“Good lord! Look at the filthy mess!” cried the old lady as she washed and mopped oodles of pigeon poop from her doting terrace. She loved this part of the house most, not the large bedrooms or the sprawling hallway, neither the well-equipped kitchen nor the lavishly decorated living room. It was this small patch of cemented open space that served her with an unlimited supply of sunlight, a place to bathe in the warmth during winters and the perfect spot to make delicious pickles for her grandchildren. But the shameless audacious pigeons made this very part a comfortable latrine for their daily excretory requirements.
The old lady was frustrated by this complete disregard for her special place and sadly picked up the mango covered sheets that were now covered in white patches. She would have to throw them away as the drying fruits were spoilt owing to the thick gooey droppings all over them. How lovingly and with extreme care she had measured the oil and the spices to make sure the product turned out perfect for her grandson and granddaughter. Now she would have to start again from scratch.
‘This is becoming a regular nuisance,’ she thought to herself. Many a times she had imagined poisoning these flying devils by placing tainted grains on the railings. But she couldn’t really bring herself to act on these gruesome ideas. But something had to be done. And unfortunately, the only thing she could do was the particular action she had been delaying all this while. She had to cover the terrace with net. She knew it would obstruct her view, the beautiful blue sky and the green patches down below. But how else could she protect her precious pickles? She couldn’t deprive her grandchildren from the delicious tangy garlic and mango preserves or the sweet berry ones, nor the spicy chillies.
So the decision was made, and the experts were called. A company named Keep Neat usually did all such works like putting up nets in houses to keep away birds or mosquitoes. They fixed an appointment for our old woman’s terrace job on a day in the next week. Till then she would not attempt at drying fruits on the terrace.
Her maid worked at her son’s home as well, thus also operating as the pickle delivery system. The lady asked her to inform the children that they would have to wait a while for the next batch. Soon there would be no obstruction to her incessant drying and mixing to create lovely treats.
The next few days were spent like the last blessed ones to come in a long time. The terrace owner sprawled across a jute mat, her rheumatic joints enjoying the free flow of rays as she sat knitting or lay reading. The occasional bird banter was driven away by a handy broom that stood at one corner against the wall.
Finally came the day when the Keep Neat men arrived and very efficiently they put up closely weaved nets around the terrace and over it, one portion at a time, so as to block all routes for the trouble-makers as well as the direct admission of sunlight. Quite sad but expected was the outcome and our protagonist spent the next two days indoors avoiding the alien bit of concrete that made her heart wail in pain.
She gradually brought herself to accept the outcome of her decision and set to work on a brand new batch. An ardent follower of the famous chef Sanjeev Kapoor, the lady began working on a special carrot-turnip-cauliflower conserve, carefully following the chef’s instruction. A spice powder was made after dry-frying cardamom, cinnamon and cumin seeds. A liberal portion of grated ginger and garlic were fried in some oil after which she added some vinegar soaked molasses. The powdered spices were added and after the oily mixture looked red and fried, she put in the cut up vegetables mixing them well. Off the burner and into properly sterilized jars they went before being put out in the sun. She also spread out a bunch of chillies to dry that were later transformed into a delicious spicy pickle.
In a few more days the preserves were ready and packed to go. The maid was given a large bag filled with reds, greens and yellows.
With diligence and love, grandma’s pickles were made at regular intervals. She innovated and inculcated many tips that she found on the internet.
The terrace’s purpose was now limited to just that one trend. Grandma didn’t bother pulling out the mat anymore, sometimes she tried to bend her head and squint her eyes to look beyond the web like cordons, but to no avail. The lawns below were hardly visible and the sky appeared cut up into several tiny bits. The only up sight to this grave predicament was the absence of bird crap. In fact the pigeons had stopped visiting altogether. They did not seem to find the netted box an appropriate surface for their digested disposals.
One sunny winter morning, as the maid crouched down washing the terrace floor, she observed the old lady trying to catch a few direct rays by pressing up her face against the net, her head turned up towards the sparkling sun.
The maid felt bad and it all came rushing out. ‘Aunty I am sorry, but I can’t keep it in any longer. You are unnecessarily torturing yourself. You sacrificed your precious terrace for nothing at all.’ Grandma looked at her with a quizzical face. ‘The pickles you toil day and night for are not really adored by anyone. Your grandchildren find them too sour or too spicy. Your son avoids them as he has high cholesterol and his wife is too health conscious to consume the oily edibles. They are always distributed among the sweepers and guards. Even I have taken them home a few times. My kids love them. But the people you make them for never eat a morsel. They just do not have the heart to tell you thus honestly. So stop bothering yourself.’
The old lady was quite taken aback. She slowly walked into the adjacent bedroom and sat on the cot, no words came out.
The next morning, a call was made and Keep Neat arrived to take down the cursed barricade. As they cut away the net, grandma felt the warm love of freedom caress her tired old skin. She pulled out her trusty mat from under the bed and spread it out at one corner of the terrace where the sun rays were strong.
A few days later, as she sat sucking on oranges, she smiled to see her air buddies return one at a time. They gathered on the railings fluttering their wings and tending to the feathers with their beaks.
© 2019 Tiyasha Maitra