EGGS ( Short Story )
My strictly othrodox , conservative South Indian brahmin family had established a very strict code of conduct and etiquette at home, and my brother and I buckled under the heavy weight of supposed upright and moral behaviour.And morality did not limit itself to - no lying to grown ups, no cheating on tests, no wearing of skirts that showed the knee, no leaving the collar button open... the list goes on, but what is of particular interest to this story is that for my parents morality included not eating dead animals,birds, fishes... or their eggs.Having been brought up on horror stories of butchers and savage ripping of meat and drinking of blood (imaginative excesses run in the family). Vegetarianism became our religion.
Whenever our heathen neighbours cooked rich animals in dripping grease ; my poor mother used to vomit and get sick and take to the bed with a headache . The peculiar smell of meat had attached itself to the smell of my mother's vomit in my head.
I grew up and went to college with my baggage of clothes , books, 'morals' and 'values'. All my friends were non-vegetarian, but we sat together in the canteen and ate together. I watched my friends devour - wings, drumsticks, breasts, brains, fish, their young and their eggs. I had a strong stomach and I sat through these meals calmly, picking through my veggie salads, my dosas, my vegan noodles and my cheese sandwiches.
Two years later, I met my husband . He was a senior at the U%niversity then. A tall, sturdy Punjabi, fed on all kinds of animals imaginable - domestic and exotic.The usual cultural and communal skirmishes then, we were engaged.My husband's grandmother was a over-bearing old lady . She looked me up and down --- the future mother of her great grand children, the girl who would carry forward the burning torch of their proud family name , and their royal lineage. The skinny woman who would carry her royal princes and princesses in her unworthy but ironically hallowed womb.She took her glasses down and spoke her first words to me, " We need to put more flesh on those bones."
My husband had long,futile arguments with the wizened , old termaganant. After a particularly heated discussion , centred around my 'grass and leaves fed' uterus, the grandfather yelled he had had enough. He banged on the table, and issued a strict edict ; 'my' food habits were never to be held up to scrutiny in this house again.I was relieved. Bless the old man.
The following week my father -in -law took us out to dinner at Hai-King, a new Chinese restaurant. It was in the back alleys of in the infamous Chintown, but had received rave reviews in all the glossy magazines. I had married into a family of foodies, who had to try absolutely everything in every city they visited. And, this was home, so of course we had to try it.The children were excited, they were usually not allowed to go to this part of the town. Chinatown boasted of glitter-paper dolls, reed harmonica, and of course, the ever enigmatic fortune cookies, that thrilling glimpse into the future.All decked up , we climbed into the family car. The grandmother held my danity,moisturised hand and smiling sweetly pulled me over to me to sit next to her. The car raced down the broad Chandigarh roads. We sat holding hands and whispering compliments about perfumes and bangles and stone-work on our glamorous sarees.In an inflated and cheery mood, I glided into the restaurant , and demurely seated myself next to the family matron again, trying actively to get back into her good books.
Our food arrived and we tucked in . " Eat , eat my child , you need some flesh on those bones. The baby will suck you dry, they always do. " Rolling my eyes at my husband , I dipped my spoon into the bowl the waiter had placed infront of me. It smelt good -- wafts of spiced cinnamon with a dash of something tangy. I raised the spoon to my lips, opened my mouth, and then lowered the spoon, something wasn't quite right.I signalled the waiter over and asked him what this dish was. He was pseudo-Chinese, probably Nepali, just out of his teens. He rolled out a long, foreign sound in perfect Chinese. I didn't understand a syllable. He tried again, this time in Nepali-Hindi, which I didn't understand either.The grandmother turned to see what i was doing. With a tinkling laugh, she waved the waiter away." It's nothing dead Nitya, never breathed. hahahaha", she laughed at her own joke , " I ordered it for you. It's a special shanghai soup for newly married women, helps with making healthy babies." she winked. " Eat up , child. "Touched by her sensitivity and concern, I dug in. It tasted heavenly. I ordered another bowl. cheese and tomato , that's what it had to be. We had all gorged ourselves and rolled into the car satiated. We slept with our fights long forgotten. Food, indeed, is the panacea for all vexations.
After that night, we visited the restaurant quite frequently. One day the manager announced their new home delivery service.To say I lived/survived on their special soup would be an understatement. It was either my lunch or my dinner on most days.The grandmother took up her litany again, and was blessed. I was pregnant.I spent the first trimester dealing with crippling bouts of nausea and could hardly keep anything down. Fortunately, the doctor gave me safe-nausea-pills and put me on a diet of fruit juices and milkshakes. This settled my stomach and I slowly regained my energy. As I entered my fourth month , the nausea disappeared as suddenly as it had appeared. I began to eat with a gusto hitherto known to my constitution , pigging out (hey I was eating for two), and making up for my sickly first tremester.Sometime along my sixth month, I started to feel the baby -- kicking, prodding,bouncing -- inside me. It was a wonderful feeling. Along with strong legs that kicked hard enough to hurt, my royal baby also had strong food cravings. I went from eating potato chips dipped in orange jam to mango pickle with cheese to berries with oregano. The baby sure had an imagination. One day, suddenly, I remembered the chinatown soup and the baby made a very clear demand for it.I wasn't allowed to eat restaurant food , so I sent my maid to get the recipe from the the chef. It didn't come out right. My mother in law, maid and my cousin tried it, but to no avail.
I couldn't handle the nagging urge to feel the tangy-creamy soup explode on my tastebuds. I took the car out on a lazy afternoon, when everyone in the house was deep into their summer seista. Pregnant daughters-in-law of the Mehta family did not travel unaccompanied, and definitely not to shady food shacks downtown. But the baby was determined and so was I. I turned the car off in front of the familiar doors, and giving the keys to the old door man, I waddled in. I walked behind the serving tables to the sliding doors of the kitchen.The old chef recognised me , came rushing over , hugged me, rubbed my belly for luck and sat me down in a cushioned chair."Sakira aunty, I came all the way here for your soup. I must have it!" Sakira aunty's face fell and she was visibly flustered. She tried to smile at me, and hurried me into her parlour, muttering something about the hot weather and the AC.The baby had started it's dance again. All the driving and waddling had set it off. Feeling uncomfortable and jerky, I sank into the soft sofa and sat there rubbing my tummy to calm the baby.Sakira sat down in a chair, facing me.
"Nitya madam, I have a confession to make. I should have never given that soup to you. It's for the poor , beggar women, the pregnant ones who can't afford good,rich food." "Why, it's delicious!" I exclaimed."Let me finish madam... Our girls have no education,barely know how to read and write." "My grandmother does a lot of charity work with the chinese immigrants", I interjected defensively. " Aah, your grandmother. That is , your husband's grandmother, am I not right? " I nodded. What was she getting at."Our girls get in trouble with the big men in the big cars. They make big promises but all the girls get are a few coins in a bank, and a bulging egg in their bellies." "Do not judge us madam, for we are a poor people , here, in your country; we do what we can to get by." "The bulges are a liability, we can't afford them. They are mistakes. They have to be fixed." " Our expert mugas - wise,old women- pull the bulging egg out . No damage to the girl .She can start working again in two days time."
The poor girls, the poor babies, but why was Sakira aunty telling me all this.She saw the confusion in my eyes, " There's an ancient Chinese recipe madam, passed from mother to mother to mother. It's for frail women- weak ones who do not eat well. Your grandmother told me about you. Do you really eat the grass, Nitya madam?" My anger flared, the old cow would never let it go. But before I could lash out, Sakira was speaking again. It wasn't this poor woman's fault. No, I wouldn't shout at her."This recipe is for a broth- a magical broth, with two strains of heavy cheese, pureed tomatoes, burnt cilantro, butter and ... the egg. " She breathed.
My attention had sauntered away with my temper. Egg ?! Oh, so that's what the old woman had been plotting. I almost smiled.I had started to eat egg when I had moved to college. It was the most easy thing to get at three in the night. I had even tried sea-food on our honeymoon, although I had spent a good four hours on the bathroom floor , it was probably just an allergy anyway. Hah. Eggs. The scheming shrew must have thought it would scandalise me. The silly, old kook. Going behind my back. Hah.Sakira was crying. No. She was sobbing. What did I miss ? I have to stop this tangential thinking, I hardly hear what's being said to me these days. Rubbing my aching back, I held her rough, bony hand in mine and tried to console her , " Don't cry Sakira aunty. I eat eggs all the time. Grandmother didn't know." She hadn't heard me. "You must forgive her , forgive us. We thought we were doing what was best for you." "Please." She clasped my hand, "You must!" " Look , you are going to have such a big,strong baby. So spirited already." She patted my swirling belly.
I stood up to settle the baby. With a hand on my tired back, I said, " Please write down the recipe for me, Sakira aunty.I'll have it made at home. I have to leave now."Her eyes danced. "Yes Nitya. You are an angel, and so understanding. This baby will bring prosperity to your home. God bless you.""The Oh Kayla girl is four months gone, very ripe, I'll send for you as soon as the egg is out. You will have your soup, and looks like the baby's got a taste for it too." Grinnning, she hugged me.
Oh Kayla girl! Ripe! Bulging egg! Trouble! Big cars! Ancient recipe!I swooned and fell with a crash into the plush dragon sofa.I woke up in my bed , my husband holding my hand , his anguished father hovering around the bed, his tired mother serving tea to the doctor. The old vulture was nowhere to be seen.The baby kicked. Hard.And, just like that it all came back to me, the tinkling laugh, " It's nothing dead dear, never breathed.
"OMG OMG OMG.I had been eating babies, unborn babies. My baby was conceived in the blood of hundreds of dead children, murdered inside their mothers.My hands automatically moved to clutch my tummy . What had I done ? Oh God, what had I done ?! My baby. I pulled my hands away. Was it a monster? Created in death? Growing in death? Was I a monster? A baby -eating , blood-drinking monster?I closed my eyes, moaned and shrank into myself. The doctor rushed over to check my blood pressure.I opened my eyes as he was counting my pulse, and i saw her! She was standing there, framed in the doorway , a concerned look in her eyes , a tray in her hands. I held her gaze as she walked in. She set down the tray on my bedside table , and lifted the cover.
The scent overwhelmed me. I couldn't breathe for a second. I was ravenous. Starved.My mouth was watering.The baby gave a happy, playful prod. I closed my eyes. My baby.I would give anything to my baby. Sakira was right, they were just eggs; mere fertilised animal eggs.I opened my eyes. My stomach growled. It had been so long,I wanted it, I needed the flavour on my tongue, the explosion of taste, the sticky warmth sliding down my throat; oh the egg soup.I picked up a spoonful.
Here baby, mamma's favourite.