Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dress code (Micro Fiction)

Photo courtesy: Mala Kaur
They made for a pretty picture. Three generations of Indian women and from one gene stock, faces aglow in the pensive gold of a porcelain lamp. Steaming mugs of caffeine marked their vintage; a milky, a green and a strong black.

Setting her needle point aside, Raninder Kaur mused “I used to recognize the men around me only by their shoes. Beeji would not let me look at their faces.” Her daughter Harleen nodded wanly, tatting shuttle poised mid-air, “But you and Daddy were ahead of your times Ma; you would insist that I bring all the boys who were my friends home.” Tia looked up from fingering the tattoo on her wrist, amusement writ large on her young face, “Not boyfriends, is it? Boys who were friends!”

The three sat as though adrift, the debris of a social convulsion lapping around them. Harleen laughed softly as she shared with Tia the acute discomfort it caused everyone to have a bra strap peak the slightest. It was considered bad form to tuck it away in view. The offender would hurry away to privacy, shamed by the narrow piece of elastic. “My mother had to wear a heavy lehenga over her salwar, every time she stepped out of her home,” Raninder  Kaur called to memory Tia’s great grandmother.

The sartorial mishap that had the women in a huddle had to do with Tia’s fondness for the racer backs. At a party the night before, a page three reporter had clicked her picture and copies of the rag were ruffling on dining tables across the extended family. “Spotted, a neighbourhood hottie!” the family was squirming as much over the caption as they were at the offending shot of Tia’s ornate halter neck. That it sat well on her toned body and she radiated joy had evidently escaped everyone.

Raninder Kaur held the newspaper up to get a clearer look, “She looks rather nice in this dress, whatever they call it…the color suits her.” Harleen shook her head resignedly, “You know how conservative our clan is Mother. They will pick this bone for years.” Their family of highly educated and staunch Sikhs tolerated diversity but brooked the barest of adventurism from their women.

“Checks and balances make sense for social order, I guess,” the two seniors turned towards Tia, their eyes widening.  She had eventually lifted her shiny head from the WhatsApp screen “I don’t know Mum! What is so scary about an exposed shoulder blade? It is wrong to sexualize the female dress. I wear clothes for myself. The gender power imbalance in our society we talk about…I think many women internalize that and feel forced to commodify themselves through exposure. How about we shift focus to the men and their ‘boys will be boys’ mindset?”

Stung into silence, the adults stared at their progeny. “Oh, and before I forget, there is a letter for parents from the discipline committee at school. They are convening over the dress code at school functions. Some of us wore tank tops to the senior jam session and believe it or not, there is talk of expulsion by way of setting an example. Would you call this reasonable? I mean, the weather is so warm these days!” 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Blind spot (Micro Fiction)

It was a reflex action, there was no other way to explain Mamta’s juvenile getaway. The traffic policeman was squinting at her papers when her right foot took on a life of its own, the silver Honda retreating in a nebula of guilt and anger.

A law abiding citizen belching on values, Mamta had a strong sense of black and white. “How can people break rules? I was brought up to respect authority,” she often simmered at the apparent state of anarchy around.

“Madam, do you realize why I waved you down?” the cop had said. She had apparently stepped over the yellow divider, literally crossing the line! There had been a car snailing ahead and Mamata had swung the slightest right to overtake. This was embarrassing! Another policeman had sauntered up to her window putting pen to the challan book. “License and pollution papers?” he had drawled. It rattled her to be at the receiving end of such pedestrian demands. “This is a copy, where is the original license?”  Mamta remembered silently cursing her husband “Damn Hari’s cautiousness, he advocated carrying copies, just in case.”

“Please hurry up and take whatever you have to. Don’t ask me all these questions!” she had glared at the lukewarm men. “You will have to pay penalty Madam. Copy not allowed ” and Mamta was gone, leaving the traffic keepers clutching at her history.

Foolishly enough, she had dared hope for sympathy at home. “You just drove off like that?” her husband was aghast. “Leaving your license and papers behind?” his voice climbed a scale. Mamta was frigid, “It was your idea to carry a copy!”

Hari was crestfallen, an organizer to the core, his study shelves arrayed with files on everything from family finances to the dog’s medical records. “I know, I know but to slip away like that, from under their noses…I don’t believe this!” And of course Mamta found it convenient to be defensively dismissive “Forget the license, it was just a copy” 

“No way, I will have to retrieve the lot. You must keep your wits about you and that Radio FM plays too loud in your car. Get into the habit of anticipating honey.” Mamta tuned him out, pulling the original license from her metal cupboard to tuck it carefully into her cards pouch. She was livid with herself already and Hari’s litany sounded like he was rubbing it in. 

A highly educated professional, Mamta took pride in her self-sufficiency “I am not clinging to my husband like a vine.” She was therefore self-contained when Hari dropped a white packet on her work table the following evening. He was puffed up and preening with victory “Here are your car papers Madam Bolter!” In that moment, the traffic policeman seemed almost a friend. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Catastrophe (Micro Fiction)

He went at the herbs with a vengeance. The three inch blade would swing to the right as he gathered the greens with his left, their crunchy hits pinging on the tumid kitchen air. 

Meha’s husband called it her default setting; this habit of biting off more than she could chew. A full-fledged, three course Spanish dinner was under production with the solo assistance of google and an Indian cook who was having trouble keeping his hands off ginger.

“Madam, are you sure about the adrak?” his swarthy confidence had begun to crumble. “We are cooking Paella, not Biryani Biju and use only olive oil please; very little at a time!”

The cook house would have put NASA control room during take-off to shame. Meha was scrolling down the recipes online, cross checking the images and calling out the ingredients in a tight voice. “Biijuuu! Just sauté lightly….no browning the onion….this is tortilla not tadka.”

Biju had begun to sweat with the effort of tuning out his long, Indian culinary experience. “Stop, stop, what are you doing? The parsley is for garnishing, you are mincing it with that knife of yours!” Biju dropped the knife as though stung, turning fearfully to the asparagus in slow motion, going pale at their lightened skin, they had overcooked! “Don’t tell me you used up both the green peppers in the gazpacho! We needed one for the Ensalada de pollo,” Meha fought down the panic, an eye on the clock. The ceremonial dinner table had to be laid and the guest bathroom given a once over. She ran down her check list mentally, chafing at having to rein in Bijju’s automatic kitchen reflexes that came from years of training.

“Slice the peaches down the middle Biju and use just a dab of butter for the pine nuts…I can’t give you too many breaks today; this is taking longer than expected.”

Biju shifted his weight in a deliberate manner to the right leg, “Er..umm…I think the meat balls have gone too soft, I will need some corn flour?!” Meha fixed him with that look, irritated at this affirmation of what she called ‘corrective cooking’. “Why are these cooks always patching up with corn flour and potatoes” she talked to herself just as her phone came to life with a message tone. It was her mother, wanting to discuss a forthcoming family event. “Mum, am busy, will call later” she typed out quickly before turning to the guacamole. Biju had scooped the avocado pits and was beginning to dunk the onions in the grinder. “Why? I told you to grate them; we want a grainy texture. Peel another one please.”

Polishing, dusting, watering, painting….the minions were hard at it outside the galley. Having mentally checked off the snack items, the serving bowls, the garden lights and the music, Meha finally shifted a gear down. She had planned her outfit and it hung neatly in her wardrobe, ironed and crinkle free. “A quick shower and I will light the candles” Meha called out some more instructions over her shoulder before closing the door to the master bedroom.

The evening progressed rather well over the well planned and creatively laid out snacks and beverages. Ricky Martin’s “Lo major de mi vida eres tu” kept the esprit de corps humming. Dear husband played the dutiful host, egged on by the memory of how fatigued his wife had looked when he returned home from work. “You have explained it all to Biju, now just relax and let him handle it, he is a veteran cook” he had reassured the hostess.

It must have been that urging combined with the sangria, Meha would tell herself later. She had no memory of how the food came to be laid on the table. What remained seared in her mind was the garnishing. There were slivers, and whorls, even nano-cubes! Flecks and quarters and strips of crisp fresh ginger, generously sprinkled over every single dish at her Spanish red theme, dining table.

Horribles jengibre!