By: GANESH SAILI
Lockdown 4.0: Sixty days of living with a villainous virus on the prowl, I have acquired all the characteristics of ginger: my tongue is peppier, sharper and more astringent. For when the ginger root cannot grow left, it goes right; when it cannot go down, it goes up and when blocked on all sides, it expands around the middle. Things have come to such a pass; I could sign all my mail ‘Gingerly Yours.’
Some very close shaves have seen my hair go into quarantine from where they refuse to emerge. All I can show for my efforts is this new stepney. Believe me, it was not always like this. For in the once-upon-a-time days of extreme youth, I too had six-packs, before I lost them in the War of the Middle Age spread.
“Never mind!’ I tell myself, ‘My chest has slipped!’
‘Your chest is where it belongs,’ Niharika, a pragmatic ten-year-old granddaughter reminds me, catching me in the act, red-handed waddling like a penguin tiptoeing to the fridge at night.
‘Don’t you worry,’ I assure her, ‘A small piece of toast cannot change the course of the Battle of the Bulge.’
Looking around for butter, I espy some chutney looking rather forlorn, almost woe begone. It beckons me. Spreading it on the toast, I wallop it down in one mouthful.
It does taste – let us say – different. ‘Someone forgot to add salt!’ I mull until Abha, the LOH, spoils it all by saying: ’Anyone seen the henna I left soaking in the fridge?’
It is my turn to turn green.
Instead I gaze out of my window, where across the valley but below the clouds stands that ‘the Eton of the East’ in Bala Hisar, above Barlowganj. Forty-six years before the school came up in 1888, the site was ‘a-home- away-from-home’ to Amir Dost Mohammed of Afghanistan. He was exiled here for two years, before the War of Attrition that restored him to the throne in Kabul. Others believe he introduced the aromatic basmati rice from his home in Kunar, Afghanistan to the Doon valley.
Despite the interment and in spite of all that rice, he emerged two years later looking lean and hungry and you will notice that’s how he looks in his portraits.
‘They eat grain with grain!’ a startled Babar, founder of the Mughal Empire observed in his Babar-Nama. Its possible that I have been pushing the wrong stuff and now it has begun to tell, when I stand sideways to look at a mirror.
“Its dal-bhaat working overtime,’ Patting the ample folds, I am convinced. ‘Sooner than later it will recede like the tide.’ After all didn’t Winnie the Pooh chant: ‘I’m short, fat and proud of that!’
‘Try laughing – like a Laughing Buddha,’ Advises Niharika, giggling away.
During curfew break, I shuffle bleary eyed, staggering around like a bear awakened from its winter hibernation. Oh! I do see friends of old, but they now go past with nary a shrug: ‘Puraney-model-ki-gaddi-hai,’ or older–model-car’ as they zoom past in their flashy cars. But I classify this as a perfect truce: I have no intention of visiting them, nor they me.
My guess? I will carry this extra balcony around, as part of grand baroque architecture – the kind you see bulging out from the new flats in our hill station.
Meantime, everybody at home has turned gourmet cook, albeit of the YouTube variety. Because of their unceasing efforts, I stare at imminent expulsion from the local Weight Watcher’s Club.
‘Try a chocolate cookie Baba,’ Tania, my younger daughter says, offering me an over-ripened one from the oven. Maybe that happened after she wandered off to check on the washing machine. Burnt to a cinder, it tastes like pure charcoal. I am not going to tell and may I suggest in the interest of fair play and justice, you too should not utter a word either. Swallow it along with your pride.
If only I had heeded the words of the wise Tibetan lady from Mullingar who once told me: ‘If you want to live long, eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.’
(Ganesh Saili born and home grown in Mussoorie, belongs to the select few who write their own text and illustrate it with their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages. The documentary ‘Savoy: Saga of an Icon’ anchored by him won seventeen International and National Awards including The Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival Award for the Best Documentary.)