Risk

“Are you sure you want to get into this? Wasabi is the world’s hardest plant to grow!” Qamar gave her questioning husband that steady look.

“It is a superfood Rahat, a powerful plant, both in taste and value. What a challenge it would be to cultivate! I have had it easy far too long with my Flamingo flowers and Dahlias. And how can you forget that taste, remember the Sushi we had at Heiroku Omotesando, that typical flavour, my nose used to tingle with its pungent hotness. I can’t wait to begin!”

“You have a point there. They are growing it in so many countries, why not here in India?” Rahat conceded gracefully. Tempted briefly to recite the long list of firsts such a project would entail, considering there was no definitive guide on growing wasabi, he decided to keep his counsel. He knew, from past experience, Qamar would go forward anyway. “No gain without pain, the harder it is to grow, the more money it is likely going to make us. Let’s do this,” the lady had come to a conclusion.

True to her fibre, Qamar got down to work, gamely supported by her now converted husband. “I have booked you into a wasabi growing laboratory in Japan,” Rahat grinned at that look of intense pre-occupation on her face. His wife of fourteen years looked up from the papers strewn on her bed table with excitement, “We can source plant material from the New Zealand experts. We must set up a system to grow the best wasabi in the world”.  It all seemed as suddenly plausible as it felt thrilling. But the more she dug, the more the toil ahead began to emerge.  The best wasabi needed running water and a narrow range of temperature, between 12 to 15 degree. “And how in the world were they going to keep the water aerated? Top grade wasabi needed large quantity of water flow with high oxygen, nutrients and slightly acidic pH,” Qamar began to get into the nitty gritty, as was her wont when she took up a new project.  “This is like jumping off the cliff into the unknown, the success rate is low, there seem to be just a handful of successful growers,” Rahat sounded his usual note of caution amidst all of this wasabi fervour.

With no background or experience in wasabi farming, they were literally going to cut a path through the wilderness. “It will be a long term project but will bring us a lot of satisfaction. Imagine, a 110 USD for a kilo!” Qamar had a talent for excitement that was a perfect foil to Rahat’s usual playing of the devil’s advocate, “We will have to finance ourselves Qamar. No bank will fund a plant that takes upto three years to grow to maturity and is not even a tree at that! Forget about personal guarantee, we will probably be ploughing our profits back into research. Wasabi is a tricky one.”

“Well, but all we can do is to give it our best shot. The idea is to make 100% pure Wasabia japonica. Let us begin by selecting every crop only for the best of plants which in turn will be cloned for the next set. This will continuously improve the plant stock. One day our plants could cure cancer,” Qamar was in the habit of cultivating visions.  “Water could be a scarcity, let me warn you! Better be prepared to arrange tankers for these exotic plants,” she brushed aside Rahat’s pragmatic words.

Spreadsheets grew frothy and the laptops sticky with notes. Their house began to hum with the sound of revving up.  There was the workforce to organize, markets to identify, personal lives to be realigned. “We will not waste time on markets that have preconceived ideas about wasabi. Let us team up. You look after the technical development and marketing while I deal with clients, keep track of stock etc. We might have to hire an accountant.”

Never at a loss with abundant precaution, Rahat intoned, “Growing wasabi is completely different. There are special skills required for harvesting and most of the local help have bad habits we will have to work to break.”

“I know I know Rahat and that is not all. Listen to this from the article I am reading. It says here that 99% of wasabi being sold today is coloured horseradish. There is more, importers cheat with impunity, lying and changing the terms of the contract as and when they please.”

The more the pair read, the more they needed to research, “Wasabi  is best grated afresh when it has a lovely pale green colour and the typical  pungent heat and flavour.”

Rahat knotted his brow, “The rhizomes can be stored only two weeks and that too if kept damp and refrigerated.”

“We will buy an exclusive cooling unit for our produce and place it in the extra space next to the garage,” Qamar had an instant solution.

Exhausted with the video conferencing and networking with wasabi growers in different time zones across the globe, Qamar was late getting up the following day. Steering sleepily past the work zone she caught sight of a courier package on their dining table. Bending over low towards the label she straightened up slowly, turning to Rahat stirring his glass of wheat grass and aloe vera juices in their kitchen, “A full body plastic cover for the yet to be bought cooling unit! Rahat?” The man was defensive, “Well, I know the cover might raise the humidity a shade for wasabi but with that expensive farm produce inside, we can’t risk the unit gathering dust and debris near the garage.”

Qamar stared defeated at her business partner then closed her gaping mouth, “Abort project wasabi! We are Indians first. The gene for risk bypassed us.”

Twitteromance (Please Vote)

Dear Friends and Followers,

I am working on my second book of micro fiction. To ease the publishing process, I have entered an original story in the Litagram Viral Story Writing Contest. I would love for you all to read the story and upvote it and help me win this contest. I am doing well on their Leaderboard but then, it IS a Viral Story Contest. Please copy and past this link to go to the story site.

Big big thank you!

https://litagram.com/story/545403/now-upon-r-time-twitteromance

Metrosexual

“Cockroach..ugh..there on the croissant, please, do something,” the queue at the Café Coffee Day counter of the Italian language school tittered. Had it been a girl protesting the lack of hygiene, they would have heard her out in a tolerant, even righteous silence, telling themselves that a man may not even have noticed the creepy crawly. But it was Chinshu sounding the alarm, Chinshu with his swaying walk and a glittering hearts studded pink wallet.

Vanya moved up closer to him at the cash counter, “Hey help me decide, which of these two sandwiches is lower on carbohydrates?” Vanya’s incredulous expression was completely lost on  Chinshu . He went right ahead, calculated the calories, instructed the attendant on grilling his food just right and took his time picking brown sugar packets and mustard sauce sachets.

The two hurried to grab a table. Class would begin in ten minutes and the professors were very punctual. “You had your eyebrows plucked?” Vanya’s tone was accusing as she ran her fingers guiltily up her hairy leg under the table. “Have you tried the new Jasmine hand cream in the market? I love the smell. And they have this beautiful birthmark camouflage procedure at this parlour,” Chinshu informed her, focusing on eating neatly while plucking at the strawberry patch near his right temple.

“Hurry up Chinshu, elevator, quick, it is going up!” Vanya led the way up to their floor and they entered the classroom. The din halted mid-sentence at their appearance. Their batch mates suddenly became overly busy to hide their mortification at being caught discussing Chinshu’s metrosexual persona. Vanya glared at a woman friend who was clearly mocking him with her censorious expressions. “Gay,” someone emitted the word forcefully.

They ignored everyone and dived into their session, under the watchful eye of a native instructor who was quite clearly a man in regular touch with his feminine side too. He often spoke of the well-loved Italian clothing and accessories brands to the students, all the time shifting weight in his fabulous floral loafers.

Class over, Vanya and Chinshu struck their usual trail to the NGO named “Mardani”. It was a common interest in activism and gender studies that had brought them together. They were two young people with quivering antennae, picking anomalies, dissonance and restlessness in the space that had created them. Vanya was an avowed feminist who sought masculinity in men despite a hypothetical empathy with a man’s right to his femininity. And Chinshu often traced his own leanings to his upbringing. A first generation college graduate in his family at Demul , Spiti valley, Chinshu dreamt of setting up his own restaurant in Italy. He was also making up for lost time with his eager adoption of the most current lifestyle trends.

“I am very confused Vanya. My girlfriend is angry with me a lot these days. I get upset if she does not reply to my text immediately. I also feel she does not say “I love you” as often as she should. She says I sulk a lot. What do you guys want woman? A man’s man or a woman’s man or some calibrated combination? Don’t you see that what men have today is merely a phantom status?”

Vanya was dismissive, “Shut up. You Indian men are brought up to just be sons. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

There was a village woman creating a ruckus near the car parking. She looked out of place in her traditional mountain tochay. Vanya would have driven past her had it not been for her distraught face and frantic waving about of her arms. Also, she kept pointing up at the NGO building. Vanya pulled over.

“Please help me. I can’t find my child. It has been two years and no news. We checked at the Italian Language School. No one seems to know. My husband and son have filed an FIR. The police say that the few calls we have received have been from this area.”

“How old is your child? Tell me the name and description? I know most people in this building.”

“Her name is Charini. She is tall. There is a red birthmark on her right forehead. I told her how dangerous a place Delhi is. She promised to be careful!”

Dystopia

“I mean, I don’t know but our girls are really crossing all limits these days,” Namita’s pride in her two sons had dimmed a bit lately, what with the girls topping national exams and storming every male bastion in sight. “Have you seen how they walk and talk these days? So much aggression and impatience!”

The group sat nursing their drinks under a mirror work garden umbrella. The delicious winter sun and some well-groomed horses cantering a mere length off on the polo ground, the restful air sidestepped Namita’s discordant observation. “I am a guilty party, I will have to admit,” Bhavna broke the wary reverie with an admission, “We have raised our girls to be self-respecting persons. They will probably assert their ideas and not be afraid to have their needs met.”

“But why get them motorbikes Bhavna? It is a bit inappropriate. Our Kush kept begging for one but we refused to give in, he rides a Vespa now. Two wheelers are so dangerous in this horrible traffic,” the rest felt safe nodding their assent on this one. There were other mothers of girls sitting quietly there, assessing the flow of the conversation so as to judge when to dive in.

The ladies stirred their mocktails, looking out for the mini luxury coach that would take them on a select shopping trip. They made for a fetching picture, their Fendi and Persol and Rayban sunglasses contrasting with the colourful beverage parasols. Outwardly successful and in their prime of life, they were struggling in fact, to come to terms with the global culture that was inhaling their children like a giant anaconda. “Children are hooking up these days, they are starting to drink alcohol and use marijuana much younger and don’t even ask what the girls are up to,” Namita carried the generic unease forward.

“Nonsense, this is only a metropolitan trend and only in ‘those’ sort of families,” Kavita slapped the idea away hastily, too scared to permit it any closer. “And what is this Hookah Bar all about?” she directed the question at Bhavna, as though to suggest that of course, her daughters would know.

Without waiting for an answer though, she jumped ahead of everyone into the coach pulling up. It took all of fifteen minutes for the group to settle in comfortably with the complimentary shopping bags, the refreshments and the product brochures. As the young company hostess bent down to begin handing out the water bottles, Namita’s eyes snapped with alarm, “Look at that bum cleavage. Do her parents not object? I would never let my Luv and Kush wear anything like that.”

The vehicle came to life, its well-oiled engine softening the animated squawking  of women seeing their heaviest investments threatened, “You people come from those typical middle class backgrounds, just get a copy of Ira Trivedi’s ‘India in love’ and read,” Manika spoke with the finality of a Supreme Court Judge.

“I caught my son surfing porn the other day. I have told him he cannot lock the door anymore,” others strained to catch the sheepish admission made in a lowered voice. “I believe Vanya’s daughter is not getting married because she is seeing a girl,” some shook their heads helplessly. “These kids are putting themselves out there, they are moving too fast, I don’t know if our society is ready for them. It would be a tragedy to have them fall through the cracks,” Bhavna voiced her concern.

“The mothers are to blame. They should bring up their girls to believe that the genders are essentially unequal!” there was no abating Namita’s skirt censure.”

More voices joined the chorus. “Have you seen the i-pill panels in the DLF Promenade washrooms? It is accessory to mischief!”

“The sex was consensual in that Dimapur lynching. My son has to fight this girl off, would you believe this? He finally had to block her on his FB and email.”

“It is a shame baba. My Luv and Kush, 1992 born but I still buy them their boxers,” on a note of pride from Namita.

The free flow of revelations was arrested at the Hidesign Boutique in Connaught Place, “Ma’am, we are going to the parking, I will be back soon. You all could meanwhile begin walking under the marquee,” the hostess drove off in the bus.

The group were almost past a youth clothing store when Namita did an abrupt about turn. She stood paralyzed at the entrance, eyes unblinking. Narrowing them a little, she tried to focus. It was! It was indeed her Luv, trying on frilly tops and lacy stoles. The culturally imperious lady shopkeeper was sitting as though turned to stone, watching him with distaste.

The women! Thanks heaven they had ambled ahead. Namita scampered in their wake, “You know, our kids are just being reactionary. You know how they want to be radically different at their age, create their own identity, claim their uniqueness. It is natural, this individuation. I appreciate Bhavna’s views on giving them space,” the covey halted in surprise at more than the breathlessness in the tone.

Therapy

Surely that chair is designed to antagonize! It is almost as though it is deliberately placed at a confrontational angle to the client.

Saloni lowered herself onto the double sofa tentatively, the husband already having registered his impatience at this couple therapy by rudely plonking ahead of her. He made a show of adjusting his coat and jiggling the Honda Civic keys. Without saying a word, he was in fact shouting out aloud, “I don’t know what I am doing here.” The rude bustle eventually died down under the Psychotherapist’s assessing gaze.

“Such beady eyes, those. Why is she looking at us as though we are specimens under her microscope? I don’t like her,” Saloni told the voice in her head to shut up, they were obviously expected to begin talking, there would be a charge of Rs 1000/- for a fifty minute session. She cleared her throat, watching her husband’s right hand go in tandem to his forehead.

The therapist leaned forward, pen ready on the case sheet, “May I use a recorder?” The room recoiled with the couple’s joint gasp of horror, “Oh no, there really isn’t much to say!”

“Well, you have driven a long way to be here, surely there is some expectation of this session,” the therapist’s tone was even and calm. Saloni kick started her throat for the second time, casting a tentative look at the man waving her to proceed.  But the brakes came slamming down again. The room remained quiet for a good nine minutes during which Saloni shredded a Kleenex and her partner scrolled his social network on the smartphone.

“Perhaps the memories are too painful,” the couple nearly jumped out of their skin at the carefully modulated voice of the professional facing them. “Well, actually everything is fine but it is just that I feel sad all the time,” there, it was out. Just as the therapist settled back encouragingly, the hitherto busy mobile phone was slapped down on the peg table, “I don’t understand this feelings business. I earn well, I don’t drink, nor smoke, I am a faithful husband and I don’t approve of physical violence. We have two daughters whom I dearly love. Please explain what is missing.”

Another eleven minutes of silence. “I need to go to the washroom,” Saloni made her escape. Once safely inside the closed door, she looked at herself in the mirror over the sink, scolding her own face, “This is a mistake. You have no idea what to say and he is not helping. But the talk meter is running and you better not let his money go down the drain.” She stepped out with renewed resolve, just a wee bit bolstered from her time alone.

Taking a place diagonally opposite her husband this time, she squared her slim shoulders and looked the therapist in the eye, “It is the little things that hurt the most. There is nothing major. But he brushes me off, makes me feel small in countless ways. Every night, he throws back only his side of the counterpane, as though I do not exist. He calls a simple hug a waste of time. He considers himself a first rate husband because he is not stopping me from being myself! Rather than feeling proud of my accomplishments, they make him feel small. Any sound of alarm from the passenger seat is taken as a personal challenge to his driving skills. He does not reassure, offer hope or lose any sleep over me. He told me once that he could have made do with any woman and that there really wasn’t anything special about me. There is no compassion or kindness, almost as though I am already overcompensated, what with the boarding, lodging and domestic help.”

The man pushed himself up. “Let’s go. Personal happiness is not as important as the larger picture. There is the family, our responsibilities, the society. We have a good marriage. And therapy is not in our culture!”

Repression

“You have everything. Good looks, youth, health, great education, opportunities…why the rage? What more could you possibly want?”

Arjan whistle breathed through his mouth, his bewildered eyes locked with the defiant glimmer in his teenage daughter’s glare. The air bristled, their hearts raced and emotions ran riot. “This is your fault,” he turned his helpless anguish at Tia’s mother, “giving her so much liberty. You never let me put my foot down with her!”

Tia’s face began to crumple. She watched her mother rub her forehead. Guilt and fury fought in her head, “The migraine, but of course. It flares up every time there is a conflict in our home. How I wish Mum would come right out and say what is on her mind, this is shitty, I feel like running away from here. Why do I need to be around all of this, there is enough drama in my life, as it is?”

She clamped on her thinking horse, and exploded at her parents, “Patriarchy! I am not putting up with this, there has to be space enough to express emotions, it is inhuman, this constant appearance of control in Indian families.”  It made her harsher to see their shattered expressions. “Ahahhaaa..,” her mother had begun her primate wail. “Mum, I can’t take this. Please! You have no clue what my generation is struggling with.”

“Oh my God, how can you speak to your father like that Tia? He carried you around in the snuggler, you have always been his princess,” the mother couldn’t believe this was happening to their family. “We did our best, were we not there for you kids always? Where have we gone wrong? We tried to be good parents!”

Tia threw her hands up in the air and bolted out of the room, past her grandmother rocking herself in the television room. The house froze for that split second, ears cocked for the sound of her scooter starting. The father peeked through the curtains, “She has gone,” the household exhaled and sat back, battling fatigue.

While Tia raced along the Ring Road towards the Hauz Khas Village to let steam off with some friends, her grandmother continued to stare at the breaking news on the television. It was about Leslee Udwin’s controversial documentary entitled “India’s daughter”. The senior watched, outwardly passive but distraught with conflicting emotions inside. Her fingers traced the prayer book lying unopened in her lap. Nirbhaya’s rapist Mukesh Singh and the defense lawyers were spouting cultural toxin:

“She should not be put on the street just like food…if you put her on the street, the dogs will definitely take her away”.

“We have the best culture, in our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

“You can’t clap with one hand…a girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy…only 20% girls are good.”

Tia’s mother had recovered enough to be bringing in a plateful of food for her mother-in-law, “Here Mummy ji, shall I get you the medicines?” The older eyes missed nothing, they saw and connected with that air of resignation, the tension of a body readying for blows. And unbidden they came, washing over their turbulent present, frames from another generation gone.

How could Mummy ji forget that late night when her adoring worship of her father had died a painful death? Daarji had returned home late from a party at the Clarks Shiraz. Bebeji had been livid, “These businessmen you associate with are not good people.” Words had begun to fly and accusations traded; the heat would have risen but for a sudden sound. Daarji had puckered his mouth and with all the force he could muster, he had spat at Bebeji. As long as she lived, Mummy ji knew that the memory of her mother banging her forehead on the flaky wall would haunt her.

The horror of that rejection, the impotent fear in her daughter-in-law’s face, her own state of abject dependence, she watched the young women swarm the television screen with their rebellious faces. A centuries old repression was striking vents. That dam of a devalued distress was riding precariously on a Scooty, eating up tar.

Tick…tick…tick…tick…tic…tick…tock!