By Sudeshna Mukherjee
Peerless Ponchu Da* had a peculiar problem.
Panchanan Da, often fondly called Ponchu Da, had a humongous paunch which made a person standing two feet away feel quite close. It felt as if they were touching each other inappropriately. His protruding paunch was a combined result of taking siesta immediately after having a plateful of maach bhaat*, total lack of any form of exercise and a genetic predisposition to fill up in all the wrong places. Mischievous kids would often purposely pronounce Ponchu da as Paunchy da much to the protagonist’s displeasure who would wag his forefinger threateningly knowing fully well that he was incapable of doing anything beyond that.
Hailing from Poschim Bongo*, Ponchu da had a penchant for punjabis* (not to be confused with the people of Punjab of the five rivers fame, not that they were not worthy of his fondness). These punjabis, especially made from muslin, is the most proffered favourite of many pedigreed Bengalis. Come summer and you will notice such punjabis (of the garment fame) in every possible hue with exquisite embroidery covering differently (or is it indifferently?) shaped torsos of babu moshais*.
Now coming back to Ponchu da, who was the most ordinary of human beings in his ordinariness, had the most pallid and poker face. Nothing but nothing could bring a flicker of animation on his podgy pudgy face. The only time his eyes would have the glazed look would be when his wife, Putul di*, would call him to partake of his food at the dining table.
Ponchu da‘s preference for pickles could not be ignored. He just loved licking and smacking his lips while gently slurping, running his tongue lovingly over the tart pickles of any and every variety. Drooling over them with a particular ‘Tthat! Tthat!’ sound that his tongue made while smacking the roof of his mouth with it!
Though he gave the impression, he had never ever actually been pregnant his entire life. He became like a petulant child when the dinner table was not adorned by an assortment of jars beaming proud pickles in their glassy splendour.
Now it so happened that one day, Putul di saw our home grown Ponchu da drubbing his forehead. Now this was a gesture that denoted that dear Ponchu da was taxing his fast depleting grey matter to recall something and those gooey cells were playing hooey with him. Often his poor head would throb at such a herculean task and poor dear Putul di would have to spend an entire half hour rubbing half a jar of Tiger balm till dear Ponchu da would deem it fit to doze off into an apocalyptic sleep , often tiger-grunting inaudible gibberish in a feverish manner much to the chagrin of his wife who wanted absolute quiet after such an exhaustive exertion .
Coming back to the drubbing of forehead, Putul di had a premonition that her afternoon nap was hanging in balance on the outcome of the drubbing. To avoid looking at the tension filled scene she escaped to her pantry trying to potter around taking stock of the things stored. It was almost the end of the month and she would have to replenish her stock in a week.
Suddenly, she heard her husband calling her, “Ogo shunchho*”(now this is a very watery sort of a word, but it assumes its colour and dimensions from the tone used). Hearing her placid husband’s insistent high-pitched call Putul di stopped her pottering around. She rushed out to see Ponchu da‘s face turning purple.
On enquiring what the matter was she learnt that her husband was unable to recollect where he had kept his favourite but well-worn out faded pink punjabi (of the garment fame). They both searched for it. Putul di in her best placating voice telling that even if they couldn’t find it, it was no loss as it had long outlived its time. Its shapeless sagging form doing nothing to elevate its position in the hierarchy of punjabis. Ponchu da‘s wail almost lead to both of them having respiratory spasms leading to the stopping of the pump, I mean their heart. “You don’t know how comfortable and how soft it had become,” wailed Ponchu da. At her wits end she told her husband to search his cupboard while she volunteered to search the clothesline and alna*.
In the midst of this, a sudden bolt of lightning struck our dear Putul di. She rushed to her pantry and stopped dead in her tracks. Like a flashback her mind unspooled the happenings of the previous week. Upon her invitation her Punjabi (of the five rivers fame) friend, a pro in matters of pickling, had volunteered to teach her by demonstrating step by step method of pickling mangoes, tamarind, lemon, jackfruit and various other vegetables. They had spent two afternoons pickling all these items. In front of Putul di‘s eyes danced various jars and ceramic containers in progressive stages of pickling. Their mouths neatly tied with the cut pieces of ‘the faded pink ‘ punjabi (of the garment fame)!
Putul di remembered her personal supervision in cleaning the perspiration out of the worn punjabi and repeatedly dunking it in Dettol to sanitise it. She would have swooned had not the pungent gases released by the various jars in various stages of pickling stopped her spell and acted as smelling salt.
Our Putul di‘s, mind whirred like a new fan. Immediately she left for the market saying loudly to no one in particular that she would be back in an hour. Her afternoon siesta went out for a toss. She headed straight to the punjabi (of the garment fame) store, eyed the only available pink punjabi with purple embroidery without pernicious prejudice, bought it, gift wrapped it and left for home.
Her mind doing mental acrobatics trying to adjust the purse handed to her for mashkabari (monthly expenses) for our dear paunchy Ponchu da was parsimonious in pecuniary matters.
Preparation was always the key for Putul di to counter Ponchu da’s insistent persistence. Putul di knew from past experience that she had to create an opening by leading from the front and then seize the moment by the scruff of its neck and give it a good shake till it hung limp and pliable. Patience but no passivity and only frontal attack to tide over the fraught situation.
The scene that hit her on entering her bedroom stirred certain primordial primitive emotions while her bosom heaved passionately. Mounds and mounds of clothes lay haphazardly piled high. The cluttered room looked frighteningly overstuffed. Even Putul di’s almirah was emptied in the hope of finding ‘the elusive faded shapeless punjabi‘ (of the garment fame).
Ponchu da was nowhere to be seen. Putul di with the posture of a Pitbull terrier hollered, “Ogo shunchho*!” Out of the corner of an eye she detected a certain mountainous mound move. It was Ponchu da trying to extricate himself from layers of clothes with a woebegone expression plastered on his face. “Eta ki*?” gnashed Putul di gesturing at the scene of devastation of their room. Seeing that his wife was on the warpath Ponchu da tried to placate her by saying in a mollifying tone that his favourite punjabi (of the garment fame) could not be found.
Seizing the momentous moment Putul di took her turn of pointing her forefinger at him wagging accusingly and saying, “You have done this now you will sort them out just the way they were” in a frightfully frightening tone that shook the nebulous core of Ponchu da.
Poor Ponchu da broke out in cold sweat. Casting a look all around the tornado hit room he started scratching his head. His head as such didn’t feel it belonged to him. It felt too heavy and too woody. What with all the physical activities of throwing out the clothes randomly from the cupboard and heaping them up, in his quest for his well-worn shapeless punjabi he felt totally without life’s bubbling stream flowing in him. Trying to find an escape route from rearranging the mounds of clothes he plonked himself down on the heap nearest to him and said pitifully that he would not until his punjabi was found. Hearing this Putul di quickly closed the gap and hissed in a dangerous undertone much to the surprise of Ponchu da who was having difficulty processing the fast-paced happenings around him. He never had a stomach for anything that was paced fast. He heard his queen’s hissed proclamation that she had snipped his favourite punjabi and thrown it in the gutter and if he didn’t organise the room to its old cluttered self all the pickles, pickled and pickling, would meet the same fate.
Psychedelic nightmares flashed through his slow-moving dome. He was quaking and wobbling like a jelly as visions rose of jars and jars of pickles lying abandoned and broken in the filthy gutter mixing up their divine aroma with that of the unbearable stench.
Well to cut a very long story short, Ponchu da took the entire evening and a substantial part of the night to do the bidding of his wife under her expert but severe glance and guidance. His paunch too reduced by a few decimal points and sagged at the exertion.
At the late dinner hour, he was thankfully pleased to see quite a few new types of pickles adorning the dining table and next to them was a gift-wrapped rectangular packet. Not daring to speak he began the ceremonial ritual of opening each jar and heaping a spoonful of it on his plate. He had built up a very good appetite. After finishing his meal his wife siddled up to him, giving him the credit of a job well done and thereby mollifying her, she handed the shiny rectangular packet to him and said with coyness that it was a token of appreciation from her for doing a yoeman’s job.
Theatrics at short notice was Putul di’s forte. A Prima Donna of melodrama.
*maach bhaat – fish curry and rice
*Poschim Bongo – West Bengal’s new name, a state of India
*punjabi- a fine cotton loose garment ideal for summer
*Babu moshai – Gentleman
*alna – An open wooden bracket for stacking clothes
*Ogo shunchho – Darling are you listening or darling come here
*Eta ki – What is this
*da – brother
Sudeshna Mukherjee‘spoems and stories deal with varied human nature. A keen observer she chronicles the happenings around her and writes with a tinge of humour. She is the recipient of The Golden Vase award for her humorous and satirical writings and many of her short stories and poems have been published in e-zines. Mélange and Meanderings of the Mind are her published book of poems.
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