Fish Curry & Rice

A sudden crash on the roof woke me up with a start. I sat up in bed and breathed deeply, my hands clutching the sheets on either side of me.
I blinked and looked out the window. The rain lashed down, obscuring everything outside like a translucent, blurry blanket.
I slid my legs off the bed and slouched over, my head in my hands.

I looked at my watch. Three thirty.
My shirt, drenched in sweat, clung to my back. The discomfort was unbelievable. The muggy air, the heat and the dreariness of the day outside teamed up with my fatigue, lack of sleep, frustration and anxiety and together they were making me feel like I needed to throw up.

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The Monsoons : Climatic Depression

I pulled myself to my feet and staggered to the bathroom, taking off my damp shirt and dropping it to the floor as I went. I leant over the sink and turned the tap on. I held my hands under it and splashed some cold water on my feverish face.
Feeling marginally refreshed, and a little less like I had just returned from the valley of the undead. I kicked my shirt out of the way and walked into the living room.

Krishna, the cook, was in the kitchen slaving over the staff dinner.
Krishna was a short, pot bellied, somewhat clumsy nepalese man. He lived on the farm with his wife (who had his testicles in a vice) and little 3 year old daughter. It was his job to ensure everyone who worked at the riding school was properly fed and got their tea and cucumber sandwiches on time – without dying of Amoebiosis or E. Coli poisoning. His wife’s duties included pretending to do the house work, cleaning the staff quarters and making sure the office was presentable and tidy. Never once had I seen the woman do so much as look in the general direction of a broom.

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Krishna, self proclaimed king of the kitchen

Their story was an interesting one. He, all of 21, was from a lower income farming family. She, the daughter of a relatively wealthy landlord. It was a bollywood classic in the making.
They fell in love.
Naturally, Krishna was neither accepted nor approved of by her father, who threatened him with a slow painful death if he continued his pursuit. Krishna, in return did what any hot blooded, self respecting man in love would do.
He snuck into her bedroom one night, flipped her over his shoulder and ran away with her into the darkness.
Now this would have all been very romantic, a true life example of the triumph of love over adversity.
Except – she was thirteen.

Fast forward 6 years, and we’re back in our kitchen in Indore.

“Good Morning Sir!” He grinned at me sarcastically.

“Fuck off – Give me coffee.”
I have never been a morning person.

“Sorry Sir.”

I walked over to my armchair and slumped down in it. Vignesh, my second in command, was napping on the charpoy across the room. I threw a boot at him.

“Wake up..”

“Huh? Wha….” He spluttered, waking up with a start.

“You are only allowed to sleep if I am allowed to sleep, and I’m not allowed to sleep right now.”

He groaned.

“WAKE UP!”

“Okay, Okay! I’m up, I’m up..”

He rubbed his eyes and straightened his vest.

“Everything okay outside?”

“Outside’s flooded boss.”

“Yes, I know its flooded – but is everything okay?”

“Dunno..”

“Er.. Go check?”

“I will…”

“Now?”

“Yes, Yes, I’m going. Can I have a coffee first?” He said, loud enough for Krishna to hear.

I nodded.

Krishna sauntered in with a tray and put two mugs on the coffee table between Vignesh and I.

We drank our coffee without another word and he got up to go have a look at the horses and make sure all was in order.
The entire property was under 2 feet of water. There were snakes everywhere – floating around, inside the stables, under feed bins, on the rafters. It seemed like all of God’s creatures from a 10 mile radius had made a beeline for our stables, which were raised, and high enough to still be dry. The miles and miles of plastic sheeting we wrapped the entire building in helped too.
There were spiders the size of my fist, insects with more legs than I could count, mice, rats, hedgehogs, bandicoots, squirrels, feral cats, dogs and on one occasion a porcupine.

21082012459Needless to say, our 22 thoroughbreds, already extremely perturbed by being marooned on their little island with no exercise or work did not take very kindly to these new visitors. Every 30 seconds saw a horse spooking, trying to jump the wall, getting stuck somewhere or just going into a stupid thoroughbreddy, stable-pacing, paranoid panic.

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Water, water everywhere.

 

 

The water had gotten us all down. It had rained for a week straight, day and night. There had been scant electricity – try 4 hours every second day. Tempers were flaring, morale was low and people couldn’t have hot showers or see what they were eating for dinner.

I brooded over the weather forecast on my phone and mumbled to myself. Krishna ambled in and sat down on the charpoy, a silly grin plastered across his face.
This grin wasn’t really indicative of anything, it was just stuck there, permanently, all the time. I didn’t take any notice.

“Sir?”

I looked up at him and cocked an eyebrow.

“Dinner will be good tonight.”

“Oh?”
He had peaked my interest.
A “good” dinner was not easily gotten from our kitchens. Krishna, a self proclaimed culinary maestro (the basis of his employment) could barely boil an egg without screwing up. One of my shortcomings in business is that I have never been able to fire anyone. Krishna was no different.

“Yessir! I made fish!”

“Ok, wow, well done…” I said.

“I thought it would be a good change from the usual.”

The “usual” was simple. A vegetable, roti (flatbread) and dal (lentils). Times were hard and we had to be economical about our eating habits. I had 20 mouths to feed and 22 horses and owing to the monsoon, no business to feed them with. A fish curry sounded very appealing.

My spirits lifted somewhat by the promise of a great dinner, I got up and walked to the door. It was pouring outside. The rain was relentless, like a hipster trying to make a point. I stared as far as visibility allowed, which was all of 6 feet, leaning against the doorway, a cigarette hanging from my mouth.

“No wonder India is a third world country. In the summer, its so hot, people die of dehydration, exhaustion and heat stroke. When it rains, it rains so much that people drown, die of jaundice, cholera, typhoid and a whole host of nasty diseases, they lose their homes and entire villages are washed away. Then winter comes along and it is so cold, that all the people who lost their homes in the monsoons freeze to death. Whatever brief moments of respite people get are plagued with communal violence, riots, crime, natural disasters and delirious acts of a delirious God.”

I coughed and tossed the still smoking butt into a puddle.

Vignesh likes his with milk

Just drinking a cup of chai 30 seconds before a storm of typhoon proportions hits. Because we’re badass that way.

I looked out at the muggy swamp that was my riding school. I couldn’t even see the arena anymore. I sighed at the thought of 6,00,000 rupees worth of surfacing being arbitrarily washed away by fate.
It was too depressing to keep up, I walked back inside, slammed the door, slumped back down in my chair and lit a smoke.

“Sir.. Sir… Dinner”

I opened my eyes.

“Sir you fell asleep again? How much do you sleep?”

“Fuck off Krishna – get me coffee.”

“But sir, dinner.. the staff have already taken theirs.”

I sighed.

I looked over at Vignesh filling up his plate at the kitchen counter.

“Grab one for me too, could you?”

“Sure, boss.”

Vignesh walked over and put a plate down on the coffee table. Krishna followed, standing patiently next to me, waiting for my approval. I looked at the plate and leant over it.

“Well, it definitely smells good.”

Krishna beamed with pride.

I picked up my spoon, but stopped short.

“Uh.. Krishna?”

“Yes sir?”

“Where did you get the fish from?”

Vignesh, who was busy shovelling spoonfuls of food into his face stopped his hand midway and looked up.

“I caught them” Krishna replied, his voice laced with a sense of triumph. I could have sworn I saw his chest expand a little.

“You did what?” I asked, my mind racing to think of any viable water bodies close enough for this idiot to have gone fishing in.

“I caught them.”

“What do you mean you caught them? You’ve been here all day…”

“Yeah, I got them here only.”

“Krishna, there isn’t a pond, river, lake or ocean for miles in any direction. Where did you catch the fucking fish?” I asked.

I must have looked fairly menacing at the time because he took a couple of steps back and stuttered, “Outside sir, theres so much water, theres fish everywhere! So I thought I’d catch some and cook them for you. I thought you’d be happy.”

“Jesus fucking Christ…” I looked at Vignesh who looked like he had just seen Jabba the Hut giving birth. I shoved the plate away and while thanking a god I did not believe in, pulled my phone out and called Mahaveer.

“Hello Baba!”

“Mahaveer, have the lads eaten dinner?”

“Yes Baba, All fed and now getting into bed.” He said.

I closed my eyes and paused helplessly.

“Er.. Okay then.. just checking. Goodnight…uhh..”

“Goodnight Baba!”

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“Fish Curry” for dinner.

He hung up. I put the phone down and looked at Krishna. I pointed to the plate. “Get this shit out of here, now.”

I heard Vignesh retching in the bathroom. I cringed.

Krishna was visibly hurt and his eyes began to well up.

“Krishna….”

“Sir…” He choked… holding back the tears.

“Krishna, where did the water outside come from?”

“T..t…t…the rain Sir..”

“Okay.. Good.. And where does the rain come from?”

“F…f…f…fr…fr…from the sky Sir.” He stuttered, losing his battle with his bruised ego.

“Well done. Now, do fish also fall from the sky?”

“Not that I know of Sir..”

“Okay, so where do you think those fish came from?”

“I don’t know Sir, they were just there, I thought I’d make the most of it.”

“Krishna, where do fish come from?”

“Rivers Sir? The Sea? Lakes?”

“Yes, good, well done. Do you see any rivers, lakes or seas here?”

“No Sir..”

“How do you think the fish got in a puddle Krishna? Where did they come from?”

He looked at the floor and shuffled his feet around. Vignesh staggered out of the bathroom, holding the door with one hand and his stomach with the other.

He lunged at Krishna, yelling a multitude of expletives in multiple languages. Krishna ran for it, dodging Vignesh around the coffee table, imploring me to step in.

“Vignesh, sit down.”

He glared at Krishna.

“NOW VIGNESH”

He took a deep breath, collected himself and sat down.

“Do you have any more of these, erm, fish Krishna?

“Yes sir! I caught a whole lot of them! I was saving them for tomorrow but I don’t know now.”

“Damn right you don’t bloody know!” Vignesh barked.

Krishna retreated behind my chair, putting me between himself and Vignesh, who was almost frothing at the mouth by now.

“Can I see them please?”

“Sure Sir, if I could just……” He gestured to Vignesh.

“Let him go…”

Vignesh mumbled something and shook his head as Krishna walked back to the kitchen.
In a few moments he reappeared with a little stainless steel container and opened it.
It was filled with water. The water, in turn was full of little minnow-like creatures, darting around aimlessly in short bursts of propulsion.

“See Sir? I told you they were fish.” He frowned.

I looked up at him. “Krishna, do you want to die?”

“No Sir! Why?”

“Because if any of the staff finds out you fed them baby frogs that you fished out of a muddy puddle, I’m afraid thats exactly what will happen.”

His frown was replaced by horror. Vignesh leaned over the side of the charpoy and threw up again. Hearing it out loud made him sick all over again.

“You’d better set these little buggers free, and I would strongly suggest we never bring this up again, yes?”

“Yessir..” He mumbled.

“Yes, Vignesh?”

“Yes Boss.” He muttered.

“Ok, good. Now go make me a grilled cheese.”

“Right Sir.”

I lit a cigarette and smirked. If nothing else we’ll probably laugh about this one day. And at least we got to feed those lazy bastards frogs for dinner.

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My alarm rang. I dragged myself out of bed and after relieving myself groggily, sauntered out to the kitchen.

“Krishna – Coffee!”

“Good Morning Sir!”

“Fuck off.”

Mahaveer was perched a plastic chair, a cup of chai nestled between his palms in his lap.

“Good Morning Baba!” He was always disgustingly chirpy. Always. Sometimes I wanted to murder him.

“Hmpf”

Krishna walked in and put my mug on the coffee table.

Mahaveer grinned at him and raised his cup of tea.

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Mahaveer in the morning.

“Arrey! Krishna! That fish curry last night!.. Damn good!… Can you make it again?”

I spat my coffee out onto the floor.

“Baba? Are you okay? What happened?” Mahaveer asked, a deep concern in his voice.

“Eh? Yeah.. I’m fine. Just went down the wrong way.” I winked at Krishna, who hurriedly shuffled off to the kitchen, closing the door behind him.

– A

 

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