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“I’m tired of making mental notes every night about the next day’s meals. I want to write poetry but all I’m left with are recipes. I want Ajit to listen to my verses but all he cares for is, what’s for dinner.”
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Sonia Dogra is one of the winners for the April 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web.
My eyes were set on plumes of flaming orange right outside the kitchen window, when Meera walked in. The delicate aroma of the Gulmohar served as the perfect antidote to cooking odours and I so loved it! I bent over the window sill, trying to catch a bunch that had been thrown upwards with great force.
‘Looks like you are all set to jump out!’ Meera’s piercing voice penetrated the stagnant summer air, throwing me off-guard. I swayed a little, rushing to look at the pot of simmering tea over the stove.
‘Not really. I was…was just…uh, well, just pampering myself with the fragrant Gulmohar.’ I fumbled. It was so unlike me. Behaving as if I had been caught red-handed. But hadn’t Meera done that to me every time, since childhood?
I twisted the knob of the gas stove, my breathing ramped up. Meanwhile, a motor cycle sputtered on the road amidst the jingle of bicycle bells and sales pitches of vendors. I noticed Meera’s eyes drift towards the window again, her ears on guard. ‘A bike in this narrow lane must be such a hassle. Why would someone bother unless absolutely necessary? I had to ask the cab driver to drop me just around the corner.’ Meera had always been adept at dressing up her inquisitiveness in sarcasm. Why couldn’t she be more direct?
‘Hmm…’ I nodded in an attempt to elude further discussion. The pressure cooker came to my rescue, hissing at just the right moment.
‘The cooker,’ I said, putting away my cup on the table and taking charge of a badly fixed lid.
‘You need to be careful with the lid, Abha. The steam must find its way out.’ Meera’s sly insinuations had always made my heart bleed, since we had been little girls.
‘Don’t worry, it will manoeuvre comfortably,’ I retorted, closing the lid once again.
‘The rebellious steam,’ Meera laughed, raising her eyebrows. ‘Just like you, isn’t it?’
I chose not to respond.
‘You romanticize being a rebel, don’t you? And that’s what makes you do it again and again and… without care for those around you.’ She was now coming to the point, the precise reason that had made her cover the five kilometres between our homes. Amma’s spokesperson. They had caught the whiff of my budding romance. I braced myself and joined Meera at the bistro table, while our unfinished cups of tea lingered on at the counter.
‘Ajit bhai is such a doting husband,’ Meera continued. ‘Look at this spacious kitchen he’s gifted you. What better place for a budding writer and wife! Your own quiet corner. It’s even bigger than my living room!’ She said tapping her fingers on the table. I let out a sardonic laugh. Ajit had gifted me a spacious kitchen, my perfect writing spot.
‘You are right Meera. This kitchen is just the kind of solitary confinement a wannabe writer seeks. Only, it’s more lonely and less solitary.’
‘Come on! Get over your habit of finding a problem where exists none.’ Meera sighed.
‘And how about you getting over the old habit of turning a blind eye to all my damn problems?’ I bellowed; my eyes wide open. There was always something about my elder sister that irked me, the way she held her chin a little too high.
Meera sighed. ‘Look…’ She hadn’t ever given up, why would she now?
‘No, no, no… I’m not looking at anything Meera. And why should I,’ I said, flinging my hands in the air, ‘when I have such a beautifully done up kitchen all around me. It’s windows the colour of the Mediterranean and the distressed cabinets make me feel like I’m in the French countryside staring at the Gulmohar, writing verses and then stirring the curry. Then going back to the scarlet petals and then the curry and again the petals and…’
‘Hold on! Not to the flowers but to glance at that personal phantom of yours.’ Meera stood up, her mouth becoming stiff and she said, ‘Oh yes, I knew, I always know when he’s here and what-all you’ve been up to, but you must understand you’re older now. Just like childhood ended, and school ended, and college ended, your childish ‘best friendship’ with that boy also has to come to an end.’
She moved closer and placed her hand over my shoulder. ‘Ajit suspects… he is such a wonderful husband Abha. Don’t do this to him, to us.’
By now Meera’s cheeks were flushed. She touched them with the palms of her hands and then reached out for a glass of water. I watched as she drank half of it in one gulp, and a stray drop trickled down to her beauty bone. Meera’s collarbones were way more defined than mine, the wasted sensual cavities often made me envious. Was she even aware of them, since she had always been so busy playing house kitchen?
Meera walked back to the table, taking her position opposite to mine. She moved her hand over the artificial flower arrangement in the centre.
‘This is so beautiful Abha. Have you ever noticed it?’ Her voice had mellowed out. ‘I bet you’ve never looked at it carefully. If you do you will never feel the need to stare at the flamboyant Gulmohar outside.’
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t believe it! Meera and her implications. She didn’t stop at that.
‘I can never imagine beautiful cabinets in my kitchen, let alone flowers and fine china.’ She sighed; her eyes fixed on the arrangement with an insatiable desire. ‘Do you even need any other company with this beauty surrounding you? The best is at your disposal and Ajit bhai has ensured that.’
Meera looked at me pleadingly. “Please, oh please, fill the void with kitchen cabinets,” she seemed to be saying. “Replace missing fathers with barbies and affection with attire, love with exquisite homes and venereal desire…tch, tch, you mustn’t even think about it.”
‘Meera,’ I cleared my throat. ‘I thought that for once you’d come all the way to show some solidarity.’
‘Solidarity? With one who has a kitchen the size of a palace and is willing to throw it all away for a moron who goes around flinging flowers at married women?!’
‘For God’s sake Meera, stop your obsession with this kitchen, it’s no more than a detention centre. The only reason Ajit invested in it was so that he could feel a little less guilty about making me spend a lifetime here. Could there be anything weirder than a writing corner in a kitchen?’ I felt a lump in my throat. ‘And the moron you talk about, well, he is the only silver lining beneath this loneliest room in the house.’
‘Lonely, are you even serious?’ Meera gasped. ‘You haven’t perhaps seen the sculleries with their never-ending dishes that could kill you with all the scrubbing. There, in place of one, sits your comfortable dish-washer. And look at you, a long list of complaints. Don’t have company!’ she scoffed.
I couldn’t control the urge to burst into laughter. ‘Yes, yes my darling sister. I have enough company here. The inimitable spices add a terrific tadka to my life. When the entire family sits down to watch a dance show on TV, I make do with the dirty dancing of mustard seeds in a teaspoon of oil. And the whistle of the cooker narrates all the family stories to me, just when they are being recalled during family get-togethers in the living room. How nostalgic, no!’
I stared into my sibling’s sunken brown eyes and this time she looked away. ‘Someone in the family has to do it Abha. That’s how it goes.’
‘And why should that be me? I’m tired Meera, of making mental notes every night about the next day’s meals. I want to write poetry but all I’m left with are recipes. I want Ajit to listen to my verses but all he cares for is, what’s for dinner. All I’ve done in those times is sing to the Gulmohar and perhaps to my lone audience who waits beneath the kitchen window. Is that so wrong?’
Meera joined me at the window. ‘I wouldn’t call this promiscuity but it certainly stinks of betrayal. Our kitchens are lonely spaces Abha but we cannot afford to fill them with subtle fragrances of the Gulmohar. They are only suited to whiffs of spices. I wouldn’t grow a tree inside my house.’ She doled out another piece of her practical advice. Then she lifted her bag and made her way out.
I did not turn to see her off. Instead, I leaped out of the window to get hold of a scarlet plume. A few wrinkly red petals and in the midst of them a lonesome white. I heard the beep of an approaching bike. Sometimes unpopular opinions are the only ones that make lonely kitchens a little less unbearable. I was certain that I preferred a blooming Gulmohar to a palatial kitchen!
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Anuja Chauhan, who has worked in advertising for over seventeen years and is credited with many popular campaigns. She is the author of five bestselling novels (The Zoya Factor, Battle for Bittora, Those Pricey Thakur Girls, The House that BJ Built and Baaz) all of which have been acquired by major Bombay studios.
The cue is from her latest book Club You to Death.
“And she said, oh yes, I knew, I always know when he’s here, and what-all you’re up to, but you must understand that you’re older now. Just like childhood ended, and school ended, and college ended, your childish ‘best-friendship’ with that boy also has to come to an end.”
Image source: a still from the film English Vinglish
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