Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Fish

At the age of 24 Rajesh had secured a government job and so his life was set. It was a state government job, and some said it was not as good as a central government job but he was satisfied. With the kind of education he had had he felt this was quite an achievement. The next step he needed to take was to get himself a wife. He had it all worked out, he would marry only a science graduate; not that he wanted her to work but an arts graduate hardly had any brains, and he didn’t want his children to be brought up by a fool. He had seen a lot of foolish women and really wanted to marry someone who would embrace the kind of modernism he advocated.
It wasn’t difficult to arrange a match for him; it wasn’t everyone who had a government job these days. Within a year of starting his job he was happily married. Smriti came from a rich family, at least a family that was rich by Rajesh’s standards. Smriti wasn’t an expert in cooking but she was a science graduate and as far as cooking was concerned he was convinced there was nothing he couldn’t teach her.
So they began their life of domesticity and small dreams. She would give him breakfast, he would leave for office; he would come back, have tea and set about little household chores. They had their tasks cut out. It was a smooth life.
He liked fish, but none of these hotel-wallahs could really make it properly and he could never be sure whether it was cleaned properly. Throughout his bachelor days he had toyed with the idea of cooking fish at home but somehow never got around to doing it. And now, he was told, in the Wednesday market they sold good fish and at very reasonable prices. While returning from office he went to the fish market.
“How much for that one?”
“20 rupees babuji.”
“That’s a lot, tell me the fair price”
“Oh I have the best fish in the market, and just for you I’ll make it 15, final price”
“Ok, if you are saying, clean it up for me”
“Don’t worry Babuji, it would be the best fish you’ve had even if I say so myself”
“It seems sort of smelly”
“Oh, Babuji, fish has that smell, just be sure to add enough haldi”

So the deal was settled. There was a bounce in Rajesh’s gait as he walked in to his house.
“Smriti, look what I got for you! Fish! You would be bored of cooking the same stuff everyday, and I got a good deal on this one too”
“I’ve never really cooked fish before”
“Don’t you worry, it’s pretty simple, and I’ll tell you”
“Aaah! A fat lot you know, don’t worry I’ll figure it out, I’ve seen it made”
“Okay, but if you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask”
“Sure,” Smriti said with a smile.

So the fish was thoroughly cleaned and then inspected by Rajesh. The smell was bothering Smriti but she didn’t want to say something and then have to listen to “there’s so much you have to learn” speech by Rajesh. The oil was poured, just a little bit extra, this meal was a special one and they could afford to be just a little extravagant.

“Make sure you put in enough haldi,” Rajesh called out.
“Oh yes, I know, but doesn’t smell too good”
“Ha ha ha, fish will smell, what did you expect?”
“Just come here and take a look”
Rajesh walked in to the kitchen, he wasn’t as sure as he wanted to be.
He smelled the fish from close, it didn’t quite seem right. But then with the spices it should be okay.
“Just put in the spices, and lets see, I feel that should take away the smell, after all that’s what spices are for”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I think that should do the trick, don’t spare the spices”

So the cooking continued. Smriti added some extra spices, this would work. As she put the fish in the karahi with all the spices, the smell did seem to subside.
“Make sure you fry it properly”
“Of course”

The smell which reached Rajesh outside the kitchen was good, though it had a hint of that rotten smell he was so desperately trying to ignore. Anyway, it will all work out, he tried to convince himself.

He walked into the kitchen again.
“So how’s it coming along?”
“What about the smell?”
“I think after the spices it’s not bad”
“See I told you”
He walked away more convinced that it would be a memorable dinner.

They can have it more often, he was thinking. Maybe he can strike a better deal with the fish wallah, he sounded a genuine sort. At least twice a month they should have fish, it’s good for health also.

“Rajesh, can you please come here”
Maybe she needs some of my expert advice, he thought as he walked in.
“Rajesh, I think the smell is still there”
“It must be in your brain!”
“Anyway, I’ll fry it a little more, add some garnishing, and then let’s see”
“Don’t worry, it will be excellent”

Finally the fish was ready; it was served with hot chapattis and some salad as well. They had their plates set out, both a bit reluctant to take the first bite. Rajesh put a bite in testily.
“It is good!” he blurted out.
Smriti took a bite as well. Not only was the smell there, it didn’t taste right. The fish was rotten.
“Rajesh, don’t eat it”
“You know, the fish is spoiled, it wasn’t fresh to start with”
“But …”
“Yes, I have made a lot of effort over it, you were also excited about this, but we can’t eat rotten fish”
“You are over-reacting; there is just a little smell”
“You know as well as I do there in not a little smell”
“Okay, okay so what do we do now?”
“First let’s throw this away, and then I’ll cook up something quickly”
“But you must be tired”
“Don’t worry I can handle it”

All the oil, all the spices, all the effort was wasted. It wasn’t just a wastage that bothered Rajesh; it was the fact that they could ill afford such wastage. But Smriti was a gem; she always knew what the right thing to do was.

The quickly cooked meal was served. It was good.
“Smriti, you always know what to do!”
“Don’t you feel sad; as long as you are happy I don’t worry about anything”
“But you spent so much time and effort on the fish”
“As long as you appreciate it, my effort has served it purpose”

That was true enough. What was the big deal about the fish?

Rajesh lay awake till late that night. He was thinking about the fish. Why couldn’t he just get another fish the next day? Of course, there would be a quarrel with the fish-wallah and he might not listen to reason. These guys are pretty insolent. Anyway that was not the issue. He wanted to have the money to not be bothered about rotten fish, not to be bothered about the oil, the spices. The moment a fish smelled bad, they would throw it away, Smriti won’t have to toil to cook a rotten fish just because they both knew it wasn’t an easy decision to just throw it away.
That night he decided he would make more money, just a government job would not suffice. There are plenty of opportunities- he just had to exert himself a bit – there were other people in the office that did a little something on the side, he would too…

Smriti, lying next to him, was sleeping blissfully knowing that her husband cared, and that was all she wanted, even if she had to cook rotten fish everyday.

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