Ramu & Shamu’s Excellent Food Adventure

Their chemistry was legendary among the group. Onlookers said, sometimes out of envy, that the two were so close, they could be lovers. Almost there, tending to it, like 0.999 was almost 1, but not quite. But Ramu and Shamu were not. They weren’t brothers either even if their names suggested so. The nomenclature was just very convenient. They walked hand in hand like unrelated men once used to, without fearing for their sexual orientation. They swapped their t-shirts every now and then. Yes, they were built similarly too. When drinking, which often the entire group did, one prepared the peg for the other and it was seldom out of proportion. They could have been called a solute and the other solvent. An ideal solution, their Chemistry Lecturer called them often.

But as all love stories do, even the nearly there ones, a rift emerged. No one was quite sure of the reason but the bond was severed. Gossip was rife among the students as to the reason for the split. Tales, not all of them plausible, whispered the walls and lawns of the college and even the staff room was soon talking about the great divide. Ramu and Shamu were no longer together and it killed everyone that no one knew why.

A few months passed by and they came no closer. Each of them left a conversation or a party if the others name was even mentioned. Soon the college also forgot about it and went on with their own miserable lives.

I weighed the decision in my head and finally decided on going ahead with it. True, it might lead to an uncomfortable moment or two but as the host, I felt that it was my rightful call. And therefore as two vehicles landed up at our farm house at midnight, Ramu and Shamu alighted from each of them, and finally faced each other. I nudged myself into the tensed air between them even as they eyed each other gravely. They both knew they couldn’t do anything about it. They were here and they had to spend an entire calendar day.

I brought out the bottles with glee as a couple of the others smothered the chicken and mutton with masala. A fire was being lit nearby and we planned to roast the meat in the open fire. “Chakna” for the long night of drunkenness ahead.

As was expected, the two exiled friends kept their distance. The long night went beautifully in the embrace of kinship, nostalgia and hard liquor.

I don’t remember when I had slept the night before but I woke up to a pounding in my head. I saw the group strewn about the house in various angles of immodesty.

One by one they slowly stirred to hold their foreheads or their tummies. They tripped on empty bottles on their way to the loo. I watched it all from a corner waiting for the remedy, the remedy I knew was being conjured up by the cook in the kitchen below. The therapeutic release to bring us all back to earth.

The group converged in a circle and waited for it. Soon, the cook came out. He first brought out the rice.

A hungry, wise man once said that if you are ravenous and need to eat a thousand things at once, rice was the answer for it. Snow white and emitting an aroma all it’s very own, steaming rice was placed in front of us. Eager hands delved into them unmindful of the heat or table etiquette. But no one complained. Hungover kids need their nourishment ASAP.

The cook then brought out the curry, he had decided that we needed Bhindi that day. A few of them grumbled at the Bhindi but I knew I need not bother. Once it was transferred to their respective plates, I knew we would not have enough of it.

I plopped a few greasy lady fingers onto the top of my rice. They slithered down the slope of the rice and the glistening oil traversed paths all across the surface area of my steel plate. I picked up a tender finger and it broke at my mere touch. Lovely white seeds gathered into my palms like gold dust and I swooped them up into my gaping mouth. Even as I chomped on them gratefully, I could hear sighs of contentment ebb and flow in the air around the room. The remedy was at work, I smiled to myself, between morsels of Bhindi stained steamed rice.

I couldn’t wait for the clincher, the wonder drug that the cook had kept for last.

Swirling in the fumes of the dish in front of him, the cook brought out his trump card. The air wafted from over the dish and into our nostrils, getting to our heads, making us skip a breath. Like a banned drug, the aroma hit us right inside our head.

I saw eyes gleam and noses perk up as the rasam was spread around. I also kept an eye out for Ramu and Shamu. As I had hoped, the food was working to the betterment of the mood all around. I almost thought I saw them both exchange a look of joy, but I could have been wrong.

The rasam was passed down to me and I let some flow over my plate. Rich and aromatic, I could tell the cook had surpassed himself. White shards of coconut floated around the surface, adding their own to the flavor. Tiny seeds of mustard clung onto curry leaves like shipwrecked survivors clutching at a raft. I scooped a few into my mouth and crunched on the leaves. I was there, almost there, paradise was in view. The hangover, a thing of the past.

The redeeming lunch had lifted our spirits hugely. I looked around at the refreshed group, all happy and loving. And then it happened.

Ramu got up with his plate, teetering rasam dangerously close to spilling over and made his way slowly to Shamu. He sat down next to him, his lips tending to a smile. Shamu looked over, his face also contorting slowly into one. He bunched together some rice and rasam, deposited a Bhindi on top of it and offered it to Ramu. A greedy, gleeful slurping ensued as he sucked in the rice, the rasam and the bhindi off his friends hand. As the peace offering was received with gusto, the entire group whooped in joy at the rasam reunion.

Write Club Hyderabad, A la Carte, December 2018.

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