Sunday, Oct 02, 2022

The Lunchbox: Stories About Love

I must thank Sheikh for his generosity. I ran into him at Bombay Central two years ago when I was in Mumbai for my mother’s last rites. He drove me to his Dongri home.

A tribute to Irrfan Khan.
A tribute to Irrfan Khan.

I couldn’t mail the last letter I wrote to you before leaving Mumbai since I didn’t have your Nasik address. The letter, along with all the other letters you wrote to me eight years ago, is still with me, carefully tucked away in my purse. You're probably wondering how I got this one to you at your Bandra address, and I hope it’s the right one this time.

I must thank Sheikh for his generosity. I ran into him at Bombay Central two years ago when I was in Mumbai for my mother’s last rites. He drove me to his Dongri home. They’re a nice family. Mehrunnisa and Sheikh have recently become parents to twins. They’ve named them Iram and Ayesha. Uss din unhone mere liye Pasanda banaya. 

Sheikh was reminiscing about his old days with you—the train rides you took together, the scent of vegetables in the office files, your lunches with him, and, of course, how you had disregarded him in his early days at the company and subsequently acted as his guardian at his wedding. Sheikh apne scooter ka bada khayal rakhta hai, and Mehrunnisa often refers to it as her “sautan.” 

In Mumbai, there was nothing left for me. Lekin Bhutan nahi jaa payi. Himmat nahi hui us waqt.... So, seven years ago, Yashvi and I relocated to this town near Nagpur. My Yashvi is a big girl now, you know. Agar yeh pandemic nahi hota, toh iss saal woh baarhvi ke exams deti. 

The Lunchbox: Stories about love.
The Lunchbox: Stories about love. Shutterstock

Yahan waise toh sab kuch hai, but I miss Deshpandey Aunty and her old Bollywood songs. You know, we managed to converse for hours despite the fact that she rarely left her flat. She promised to send me all of the masalas I would want for my recipes. Aapko yaad hai Maine ekbaar bahut spicy khana bheja tha…To put out the fire in your mouth, you had to eat two bananas! That was Aunty’s idea to teach you a lesson for not properly thanking me for the food. You know, Aunty has restricted herself to her two-room house since Deshpandey Uncle's death. The ceiling fan has been removed, and she no longer uses the generator... Bas Unsey phone pe baat ho jaati hai, kabhi kabhi.

Aapko Kooler Cafe yaad hai? They’ve been permanently shut down, according to the news. The workforce lost their jobs last year during the lockdown, and the owner has no plans to reopen it...I had hoped to try their Keema Paao, which is my absolute favourite... ah haan... It wasn't by chance that Deshpandey Aunty was listening to ‘Saajan’ on cassette. Maine hi unko insist kiya thha gaana chalaney ko… 

This town isn't big, but it is quiet and pleasant, far from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. I've been running my own tiffin service here for four years now. It's called the "The Lunch Box". Shuruwaat mein takleef hui thi, abhi Kaafi popular ho gaya hai...I didn't give up; I ... I made it through. In fact, my grandmother's old recipe book greatly helped me in recreating old, lost cuisines, and I've received positive feedback from my customers. 

Aap soch rahe hongey itne saal baad itni saari baatein kyu likh rahi hoon? Kyunki mujhe kisine kaha thha: “We forget things if we’ve no one to tell them to.” 

And you were correct when you said that the wrong train might sometimes bring you to the right station! Mr. Fernandes, I hope to see you on the other side of this pandemic.

Take Care

(Sukla Singha lives in Agartala with six cats. Her writings have appeared in journals such as Muse India, Café Dissensus, The Sunflower Collective, Yendai, Aainanagar and elsewhere. She has contributed to anthologies– Of Dry Tongues and Brave Hearts (2022), Witness: The Red River Book of Poetry of Dissent (2021), Kirat: Contemporary Poetry in English from Tripura (2018), Niharika Nirbachito Torun Kobider Kobita (2018) and An Unsuitable Woman (2017). Her book of short stories Jamdaani o Onyanyo Gawlpo (Bengali) was published in February 2020.)