Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Hot & Sour Vegetable Soup for 'Of Chalks and Chopsticks'

 The morning was unusually bright and clear. Outside, there blew a light breeze. And the sun shone in all its brilliance.
"How deceptive", thought Sunanda, as she sat watching the chilly morning from inside her cozy living room. "Just like the calm in this house."
This calm was an interlude, she knew. The furious argument that she and Vikram had earlier that morning, had ended with the door slamming and Vikram leaving the house in a rage.

"How unnecessary!" Sunanda thought again. "There was really no reason for this unpleasantness."
With a heavy heart, she leant back into the soft cushions, still staring outside. Married for just a few months, a sudden move to a new place, far away from friends and family, she has been trying her best to set up a good home. To know the man she was married to, his likes, his dislikes.

Vikram was a good man, she thought. Vibrant, sensitive, humorous, easygoing. Not one to get ruffled easily.

Not until it came to his collection of books.

An avid reader and collector of books, Vikram's collection ranged from the comics he had in his childhood to the latest paperbacks, hardbounds and magazines.
He was not frivolous in his choice of writings or writers, that much credit she had to give him. But she couldn't understand his obsession.
Books, especially those in his collection, were to Vikram what gold or silver would be to any other mortal.

Sunanda had often watched her soft spoken and usually affable husband turn almost rude to anybody who might so much as mention anything about borrowing a book from him. And she had been equally surprised when Vikram and his brother fought with equal passion when it came to tallying which book belonging to whom is yet to be returned.

But never in her thoughts had she ever anticipated that those darned books would come between she and her husband. That it would be something as common as a book, of all things, that will be the cause of their first serious fight.

It had all started last evening. And for the nth time, Sunanda wished Vikram had listened to her request of going out for dinner.
Inspite of herself, she gave a little shudder. It must be the cold.
Looking around wistfully, Sunanda realised she was hungry. There was no telling when Vikram would return. This Sunday was going to waste.
With a sigh, she got up and went to the kitchen.

The mind still occupied, she got hold of a few vegetables lying on the countertop and started to work on them.

 "So, what do you want to do tomorrow evening?", asked Vikram. Both of them looked forward to weekends and making plans.
"Let's go out for dinner.", said Sunanda. "A proper, sit down dinner at a good place. I'm so tired of being adventurous and trying out the hole-in-the-wall places."
"Hmm ... why not?", smiled Vikram.
"No, wait. On second thoughts, let's call over the guys and chill out at home. You won't have to cook, we'll order out."
"O.k.", Sunanda gave in. She knew Vikram liked to be with friends and she did not mind them too. "Besides, it is really too cold these days."

Sunanda looked at the small pile of chopped carrots and cauliflower with dismay.
"What on earth am I going to do with these  now?! And why did I chop them into such small pieces?!"
She was in no mood to cook. And definitely not in a mood to think of some new recipe to try out. But she was hungry too.
"Oh well! I'll just throw these into a pan of water and make a stew."

Menu decided, she moved at a more confident pace.
She took out some baby corn, beans and green peas from the fridge. After chopping the baby corn, she chopped up some ginger and garlic too.
Suddenly she had a craving for something spicy and hot.
"I'll make a hot and sour soup. Just as I feel today."

She took out a heavy bottomed pan and filled it with a few cups of water. On another day, she would heat some oil and lightly fry the vegetables and then add water. Today, she kept it as easy to make as possible.

"The rooms are set and everything is spic and span!", called out Vikram.
Sunanda smiled at the sound of pride in his voice.
"I'm ready too.", she replied.
Soon, their friends started coming in. Within a few minutes, their home was filled with laughing voices, gentle music in the background and the sound of clinking glassware.

The water had started to boil. Watching the rolling water distractedly, she started to throw in the vegetables by turns. First, in went the chopped garlic, then the ginger, green chillies and then the carrots, cauliflower, peas, baby corn and the beans. She then added some salt and a pinch of sugar. While the vegetables were cooking, she busied herself by keeping the rest of the ingredients at hand. She needed the soy sauce, white pepper powder, green chilli sauce, vinegar and some corn starch dissolved in water.

Sunanda had just opened the fridge to bring out the dessert when she heard Vikram's slightly raised voice. Not liking the tone of it, she walked into the living room to check out. Sure enough, she found Vikram and Deep in an argument. Nothing new, considering the two of them have been friends from school and are always arguing over something. But Sunanda instinctively felt something was wrong. This was not the usual banter the two friends usually have.

Looking askingly at the rest of the small group, that had suddenly fallen silent, Sunanda followed the eyes of one of them and found out the reason behind this heated argument. Lying on the coffee table was one of Vikram's latest acquisition ... a hardbound he had been wanting for a while. The book, with its gleaming glossy cover was lying there, looking very innocent.

"But it's just a book, for heaven's sake!", Deep was heard exclaiming.
"Just a book! Just a book! You call it just a book?!" Vikram's voice rose a notch higher.
"Well, that's what I see!"
"Exactly, you won't see anything beyond that. That requires something else."
"Oh c'mon Vick! Why are you being so unreasonable?"
"Unreasonable? I'm being unreasonable?! You use my book as a coaster to hold your dirty plate and I'm the one who is being unreasonable?!"

Sunanda added the rest of the things into the soup. Finally, she added the dissolved corn starch and let it boil for a minute more. Satisfied with what she saw, she poured herself a big mugful of the very hot and flavourful soup and went back to where she was sitting earlier. Sipping the soup, she reveled in its warmth. It was spicy enough to burn her throat a little ... and she loved the tinge.
Restless, she got up and walked to the window.

"I think you should call Deep and apologize." She had tried to reason with her husband that morning.
"I won't."
"Oh c'mon Vikram, was it really necessary? The way you behaved with him?"
"What do you mean? He is the one who should know how to handle things that belong to others."
"Agreed. But all he did was use your book for a while. He must have not been looking. Am sure he did not do that on purpose."
"Besides why do you keep your precious books all over the house? I can see a few on the window right now."
"Go ahead. Blame me. But I'll not apologize. Not to some barbarian who has no respect for books. I'll never tolerate ... never ... no!"

With that he slammed his way out of the house.

Tears stung her eyes. She needed to get out of this and finish the chores.

With a sigh, Sunanda picked up the now empty cup and froze.
The bright, dark circle of soy stared up at her from the
lovely face of Gauhar Jaan*.
Sunanda gave a small sigh and closed her eyes in silent resignation.

This goes to this month's Of Chalks and Chopsticks, started by Aqua and hosted by Sandeepa.
Updated :  I have italicized the flashback parts on Jaya's suggestion. Much thanks dear Jaya!!

Suno, suno, suno .... Disclaimer :

1. My mind has been in a very befuddled state of late ... so please bear with me if this piece of attempt-to-fiction seems too juvenile. Even I do not know how much sense it makes ... so my dear friends, please forgive me for I do not know what I write.

2. My photographs do not look as beautiful as they are expected to be.
Check out the snap that the story needs to be based on here, agree with me and come back pronto to leave me a line ... ok ... more than a line will work even better.

3. * While I have read about the life of Gauhar Jaan (in a Bengali Sharadiya collection), singer, kathak dancer and a courtesan in the 19th-20th century, I have not actually seen any of the book(s) written on her ... so have no idea what they look like ... i.e. hardbound/a thin book/a big book/a small book/glossy book .... get the idea.

So there folks!

Feels great to be able to be back on Kichu Khon, though this post does not guarantee my continious presence here henceforth. I still need time to be back.

Meanwhile ... heartfelt thanks to everybody for allowing me stay around, for being in touch. And for giving Kichu Khon company.
Every time I log in, I find at least 2 or 3, sometimes more, comments waiting for me. Makes my day ... has been ever since I stopped blogging around 4 months back.

Warm hugs to all of you. Stay healthy. Stay happy. Stay well.

Updated on 11/02/13 :  Sending this to Sayantani's event teamed with Cuponation.