Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Affluence Disease

My friend from Thalassery complains about her granddaughter. 'Does your girl eat without coercion?' she asks. She has a tough time persuading her grandchild to eat anything.

   I comfort her. 'Mine is just as bad,' I say, 'but getting slightly better with each year. It's because they never went without. The house is always awash with food, yours and mine.We always rushed off to get them what they wanted, when they refused the food on the dinner table.'

   Today my lovely granddaughter asked for bacon for lunch when I offered the three-beans stew and rice on the table. I put my foot down gently. 'You have to eat what has been cooked,' I insisted. And she did. And loved it. I may make her that bacon for her next meal.

   All this choice and decision-making confuses me.  At home in Thalassery we had Moong and rice in one form or another for most meals, except lunch. The mid-day meal was Sambar and rice, catch-all vegetable gravies with whatever vegetable was there. Four-annas worth of fish was bought most days from the fish-man who trotted along with his catch each morning. The fishy water would be leaking on to the dirty head-cloth under the basket on his head, but the fish would be straight from the catch. Mostly sardines and mackerel, which would be made into a curry and may-be a few tail-ends fried for the men. Not much fish trickled down to the children of the house and the women, most of them were vegetarian anyway.

   They cooked small amounts - there was no 'frig and what was left over at the bottom of the pots would be given to the maid with a scraping of rice to take home to her family. She herself ate with us.

   Today, some days, I look at my 'frig and despair. It is crowded with food and no one is really anxious to eat. Even the dog is choosy.

   This needless plenty applies to everything in the house: clothes, furniture, books. Every now and then a huge bundle is taken away by a willing charity. But even charities will not tale old mattresses away. And the man who brings the skip to our house to take building rubble away reminds me sternly - no mattresses. I can't help thinking of Makeni in Sierra  Leone where I once had to destroy a mattress. 

   I came back from leave one summer and there was a huge, stinking rat squashed under my bed-spread. I got one of the boys in the flats below mine to take that mattress away. 'Please burn it, ' I said. He held his nose. ' Can I keep it, please?' 'It's gross, I answered. 'You don't want to sleep on that.' But he pleaded and the mattress became his prided possession. I never asked how he managed to clean it and mend the hole where the rat had been, but I saw it in his bedroom, when the boys got together there for a chin-wag. He was proud of that mattress.