The first time you hear them is when you are in the green vegetable isle stuffing handfuls of bhindi and broad beans into plastic bags. It is 8:30 PM on a Saturday night, so carbon footprint and food miles are not a priority; you simply want to get back home. That is the first time he says to her, “You don’t cook kathal these days.” She murmurs evasively. And since your mind automatically makes a mental note of the people you are eavesdropping upon (even if inadvertently), so as your hands pick and thrust through heaps of bhindi, you take a quick look. The man is your average urban Indian; overweight dressed in a striped t-shirt and jeans. A male version of the "Empress of Blandings". His wife by comparison is Piglet. Perhaps more accurately a grasshopper. Next to him, she looks thin, frail and nondescript. They are your age, probably younger, the mind notes and closes the file. The last observation seems mandatory these days.
It is the way he says kathal that makes your ears stand on edge. Visions of a cool and large kitchen, hands soaked in mustard oil, the sharpened knife just before it makes the first strike in what would be hours of extreme labour, float in from nowhere. And you move along towards the pile of tomatoes. The kathal almost forgotten.
Later when you are picking grapes, disgusted by the man next to you who squeezes each grape before putting the bunch in the bag, that you hear him again, “It has been ages since I had kathal.” This time you deliberately look up. They are standing in front of the pile of kathal. The wife seems to have shrunk further in the past ten minutes. The man continues, “Last time I had kathal was when mummy cooked it. It was absolutely delicious. You never cook kathal for me. Lets buy some kathal today,” he ends picking up one of the bigger specimens on display while the wife demurs, “yes, yes I will make kathal if that is what you want. Yes, yes lets buy some kathal. If that is what you like.”
Vision of a tiny kitchen in a one BHK flat, in a suburban housing society with the outer walls gray and green from years of neglect in the Mumbai monsoon; a tiny kitchen platform large enough to hold the gas stove and maybe, if the builder was a human, a few jars of spices, frail hands soaked in mustard oil, the knife hacking the kathal, the oil sizzling in the kadhai, the smoke reluctantly leaving the tiny kitchen window, the sounds from the TV in the hall blaring the SA vs. India one day match commentary, float in. As do other more profound visions of matrimony.
Kathal will definitely be served for lunch this Sunday. For theirs is a happy marriage.
(For M+C on ten blissful years of matrimony.)
*bhindi is the Hindi name for okra
**kathal is the Hindi name for jackfruit