Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Yam and Capsicum

In the mid-nineties, Seshadri lived with his wife in a rented small house at Dollar’s Colony. On Sunday afternoons, his wife liked to have an extended lie-in from one till six. ‘That’s for taking care of you all week,’ she said.
Seshadri too enjoyed a prolonged nap, beside her, but only till three when he made tea for both, interrupted his wife’s sleep for a short while, took the empty cups back to the kitchen and then, stretched out on his armchair in the drawing room with the Sunday newspaper.
At half past four, without waking his wife, he locked and left the house. He walked briskly to the market at Ganganahalli with two large carry-bags, rolled-up and tucked beneath the left armpit. He crossed the main road near the entrance at the middle of the road-side market. Standing at the entrance, he first surveyed the stalls on the left side, and always turned away with a look of disdain, without a step to that side. ‘Cheap, second-rate stuff,’ he muttered.
He then inspected each stall on the right, till the very end. At each, he bent forward to pick an item or two, nodded at the seller seated on the ground, rolled a tomato in his palm, tweaked the end of a ladies-finger, listened to the haggling of others; but, on that round, he rarely said a word except, maybe, to acknowledge the sellers’ greetings to a familiar customer.
‘Arrey saar, you are late today,’ they teased his punctuality and he smiled shyly. ‘Saar, bestu potato, madam will love it as much as you,’ they tickled his soft spot and he nodded with pleasure.
After that round of inspection, he returned to the first stall and started his purchases. He squatted, as on an Indian water closet, to face each seller at the same level. He chose an item or two from each, never more, selecting, rejecting and bargaining.
‘Saar, I am selling you cheapest rate,’ a seller said. Seshadri replied, ‘If I take this home, at this price, my wife will hop from Dollar’s Colony to Sadashivanagar, then skip to Vyalikaval and jump to Malleshwaram market, come back with cheaper stuff and kick me back here to you.’ That worked most often. The men and the women of the market probably bowed to that image of a goddess-like wife, a wife they had never seen. Or, they just did not like losing a customer to the hoity-toity rivals at Malleswaram.
Once in a while, a new seller unfamiliar with his ways would try to sell his best wares, ‘Look at these, saar, capsicum, cauliflower, green peas, saar. So fresh, just feel it with your hand, saar. You can already feel it, no, soft but crisp in your mouth, no?’
Seshadri would sway back onto his heels, still squatting, frowning, ‘You keep that for fools with money to waste. Do you have proper country vegetable? Where are your yam, kovakkai (baby watermelon), hottest green chilly (kanthari mulaku or bird’s eye chilly) and cabbage? Tell me, do you have capsicum, cauliflower, green peas at home?’
Each carry bag was filled to the brim, heavy and bulging, with the weekly purchase. The autorickshaw drivers lazing near the exit usually asked him, ‘Saar, let us take you home.’ They knew that Seshadri would walk home with those heavy bags, even if he had to make more than one trip. Seshadri managed to get home just after six. His wife waited for him near the gate or at the door.
Then, one Sunday, in that awful season with rapidly rising vegetable prices, when regulars like Seshadri had delayed or canceled their weekly visits to the market, Seshadri changed his ways.
He came to the market at the usual time that Sunday. He still looked at the stalls to the left and turned away with a frown. But, he did not go on that first round of inspection. He squatted wearily, with a sad faraway look in his eyes, unsure and diffident.
‘Saar, fresh yam, saar,’ the seller prodded cautiously.
Seshadri held a yam in his hand, rubbing his fingers against the rough earthy texture. Tears rolled down his cheek and he started weeping silently.
The other sellers gathered around. One asked, ‘Saar, what saar, what happened? You tell us, no?’
‘Nothing, it’s nothing,’ Seshadri fumbled for a handkerchief and blew his nose. He told the seller, ‘Give me some capsicum, green peas and cauliflower.’
The sellers around him stood aghast and dumbfounded.
A matronly lady stepped forward and said firmly to Seshadri, ‘No, saar, this won’t do. You tell us. This is not like you at all, saar.’
Seshadri reached for a capsicum and held it in his left hand, ‘Just give me this, will you?’
‘No, saar, we will not give you this…’ the seller wrestled that capsicum from Seshadri’s hand, ‘no, saar, not till you tell us what’s wrong.’
Still squatting, Seshadri looked up at the group of concerned sellers, and some curious buyers, around him. He bowed his head and mumbled, ‘She is gone.’
‘Where did she go?’ a young one blurted out and that was immediately hushed with ‘ssh…’, ‘what are you asking?’ and a few well-placed nudges and shoves.
Seshadri looked up at the evening sky. The crowd maintained a stunned silence.
After a long pause, Seshadri continued, ‘When she went, they made me take her twin. How I protested. You need someone to take care of you, they said. Oh my God, what have I got? Looks the same but so different. One was like yam, earthy, fleshy and fresh inside. This one is like capsicum, just hollow inside and all show. And, she eats only such stuff. Now, give me a kilo of each. I don’t care what. Let me stuff her face with that.’
The sellers tried to console and calm him. They brought a stool for him to sit, and then a glass of fresh lime juice. They took his two carry bags and filled it. They selected the best for him, including the vegetables he loved and usually bought and, also those that he hated and had to buy now. They even gave him huge discounts. The final bill did not exceed his usual weekly budget. They also forced him to take an autorickshaw.  
The driver charged him only the minimum rate. His wife came running out to the gate wondering why Seshadri had come back in a rickshaw. The driver gave her a disapproving look. Seshadri followed his wife, meekly. At the door, he turned to the driver who still watched him kindly. Seshadri gave a sigh, looked up as if to say it is all fate and with a small diffident wave, slipped inside.
‘What is all this?’ his wife exclaimed excitedly, ‘You bought capsicum, green peas?’
‘Ah yes, just for a change,’ Seshadri replied.
‘What a change and that too when prices have skyrocketed…! Arrey, crows will fly upside down. To tell you the truth, I expected you to change your wife before you changed your choice of vegetables.’  


  1. It is very vivid and wonderfully crafted that i travelled with Sehsadri all along and could smell and feel the freshness of each of those veggies.. but what i didn’t understand was.. is this simply a Seshadri and his cleaver quest or is this the world around us today??? since it came from you.. i am finding it difficult to call it a simple story of middle class deception...

    By the way.. i am still wondering what he would do for the next week... :)

    1. KP, you are absolutely right - it is actually a simple story. I remembered that old market place where I used to go and just wanted to put a character over there. As for wives being yam or capsicum, that could be deception or actual state of affairs. :-)))