Wednesday, July 2, 2008

One for Jamie and Nigella

Yesterday, you’d have thought it was the monsoon. Schools were closed, but not the office, to the chagrin of administrative Mumbai, including Mr Roland. Hours of serious rain, until the chocolatey floodwater was swishing right up to the tops of your wellies. Even when it wasn’t raining, it felt like it was still raining, the humidity was so high, crinkling the papers on our coffee table with damp, even through closed windows. The dusting of grime’s now iced firmly to the glass panes, but it gives me the bends, just thinking about cleaning them, so we’re getting used to the new defused view, up here on the thirty-third floor.
Today, not a drip.
The fruit and vegetable stall, on the street corner, below our apartment, has moved back to its original pitch, now the road-works are finished (Indian-finished, I mean with a souvenir heap of leftover grit and rubble, as a testament to industry, for the next eight months, or until they dig the road up again, whichever’s sooner). Such hither-and-yinning is of no avail: whichever side of the crossroads the Veg Man pitches, he’ll have soggy root ginger and wet lemons, as soon as the cloud bursts, because it’s in a dip. The retail instinct’s indomitable, here, though. Unaccountably, the lighting shop, closed since the beginning of June (no lights on, but somebody’s home), has opened for business again, stringing up a selection of new pink chandeliers, between two leaning trees, rosily winking to tempt passers-by. The chandelier family had retreated under a yellow tarpaulin, as big as a double garage, but with fewer amenities. They’ve now have popped out again, on the offchance of a little trading, between showers. I don’t see anyone stopping to buy, though. Monu always slows down, as we pass by, so I can rubber-neck properly.
At school today, we make fruit salad. First, Varun-bhaiya takes a select group to market, to market, to buy a fat mango. I give Varun the benefit of long experience: I tell him to count his charges, before he goes, and to bring the same number back. Preferably the same ones. The smalls, meanwhile, are in a ferment of excitement. They must go shopping with their Mums every day, to the same street-stalls, but this is by way of being An Expedition. (I tell Monu, the children have to do their own shopping, to see how many bananas they can get for ten rupees. If I had ten rupees, I say.... and he laughs. We both know that I would come back with three wrinkled grapes and half a banana, without supplementing the budget....)
We do “Community” in a circle, and I get to read the questions. “What’s your favourite thing about school?” I ask Aanchal. She holds her hands out, with a coy smile. “My favourite thing about school, is teacher,” she croons, her head on one side. (I’m very susceptible to a bit of verbal. On the street, a boy’s trying to wheedle a coin out of flinty-hearted Mr Roland. “Maharajah, one rupee!” he begs. I’m just curling a derisory lip, because Mr Roland patently fancies himself in the role, wouldn’t he just, when the beggar-boy turns to me. “Maharani, just one rupee!” I’ve never been called a maharani before, I’m just handing over bank details and arranging for a standing order, when Maharajah spoils it all, and drags me away...) Poor Aanchal, it so nearly works, her winning line in flannel. It’s too late, though, I’ve already asked Bhavika-didi if I can have Swapnil to take home with me, at the weekend, and she definitely said, “Yes.” I have witnesses. I just need to re-arrange my packing a little bit. I can bring the forty-seven sacks of Hibiscus Tea, next time. Or maybe I could also jettison the consignment of elephants-in-elephants, for the time being, and bring Aanchal, too?
The happy shoppers come back, twittering like a bunch of parakeets. I count nine, and look anxiously at Varun, but he gives me the thumbs-up: nine was the allocation. He only just brings back enough children, then. While the fruit salad is being chopped up, onto a tray, in the corner, on the floor, we limber up with a bit of work on opposites. This is one of my favourites, because I like watching Bhavika-didi do fat and thin, in her Lulu-husky voice, mirrored by the rapt audience at her feet – although Khaja and the gang couldn’t look authentically fat, even if they jumped into a barrel of melted chocolate and rolled around in Coco-Pops for a bit.
Then it’s time for our picnic – the children have never sat so still and straight. The fruit’s doled out onto little squares of newspaper, cupped into waiting hands. As well as the statutory mangoes, it turns out to contain not only cucumber but also tomatoes, in an interesting new take. And the sliced bananas are tossed in, skin and all. I’m looking dubiously at the portion in my hands, when I notice Varun refuse his, and the mango-slice screeches to a halt, half-way to my open mouth. Does he think the children need it more than he? Or does he quail at eating banana skin salad, with yesterday’s news printed on it? Or is it – surely not? – a hygiene issue? Too late, now, for misgivings. In for a paise, in for a rupee, I always think, though I do delegate my banana to Raj, cross-legged by my side. Tomato and mango’s quite an interesting combo, after all, once you open your mind and your tastebuds to a new experience. Expect it, next time you come to dinner at my house.