Some Moments of Rough-hewn Peace

Here is a bit of advice for amateur cooks who are just learning the tricks of the kitchen affairs. Never compare your cooked items with the best food that you have tasted in the genre. Compare it with the worst you ever experienced. The challenge then is only this much that you fight to save yours turning out to be the worst. In this there is more chance that you will pass the test. I do the same as I try new things in the kitchen.

I usually put my product in relation to a peasant woman’s offerings. Well, they are a nice couple. They have good hearts but a good heart doesn’t always mean good cooking mind also. She smiles like an innocent girl but her food will challenge you at many levels. The main test is to stop your tears as her pure smile wants you to finish the thing. But then she has what many good female cooking minds don’t have, a good heart and a pure smile. Most importantly, I get a benchmark in taste, which I can very easily build upon. I manage it easily and that’s pretty encouraging.

Carpenter ants are the elephants of the ant-world. They are big, have nice protruding pliers that can take a nice nibble at the human skin. We played a bloody game with them as kids. Put a tiny bit of saliva on its snout, out come its fangs, ready to sink into the target. Then we would offer our skin, mostly it was the big toe. Being the bigger elder in the paw family carries extra responsibility. The angry big ant would then bite and sink its double-pronged weapon into the skin. The bigger and angrier ones sank it pretty deep. Then we would have our sadistic glee. Pull the ant from behind. It would snap into two. The front still sunk into the toe skin and the behind in the fingers for some childish post-mortem. The insertion would then be plugged out, leaving a little trail of blood. The one who had the privilege of messing up the toe to the best extent would declare himself a winner.

A pretty disturbing game, I accept. But that’s the world of boys in the farming community. They cannot have mushy teddy bears in soft beds. So they pick out carpenter ants.

Well, that was decades ago. We carry much softer skins now. Sitting on a chair and writing, I raise my foot out of the big black ant’s way as it crawls ahead. These are very sensitive times. An ant bite can spoil the entire day, so why take risk. It moves on and meets a fellow big ant coming from the other direction. They stop and snuggle up to twitch their antennas. It seems a pretty hearty gossip. They can actually identify their own kin relations from the same nest. It is a kind of chemical signal. Here they are strangers belonging to different nests. They just move on after this brief greeting.

Big loafs of clouds are drifting across the sky’s blue. A single strand of cobweb is flying in the soft breeze. Its one end is still moored somewhere. The sunlight sends a molten wave of shiny silver cascading across this thin medium as the reflection moves up and down the thin line. Well, the nature knows how to entertain itself.

There are plenty of flowers in the unkempt garden: red, pink, white and yellow roses; white and lilac sadabahars: red, white and scarlet hibiscus; soft red and orange geraniums; deep red peregrina; mild indigo petunia; purple red and pink bougainvillea, gentle red of Jesus thorn; white of the pinwheel or light of the moon; and little white blooms of parijat that keep the smiles going well into the night’s dark. They say that a fairy is born every time a flower dies. In the garden there must be plenty of fairies then. If it’s true then I request them to drive away the snakes hiding around. But maybe snakes are mere wormy playthings to the fairies. Why would they even bother the reptiles?

An unkempt garden carries multitudes of advantages for someone looking for solitude. There are little inconveniences of snakes and mice though. These but can be managed with a cat. The cat itself is a big inconvenience but its disadvantages pale in comparison to a snake. A cat will irritate you, the snake, on the other hand, scares the hell out of you. The main advantage of a dishevelled courtyard is that it carries a miniature forest type of feeling. Many birds set up their nests. There is an entire world of insects on the ground. The branches wave at you with unconditional friendliness. By the way, the beautiful greenish bee-eaters have skipped their monsoonal trip to the garden this year. Last year there were many who chucked out dragonflies midair and feasted on the branches. So the dragonflies have better times this season.

The monkeys seem well determined to out-populate the humans. I saw simian child brides carrying babies with much effort. The big rascal is now into child marriages. The worst are the adolescent males. They pluck mischief out of thin air. The other day, one gallant tried puppy-ride. It jumped onto the back of a puppy. The latter tried to maintain its run but crashed after a few panicked gallops. It howled for a complete hour as if it had been boiled alive. The elder canines yelped and barked helplessly. Then a blacksmith gypsy arrived in the street and shouted for the sale of his rudimentary sheet-iron tools and utensils. The street dogs find it utterly unbearable. Forgetting the monkeys, they walk in a long trail after the wandering hawker. The victim puppy also draws out pride and walks with taut tail as part of the retinue. Having brief memories really helps them.

The lazy kitten is obsessed about the bowl. All day it looks at it and doesn’t spare licking even the empty basin repeatedly to ensure there isn’t a single molecule left to make the ants happy. I am fed up with its unrelenting demands. It needs to be taught that life doesn’t centre around food only.

To break its invisible magnetic chain tying it to the bowl, I have devised a mechanism. A cat hates water, even more than the dogs I suppose. So I spray water at it sometimes when it seems that the craze for the bowl is crossing all limits and it may turn a lunatic cat. It finds it scarier than even a grenade blast and shoots off to hide in the barn, another matter that it has learnt to forget it too easily and crawl out after a few minutes.

After getting a mild shower, it sat sullenly under the parijat tree. That’s the best I have been able to push it so far, just taking that much effort to look in the direction of a prey. High in the branches there is a soft jingling of chirps. The silverbill has her house full. It stares into the globular grassy nest, waiting for the impatient dumpling to commit the error of stepping out too prematurely and tumble down on a cat’s table. A lot of them do it in fact, so cats usually wait patiently under the nests for days on end, looking for that slight misadventure by the soft, meaty hatchling.

The silverbill parents have very soft trills of objection to this gluttonous stare. The reprimanded kitten’s brother also joins in the staring game. There they eat the nest with their eyes. A tailor bird couple finds it deeply disturbing. They have tailored their nest somewhere in the lower branches. The stitched nest of three leaves is well camouflaged. But they cannot take a risk. ‘Why are you staring this way?’ they shoot back. These little creatures are well made for quarrels. They are ready for it all the time. A few babblers also join their little, winged brethren. Soon it’s a big brawl. The cats find it unbearable for their ears and leave in disgust.

The other day, a big-mouthed fatty male cat arrived in the yard. The bowl-licker turned on its heels and scampered into the veranda and became invisible. The bowl is too precious, so this life has to be kept safe. The barn-dweller kitten crouched more in defence, its hair upright and gave a preeny, sharp, crying set of growls and a hideous series of mewing. At least it tried to stand guard.

The bigger male knows that this tiny rascal will take away his girls in future so finds him an enemy. The smaller Romeo also knows that to win a girl in future it has to pass this test. All around it seems just a fight for girls across the species. The bigger rival toppled the smaller one. I stand and watch. I know exactly when to intervene. I know at what point it may turn fatal for the little cat. But before that the little one has to show that it can fight. The bigger suitor for girls is almost double in size, so the smaller one rolls on its back and raises its front paws like an expert pugilist. It growls and hisses hideously and furtively throws around its punches. That’s the fighting spirit!

As an underdog you fight to save your neck and give a few scratches on the opponent’s face. When was a fight decided by the body size? It’s basically in the spirits. The tiny firecracker forces the big bully to retreat. After the fight it looks pretty ruffled and roughened up. But it has shown enough spirit and willpower to remind the bully cat that his girls will have a dashing young lover very soon.

The sissy bowl-lover crawls out and goes out to check his brother. He cuddles and puts the fighter’s ruffled moustache in order by affectionate licking. Cat, no problem with your bowl-driven aesthetics. You love your bowl; he has his eyes already on love beyond the fence.

The major advantage of getting married in teens is that you become a grandparent in just your early forties. There are many such grandparents in the village. If a grandson is born to such couples, they have enough youth in their legs to shake to bawdy Haryanvi songs in celebration.

Yesterday the air shivered with loud thumps and beats of coarse music as the mammoth woofers and speakers shook the walls to match the pride and happiness of a couple that turned grandparents in just their early forties. Liquor flew freely. The Haryanvi songs created a kind of earthquake.

The drunkards have such audacious lungs to even shout over the loudest music. They even out-sanitized the normal people during the pandemic. As very healthy and disciplined people fell victim to corona virus, the drunkards stood well and safe surprisingly. Possibly the repeated sanitization of throats with alcohol proved better than hand sanitization. They even know it. In fact they boast about it. Even the worst drunkard, nearest to death in the village, kept his shouts and drunken pouts farthest from the least traces of a feeble sneeze. He is still alive and kicking and drinking well. ‘And we don’t take even a single precaution like you guys!’ they boast in a condemnatory tone at the lesser non-drinking mortals. Well, that shouldn’t encourage more drinking. Living without awareness is no living at all. We have to be in our senses to enjoy our pleasures and cope up with the pains.

The suggestive, lewd gyrations of Haryanvi songs created a whirlpool of fiery passions and the drunkards raised a lot of dust in the street. After hours of merry-making, there has to be a big loud-mouthed brawl also, as a kind of dessert after the main course. The expenditure on liquor seems a waste if there is no quarrel at the far end of celebrations. The quarrel serves a big purpose, without it the celebrations won’t stop. So there was a causeless brawl in which all shouted for being the worst victims of their fellow merry-makers’ nastiest tyranny.

Here a surprise sprang up. The numero uno drunkard, who is permanently sloshed and roams the streets, raising brawls with dogs, monkeys and humans in equal measure, turned stoic. Doing as others do isn’t his forte. So in the hours-long brawl, his drunk voice was the only sound of sanity. He sounded like a piously drunk sage. The next day, when the rest of the humanity turned sane, he regained his lost status and raised extra ruckus in the streets as if to make up for the loss of those moments.