‘Come on, help me solve this complex Sudoku grid,’ said my eighty-year old neighbour and I stepped out of the lift after my noon-walk and walked towards my apartment. I am a writer and am generally at home and this is what puzzles all the young and old in my block who don’t seem to understand that writing need me hammering on my keyboard more than it needs me to go out on a regular 9-to-5 job. So the question that they ask repeatedly sounds ominously like: ‘I know you do nothing all day but yet I need to ask what you do all day long?’
Well, one of the pitfalls of writing full-time is that everyone thinks they can drop in any time or call me any time… and today seemed no different. And yet, today was the day that redefined a smile for me.
This eighty-year old neighbour is a retired civil servant and has a lot of stories of the time when he was the OSD to the CM of Delhi… so I thought, ‘Well, let’s go and solve a few Sudoku grids and hear some funny moments that wrap our bureaucracy. Sounds interesting!’ So I went.
As I sat there in his living room concentrating on a complex routine that seemed to twine around the right side square and the fourth column, I mumbled, ‘Three is the culprit here. We need to catch three.’
‘Ah! Three,’ I heard Maheshwari uncle say, ‘three is always easy. Look I have three in my hand now.’ I looked up to see him emerge out of the kitchen with a plate full of snacks.
‘Please don’t insist on snacks, uncle,’ I protested, ‘let’s just settle three in the grid.’
‘See, I have smilies, cheese nuggets and cheese shotz,’ he announced proudly, ‘all air-fried by me. For us. You cannot refuse these three McCain gems if you want to locate the three on your grid.’
‘You look like a snackrobat,’ I said.
‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘but my life is all snacks and naps now and I love it. I think I’ll call my house a snack shack.’ Well, we did love our snackry moments that day until he suddenly became serious and said, ‘These snacks always remind me of youth. They’re always so crispy and full of energy. They remind me of the years that have gone by.’
‘That’s true,’ I said, ‘happens with us all. The only difference is that these snacks never look old but are as good as old friends, aren’t they?’ And we had our mouth full of these munchies so it was a while before he spoke again, ‘Can we make these smilies look older but yet just as crisp and as full of zest?’ These are the sort of challenges that life throws at you every once in a while and to accept them is always a pleasure. My years spent in writing about issues that appeared difficult to tackle have made me some sort of a warrior or a commando who is always ready to go deep into enemy territory and complete an impossible sounding mission. Writers love these kinds of challenges.
We, of course, solved our puzzles and I went back to my place and got busy with the day’s target. But later in the evening I remembered his challenge and the yearning in his voice… and I asked Specky, my wife, who was back from college, ‘Can we make a McCain Smilie look older but yet just as crispy?’
She gave me the sort of look that wives give their husbands when you are on somewhere in Paris and insisting on going left to reach the Eiffel Tower when she knows it is on the right! But wives are patient beings and she asked gently, ‘Say again.’
So I said the same thing again.
‘Hmmm…’ is all I got but then after a while she called me to the kitchen and we did a simple experiment. We fried the McCain Smilies first and then made a gash on the head, thrust some mozzarella… placed them all in a straight line and sprinkled some more before microwaving it for a minute. And quite magically what I saw was Smilies that had a whitish oozing frozen on the top. There was a glassy transparency that could be interpreted as a bald patch and the white oozing were like the white hair of an old man… the same Smilies looked extremely wizened and yet retaining their smile.
We propped each on a separate fork, placed them all in a glass and I went and called Maheshwari uncle. He came in, saw the McCain Smilies in their new avatar and picked one of those forked ones and said, ‘Well, let me see how crispy you are still, my aged brother!’
Yes, they were as crisp as crisp can be
And my neighbour’s smile was bright, you see
The Smilies that looked old enough
To have seen life on the rough
Yet had the crunch and lusty zip
That made him whisper, ‘I am as crisp!’
Well, that evening we had an eighty-year old neighbour who said he was convinced he was as crisp as a McCain Smilie and he graciously said, ‘Let’s call this evening snacksgiving as a tribute to that wonderful day called thanksgiving.’
25 October 2015