One of those rare evenings, when I have the evening to myself and I decide to use it to complete an impending task. Dust off my cycle, hop on and alternately glide and peddle for the next five kilometers,meet a person, and head back with steeper path back.
A long, beautiful stretch with joggers and evening walkers (a rare sight such spots these days), and I am thinking the round trip would be ten kms, and I had saved about 20 rupees by not taking out my motor scooter. I am contemplating of refueling myself with a tender coconut, and realise it has been quite a while that I had one.
Stop at one roadside tender coconut stall, and address “auntie – ondu kodi” to a lady there, who is shocked that I asked her for it, because she was just standing by. A hasty apology and the stall owner lady comes down with a bright giggle, that was radiant even in the street without streetlight. I ask her if she can chop off one for me even without the light – she remarks, “I can do it even with my eyes closed”. I did not want to test her skill and asked her to give one with lot of coconut water.
She is chopping off the flakes of the green, bulky tender coconut while I am imagining how sharp the blade was to let those flakes off the sturdy tender coconut – maybe at level two a scene from Kill Bill was running in my head, and I was not very comfortable thinking about its impact when tried on me.
Within few seconds, the all green is now like pie with whipped cream topping, and I start savouring the sweet-salty ‘mineral water’. She, without invitation starts narrating to me the delay that was happening, for she still hadn’t cooked the meals for today, and her daughters wouldn’t cook without gas, and now there was no cooking gas supply at her home. I was relating to the recent traumatic period at home when my mother was struggling without cooking gas for a few days. I thought, this lady wouldn’t have an electric stove at her disposal….
Before I even start a conversation with her, she has moved on to the next chapter in her story and is telling me how she never likes to cook on gas stoves, and she would only prefer firewood for cooking. I am at the verge of nostalgia from my times in my grandmothers place, where we would all sit out in the yard around the firewood cooking spot, with tears in our eyes because of the smoke, and being served simple, yet sublime food. She adds that the food cooked in gas or electric stoves lack the taste! (I am thinking the same thought). The swift cooking that happens comes at an expense; when the food has remained in its own juices for less time, and hence tastes just about okay. Whereas, when done on these firewood installations – it takes a long while, by then the food has soaked itself in its juices, brilliantly. Now, this is the reason why barbecues (again done using charcoal grills) tastes a lot better than fried food.
I do not remember the link, how – but she is telling me that she is from Mandya, and got “sent” to Chennai. I am thinking “sent” is what, and it strikes “Yes, married and sent”. She did not like the work there – growing groundnuts, working in garments, and she said she came back to Karnataka, but was aspiring for better life and hence settled in Bangalore. She said she has done her schooling till tenth in a Government school in Mandya, and would have wanted to study further, but for her parents and their conditions.
Nonetheless, she wanted her children to study better and has a daughter who has completed first PUC, and before she could be sent to second PUC her son, who was in class 6 or 7, was diagnosed with problems in heart and had to undergo three open heart surgeries. Government hospitals, she said in Tamil Nadu were better in this regard and got him operated there. But the medicine cost since then for this son of hers, was 10,000 rupees per month and this cut off the study options of her daughter.
She works in this tender coconut stall of hers, selling tender coconuts brought from Mandya, from morning 6 to 12 in the noon, after which her husband takes care of the shop. She then does household work in one of the apartments, and says – no matter how much you earn it never suffices to live here, and for his medicines.
By now, I am howling into the empty shell of the coconut and hand it over to her for the tender pulpy coconut. Two hits, and she scoops the pulp out of both hemispheres and I have an adhoc dish with yummy coconut pulp.
I inquire in general about her routine, and how long she stays, engrossed already about the stories people have behind them.
Life, I already know is what we make out if it with our struggles,and there is no other way to live it. Reminiscing some of my own small struggles,and the impact it has had on me, and also abusing people (in my mind, of course) who give up without any attempts I get out from there, wishing her a good day ahead.