Ruminants

For someone who had started doing odd jobs in the kitchen relatively early on in life, she could never mature into a cook extraordinaire. But she was a diligent worker. She could rub the cut edges of a cucumber till its froth dripped all over the knife. Or peel assiduously the skin of a potato till every trace of anything brown or any shade of brown disappeared. Maybe the youngest in the family was destined to be a sort of an odd-jobs-person.

Every morning, she helped her mother arrange the folds in her cotton saree and adjust its length so that only a hint of the heels in her sandals showed. She would watch her mother apply lipstick – her mother would sometimes let her choose the colour. She would fetch her nail color or her bindi; and when nobody was watching, she would try out her mother’s sandals and lip color and bindi and smile her mother’s half smile into the mirror and gush with excitement at the sin.

In the evenings, after her brother was back from school, she had more urgent matters to look into. No time for lipstick and all that jazz. She had to drive tanks while her brother, the Squad Leader, hurled grenades at the enemy. Depending on what the situation demanded, she would have to take cover or scatter or yell out ‘’AAGGGHHH” if a hail of bullets hit her. She would sometimes be called Ram Singh and sometimes, Bahadur. On good days, she was called Phoenix and her subordinates were called Ram Singh and Bahadur. Beats me how they came up with a fancy name like Phoenix. It must have been the heady concoction of all the war comics that they devoured on – it blurred lines between reality and the make- believe world of battlefield action that they’d built for themselves. In their little heads, they were always at a far flung battle field with land mines all around them.

Saturdays, she found the most peaceful. In the absence of other more compelling contenders, she would get all of her father’s attention. And, his time. Her father would sometimes take her to a nursery and after they got home, they would pot seedlings or transplant them into the ground. It was her job to place little stones at the bottom of the plant pots and watch him fill moist soil into it, the smell of which, never left her memory. Nor did the thrill of chasing their hen around the garden, to take her to her father so that he could syringe medication into the hen’s mouth, little by little, letting her swallow after every drop.

It was her father who introduced her to Keats and Tennyson and Wordsworth.

“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills…??” he would bait her.
“And dances with the daffodils!!” she would cry out triumphantly.

It was her father who told her that the cow’s stomach had four parts that were called rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum. He told her why cows were called ruminants. He taught her how to say ‘ruminate’. So when her friends found her lost in thought, she would claim that she was ‘ruminate’ing and privately equate herself to a cud chewing animal. She found this thought especially funny and so did her father.

The joke died an untimely death when she found out that this world was so small that ruminants had no place to hide, and no jocund company to keep and no daffodils to break into a sprightly dance with.

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