MY PERSONAL HEAVEN
The palm leaves with their elongated finger like fronds brush against each other making a hissing sound as the coconut trees sway with the sea breeze heralding the onset of monsoon. The palms stand rather gracefully even as the ripe coconuts weighed them down. Soon the drenching monsoons will wash everything clean and the entire Konkan will gleam brighter than the most precious emerald.
This is what heaven means to me, this life encased in my little hut, its roof thatched with dried coconut leaves, a courtyard containing these six coconut palms and my pride, a red hibiscus bush, lush in full bloom encircled in a compound of wooden fence.
Inside I can hear avoy my mother scraping coconut to extract milk out of it. This scraping sound makes me grit my teeth and sends a shiver down my spine. She has placed a big wok on the stove and I hear curry leaves splutter as she throws them into the hot oil, the pungent odour of asafoetida makes my stomach churn, its been ages since the last meal. I need to peep in to see what’s cooking. Avoy is carefully blending in all the spices that she has so neatly stored in this steel box which contains eight compartments. She wipes her eyes with the edge of her sari and sniffs rather loudly as the red chilli paste makes her eyes and nose sting and my mouth water. As she tips in the fish that has been meticulously scaled adding some sour kokum and fresh coconut milk into the wok turning the flame down to let the gravy simmer and thicken a bit, I realise that I can’t wait any longer.
Instinctively avoy too senses my hunger and gives me a piece of coconut to nibble on.
“Just five more minutes child” she says with so much of love that my heart melts.
“It’s OK avoy, I can wait, I just came to check what’s cooking for lunch”, I lie.
My avoy works so hard from dawn to dusk. Earlier she carried home all the fish that Bapui caught from the sea to our courtyard, assorted them and took them to the market to sell, till one day Bapui didn’t return from fishing. We waited and waited but he never came back. Avoy now does’t allow me to go to the beach with my friends. Even I don’t feel like going there anymore, the oceans scare me, the huge waves threaten to eat me up like they swallowed my bapui. Avoy now works in the paddy fields, she says this work pays her less, much less than what she earned from selling fish, but she doesn’t want to go to the shores, neither do I.
“Come in child” she hollers from within the house.”Eat it when it’s still hot. I’ll eat with your bapui later” she says absentmindedly, serving a big heap of rice and the meatiest portion of fish on my plate. I mix some tangy fish curry with rice and force a morsel into her mouth. “See if the spice is OK, you always make it so spicy” she smiles amidst a hint of moisture in her eyes and nods. “Bhorem Asa” and we finish our meals in silence, the whistling of winds and the rustle of the coconut leaves keeping us company.
She still waits for bapui. Maybe the oceans will return him to us some day.