It was just like any other ordinary morning. I was having sips of my coffee as I skimmed through the newspapers. My mobile blinked. It was an sms.
“Call me its urgent.” said my aunt Sindhu.
My aunt was a widow and lived all alone in her coffee estate in Coorg. I was worried. I immediately called her. She asked me if I could visit her as early as possible. I said yes.
I packed my bags and started for Coorg.
Many serpentine bends welcomed me wearing a veil of white mist. The roads in the mountains wee serenaded by the songs of nature. Indeed Coorg is the heaven on the earth I thought. Sindhu aunt was lucky to have such a lovely place as her abode. A diversion from the main road took me to my aunt's estate. Coffee bushes with red berries adorned the way.
My aunt was very happy to see me.
“Come on in,” she said in a cheerful voice. Some of my worries had withered away on seeing her hale and hearty. I ensconced on the sofa in the drawing room. My aunt got some coffee and crackers for me.
“This is the world's best coffee. I often ask my friends how many of them can boast of drinking coffee from their own plantations?” I said. A wry smile broke on my aunt's face. I washed myself and went to the bedroom where my aunt was sitting. She was staring aimlessly towards her estate through the window.
“What is the matter? What is bothering you?” I asked her. Her eyes welled up.
“You know I stay alone her. After your uncle's death...” She wiped her eyes with the pallu of her saree. I held her hand tightly. She continued “ I have been managing every thing on my own. I was looking after the estate and living alone like a ghost in it. But now I am getting old. I can not manage the things the way I did in my youth. I can't stand in the hot sun throughout the day keeping an eye on the workers. That is when I heard about home-stays. Plantation-stays are such a big thing these days. I decided to put up the guest house in the plantation for home-stays. So I too posted my add on a website. I have my first visitor. His name is George. He is from Germany. He booked the room for entire month. I was too happy.” Aunt Sindhu took a long pause adding to the suspense.
Sensing my confusion which was apparent on my face, she continued, “He arrived last week. He is a young man in his early thirties. You know how friendly Germans are. I was too happy to host him. However for the past few days I have been sensing something unusual about him. The other day I had been for a walk in the estate. Each time my foot came down on the track, I could hear the echo of a thud. I felt my advancing age had started to show its ugly face. However, I could hear the thuds on the next few days as well. I heard the shuffling of the feet. I knew someone was following me. I began to turn and look back. I did not find anyone. The stalker had begun to carefully side step the piles of dry leaves and twigs that lay on the way to avoid unnecessary notice. Even I changed my design and one day swirled when the stranger least expected it. He squeezed himself into a bush. But the damage was done. I had seen him. He was George.”
“I have been living here all my life. I am not accustomed to closing the door like you city people all the time. Many times I cook in the open on the earthen stove. You know the preparations taste a lot better when cooked in the traditional way.”
My mouth was watering. I told myself this was not the time to ask aunt to cook my favourite dishes. I continued listening to her. “When I am cooking out in the open he watches me surreptitiously. I feel it very odd. I am of his mother's age. How can he do this?”
“You should have handed him over to the police. These days police are very prompt when it comes to offences against women.”
“I know. But I can't refer it to the police. This is a small place. It will become talk of the town. Moreover, my home-stay will doom for a failure given the negative publicity that will hover around my estate. There are many takers for my estate. They are just looking for an opportunity to drive me out of my ancestral home. I wonder if...”
“You should have confronted him” I said.
“I thought of confronting him. But you know I stay alone. So I gave up that idea.”
“Don't worry. Now that your favourite nephew is here, no evil can harm you.” I said hugging her tightly.
“I will make some idlis for you,” she said and went to the kitchen.
I went to the drawing room and switched on the TV. I kept the main door only slightly ajar to allow the fresh air. Living in a city I could never have the luxury of filling my lungs with the unpolluted air. At the same time I wanted to have some privacy even when no one was around. After some time I got up to fetch myself a glass of water. I could see some one staring inside from the ajar door.
“Yes?” I asked him.
Grabbing that opportunity the stranger tried to barge inside. But I obstructed the entrance with my hand and looked at him from the little gap.
“Namaste,” he said with his folded hands, “ I am George from Germany.” He said.
“Yes, George. Your room is in the guest house in the estate. My aunt told me. I will surely come to meet you there in sometime. I hope you don't mind.” I was deliberately rude. I wanted him to know that his unsolicited advances were unwelcome.
After having scrumptious breakfast of idli, chutney and sambhar I went to the guest house, obviously to confront George. “Take care. He may be carrying a weapon.” My aunt warned me. Mothers and aunts are the people who think that giving you advice is their solemn duty, no matter even if you turn into an adult.
George was too happy to see me. He again greeted me with a namaste. He was wearing a saffron tika on his forehead. A rudraksha mala dangled around his neck. He was six feet tall, muscular and sported a facial fuzz which covered major portion of his face.
Without wasting time, I came straight to the point.
“See George, this is India.”
Nodding his head in appreciation, George again joined his hands in his favourite namaste style.
“India and Indian sentiments are quite different from the western world.” I continued.
“ Yes I do understand,” said George.
“There in the west a young man can love, live with a woman double of his age. But in our culture it is totally unacceptable. Modesty of a woman is utmost respected in our country. Moreover, my aunt has no intentions to sell this property. She stays alone, but she is not alone.”
“Why are you telling all these things to me?”
There was utter silence. I could hear the rustle of the coffee leaves emerging even from the trees which stood at the end of the estate.
I took a deep breath and said, “Because you are following my aunt. Rather stalking her. Mind you that it is an offence.”
George broke down. He fell on his knees. “For heaven's sake. She is like my mother too. My mother passed away a year ago. She died of cancer.” There were tears in his eyes and a genuineness in his voice.
“Yes, I have been following your aunt, I agree. But there were no evil intentions.”
“Then why were you following her?”
“I told you my mother died a year ago.”
I was unable to establish the connection between his mother's death and his stalking my aunt.
“Elaborate it.” I said choosing my words carefully as it involved his mother's death. Mother is a sensitive issue, isn't it?
“My mother had never visited India. But she was very fond of Indian food, especially Indian curries. We would visit an Indian restaurant in Berlin Germany. However, it was far off from our house. We stayed at Rugen which is an island in the countryside. My mother always wondered if we could cook Indian curry in our home. We searched for its recipe on the internet and cooked it too. But some how it did not taste like the one in the restaurant. I even asked couple of Indians staying in Germany. They too dished out a recipe which did not work out.”
“My mother died without having the pleasure of preparing tasty Indian curry in our kitchen. My mother's death broke me down completely. I was too attached to her. I took a break from my work and travelled to India. Not only to see its beautiful places, but to uncover the recipe of curry. Coming here I realised that Indian women are secretive about their signature dishes. When asked for the recipe, they will tell the ingredients barring one or two to keep their recipe secret. If I do not find the recipe, I am sure my mother's soul will not rest in peace. So I decided to turn into a spy.”
I was all intrigued. “Go ahead.” I told him.
“There are many spices in the coffee plantations. There is pepper vine, there is cardamom and many others whose names I don't know. Whenever your aunt stepped out in the estate I knew the purpose was not of mere walk, but to pluck fresh spices for cooking. That is the reason I followed her. Whenever she cooked, I looked from a distance to know the right quantity of spices to be added.”
“Did you succeed in your mission?” I asked him in a lighter vein.
“No. I didn't. Because your aunt adds some secret masala from the big ceramic jar.”
“Don't worry. I will get you the authentic recipe of the curry as well as that of the secret masala.” I told him.
I returned to my aunt's place and narrated her the whole incident. She was in splits. She was too happy to share her recipes. She was childless and was unhappy that she was not having her own children who would carry the legacy of her legendary cooking. But now she was too happy that her recipe was going to travel across the seas.
We invited George for the lunch. He sat on the floor with folded legs in the Indian style and enjoyed a simple meal of rice, curry, papad, pickle and curd served on a banana leaf. After the meals my aunt handed him over secret recipes not only of the curry but many other Indian dishes as well. She also gave him all the masala from the ceramic jar.
George was very much touched by this act of hers. He touched her feet and said that his mother must be very happy wherever she was. George went to his room and returned in an hour with all his bag and baggage.
“George, you can stay here for as many days as you wish,” said my aunt.
“My mission is accomplished. Now I must return to the land where my mother is buried.”
George left. After a few months my aunt received a mail asking her permission to cook her recipes in his restaurant in Germany which he had started in his mother's memory. My aunt readily granted him the permission. She was touched with his act. Indians are very sentimental about Maa and Cinema. The same stands true for everyone around the world as well. Blessings of Geroge's mother and my aunt enter the system of every person who dines at George's Indian restaurant abroad.
Like George Lufthansa too is more Indian than you think. Read more