A bag of black-gram dal
I lay flat across the divan, on an intricately embroidered throw pillow, as I lazily watched my aunt (my mother’s sister) use her dainty fingers to loosen the last reminder of the village – a double-knotted blue bag of black-gram dal. I felt an emptiness once more sully my previously pleasant thoughts, leaving me with the same longing to return to my rural home that has been plaguing me since I watched my new friends disappear in the distance from the car window taking me to my next destination, Vizag.
“Tell us about your trip,” my uncle inquisitively inquired.
I scooped the small circular pieces of dal into my left hand, feeling a brief respite from the overwhelming heat of South India with the cool smoothness of the dal’s black shells, only to find them escaping through the cracks of my fingers. I tried to ignore the question without appearing indecorous. Instead, I averted my eyes to concentrate on a single piece of the black-gram dal, bringing it close to my nose. The mysterious, shiny husk, almost selfishly, left only a small, unrevealing sliver of the cream-colored treasures that lay under its protective case. In order to unveil its meat, I placed the bean between my teeth to spill its secrets to the room.
“You’ll break your teeth!” exclaimed my aunt.
So there it rested, encapsulated in an impenetrable shell. My head wandered back to the posed question, so I placed my mind between my teeth in a feeble attempt to crack its confined memories.
I closed my eyes. How could I illustrate the last five months out loud? My teeth hurt.
I thought back to the hesitant, morning sun in Ananthaiahgaripalli that was so unlike the audacious rays of light in Vizag, which commanded respect at early hours of the day. I recalled the hardly mellifluous voices wafting through our windows, inviting me to conversation. The unpleasant scent of cow manure slathered along the dusty roads, to keep away the insects but, somehow, not the humans. The familiar winds, greedily captured by the neem and tamarind trees on the roadside , that grazed my hair as I sat in sweaty, crammed auto-rickshaws. The oneness I felt with my backward caste neighboring family as I pushed away the chair I was so used to being offered in order to join two of my students and their parents on the cement floor of their borrowed two-room house. Of sharing laughs and plates after plates of snacks, while learning the proper ceremony of eating a bhaji (deep-fried green chili potato fritters) by accompanying each bite with a piece of raw, red onion. The farewell ceremony held fittingly at the government primary school, where my students unabashedly showcased their novel English and dance skills amongst freshly-painted walls and windows. The puerile argument over whose turn was next on the swing set in the new playground provided by the Sanjeevani Project. The dramatic last night of my transient stay with the wet eyes of over twenty of my closest students refusing to leave my Nanamma’s home, the older girls holding my arms tightly whispering “Don’t leave, Akka… we love you, Akka” in English, the last few lingerers who lamented by the side of the cement walls, all of our tears mingled and smeared by our hugs, touching my grandparents’ aged feet to show my respect as my final farewell, watching my Nanamma’s face fill with confusion as the car sped away, taking me with it. I thought of the parting gift from a student’s family, gathered earlier from their small field, now gaping wide open in the middle of my aunt’s dining room, begging an explanation.
“It was unforgettable,” I simply offered.
My aunt took the small, shiny bean I had earlier attempted to crack with my teeth from my hand and placed it back in the cover. Then, she re-knotted the blue bag of black-gram dal.