Magi seemed to have read her mind well. ‘You’re not thinking about prawns at all right now,’ he said.
‘Prawns?’ she whispered, as if she had heard this word for the first time, and then mechanically she took a sip of the delicious Sauvignon Blanc in her glass and was miraculously brought back into the real world, ‘yes, prawns. I had read somewhere that prawn shells can result in allergic reactions.’
‘Not just allergy. Prawns can poison too,’ said Magi, ‘but first you need to tell me what it is that is bothering you.’
Sujata just controlled her sigh that was itching to escape her being and managed a somewhat bright smile and said, ‘A blog post. I was wondering where I could get details on this sort of fatal prawn poisoning. It will be so new and interesting for my readers.’
‘Hey, we would want you to write about the good things here,’ hurriedly added Magi, ‘but yes, prawn poisoning isn’t written about so much and…’ Magi paused for a moment before reaching out for his smartphone to make some authoritatively calm taps. He then said, ‘I’ve emailed you a document with my notes on prawn poisoning.’ Magi wasn’t just a charming sommelier who could rattle off every possible detail on every possible wine in the world, but was also a foodie and an author whose newest book had just hit the bookstores all over.
There were other things happening at the blogger’s meet that day and soon Sujata was quite lost in the melange of squeaky squids, tiger prawns, spiked basa and all the tingling discussions on the differences between batter fried and golden fried, goulash and ratatouille, chipotle mayo and spicy mayo and the myriad other charmingly tummy-yummy terms that only the real foodies can utter with the calm flamboyance of an expert! It was only after she had stepped out and into the driving seat of her car that her emotional spikes restarted.
Love, they say, is an emotional high that doesn’t care much about logic. We are all capable of this form of love that has all the DNA of innocuous abstractness floating in it… and yet it is love alone that makes the human mind read between the lines, link up all the logical bits scattered around, and then take cold and calculated steps to either dive into the pool of absolute submission or shrewdly place a devastating scintilla that grows into an engulfing conflagration! This seemingly sordid story of Gingko and Agni meandered wilfully into her mind again and Sujata swerved the car to the left, braking suddenly and took out her Tab with trembling hands.
‘There they are again,’ she muttered, ‘so unstoppable like we once were.’
Sometimes the mind just utters an innocuous sentence that lets loose a series of thoughts that prance around past moments making them seem more real than they were. Sujata could so clearly see Gingko looking into her eyes and read out his newest poem in his husky voice. She recollected how he always said, ‘I am an ornamental street tree, a living fossil. I am a poet.’ He was so clear and upfront about all his definitions and yet, even in the simplicity of his words lay complex thoughts that could be interpreted for ages.
No, they never went out and sat on park benches or ever wanted to cuddle behind bushes. They were in love and love isn’t something that needs to be emblazoned on tree trunks or groped around in the semi-darkness of lust. They loved listening to each other talk. They followed each other’s interests. Gingko went to great lengths to fish out details on microbiology and then write couplets to give to her. He wrote so many lines on her, on their love, and on their dreams which he then wrote on restaurant napkins, a fallen pepal leaf, a kerchief that he bought specially for the lines, a menu card, a bus ticket… and the line of his poetry gifts was unending. Sujata felt inside her purse and took out that old CD of Sufi songs that was never played because he had scribbled his lines on the playing side…
Your glance makes distance seem small
Astride it I can walk through walls!
Sujata read these lines and at the same time her tear stained fingers tapped impatiently on the Tab to login on Gingko’s gmail account. This is what she had done a couple of days back to see the delivery status of an online order for books that they had placed and had stumbled on to the live chat that Gingko was having with Agni. Sujata had read the words jumping at her on the Tab screen at home that day and felt she had stumbled onto moments where two people were discovering the uplifting thermals that love is capable of creating. The wordy concoctions that floated before her eyes were charming and she wished they were for her, only to realise suddenly that Gingko was letting them go towards someone else. Why else would Gingko write, ‘…and even I cannot bear to be away from you / the moments of togetherness are so few!’
She had then muttered angrily, ‘How can he write these lines for anyone but me?’ In the evening, she simply asked him, ‘Who is Agni?’
‘Ah! She is just someone who I met last Sunday at that symposium on plant pathology. She is a new recruit at the institute and is working on the love life of pathogens.’
‘What?’ Sujata echoed incredulously, ‘love life of pathogens?’ They had a hearty laugh over the topic that this researcher had chosen. After a while, Sujata remembered what she had wanted to ask, and said, ‘Are you planning to one of the pathogen in her lab?’
Gingko had given her a look of bemused confusion and said, ‘How I would love to be at the root of this intrigue in your mind!’
‘Her words were so full of steamy stimulation?’
‘Yes, her words as she chatted with you today.’ Sujata said this without a tinge of embarrassment as between them they had never had any hidden passwords and shared everything from bank accounts to their double-bed quilt! So she continued, ‘I’m sure this Agni was infused with excitement. Her words…’
‘Yes, her words were full of steamy stimulation,’ he repeated, and then added, ‘By the way, being a microbiologist-turned-food blogger you’d be knowing that gingko stimulates blood flow & increases oxygen flow to skin cells.’ Gingko gave her his favourite cocky smile and got up to take her in his arms. ‘You’re stressed out, it seems. Aren’t there any foodie blogger meets coming up? They perk you up a lot.’
‘There is one next week,’ she mumbled as she let herself go limp in his arms. She had always loved Gingko propping her limp body in a way that made them feel each other at the right places. Yes, Gingko did know how to stimulate blood flow and increase… well, it was heavenly to sink into his arms and forget all her fears.
But then she had logged in his gmail account every day and followed the way the chats seemed to be crossing milestones and rushing headlong towards the city where she had once been with Gingko. This was the reason why she was disturbed during the bloggers meet and when she was talking to Magi.
She looked at the open gmail account of Gingko on the Tab in her hands and as she saw the chat lines form and disappear into the window boundary, she could not bring herself to even read what was there. She logged out and sat in the car not knowing what to do.
‘Angry?’ she thought, ‘Am I angry? Am I so angry that I had thought of even killing the man I love? Why was I thinking of prawn poisoning? Why was I linking to love what could very well be just a professional relationship?’ Sujata closed her eyes and was suddenly startled by a knock. She opened her eyes and looked out of the window and saw Magi staring at her with concern in his eyes. She rolled down the window and heard him ask, ‘Is everything fine? I just happened to look this way and saw you in the car and I stopped.’
‘I’m fine,’ Sujata said, ‘I’m so sorry to have appeared so distracted during today’s workshop. I wish I were more attentive today.’
‘Don’t worry. There’ll be more such workshops on wine and food pairing,’ replied Magi, and added, ‘I had got a few interesting observations on prawn poisoning printed after you left.’ Magi handed her a few pages. As Sujata looked up to thank him, she noticed he was looking at her with an expression that seemed like a smile that wanted to pierce through her. No, she didn’t detect any satire or cynicism there, nor did she find lust gliding anywhere in what she saw. Whatever it was, it appeared intriguing. Magi waved a bye and started walking towards his car and then stopped as if he was debating some conflicting issue. Sujata noticed this hesitation and stepped out of her car and said aloud, ‘Magi, I’d love to invite you and your wife home sometime.’
Magi turned and said, ‘Lovely. This is what I was thinking about. I mean, I was thinking how I could invite myself to your place. Agni knows your husband and has been talking about his poetry a lot, so I thought it will be a brilliant idea to meet you guys.’
‘Agni,’ said Sujata slowly, ‘is your wife?
‘What is this happening?’ thought Sujata. She had, as yet, just heard of Agni or read her teasing prose that she was throwing at Gingko. ‘Yes, it will be lovely to meet your wife too,’ she said. ‘It will be great to meet this person who is causing me so much anguish,’ she had thought, ‘and then maybe I’ll befriend her to just ask her to leave Gingko alone.’
‘Wow!’ she said aloud.
‘Nothing, I was just cheering the fact that the famous Magi is going to be my dinner guest. Wouldn’t it make the other food bloggers simply envious?’
Magi smiled, waved, and turned towards his parked car.
Sujata was in no hurry to start her car and go. If you’ve never seen someone hungrily devour information, then Sujata was the ideal example of this happening. She read all the information that was there on email and then on the first of the printed pages that magi had just handed her.
‘Fascinating stuff,’ she whispered, as she re-read this passage:
Researchers at the University of Chicago in the United States have experimented and discovered that food such as soft-shell contain a higher concentration of the five potassium arsenic compounds. They have reported that such fresh food by itself has no toxic effects on the human body but if ingested by anyone taking vitamin C, there would be some chemical reaction converting the original non-toxic elements to toxic elements.
Arsenic poisoning has magma role and, as we are aware of, can cause paralysis to the small blood vessels. Therefore, a person who dies of arsenic poisoning will show signs of bleeding from the ears, nose, mouth & eyes. Thus as a precautionary measure, it is better not to eat shrimp/prawn when taking vitamin C.
She just didn’t feel the need to read the rest of the printed sheets and drove back home and talked to Gingko about her famous sommelier guru wanting to come home for dinner with his wife.
‘I think it is wonderful,’ said Gingko, ‘I’ll read out a few poems that I had written on the intoxicated state of mind. You remember those limericks?’
‘Yes, I do,’ smiled Sujata. How could she ever forget that wonderful Sunday evening with Gingko when the two of them had started with a couple of glasses of beer and then kept going on until the eyes were bleary and… well, even their Boxer had been lapping bowlfuls generously poured by her and was probably as drunk as we were. This was when the doorbell rang.
She remembered asking Gingko to go and see who it was. Gingko had slowly and rather unsurely walked to the front door and came back after a while.
‘Who was it?’
‘A senior scientist at the labs. Forgot that he was coming for dinner. But don’t worry,’ Gingko paused and continued, ‘I told him we are all drunk. Even Kuts is drunk.’ Kuts was our Boxer and he was blissfully snoring after his beer-laps.
‘Let’s go to his place for dinner then?’
‘Good idea,’ replied Gingko, and he went again all the way to the front door, to come back to tell me that now there was no one there.
We had sat there debating who would manage the evening meal for the three of us, when Gingko said, ‘I will write limericks. And for every one limerick you will do one kitchen task.’
She remembered saying: ‘Smart guy!’ But then Gingko’s words were always so irresistible that she had agreed. So that was an evening when limerick after limerick flowed and went way beyond all kitchen tasks. So we decided to add some really bawdy bedroom tasks. But then that is another story.
Limericks too, she thought, can connect moments, despite their obviously bawdy nature and can carry even sublime emotions of love and togetherness way out into the future. Sujata knew that it was words and the beauty of lines that connected the two of them. She was blogging despite being trained as a microbiologist and he was writing poetry despite working as a botanist. But even words can be so cruel and she almost hated them when she realised that it was possibly words that were now busy forging this new bond between Gingko and Agni. This scientist was also deeply involved with lines and Sujata sighed when she realised that the lines for Agni included the drawn as well as those that were written! ‘Painting and literature,’ Gingko had said, ‘are what interest Agni. I am thinking of asking her to teach me how to paint. Won’t it be great if I am able to paint little scenes for each of my poems?’ But Sujata was too busy thinking of how the chemical reactions in Gingko’s lab had resulted in tell-tale fumes that travelled through the dense traffic of Delhi right into her heart!
That evening, after Gingko said he would read out his limericks, Sujata had smiled and added, ‘Agni will be with him.’
‘Agni?’ Gingko paused for a moment, and then excitedly said, ‘Yes, I remember her telling me that she was married to a guy who wrote books on wines. But I never thought her husband would turn out to be your famous Magi!’
Sujata went on giving him piercing looks disguised as smiles. She was desperately waiting to detect some weak spot in what seemed Gingko’s armour that was hiding his affair. She knew she would tear him apart because it was her love for him that was now making her awaken the shrewd detective within her. There would be so many other personalities waking up soon, and she was sure that the aggressive killer lying dormant within her would also be completely awake any day now. The entry of another woman in a married couple’s life is real. The dilemmas that enter the subliminal spaces of her mind were as hot and as sizzling as the situation appeared to be.
‘Magi is as known to me now as Agni is,’ she said in a calm tone and asked, ‘when do we call them over?’
‘How about this Saturday?’
‘Sounds great,’ she said, and called Magi to confirm. Magi wanted her to prepare some dish with shrimps and prawns as he would be getting his favourite bottles of Chardonnay and demonstrate how well it goes with this sea-food.
Sujata then told Gingko that Saturday was when he would get to meet Agni.
‘I meet her daily,’ said Gingko, ‘and I’ve even written a couple of fun poems on her sneezing.’
‘Sneezing?’ asked Sujata, with a nervous shudder of excitement, as she knew that a vitamin C supplement was almost essential for people having a cold.
‘Yes, she has some form of cold perpetually. So she sneezes a lot.’
Sujata went in a thoughtful huddle after this revelation. Why did Magi insist on a dish of prawns and shrimps if he knows that his wife has a perpetual cold and would be on vitamin C? Is this Magi’s plan to get his wife murdered in her house? She was gripped with an unknown panic. She felt her world enmeshed in a complex clutter of traps. Her life was suddenly brimming with intrigue and it was so different from the ones she was reading in fiction. These were real Goosebumps coming her way and she thought: ‘Real people, real aspirations, real dialogues, and real facts come together only in real stories… and this now seems to be real intrigue.’ This was now alarming the sanity synapses in the conventional planes of her mind. The only two questions that reverberated in her mind were: Do I want to get going with this dinner and complicity to help Magi kill his wife? Would I really be pushing Agni out of what appears to be an affair with my husband?
By next afternoon Sujata was back to her wild self when she eaves-dropped on Gingko’s gmail chat and found them literally running around trees in some park and singing songs of passion. She printed a part of their chat conversation and re-read each word carefully.
Gingko: I hear you’ll be making a beeline for my house this Saturday?
Agni: Well, you are my official muse. I’ve finished painting more canvases than I could in the past few months.
Gingko: And you too are like a creativity trigger for me.
Agni: Wow! I’m flattered.
Gingko: There are a few poems and I’ll show them to you when you’re there.
‘Aha!’ exclaimed Sujata, ‘this is what I am going to read out on Saturday evening.’ But then anger always has strange ways of pushing you away from the truth and Sujata too had left staring at the PC screen after just the few initial sentences that she copied and printed. The truth, the real truth was buried somewhere in the recorded chat on Gingko’s gmail account.
Saturday came and it was evening sooner than anyone expected. Magi and Agni came and the conversation veered towards Chardonnay and the way it was paired with sea-food in a way that enhanced the over-all experience. This culinary talk was appropriately sprinkled with golden fried shrimps in spicy mayo, Gingko’s limericks on intoxication, and Sujata’s nervous observation of what might happen to Agni any moment!
It was then time for the prawns and the shrimps to be served. Sujata said, ‘I’ve prepared chipotle rubbed giant tiger prawns for the main course. I also have vegetable stew with country style bread.’
‘Charming!’ whistled Magi and added, ‘You are by far the best student from any of my workshops.’
Agni said, ‘I’m envious… but then I think Gingko serves lines best! Loved the limericks, by the way.’
Gingko simply said, ‘Ah! We have some wine and dishes fine. Forget my lines and let’s just dine!’
Magi said, ‘Now that sounds like a couplet you’ve just created in your mind. Real talent, I’d say. I think I’m in love with your lines just as much as I am with my wife’s lines!’ Magi paused, and spluttered, ‘No pun intended, please.’
There was laughter all around and Sujata was rather proud of Gingko’s power of summoning the right words so fast. ‘How I wish Agni had never happened,’ she thought, and then with a cold inscrutable glint in her eyes, she brought in huge helpings of her main course.
‘Have some more,’ Sujata insisted and made Agni have as much of the prawn dish as possible. As Sujata cleared the plates and came in with the dessert, she noticed that Agni had got up from the dining table and was sprawled on the sofa with her eyes closed. Gingko had gone to his room to get a few more of his poems, and Magi was sitting there alone and with a smug smile on his face.
Sujata kept the baked apple and walnut tart with maple drizzle on the table and asked in a low voice, ‘What happened?’
‘Allergy,’ said Magi, ‘all will be fine soon.’
‘You mean she’ll be dead in a while? Oh my God, she has cold, you had said. Does this mean she was taking vitamin C?’
‘Yes, she takes these vitamin tablets every day,’ said Magi, but now had a confused smile on his face, and asked, ‘but why do you think she’d die?’
‘Your notes,’ said Sujata, ‘they say that this could be some form of severe arsenic poisoning.’
Magi started laughing. ‘No, this means you haven’t read all that I had given you. This was on the first page and the rest had the clarification that all this talk about arsenic poisoning was simply a hoax that has been circulating on the internet.’
‘Hoax?’ Sujata didn’t know if she was happy or sad to hear this. But yes, she was certainly relieved that no one would be dying in her home.
Magi clarified that an allergy cannot be ruled out but Agni was too fond of both her vitamins and the prawns to give either a miss. So she preferred to close her eyes for a while and will her welling allergy to subside. ‘And she is an expert at this art,’ said magi, ‘this is what foodies must really learn.’
Gingko entered and heard the word ‘learn’ and said, ‘I want to learn painting from your wife. She does say that I catalyse her painting instincts so maybe she can teach me as a return gift.’
Agni was composed by this time and walked slowly towards us, saying, ‘That is wonderful. And where are the poems that you write with me as the muse?’
And then Gingko read out his poems on poverty, women, economic depression, inflation, and just about everything other than love. Sujata asked, ‘No love poems?’
Gingko said, ‘You are my muse for love poems. How can anyone else inspire love poems from my pen?’ This was like the skies suddenly opening up and the grey clouds disappearing… and Sujata looked at Gingko and felt the levels of her depleting love for him shooting up again. Just then Magi asked, ‘So what are you going to blog about next?’
Without a thought, Sujata answered, ‘A short-story about the revenge of a food blogger.’
31 March 2013
Made public on 07 June 2013