth won’t mind too many idlers. Maybe she is wary of too hardworking and smart humans. She has amply rewarded my idlehood.

Little clumps of single-stemmed quack grass with long leaf-blades are nicely clothing earth. There is false tobacco, elephant’s foot, clumps of finer grasses spread like a leafy claw, hairy crabgrass with its wispy hair or call it flowers, matted sandmat or the little ground creeper with sinewy stalk and little leaves, common groundsel with frilled leaves, horseweed with its rosette of leaves. It’s a miniscule marvel, a pampered luxury, enthralling opulence, a grand interlude, a kind of slice of wilderness far away from the twittering long romps of the control freaks trapped in their own cleverness.

There is a friendly rivalry among these little denizens of the grassy world. I gape at the inexorable force of mother nature. It sprawls indescribably. Nature is always at peace while we are forever shuddering and caught in an ensnaring jiffy.

A touch of the untamed grass and distant memories rush up with aplomb and fruit jam sweetness.

Tai Surje ki bahu, the wife of uncle Surje, was a pioneer in neighborhood feminism. She smoked beedis and hookahs with macho voracity. She drank homemade liqueur with a proud exhortation. Novice liquor-lovers got their first lessons in the art in her patronizing company. They would sit around her on the mud floor and gloat over her bartending skills using teacups with broken handles and jarred mouths.

A full bottle got toppled one day. Almost half of its contents formed a puddle in a hollow near her feet on the mud floor. She was quick to act and gave the best lesson in the art of wining and dining. She cupped her hands and splurged the earth-scented cocktail. Her pupils followed suit. It was wiped clean.

‘Every drop matters. We had forgotten to offer a ceremonial drop to mother earth, so she got angry and tried to gulp down the entire bottle. As a good drinker, never forget to offer a drop to mother earth before you start,’ she told them.

She is long gone, but her pupils, in their middle age now, are the present day master liquor-lovers and carry the flag high in the art and craft of full-time intoxication.