Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A pot of Okra Sambhar

She had an inkling of it for a while now.But never uttered a word. Why bring the climax in the middle of a beautiful life story, she thought. If I can just avert my eyes a little, to the left, I can pretend I never saw it.

Hadn't she been doing this all her life now, her life after marriage that is. When he would drop the wet towel right there on the middle of her Jaipuri bedspread, leaving a damp spot, she would pretend she did not see it. She had told him umpteen times to put the wet towel in the hamper, the deep blue one, not the pale green one in the right where his yesterday's jockey underwear should go. But did he listen ? No.She therefore chose to look away, to not really see what was happening around her, to build up a make believe life. But it suited her so why does it bother you anyway ?

How else do you think she could cope with the fact the he let out guttural rolls of laughter watching "Comedy Circus" on Sony ? A show she detested with its loud, raunchy jokes and canned laughter. Or that he picked his aquiline nose when Stephen Colbert came on Comedy Central ?

Twenty one years ago when Paritosh kaka had introduced the tall, bespectacled man as a prospective match all she had thought of was Soumitro.No, no, not her boyfriend. Soumitro Chatterjee, the filmstar, the poetic brother-in-law of Charulata, the intelligent detective in Feluda, her childhood hero.The gangly young man, lean with sharp eyes looking out of the 4x6 photograph with the hills of Hollywood behind him had reminded her exactly of Soumitro.Later that evening when Ma had asked if she liked the boy, she had nodded in agreement, dreaming of watching a Kurosawa together or sharing a packet of Jhalmuri while discussing Ray's Teen Konya.

It turned out he had never heard of Kurosawa and thought Satyajit Ray was all a big hype of antel (intellectual) Bangalis.She didn't take it to heart. She just pretended that he had not said those words , that Kurosawa was never screened in any of the 18 theater multiplexes in her small California town.

Although when he said Alu Posto was a bland paste of poppy seeds which only farmers from Bankura ate to keep themselves cool in scorching heat, she took serious umbrage and did not talk to him for one whole day.But then her mounavrata had't really bothered him much and she finally consoled herself that it wasn't really necessary that two people should have the exact same taste in everything.

Gradually she had learned, it was much easier to pretend things she did not like never happened around her.

She had thus set up a good life for herself, a rhythmic routine that started with Kellogg's Strawberry and ended with half a glass of Chianti. There was a Lexus in the driveway, a Honda Accord lonely in the two car garage. The dining table was from Etan Allen shining in the afternoon sun while she scooped kalai er dal and alu posto, rice from the cereal bowl sitting across the kitchen island. On the sofa table sat a framed picture of her son, grinning just like his Dad with the Sather Tower at UC Berkley rising in the far back. Weekends were always busy with a party at one or the other Bengali homes in the area; where heavy scent of Dolce Vita swirled through deep maroon Tassars and light gray Bangalore silks; platters of chicken biryani, mutton rezala, cholar dal and bhapa doi competed with loud laughters and border line lewd jokes.

It was a good life, she had finally decided.And then today she saw her again, right there on his Facebook page, left accidentally open on the iPad he had been browsing. He had forgotten to sign out when he rushed to take the client call on his blackberry. This was the same girl that she had met at his office party last Christmas.

In her early thirties, petite, her long ear drops shining many colors in the light from the chandelier. " Hi, I am Ranjhani", she had said, a lilt in her voice, a slight emphasis on the "jh" in her name.But it was her ear drops that had caught her eyes and that is all she could remember now. When the dangly ear drops, Ranjhani, popped up on Facebook Chat with the question "Dinner tonight ? 7-ish sounds good ?", she should have just looked away, left, past the window to the corner where the towel lay in a heap.
Instead she pretended she did not see the Towel and typed, "My place. 123 Barn Owl Ct.". And then she signed him out.

For a while she wasn't sure what she had done. She yanked the charger out and sat with the white cord wrapped around her palm. She had never done anything like this before, never taken any momentous decisions except the one 21 years ago.

She sat there for a long time, time unfathomable, time beyond measures. Only when the vertical blinds started throwing long shadows and the big toe on her left food started pricking with pins&needles, did she get up and go to the kitchen. Carelessly she threw the charger cord in the vegetable basket and took down the okra and the bag of green lime.She washed the Toor Dal in several changes of water and pulled out the packet of MTR sambhar powder from the recess of her spice drawer.The okra she washed and chopped, not noticing its slimy strings drawing lines on the chopping board. She heated oil in her big stock pot.Lost in herself she threw in the mustard seeds which danced and fizzed, grumbling loudly.Next went the curry leaves, all dried and limp on their stalk. She didn't care.Once she had the okra sambhar going on the stove she juiced each of the limes carefully in a big bowl. The lime was sour and her lips puckered up with their severe tart-ness.

By the time it was 6:30 in the evening she pulled out her Accord from the garage. When the GPS lady instructed to take the first right turn, she saw her again, in her long hoops with little pearls hanging like grapes driving a Mini on the other side.

The okra sambhar, caustic sour waited patiently on the stove top.


This is my entry for this month's Of Chalks and Chopsticks hosted by Jaya and started by Aqua. The cue for the Fiction was the above photo in the post which Jaya had given us. I have explored hitherto unexplored territories in my fiction and I hope you like it.


  1. I admire your writing..feel like i want to read the whole book, if you could write one :)

  2. I really enjoyed this story, Sandeepa! Aaah Soumitro Chatterjee- can't blame her ..;-)

    I loved the details in this story. Also the ending- perfect! (though I do want more!)

  3. Yes! more please. part II if you can? Although the sambhar is perfectly delicious on its own, it seems bland now without knowing what happens next..

  4. Manju

    Thank you

    You too :-D

    Part II is left to you, the reader, interpret it as you will.

  5. Nice story but will like to know the end..part 2. Lobe reading all your post.

  6. It kept me on the edge till the end..and now in the middle of the night, I want a bowl-ful of okra sambar!

  7. I like these hitherto unexplored territories in your fiction. I like it a lot. And to all the above and future comments, please stop asking a writer for part 2. Not every story has to have a logical ending. It is ok to use your imagination once in a while.

  8. Love the little details in your story and also the suspenseful ending...kind of like a Roald Dahl story. I had the same thought as Manju, wish you would write book. Thank you for sharing your talent with us!!

  9. "And how dreams die" - that's what I was going to say till I came to the FB page bit! I don't necessarily want a Part 2 but I hope the enamel fell off the husband's teeth after eating the sambaar and she somehow found the companion of her dreams - more unexplored territory, what?

  10. I luv the way you weave fictions out of everyday life :) Great reading your post ... luvd it !

  11. Write a book please. I will buy it.Promise.

  12. This is simply awesome.very good,and a subtle melancholic rhythm.
    bhishan man kharap lagche..please write more

  13. You write so well as usual.Do let me know if you have published any writings as yet,would love to own them.More so,the almost personal touch in all your writings makes me want to meet you,serve a few delicious Bong dishes and chat with you.

  14. Sandeepa,

    Hats off to your writing and imagination. You are truly gifted. Keep more of them coming, as you have a huge reader-fan-following!


  15. Sambar is anytime comfort dish and okra is my fav too...yummy sambar

  16. i am begging for more... what happens next? please have mercy... what happens when the husband find out? where is he headed? please more....

  17. Beautiful story Sandeep, left me wanting more. Not the sambhar though.

  18. is there going to be a Part 2 for it - omg this rocked !- though am sure as to what she will do or rather she must do - to put it in words by u will give a sense of satisfaction - what a moving piece , loved it totally !

  19. superlike superlike... ki oshshadharon likhechho !!! just wanted to know, eta ki kono contest? previous round up tao porechhi.... khub bhalo lekhagulo...

  20. Anjali

    Thank You


    Actually I want some too


    I guess my situation is like yours this time :)


    Read Sra's comment. That is one way it might have gone. Honestly no part 2. Anything you wish could be it :)


    Ai ai yoooo, no talent or such but this I love to do and it feels nice if it brings pleasure to some other

  21. Sra

    I don't know about companion of dreams, depends on how much risk taker she is.More such territories might scare someone at home ;-)
    But I like the enamel falling off !!!


    Thanku, thanku....anything for you my readers :)


    Ok, ok you might have to end up buying all of the prints, don't see any other taker ;-)


    Thanks :)

    Life is Beautiful

    Ei jah, mon kharap keno ?

  22. Delo

    Would like to chat too and then you are also throwing in food, what a deal


    Now that is too much but glad you enjoyed the fiction


    Ha, ha...you tell me. What do you think ?


    :) Definitely not the sambhar


    Please, please what do you think she would do. Would love to hear


    Na, na, no competition. A few of us food bloggers who like to write have started this event to keep the creative juices flowing. Do check out the other blogs too.

  23. Nice write up, I enjoyed reading it.. I wish I could write like u :-)

  24. What a refreshingly caustic tale....almost as sour as the sambhar but with a lot of character

  25. Loved the way you have left it open to intrepretation. Not always possible/necessary to have all loose ends tied up in fiction; doesn't happen in real life either many times!
    Fell in love with the fisrt para, esp, 'if I can just avert my eyes...." - just brilliant.

  26. Wow, that FB page twist really blew me off. It is so sad that after investing 20+ years of her life, she has to see this day. Part 2 pretty please. I want to know what happened next? Did she walk out on him or taught him a lesson, in her own way! :-)

    just loved it Sandeepa.


  27. Riveting. Sandeepa, you know how to make curries - with food and with words - that leave a lingering taste...

  28. What a great story, I wanted to continue reading more. Please write second part or concluding or whatever it should be :)

  29. I know you have told in comments that the next part is upto the reader, but then please please do the second part. It is like watching a movie upto the interval part, would love to know what the author had in mind.

  30. Superb Sandeepa - simply wonderful - what a twist in the tale ! Marvellous - bhsihon bhalo likhhchho

  31. Wow would luv to read part two of this story :)


Thanks for your Comments. I hope you will be nice and not Spam.