Is Your Tongue Orange, Sweetheart?

featured on Asia Writes dated 23rd April 2011.

HOUSES AND TREES FLEW by as her taxi sped toward the train station. Everything was routine – idling crows on slanting tiled roofs, the occasional cyclist and empty roads. Poona was lazily waking up on a Saturday morning. She was happy, hopeful, in love and decidedly nervous. She pulled a strand of hair out of her eye and smiled to the song playing in her head, “Que sera sera”. Her mind involuntarily raced to that afternoon long ago.

SHE WAS SEVEN. SHE wanted those candies grandfather had gotten her. Mom stored them in a bell jar in the top shelf of her cupboard. The shelf was so high up and she so tiny that she would tilt her head back and back, her little chin sticking up in the air and gaze longingly. But mom had said that too many candies spoiled little children’s teeth and of course she didn’t want to have teeth like grand ma which needed to be put in a glass of water every night. Mom would say, “Those candies are all yours, sweetheart and you get them one at a time.”

That summer vacation afternoon, dressed in a breezy cotton slip, she lay in bed next to mom for a nap. The curtains were drawn to darken the room. A ceiling fan rotated overhead, not quite helping relieve the stillness of Indian summer. She couldn’t sleep. She longed for those candies. She looked at her mother sleeping peacefully like an angel and whispered into her ear, “Mum, can I have a candy?” Mother mumbled something but slept on.

Oh! She wanted a candy – just one, to lick on the tangy orange drop till it colored her tongue! She turned a couple of times, but could neither sleep nor get the candy out of her head. She got up, hopped out of bed and found herself pulling her dad’s heavy shisham study chair towards mom’s cupboard. The chair screeched on the floor, as if in protest. Thankfully, mom slept on.

She reassured herself, “Mommy said the candies are all mine anyway. And I’d just take one – only today. One candy will not spoil my teeth.” Heart thumping, she climbed the chair, pulled the jar toward herself and fished out a candy as noiselessly as she could. Then she closed the cupboard, replaced the chair and slunk like a cat back into the bed next to her mom. Yes, the drop was sweet and tangy and it did turn her tongue orange.

Now, there is an uncanny ability in mothers to whiff thefts involving toddlers, and sure enough, mom had gotten to know. Mom had then figured that the candy jar should no longer be kept in the cupboard and moved it to the little daughter’s study table itself – to save such efforts of pulling a heavy chair and all.

THE DECAN QUEEN CHUG chug chugged past the Lonavala – Khandala valley. She’d always been awed by the breathtaking beauty of the Western Ghats, the gushing sound of air as the train would pass through tunnels and the rattling of the rails. Today she frowned at that memory and shifted guiltily in her seat. It would have been a lesser punishment had mom distributed the candies among street kids.

She concentrated on the metallic sound of the wheels, every fourth rattle accentuated or was it the fifth, propelling her toward Bombay and toward him.

She didn’t need to feel guilty now, she thought. That afternoon had been two decades ago, plus, this was the man she was going marry. Their parents had met and liked each other. She tried to convince herself that a stealthy date in the given circumstances was ok. He is such a nice person; mom wouldn’t have objected, would she?

Arranging her hair and smacking some gloss on her lips she clutched her little overnight bag as the train slowed to a stop at the Dadar station. She gulped hard, told herself one last time that she wasn’t doing anything wrong and got off.

She saw him at the exit. His face broke into a grin. She thought he looked sweet. Touching the bunch of chrysanthemums he’d gotten her to her cheeks she smiled. They blushed, beamed and laughed like two children sharing a secret. She looked into his eyes, registering with some surprise that this was only the second time she was meeting him and realizing with a mild shock this was the guy she would spend the rest of her life with. He was thrilled that she’d come all the way to see him. She glowed with his happiness.

She pulled out a wrapped present for him. He started to tear it open just as her cell phone rang. “Sshh! It’s mum” she cautioned.

“Hi sweetheart, goodmorning.”

“Goodmorning, mom.” He squeezed her hand. Of course it was a good morning.

“I thought you might be asleep. When did you wake up?”

Her watch said eleven am. “Pretty early for a weekend, mom, about two hours back.” She lied, recollecting her alarm going off at five thirty – very early, in fact.

“So, what plans for the day? Are you at home?”

“Of course. Where will I go so early on a Saturday?” She crossed her fingers.

“Well, I have a guess because your landline kept ringing out all morning.”

Oops! She gulped “Yeah, I am out in Bom.. I mean I’m in the balcony.”

With eyes all big and round, she looked at him tearing his present open and hoped that mom believeed her. He held in his hand a bell jar – full of orange candies and looking bewildered – probably not his idea of the first romantic gift.

After a moment of silence mom asked, amused, “Alright, you don’t need to answer this. But I have a question – Is your tongue orange, sweetheart?”

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