Friday, July 29, 2011

Take the flight

We are a Sikh couple with a difference. The man is a proud Sikh of the Deccan and I hail from the Jat-land of Moga. While his Deccan Sikh community is fiercely assertive over their Sikh legacy, my folk back home wear it quite a bit lighter. Perhaps it was their distance from the original home land that caused the Deccan Sikhs to so closely define their identity in terms of the five Ks. I am not sure but there are other quirks.

When I see them pushing food at fellow diners on the table, I get flashbacks of my Moga kin with their wonderfully nurturing mantra, “The reason you don’t like this dish is you are not hungry!” Long drawn out and involved sessions on the day’s menu at my Hyderabad home juxtapose starkly against the “cook what is growing in the field” operative policy back home. Their rich spice counter is to date a contrariety to my minimal salt, turmeric, chilli and garam masala fed palate. I have not stopped marvelling at their ‘dabbal ka mitha’ and ‘khoobani custard’ in the light of the humble ‘sooji halwa’ and ‘sevian’ that I grew up on.

They claim superiority on more counts than one. No narrow caste based ‘gotra’ preoccupation for them. They declare allegiance to Guru Gobind Singh’s edict of the ‘Khalsa Singh’. I listen to the roll of honour being read out at the Ameerpet Gurudwara: Sirdar Harpreet Singh, Sirdar Jagpal Singh, Sirdar Manpreet Singh.... all the while casting about for the sound of one Sandhu or Brar or Dhaliwal or Lehl. It is an inferior, non-Sikh practice I am told, to be using a second name distinct from the universal and Guru given “Singh”.

The Deccan Sikh culture is rich with home-made remedies and charms. Mine seems ruthless and barren by comparison. The most we rustled up was a hot glass, not cup but a glass of good old tea, at its medicinal best, without ginger or basil, if you please. Alternately, there would be the ever present tumbler of pure buffalo milk. In one of his nursing highs, Dad would have us dunk down a table spoon of brandy for the odd cold. The rest of the ailments either healed on their own or ended with a trip to the doctor. There was no turmeric milk on the boil or the Deccan concoction of dates and saffron, forget about the pepper and cinnamon tea potion. There was a half-hearted wielding about of the mustard oil as some kind of a panacea but that's about it.

It therefore does not amaze me how attuned the Deccan Sikhs are to every muscle and sinew in their bodies. At any given time, they can recount with precision what is hurting or ailing and where. Time is reserved in the course of a typical day for enumeration of the aches and pains and allergies and remedies. It does make me wistful for the expression on my grandfather’s face if we so much as breathed discomfort; why, he took delight in snapping our fingers and joints for joy. My grandma was no less; she made us walk respectable distances and carted us around in the bus or atop the tractor, viewing our whines with a ‘have you taken leave of your senses’ look.

All this acculturation had to come to a head some day. And it did, right before Asawari was to leave for her Bridge Year Orientation at Princeton. Everything was going well. Twenty four hours to countdown, she developed redness in the left eye. While I dismissed it mentally as a minor inflammation, the father was dead certain it was the onset of a deadly case of Conjunctivitis. Several parleys with the medical world followed including consultations with the alternative medical practitioners. While I was content to have her rinse the eye and irrigate it with eye drops, the father launched an urgent mission to abort her departure until such time as the red eye settled down. I went half crazy with fear. A huge amount of preparation had gone into her itinerary and she would end up missing the all important Bridge Year Orinetation at Princeton. I did not want her landing in Belgrade straight from Delhi without the preparatory detour to Newark.

In panic, I called up Aqseer at Bangalore. As my charged monologue abated, she calmly asked me the name of the doctor her father had taken Asawari to!

“Kohli”, I said weekly, “Col Kohli.”

“Ah, Kohli is it? Don’t worry, she will go!!!” My mouth had not recovered yet when I got an sms from Asawari at the doctor’s, “Doctor says, take the flight!”

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