“Why stew?” I protested. “There are Mushrooms in the fridge!”
“Mushrooms won’t do…with all the cough and cold going on, stew is what we need.” My mother-in-law said.
So, at the vegetable market, I knew my whole day was booked. Picking choosing and haggling was going to take up the whole time I was planning for myself at the spa. I trudge along halfheartedly in between the shops, trying not to step on the rotten vegetable waste, and picked up some musings along the way.
Somewhere, a feminine voice emitted words, mundane – sparrow died; the crow pecked a hole on its head…a stone from nowhere smashed my window; the window was already cracked to begin with, now why would someone want to smash down the already broken window? Nearly swallowed a piece of glass in my sparrow stew…
Tomato vendor’s daughter is trying to make her mother sign a check. “Not there!” She shouted. “That is where you enter the amount…write your name here.” And the mother nodded as if she already knew “Say sign – I am not writing…I am signing my name…Da-mi-ni…Tam-ra-kar” She said as she wrote down on the check, her face glowing with pride.
The potato whole seller makes sure his son prepared for his School Leaving Certificate, while he dealt with the customers. Scratching his head with the pen, he would calculate the amount on a piece of paper, while his bulimic looking son, held a pen on his notebook, as if about to write and romanced the green vegetable seller’s daughter – a plump sweet looking teenager. Haggling with the potato seller to get the price down to 60 from 80 rupees per five Kilos, I caught snippets of the live show.
“Where is the fatty today?” he asked her through hand gestures, then with his left hand he scratched his bum.
“Sleeping” She signed in return, putting the palm of her hand on her cheek and closing her eyes.
“When do we meet?” He asked her.
“Never” She replied.
“Don’t say that…I’ll die…”
“In that case we’ll meet in your next life.”
The tomato, pumpkin and bitter gourd seller at last got himself a new hat, I noticed. When he looked up and saw me approaching, his face broke into wrinkles as he flashed his sunrise grin.
“Namste Didi…what’ll it be today?”
“The usual” I said.
He started stacking green base ball like pumpkins on the weighing scale. His little boy in the meanwhile, sat on a dusty pillow digging his nose, and his wife squatted in the background leaning on a sack and dragged on a cigarette. She took a drag and passed it to the handsomely build darkish man in the adjoining, who had a wholesale stall of yams. He quietly told her a secret and both of them broke in to a cackle.
“Why aren’t your pumpkins round?” A woman behind me asked him.
“Huh! Times have changed Didi, pumpkins are not round, apples are not sweet, wives are not wives…” He said looking briefly at his wife. “Even the shape of earth will change, I’m sure. How much shall I weigh?”
“Five kilos” I said.
An old woman watching over her grand child in a dried chili stall shouted out. “Mother of the little one! My Momos are getting cold…come and get your child!” No one came.
“Two kilos broccoli” I told Maila at a stall next to them.
“Hand her over” said the old man extending his hands. He grabbed the little girl, laid her on his lap and started making faces to her, but the girl had her eyes on her Granny who was smacking her lips after popping a steaming dumpling in her mouth. Her plump little hand was desperate to get hold of a dumpling. She got hold of her red cotton sari instead and tugged, making impatient baby sounds. Granny took out a piece of half chewed meat from her mouth and put it in the baby’s mouth.
Recoiling inwardly I dragged my attention towards the broccoli being loaded in the bag. “What is the rate of your scrawny carrots” I asked Maila who just laughed. Maila is happily married to two sisters, both of whom were cleaning up the mess facing against each other.
I’ve known Maila since eight years when I got married and came to the market for the first time. He had introduced to me to his new bride, Maya. Clad in red and gold Maya had joined both her hands when she did a shy Namaste to me. She was the same woman who is now frowning at the right corner, and cleaning up in a torn Sari. Four years later Maila introduced me to his second wife saying, “This is Lata, we just got married…” Pointing to the other wife who did not look pleased, he continued “they are both sisters” as if that justified his action.
“How’s your married life these days?” I asked him.
“Just like the weather…partly cloudy” He said. His elder wife who had finished tidying up her part of the shop flung a carrot at him and walked off.
I paid and rushed to get some fruits.
The fruit boy helped me with the bags. As the cab pulled through the crowd towards the muddy roads of Kathmandu, in my head the stew was cooked and I could taste the bitter, sweet and sour tales sown to each ingredient.