Some we met

Today I am going to tell you about a short man, a man whose name I have forgotten. Maybe someone in the family remembers his name.

The reason I remembered him was because I was eating rice noodles for dinner. The husband had picked up the noodles at our Asian store, it had writing on it in an Asian language I couldn’t decipher. But there was English for the instructions too, which I followed to make a very time consuming dish of noodles. The noodles had to be soaked in cold water for 10 minutes, then boiled for 20 minutes, then plunged into cold water for another 10. After all this time, I found that the noodles were still hard. So I dumped it into the gravy of a mutton curry I had leftover from lunch. And it cooked for another 30 minutes.

I was at the table eating these noodles, after the rest of the gang had finished their dinner. I had given up the fork and instead ate with my hands, noodles with a side of Swiss chard thoran (made in the Kerala manner!) Now those who eat lamb regularly know that it’s a very fatty meat (sorry, my vegetarian readers!) I could taste the fat in the dish, and that is when I remembered the man.

He was a short man, and he was probably called Khan, probably not. We were in Rampur, in the winter. He had brought in a dish primarily made out of animal fat. It had been cooked at his house and he brought us some. I faintly recollect us kids being unable to eat much of it, because it was like, ninety percent fat. He said it is good for you in winter to eat such foods.

I think it was him who brought us a dessert made out of colostrum. It was weird to be eating that kheer, but he said it was a good thing to eat too.

He was a Water Carrier in my father’s camp. A Water Carrier is one of the lowest ranks there, and usually the men who held this rank aspired to raise to the rank of a Cook next. I think they were also commissioned only temporarily into the police force, often recruited from the immediate local populace. It would not have been a stable job.

He was assigned to our house when there was a shortage of cooks in the camp. I don’t know how this kind of privilege (with a parade of people to help us in daily life) affected us as kids, but I can see the mess in my kitchen today and take a guess.

He was also a tailor, and he would get assigned tailoring work as required. I always saw him come in to the house wearing his coat. He had stitched coats for all of us siblings for the winter, and thus we had to look reluctantly stylish in our school, when most of the other kids only came in wearing sweaters.

Now that I recollect, him being short might have limited his options to rise up the ranks. Usually all the other higher and permanent ranks had a minimum height requirement.

When we had parties at home, he would be quite busy in the kitchen with my mother leading the cooking efforts. For a long while we all referred to a party as ‘paalty’, for that is how he referred to the word.

It was only him who spoke the local Rampuri dialect (?) to us without any superficial consciousness. Often accents or dialects in languages are made fun of, but we kids found the way he spoke delightful. Kya bol riya hai tu?

Rampur was a good place for us, after the uncertainty of living in the North Eastern states. There were neem trees that blossomed and then the place would be pungent with its smell for days in the summer. In winter there would be fog, and one encountered monkeys when the fog cleared, and I had to then walk with my heart in my mouth, not running, as the monkeys did not like people to run.

There is both a moon and a plane in this photo.

I am in a different place now, where our friends painstakingly buy and plant neem trees for lots of dollars. I eat my dinner that is hardening with the fat, and I remember this man who once lived in our lives.

Thoran (Malayalam), is a dry dish of shredded vegetables cooked with grated coconut.

Kya bol riya hai tu? (Hindi with a Rampuri accent), What are you saying?

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