Krishnan deftly scooped piping hot rasam rice from the banana leaf and savored it. Muscle memory? They say if you had learnt to bike or swim you never, ever forget how to do it, ever in your lifetime. Eating liquid rasam from the flat surface of the leaf should be added to list, he thought. (Literature, @Siliconeer, #Siliconeer, #SujathaRamprasad)
Sitting cross-legged on the floor next to his dad, in his ancestral home he had to hide the leaf with both the hands to prevent his mother from adding more rice. “Amma, that is enough, I have eaten way too much.”
“You always say that. At your age you should be eating much more. Here, at least have some more vegetables. The brinjals (eggplants) are fresh and tender.”
It was obvious that she was overjoyed to have him back home. Krishnan smiled. Even though he was fifty-three, he was still being treated like a kid. The aroma from the fiery brinjal entered his nostrils and smelt heavenly. Krishnan moved his hand and sat up straight to make extra room in his stomach. The simple food appealed to his senses and soul. He wondered how everything in his life, including his taste buds, had come a full circle.
When he was younger, both he and his brother had hated the austere, simple, orthodox lifestyle that their parents enforced on them and desperately waited for wings to fly. And soar they did! Krishnan rode the technology wave in India and became an ultra successful entrepreneur. His brother Raj moved to the U.S. and became the youngest Dean of Environmental Engineering Department at Harvard. Three companies that were started based on his research papers were flying high on NASDAQ. Raj’s research team astonished the world by finding a biological method to degrade plastic. Krishnan googled “Plastic eating Microbes” several times, to understand more about his brother’s research, but found himself meandering back to Cricinfo.
As the brinjal melted in his mouth Krishnan’s mind raced forty years down the memory lane. As a teenager he had hated brinjal.
“Amma brinjal again? Why can’t you make something else?“ he would scream, “like carrots or cauliflower.“
“You know we cannot eat those. Orthodox families like ours are forbidden from eating English vegetables. Please kanna eat it now, I will make laddoos for you in the evening.”
This was way before the phrase “Locally-Grown,” was even in existence. Somehow under the veil of orthodoxy, their family only ate fruits and vegetables grown locally in their village.
Krishnan’s parents never embraced ostentatious lifestyle even though they were fairly well off. They thrived in their simple lifestyle. Their mantra was to use only what they absolutely needed.
The loud mooing of Lakshmi, their family cow interrupted Krishnan’s flashback. The cow was very old and could hardly move. His dad adamantly refused to give her away. “They would just slaughter her, and that would be a terrible sin. She has served our family for so many years and now it is my turn to serve,” said the old man benevolently. Krishnan in some ways was jealous of Lakshmi. His parents refused to visit him in Chennai for more than two days at a time. “Lakshmi will be all alone” they would say. Milkman Gopi and his wife came home every day to clean the cowshed and give Lakshmi a bath – but it wasn’t sufficient.
Krishnan burped contentedly – what a delightful meal it was. As he went to the backyard to wash his hands the milkman and his wife walked in. She brought with her a small stainless steel tiffin-carrier. Krishnan’s mother would fill the tiffin-carrier with the leftovers. Krishnan suspected that his mom cooked a tad extra in order to ensure that the milkman’s kids ate something nice everyday.
The milkman turned towards Krishnan and asked, “Aiyya, is your family, in Chennai doing fine?” and then immediately turned towards the cow and asked, “Lakshmi did you sleep well last night?” Krishnan found it amusing that the milkman conversed simultaneously with him and the cow.
The little bells around the cow’s neck chimed as she shook her head. “Gopi, ask doctor Babu to come by tomorrow. I don’t think Lakshmi has been able to sleep well at night. Maybe her limbs are achy,” said Krishnan’s father as he washed the leaf that he ate on and placed it before Lakshmi. “Also, Gopi, be here with your bullock cart by five. I want to take Krishnan to the temple.”
As a waft of cow dung hit his nostrils, Krishnan noticed the outside wall of the shed. Symmetrical discs, made with a mixture of cow-dung and hay were plastered on the wall. The milkman’s wife picked up some of the dried cow dung cakes and placed them under an earthen structure in the corner of the bathroom. On top of the structure was a large brass pot. She mechanically filled the pot with water and lighted the cow dung cakes. The smoke made Krishnan’s eyes water. He walked towards the well, and peeped inside. It was obvious that monsoon had failed.
Next to the well, a heavy iron bucket was filled with a darkish green substance. Krishnan knew the mixture very well. It was a mixture of cow-dung and water. Every household in the village had a similar bucket filled with exactly the same concoction. Krishnan’s son, Aditya, now 24, fashionably calls it bio-pesticide. The concoction was used to mop the mud floors and patios. Aditya was eight and was playing marbles outside on the patio, when he first came to know about this and was totally traumatized. “Appa, I am never coming to this ‘poop-house’ again. This is so dreadful. Why do I have to be stuck with such uncivilized grandparents? Take me back to Chennai immediately.” He cried and cried and threw up such a tantrum that Krishnan had to pre-pone their departure.
Krishnan thought that his son would never come back to his ancestral home. But a magic metamorphosis happened to his son one night three years ago. Aditya, called late one night and started talking excitedly about his MBA project work on ‘Economic Impact of Sustainable Farming Practices’ – “Dad, I just finished reading this disturbing book by Rachel Carson, about the over use of pesticides. It is called ‘Silent Spring.’ Silent, because spring comes and goes without the blithe songs of the birds and twitters of the insects. The book paints a gruesome picture of the death of birds due to the toxins in the pesticides.” Aditya was emotional. The wisdom of his grandparent’s methods had dawned on him. With his newly found knowledge he continued, “there are different shades of being eco-friendly, dad. Just going out and buying an “eco-friendly,” “energy-efficient,” washing machine is probably the lowest form. The best way to help the environment is to peacefully co-exist with it. Just like thatha, patti do.” Aditya, who once, vehemently refused to visit the village even for a day during Diwali, became a frequent visitor.
A distant ring of the telephone alerted Krishnan. Krishnan sprinted in. The corded instrument sat on a foldable chair on top of two volumes of Ramayana and was covered with a turkey towel.
“Hello. Krishnan Speaking.”
“Krish? Raj here.” And the line went dead.
It was his brother. Krishnan instinctively looked at the clock. It must be 2:00 a.m. in Boston. Something went down his spine. It was exactly the same feeling that tortures, when one falls down vertically, in a roller-coaster ride. Krishnan hoped that everything was okay with his brother.
His parents scurried in, worried about the phone ringing at such an odd time. “Who was that?”
The phone rang again. Krishnan picked it up. The rest of it was a blur. He vaguely remembered that he screamed, his father cried and his mother chanted the Lords name several times. All of them talked simultaneously; laughed and cried together. They were all ecstatic.
Krishnan’s brother Raj had won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to humanity by finding an eco-friendly way to degrade plastic.
The weird feeling in Krishnan’s spine seemed to move to his stomach. He was astonished. Was it jealousy? Krishnan vigorously shook his head. He slowly looked around his parents’ house. He noted that there were no recycling carts, no plastic containers, no paper towels, and no disposable bags. He couldn’t even spot a trashcan.
Krishnan felt his parents’ life style was Nobler!