Life as a grinder

I was reduced to being the grinder on a stone-mortar-grinder on weekends.

Order from the LOH  (lady of the house) was clear within a month of marriage in 1968: 'Get a Sumeet mixer or else... ’.   Like the expected question in Economics examination on 'Baby-or-a car first for the modern couple', I reasoned that she had prioritised between a vital refrigerator for Rs 1,500 and an essential mixie for Rs 450.
My impromptu suggestion that as we were only two, she can manage standing near the kitchen table with the small mortar-pestle set I had thoughtfully purchased, was met with a cold stare. I had also tried to explain, it appeared later, foolishly, due to the ensuing domestic disharmony for a week, the way my mother and her sisters-in-law in turn would sit cross-legged in front of a huge stone-mortar and grind for idli-dosa for a joint family of a few dozen, while she could do it just for two, standing, in comfort.

I pointed out that my pay was just Rs 810 per month as a Captain. A compromise was reached and mixie got relegated, with the proviso that it would be me who would do the grinding on Saturdays, after returning from work. From teaching officer-students about the real bomb-firing-mortar, I was reduced to being the grinder on a stone-mortar-grinder on weekends.

A few other items got included in the list over the next few years and since I was available on call, the mixie was temporarily forgotten. Not for long. When I had to move for the 1971 operations, the LOH had to stay back as a 'separated family' with a child. So mixie came back to her mind, as I wouldn't be there to grind. She had added information that I could save money, as I would become entitled to ‘free rations’.

No choice but to part with Rs 550, the new price and a Sumeet (meaning good friend) came home in my absence. Later, I left the little stone-grinder with a friend assuring him that I would pick it up soon.

Life went on and the ‘good friend’ stayed. After 5 years, while at Nasirabad (Rajasthan), all electric appliances at home went for a six due to a power surge once and I had to redeem my promise of taking back the stone-mortar from the friend. He sent it by railway-parcel and I went to collect it. When the parcel clerk walked with me to hand over, there was a huge crowd in front of it, offering aarti, flowers and prostrations.

I went closer and noticed that the hessian cover of the pestle had got slightly torn, exposing it partially to resemble a Shivling; the whole parcel looked as if it was going for consecration to a (military) temple, with my rank and name in bold.

To avoid answering many questions, I too reverently did a pranaam, picked it up and scooted.

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