Friday, March 04, 2011

Toecastrophe strikes the deaf. (Not sung by U2, no)

Three jacket potatoes. That was lunch. I made. Seasoned - salt, pepper, mustard, droplets of chili sauce and smeared with cream cheese. It sounds more appetising than intended but there was an already-cooked alternative thawing outside the fridge that I chose to pooh-pooh. Because the alternative i.e. biryani, like the music in my boyfriend's car, stirs nothing in my soul. Implication: I had to fend for myself. I even, like it said on wikihow to bake a potato, preheated the microwave. So of course I later reeked of accomplishment - post wiping clean three portions of carbs with soft innards, nutrients-laden jacket and all.

But the sad story of why princess had to fend for herself.

This is Bahadur.

Surely, you agree he has a Miss Universe smile?

Bahadur means brave. Bahadur came to us -- we think of him as manna -- as a car cleaner in 2001. But he's been our cook now for ten years. I can't say domestic help because it sounds fake. It's like using 'differently enabled' instead of handicapped. If I'm not saying retarded for handicapped, I'm not saying servant for cook. It means the same thing. But class arrows everywhere will pin you down.

Brave Bahadur is not from Nepal. Don't let his features fool you. He says his village is in Bengal. He's not sure which year he was born in. All he says is he's worked in the house of the British, which is why when you yell Bahaduuuuuur, and if he hears you, he will answer back: yus!

If he hears because, as it happens, Bahadur is deaf in one ear. When my mother, about to pull her hair out, brings up the topic of a hearing aid, Bahadur sulks. Vanity before convenience -- he doesn't want strangers from afar to be able to tell ki kaan ka problem hai, that he has a problem with his ears. End result: more screaming happens.

Whenever he gets fed up of my mother, Bahadur says he's off to the village to see his mother. Earlier he used to say he's off to meet his wife and kids but that story changed.

As is not unheard of in these parts, Bahadur, as if we were toddlers still, calls me Baby and my brother Baba. Baba doesn't live here though, so it's just Sa'ab - my father, Memsa'ab -- my mother and Baby -- me.

On the times I have had to ring Bahadur at home to tell him I am not having lunch/ dinner, I have to yell to make sure he gets me: Bahadur??? Baby bol raha hai, I'll say.

Which actually just becomes: Ba'dur?baby-bo'lai! Which then goes on to become a sort of hello, can you hear me five minute deciphering drill.

Bahadur will either put the phone down or start shouting back, yus? yusss?! hullllo!

Exhausting. He drives us crazy. We drive him crazy. I suspect neither can live without the other.

Today, I've been googling Dr Scholl's and toe gels a lot because Bahadur is in hospital, just out of surgery. Thanks too three teaspoons of sugar in his every cup of chai, he has diabetes and a diabetic foot; gangrene. His toes turned blue. He didn't show it to either of my parents because, as he later said, he thought blue was the colour of socks that transferred on to his skin. Never mind that the rest of the foot too would have turned blue if it were the dye, stupid stupid man!

Then one day, Bahadur started limping. This 'one day' was last month. Since then the doctor chukkars haven't stopped. Yes surgery, no surgery, much dithering. Finally, they said it had to go, the foot.

And so today, poor Bahadur's toes have gone. My mother returned from the hospital and told me she had to scream into his ear for him to thank his stars it was discovered when it was discovered nahi toh pura pair jata -- the whole foot would have had to be amputated.

After she heated up biryani for herself (I might've made more novice potatoes had I known she'd be back for lunch), she rung up my father from the land line and I heard her give him the update. 'He's looking okay...They'll keep him for another couple of days.. N's looking up some silicon toe things on the net.... tsk, don't talk nonsense, how can he wear slippers? haan, yes, those ones, yea...closed... raining in Delhi, I came back... (softer voice)... you think he'll be fine?'

And then the line to her husband that got caught in my ears:

'remember how he'd go like lightning to get my paans from downstairs...?'

I remember this. His slippers, his blue chappals would make that phat phat sound, rubber on cement, what Karan Johar might concede to be rapid fire rounds.

Blah blah, the unsettling ways of the world and all that maudlin classist bull apart that I get tired of even phrasing in my head, I was uncomfortable today. Mildly, mildly depressed. It didn't stop me from tick marking social agendas, the movies and the weddings. No, of course not.

He's our servant. We'll take care of him when he gets back from hospital. Bland tea from this day forth, yes yes, all that. But you know what made me squirm? Natalie Portman. The ballet shoes, the bleeding toes, the Black Swan. I saw it today. It wasn't psycho scary to me in the way my connects were scary. Ballerina stands on toe. Servant, no ballerina, no toe. Actor and true life. That crackling sound, the camera on her feet, the gorgeous shade of pink satin, how delicately but firmly she ties the gossamer sheath versions of shoelaces. And then , my god, how concave the sole becomes with the plink plink piano tunes, and my inferred double meaning in those bloodied bandages. The focus on the feet made me sad. The movie made me sad. I enjoyed it. It was totally gripping. But the goosepimples I had were not so much for the gorgeous Oscar winner, as much as they were for the now twice-handicapped rubber chapppal-wearing man whose potatoes beat mine hollow.


The.Mystic said...

Reminds me of a story in Hindi I read in college. I'll try to find it for you, you'll feel the connection.

The Soul of Alec Smart said...

He'll still have his winner of a smile :)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

kya likha hai ek dum behtehreen , untim line nai macha di : )

The Unbearable Banishment said...

So how does the hospital bill work with your servant? As his employer, do you have to offer him healthcare or does the State take care of it? You guys have had a cook for that long? You're high-tone.

Mayonnaise Toss said...

This made me feel very sad. I remember Bahadur from the impromptu dinner at your house. I remember the hot 'chapatis' not 'rotis'. I remember how he treated the kitchen as his own little fort. I remember a lot of shouting - it was the first time any shouting actually made me smile. He has the nicest smile.I hope that he gets well soon and is smiling away again.

Nimpipi said...

The Mystic : Yes, please. Do that.

Alec: Hello, you! Yes, definitely a 'on the bright side'.

Anon 1: Eeks, yes, thank you! Editing, editing...

Anon 2: Angrezi mein vartaalab karne ha kashth uthaiyein toh woh bhi hum maaangenge mehnet-e-behetereen. :)

i.e if you took the trouble of making yourself understood in a tongue more universal then too I'd think your comment was exceptionally generous. :)

UB: (I english-ified the last comment for your benefit. Just so you know)

It works at random. State does nothing. Or well, to be fair, there are schemes where employers can passively encourage their servants (look ma, no self conscious quote marks!) to make savings and invest in life insurance but that means nothing.

In our case, my parents foot the bill, but not because it's a law. There are government hospitals that have on the house treatments for the poor. Lucky for him in a puny silver lining way, Bahadur gets both.

And a cook for that long in India isn't high tone at all. You peeps in Amrika have minimum wage and workers rights. The middle class in the states is very different from the middle class here. In the west (as seen from Indiyea), having a maid probably means you're loaded. Here, labour is dirt cheap. Most middle class households have a servant/ cook/ driver/ part time ayah and it's no comment on how tony a neighbourhood one lives in.

When you visit, I'll take you on a poverty tour.

Mayo: Aww, what a sweet comment, woman. Sigh. Yep. He's the man! If I tell him a friend was saying get well soon, he won't understand what I'm on about. So when he gets back, come tell him yourself and stay for his deadly masala chicken with hot hot chappatis. Then he'll place you and do the grinning namaste:)

Damn, I'm hungry!

relativelytruthful said...

now i am terribly sad.

Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful though very sad post. And I love your writing style! Wish Bahadur a speedy recovery.

Nimpipi said...

Relatively T: Please don't be sad. I'll tell you when he gets better. And hello, there.

Anon: Sweet. Will. And Anon or not, compliments are best last thing at night. Thank you:)

Utopia said...

Hawww I hope he gets back on his feet fastly.

Harleen Singh said...

It's a really sweet post! My dadi's cook's name is Bahadur too and bears an uncanny resemblance to your's.

Hope he has a speedy recovery!

Nimpipi said...

Utopia: me too ya, me too..

Harleen: heh, thanks. Does your dad's bahadur also do a cute 'shalaam shaab'?:)

Nitika said...

My dad is from the Gorkha Regt. Been around Bahadurs almost all my life. We never called them Bahadur. Its always been Daju meaning elder brother in Gorkhali.

They are good people. Very faithful and really good cooks. Hope Bahadur gets well soon.