I obstinately maintain that my sweet tooth is not the cause of my diabetes. My learned doctor friends had told me this – diabetes is not a disease but a biological disorder; and to keep this disorder behaving in a orderly fashion in the system, one had to restrict the consumption of sweets, they had decreed. I never follow this mandate and I do not intend to – chocolates are my weakness.
I am very strict with myself when it comes to the consumption of other foods. But alas, the calories controlled by this exercise are scrumptiously replenished by chocolates. What the heck – I say. Do not eat this, leave this habit, leave that habit. What the heck – finally what you let go is your own life. Don?t the non-diabetics let go their life when the time comes?
My refrigerator has a stockpile of chocolates and the glass jars on the dinning table are brimmed with choice candies. In the fridge are the heavily guarded foreign chocolates -Bounty, Mars, McIntosh, Rowntree, KitKat…all courtesy my lovely sisters-in-law, all well placed abroad, remembering fondly that their flamboyant ? bavoji? (elder sister?s husband) once upon a time lived and worked abroad, earning dinars and savoring choicest Swiss chocolates!
"The rain seems to be subsiding, Babubaba," she said standing at our living room door, squinting an eye to the sky. " I am done for the day and I am off.?? She had an umbrella in one hand and a plastic bag filled with waste papers generated by my household; the worst offender was myself, a writer, crumpling sheet after sheet of my own, unapproved writings. ?With these,? she very often said. ?I can warm up a bhann (a huge copper vessel for warming water for bath) full of water for our evening bath!? She coined the name ?babubaba? for me, how and why I do not know.
She came thrice a week to give a helping hand to my wife. Her age was around forty, had twins, both girls, schooling. Her husband?s life was a Mangalorean Copyright story. A skilled mason, he would earn two hundred fifty plus and blow himself up in the evening with one hundred and eighty milliliters of ?thotte sarai.? (arrack in a polythene sachet) Good for the wife, I often said, that he has adopted this method of birth control or else she would have had twins every year. Thotte sarai puts his libido to sleep.
But she never complained about his drinking. "He works very hard the whole day, Babubaba,?? she said. " He is by himself after that; he doesn?t trouble us at all. You see, Babubaba, I and my children do not have any kind of longing. You or Auntybai (she called my wife that) generously give us something and gratefully we accept that. But this is not a habit forming practice, Babubaba. Today we have been given, fine, why then long for more the next day and the next and the next?" Her delivery of unformatted philosophy amazed me many a times.
"You talk too much!" I used to snub her, smiling.
"Who else to talk to Babubaba? You are a good man. The whole day and night you sit and write and write; you menacingly tear the sheets of paper and eat one chocolate for every sheet you tear. There must be thousands of worms in your stomach?why don?t you try talking, sometimes at least???
Me? And talk?
"Come here you blessed woman," said, gathering seven or eight chocolate wrappers littering my table. I shoved them in her bag. "These will give a lovely aroma when burning," I said. "These are wrappers of foreign chocolates, mind you." She mumbled something and went out.
My brother-in-law from Bahrain had brought a liter bottle of Scotch.
It was a Sunday and I sat down with a drink at eleven thirty in the morning, much to the chagrin of my wife. The help was also there with her in the kitchen. The aroma of the pork bafat being cooked leaked merrily from the kitchen. Scotch, energized with effervescent soda descended into my belly in measured sips and the internals snapped up like tempered steel. Invariably, I snorted out a belch through my mouth and the nostrils.
She came out of the kitchen, almost suddenly.
"Yesterday my children got first class!?? she exclaimed.
"What first and what class?"
" See Babubaba, you always put chocolate wrappers in the plastic bag….my children sort them out from the ?kachraa? and make butterflies, dragonflies, streamers out of them during their craft class. Yesterday they got first class and the whole class clapped for them. The entire class was decorated with the streamers they had made from your wrappers and believe me, Babubaba, the whole class was smelling of chocolates, so they tell me!"
I sat there with the glass in the hand, without knowing what to say. Wrappers, streamers, butterflies, dragonflies. We did not have all this, we who studied in the English medium. Our craft class was water color painting, carbon pencil drawing, carpentry…oh so the craft class for her kids in the Kannada medium was making butterflies from chocolate wrappers, eh? Funny, chocolates in my stomach and the wrappers adorn the class room. I chuckled, the Scotch was slowly diluting my senses. What the heck, I will eat five or six chocolates more and shove the wrappers in her plastic bag!
Hey, nothing better came to your mind?
My brain was still alert enough to ask this.
Oh, yes, it has come, I replied and reached for the liter bottle to fix my second drink.
That night, in the bedroom, my wife referred to the chocolates but not in the manner that would not have surprised me.
"You know," she started. "Although her children study in the Kannada medium with school fee concession, the headmistress asked them for a donation towards the building fund!"
"Rubbish!" I exclaimed. "Donation and from these poor souls? Who told you this yarn?"
"She did," said my wife pointing in the direction of our kitchen. "She told me not to tell you….she knows your temper well."
"What will I do with my temper?" I lit a Benson & Hedges. "Our little one is studying in the same school; when I was the President of the PTA for two terms, I had raised some point regarding the management and the management rubbed it in for the entire academic year, victimizing our child."
"How many times have I told you not to smoke in the bedroom?"
"I do not remember!" My reposte was punchy. "This is my bedroom too…..how could they ask these for a donation?" I was so vexed that I puffed heavily on my cigarette.
"Because of your chocolate wrappers!"
…The entire class was decorated with the streamers they had made from your wrappers ….
I sat bolt upright and the cigarette ash fluffed down on the bed sheet.
"My chocolate wrappers…do not be silly…but how?"
"If her children have the means of eating such expensive chocolates, they may as well have enough resources to give a donation, the headmistress is supposed to have said," retorted my wife.
"I will fix the headmistress tomorrow itself."
"No need!" my wife sounded firm. "Our daughter has one more year to go."
"What happened next?" I sucked on the cigarette.
"I paid her the monthly wages last evening….she paid the headmistress one hundred rupees…"
"What?!" I literally screamed. "And then?"
"You really want to know?" she sounded dramatic. "Am I sitting here with a begging bowl for one hundred rupees, asked the headmistress."
"Was this woman dumb? Couldn?t she have told that the chocolates …."
"Would you have believed her? Now every other Mangalorean family has somebody or the other in the Middle East…. the U.S. is fast coming on the scene!" Vow, my woman is well informed, eh?
"So she gave…pardon me, donated rupees five hundred!"
As my eyeballs popped out, she dropped a clinker. "She too has dignity, you see!"
"Dignity? Where do I go from here?" I crushed the cigarette butt in the ashtray.
"Straight to the bed!"
My thoughts and planning went beyond that before the sleep crept on.
In the next day?s ?kachraa? bag I surreptitiously slipped two big bars of Mars Chocolates and made sure the woman took the bag home the same evening.
"Babubaba Uncle, Babubaba Uncle!" Two voices, two new voices, two young voices.
It was around eight the next morning. I came out, with a B&H dangling on my lips. My wife followed suit, it was the time the fishmonger would come on his bicycle.
They were standing there in the courtyard, dressed in school uniform.
"Who…why?" I fumbled for words.
"Babubaba Uncle, it is us….."
"Us who?" I turned to my wife for help.
"These are her children," my wife said in a matter of fact voice.
"What?s wrong?" I fumbled. "Is she not well, is she not coming to work?"
"Why don?t you ask them?" my wife shrugged her shoulders.
"What is it, children?" I asked, now eyeing them closely.
Their school uniform was old but clean and pressed. Their hair was clean, oiled well and tied in two perfect plats, held in place by red ribbons. Rubber chappals they wore matched the color of the uniforms.
I bet they looked nice and smart.
Ah, ah…they have enjoyed the chocolates and have come to thank me.
Good, good, I pampered myself to believe.
"Yes, children," I now spoke to them in English. After all…..yes after all. "What is the matter?"
They looked at each other.
One of them held out her palm.
On it there were those two big Mars Chocolates, uneaten, unopened.
"We found these in yesterday?s ?kachraa?" they said, almost in unison. "Perhaps, you forgot to eat them!"
Author: Edwin JF DSouza- Mangalore