The return of Gopi
Such are the relationships, termed weak ties, that most people have missed during the lockdown, the fleeting connections of everyday life, now known as the Old Normal
The last time I bought sabzi from Gopi was just before the lockdown. Gopi's vegetable stall is at a little distance from my place—closer to my old place—but it's a connection I somehow can't forego, so that's where I've been buying vegetables for years. Some of these are vegetables I actually need. Many are vegetables I don't particularly want, but am coerced into buying by Gopi's forceful promotion of, "bahut accha/kaula/taza hai" (it's very good/tender/fresh). And several are vegetables I have no idea how to cook, but inescapably convinced of their specialness by Gopi, spend several tedious trial and error hours making, while bearing the scorn of my cook for being bamboozled into these purchases.
Such are the relationships, termed weak ties, that most people have missed during the lockdown, the fleeting connections of everyday life, now known as the Old Normal.
Just before the lockdown, I stopped by to stock up, first at Sunil's greens and salad stall which flanks Gopi's stall. Gopi looked askance at my jugni and laal-peela, yaniki zucchini and bell peppers, and said "don't buy these Chinese vegetables, they caused the virus". Sunil giggled nervously. I gave Gopi a stern look. "First of all Gopi, these vegetables are angrezi, not Cheeni. Second of all, they have not come from China, but probably Lonavala. And third of all, is it our culture to talk about others who are suffering, with prejudice or with compassion?"
Sunil, revived, uttered, "that's right". Gopi, disgruntled, muttered "they eat chimgaadads (bats)" under his breath, while giving my broccoli the side-eye. Then I moved on to Gopi's "Indian" bhajis. As always, this entailed resisting pressure to buy every item known to botany. Holding aloft a medium sized hedgehog he announced, "I've got excellent jackfruit. Take it.". "I don't know how to cut it or make it, so don't give," I responded. "I will cut it for you". "No!". "Not even once have you bought jackfruit from me," he said, aggrieved, like chhoti bahu. I was mystified. Was buying jackfruit a necessary rite? Apparently. Rather, the only way for us to equalise the recent snub about Cheeni veggies, was for me to give in to an unreasonable request. This is rishte-naate, aka, single person comes home with enough jackfruit for five people.
I'll just say it took forever to make and a lot of freezer space to store with periodic anti-Gopi grumbles. Lockdown passed without Gopi, but towards the end I decided to call him. He informed me in his customary accusatory tone that he had been delivering for weeks, why had I been delinquent in calling?
I mumbled my way through my list. Before I could hang up, Gopi had wheedled me into buying "baby karela, very kaula" which seemed to grow into mummy and daddy karela in the hour it took to deliver, a kilo of peas (Arre! I will peel them), which arrived in their smug jackets, to my despair, and furthermore two vegetables I have no idea how to make—jackfruit seeds and banana flowers. But, I am assured by all it is traditional, tedious, time-consuming, yaniki all things I avoid.
Ah well, the New Normal will make itself known, in time. I'm so happy to have a little of the Old bitter-sweet Normal back in my life, even if I will never admit it to Gopi.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at email@example.com
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