Saturday, May 12, 2018

First time out, Sample Chapter ( Chapter 4) from 'How I Became A Farmer's Wife'

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‘Chapter One.’

The words confronted me mockingly. I stared at them until my eyes blurred.

Another morning, and I’d been up since 6 a.m., sitting blankly at my desk, unable to compose a word. What was this nonsense! I had the plot, structure and the experience—I knew what would work. It should have been easy to get going. I leaned back in my chair and put my palms over my bleary eyes. This was horrible. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the end of my writing career. I hunched my shoulders, defeated. It had been an hour. I’d might as well give up and go make some tea.

I pushed my chair back and got up. Both Papad and Pickle had sneaked in during the night and they lay on my bed, limbs entangled, looking like Siamese twins. I looked at them fondly and covered them up with the blanket they’d kicked away. It was so much easier to be fond of them when they were asleep. It was amazing to me, how deep they were in slumber, with not a care in the world. So unlike us poor adults. I stepped out and found the other poor adult already in the drawing room. He was gazing at his laptop.

‘Hey Y!’ he said enthusiastically. ‘Come here! I’m looking at options for farming.’

Uh-oh.

‘I’m going to make some tea.’ I headed for the kitchen.

‘Already made two cups. Come have yours.’ I peered shortsightedly at the side table. Two steaming mugs of tea lay waiting. This was unusual. ‘Okay.’ I came and sat down next to him. ‘Thanks.’

‘You know, hon,’ he said conversationally, ‘it seems as if the more profitable options are going to be dairy and poultry.’

‘Really? As if you’re going to do poultry farming!’

‘Why not?’

‘Yeah, right. What’s Papaji going to say when you tell him you’re rearing chickens?’

‘Maybe he won’t mind if I explain the business logic behind it to him …’ Vijay’s voice trailed off as he realized how hollow that sounded. The strict vegetarian, Brahmin diet that Papaji had followed all his life was sacrosanct. Secondly, as a professor of physics, he carried an old-world academician’s distaste for all things business.

‘So, have you spoken to Papaji about your idea?’ I said craftily and sipped on my tea.

Papaji had been my collaborator in recent years—we were both united in convincing Vijay that he really wasn’t cut out for entrepreneurship. Papaji felt particularly strongly about this. He had worked in the same job all his life at a University in Jaipur. He believed it was important to stick to your field, even though he never understood what Vijay and I did professionally. Either way, our working in an office was certainly better to him than the vagaries of business, which he associated with money-mindedness and, inevitably, cheating.

 ‘I’ve been talking to him.’ Vijay continued to stare at his laptop. ‘He thinks I can’t do it.’ He looked up and gave me a level gaze. ‘But this time, I’m not going to let him talk me out of it.’

‘Or you, for that matter,’ remained unsaid at the end of that sentence.

I shrugged. ‘Poultry’s probably out?’

‘Guess so,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘But I think dairy appeals to me much more anyway. That way, we will also get to have fresh cow’s milk for Papaji—it’s really good for your health, especially in old age. Yes …’ His eyes became dreamy again. ‘And I’ve always liked cows.’

 ‘Huh?’ I raised my eyebrows. ‘Since when?’

‘Since always,’ he said breezily. ‘You don’t know everything about me. I like them; they’re sweet.’

‘Cows? Sweet? And you have a problem with dogs?’

 ‘Cows don’t bark or bite,’ he said gruffly. ‘Anyway, milk is something which everyone needs regularly. That’s why if you get a good customer base, supply a reasonable quality, which of course we will, the margins will work out. With dairy, the profits come in sooner because if you buy the cows, you can get going immediately—there’s no lead time unlike in the case of crops, and …’

‘What are you reading?’ I peered into the screen. ‘Wikipedia for farmers?’

‘No.’ He shut the laptop a little defensively. ‘I’ve watched a whole lot of videos. Been up for the last three hours.’

‘What? Since four in the morning?’

‘Yeah, when my alarm went off, I figured I’d do a little research here and keep an eye on Papaji from this room. He’s gotten up only three times so far.’

 ‘You’ve barely slept! How are you going to do a full day at work?’

‘Ah, I’m fine!’ Vijay said carelessly. ‘I’ll just drink tea through the day. Got to go meet Aunty later too.’

 ‘Today?’

‘Yes.’ He nodded. ‘Now that Achu and I’ve decided we’re doing this, might as well move fast. We just need to convince Aunty that we are trustworthy. If this meeting goes well and we can get a basic agreement in place, we’ll go see the land on the weekend. It’s in Rewari.’

‘How are you agreeing to anything without seeing the land? That’s the first step, right?’

‘That’s not how it works,’ Vijay said lightly and, I thought, a trifle dismissively. It made my hackles rise.

‘Oh no?’ I spat out. ‘You don’t want to see the land before you decide you’ll be renting it? Because that’s too … logical?’

‘Hey, relax! I just meant that it’s important to establish a rapport. Besides, she’s an old lady; she’ll want a certain amount of respect shown to her. She is attached to the place, has built it up over many years, and there’s the whole ashram thing. We have to get her to like us. And, of course, we will see the place before we put anything on paper. Today, we talk to her and if it works out, she’ll get to meet you and Varsha on Saturday and she’ll see we’re also nice family men and …’

 ‘Saturday?’ I exclaimed. ‘I have my Zumba class on Saturday morning and the kids have Taekwondo in the afternoon. We aren’t going to be able to make a trek to some place hours away!’

‘Hon,’ he said pleadingly, ‘this is important. I’m not going to make any big decisions without you.’

He had me there. I remembered the number of times I’d had book launches in the last few years and he’d juggled his calendar to be there, playing proud husband, and overenthusiastic photographer. I couldn’t believe he was seriously contemplating this, but I had no choice other than to go along with it. He’d discover in time that this was impractical and unworkable. Besides, I knew that coercing him into anything only increased his determination to do the exact opposite.

I shrugged. ‘Okay. See how it goes when you meet her today. She may wonder what you’re actually going to do with the place since neither of you know anything about farming.’

He looked at me for a moment and then opened up his laptop again. I sipped my tea—it was now a little cold— and watched him type into the Google search bar: ‘farming consultants in Gurgaon.’

I put the cup aside and stood up wearily. It was time to wake the kids for school. At least one of us needed to stay in the real world.

                                                                          *****

‘It’s my turn! Gimme!’ I sighed and paused for just a moment outside the front door. They were at it again.

Vijay’s voice floated out: ‘Now … hey! I told you guys to get ready, we’re leaving at ten thirty. Your mom’s coming back now … no, Pickle, no hitting! I’ve told you … no, you give me that … ’

I pushed open the door and entered the house, sweaty after teaching an hour of Zumba. The kids were glowering at each other, and Vijay was holding up the bright blue tab I’d brought home.

 ‘Why, Y, why?’ He looked harried. ‘Why do you give them these things? They’re obsessed with them.’

‘I don’t give it to them to use all the time!’ I defended myself. ‘They’re helping me with research for the kids tab we want to develop.’

‘Oh, great idea.’ Vijay rolled his eyes. ‘Let’s get kids to ruin their eyes so we can make more profit. That’s a great value system at Optech. Anyway, everyone, get ready now … we’re going to see a farm, kids!’

‘Hey!’ I wasn’t going to let that one go so easily. ‘What do you mean value system? You’ve sold jam and squash to kids, which you’ve always said is nothing but sugar. This will be an educational tablet, and will keep them away from other devices … it’s …’

‘Yes, okay, okay! Can we please go now?’ Vijay pleaded. ‘Are you going to have a shower?’

‘Of course.’ I breezed past him. ‘I’m all sweaty and sticky.’

 ‘It will be dusty at the farm,’ he cautioned. ‘Well, kids, you guys don’t bother with a shower, just get your jackets on. You’ll take too long and get dirty there anyway.’

‘Okay!’ All three of them were agreeable to this. I rolled my eyes. As if they’d been falling over each other to bathe this early on a weekend. By the time I came out of my room ready to leave, Vijay had our lunch packed into dabbas.

‘Sukhe aloo ki sabzi and poori,’ he announced to me. ‘And we’ve got water. Let’s go!’

‘Kin I take my tab?’ Pickle smiled at us winningly.

I hesitated for a split second, but Vijay cut in, ‘No! We are going to a farm, Pickle.’

‘I am Farmer Pickle on my Hay Day farm na, Daddy!’ Pickle reasoned. ‘That’s why I want to take my tab—to compare.’

‘Don’t compare,’ Papad said piously. ‘Compare is a bad thing.’

‘Okay, no. Forget your tab now, Pickle,’ I said briskly and his face turned sulky. ‘And don’t you make that sulky face or you can just stay behind, mister.’

‘Fine. I’ll stay.’

‘And I’m taking away your tab, so don’t think you’ll be playing with it,’ I affirmed.

‘No!’ He stamped his foot.

‘No fighting, guys.’ Vijay started to usher Papad and Peanut outside. ‘Come on, let’s all go and have a nice time at the farm! Peanut, put away that book; you’re not taking it!’

 ‘I’ll read in the car.’

‘You say you feel carsick, and this’ll make it worse. Forget the book.’

‘Just a few pages, Dad.’

‘Fine!’ Vijay was clearly reaching the end of his tether. ‘Why don’t you all just stay home then? I’ll go to the farm by myself.’

‘Fine!’ The rest of us shouted in unison.

‘What nonsense!’ Vijay exploded. ‘Everyone in the car. Now!’

The kids hunched their shoulders and dragged themselves out of the door. ‘Wait! Say bye to Papaji,’ Vijay said, remembering in the nick of time. They all piled back, shoulders hunched, disappeared momentarily into Papaji’s room and slouched out the door again.

I went in to say bye to Papaji too. He was in his chair in front of the TV, with Pawan hovering at the back of the room. Papaji smiled at me, his eyes crinkling and white hair glistening.

‘Yashodhara.’ He was the only one who ever called me that. ‘You’re going too?’

‘Yes,’ I admitted in a resigned manner. ‘We’re all going, Papaji—to see the farm!’

He seemed amused by this and laughed, his eyes crinkling even further. ‘Well, enjoy yourself then.’

‘Yes, Papaji,’ I said obediently, and went on after the others, a little hunch-shouldered myself.

                                                                       *****

The car ride was less than enjoyable. The twins were cranky because they’d knocked their heads together while scrambling into the car. I asked them why they had to rush and they said it was because they were scared the colony dogs would bite them.

After they calmed down, Peanut started to squirm, saying that she was feeling carsick and really needed to sit next to the window. The twins, who had each claimed a window, took exception to this and a loud argument ensued.

I yelled that we had another row in the back of the Innova and one of them could move there, which Papad did most sulkily. The food had been placed in the back seat, and much readjustment was required before he was settled there. And even after that, he kept claiming that the food basket was touching him on purpose just to trouble him.

The drive was inordinately long, and to make things worse, we kept taking wrong turns. I looked out at the dusty, crowded road; the fat, painted trucks in front of us; the numerous roadside vendors hawking their wares; small shops packed together in ramshackle buildings. What godforsaken place was this—it was even worse than Gurgaon. Where was the space anywhere near here for a farm?

‘Achu’s sent a Google Maps pin from there!’ Vijay announced. He was sitting in the passenger seat next to Kamal and looked rather comfortable compared to me sandwiched between our children. He opened Google Maps on his phone and said, ‘Oh ho! Kamal, peechewala right turn tha. U-turn lena ab aage se.’

I sighed and elbowed Peanut a little to get her to give me room, but she took it as an invitation to lean her head onto my shoulder. It was uncomfortable, but I leaned my cheek against her soft hair for a moment. She was a sweet kid. I opened my mouth to tell her so, when she whispered, ‘Mom, I think I might vomit on you.’

I elbowed her more roughly and she straightened up and gave me an evil grin before staring out of the window again. The twins were quiet now. I glanced around to find out why. Ah. They’d both gone to sleep. Wonderful, I thought. If they ever took even a five-minute nap, they bounced around till midnight. I hoped we’d get to this farm place soon. We were now out on open road and making good speed.

Vijay exclaimed ‘Look, hon!’ To the right, I saw fields, the grass a lush dark green. Now this was more like it.

I turned to the left and saw a huge field full of yellow sarson—it was quite beautiful against the blue and sunny autumn sky. ‘Look, Peanut,’ I urged. ‘Sarson!’

She turned, but by that time, we’d already gone past the field. ‘What?’ she asked.

‘It was yellow and very pretty—sarson.’

‘What’s sarson?’

‘Uh, it’s…sesame?’

 ‘Like “Open sesame!”?’

‘Something like that,’ I murmured, my eyes peeled for the next field.

‘Er, sarson is mustard, Y,’ Vijay reminded me.

‘Whatever!’ I shot back. I knew that.

‘Yeah, whatever,’ Peanut repeated. I frowned at her. Even though I was sceptical of this entire exercise, I thought a nine-year-old should be more interested in the world around her.

‘Well, just keep a look out and you’ll see another one.’

After another few minutes, Vijay said, ‘Hey, wait, wait! There are two roads up ahead … But the map … Arre, yaar, no signal here! Kamal, ek minute roko.’

The car stopped and Pickle and Papad both stirred awake, making resentful little noises followed by sleepy cries of ‘Are-we-there-Mom?’ and ‘This basket is still touching me’.

We were on what looked like a deserted road but I then saw what Vijay had already spotted some distance to the left. Just in front of a small chai stall, was a group of five old men wearing dhotis and pagris, sitting on two charpoys with cups of tea in their hands.

They gaped at us curiously. ‘Bhaisahib!’ Vijay tried to sound as earthy and rustic as possible. ‘Yahan se Rewari kidhar padega?’

Immediately, all five broke into enthusiastic chatter. We stared, a little baffled, as they all spoke simultaneously.

‘Rewari?’ One old man raised his arm towards the road leading left. ‘Lekin jana kyon hain?’

‘Wahan se chhota padega,’ said a second, pointing to the right. ‘Waise wahan se bhi ja sakte hain,’ he admitted, pointing to the left.

‘Aap net se aaaye honge, hain na?’ chuckled another at the same time, confidently pointing to the right.

 ‘Net se kuch nahin pata chalta, Dilliwaale bhaisahib!’ This last one struck them all as a very funny joke and they all started cackling loudly.

Vijay somehow processed this and seemed to come to some conclusion, ‘Okay, thank you.’

‘Welcome! Welcome! Thank you!’ The old men were laughing merrily at us. I realized that the kids and even our usually robotic driver Kamal were giggling at the old men and their animated talking over each other. Vijay was shaking his head in amusement as he told Kamal ‘Left se chalo’.

I couldn’t help cracking a wry smile.

This might turn out to be an interesting visit, even if nothing else ever came of it.

(Liked this sample chapter? Get the book 'How I Became A Farmer's Wife' here on Amazon, and here on Flipkart, or at any bookstore near you!)