Sunday, April 20, 2008
The worst thing Fumiyaki-San could have done was sit towards the far end of the swimming pool, watching me climb out of it, as I fumbled over the slippery steps. The best thing Fumiyaki-San could have done was to attempt cooking Japanese fried rice in my kitchen. He was a vague, funny man this guy. Very interested in food, in women and rice wine but very uninterested in language arts and politics, even the history of his own country.
He lived in an inn, one of those cheap one-room accommodations you get in a crowded city like Seoul and he spent most of his evenings with Jackie, my Korean friend, courting her or trying to get her into bed or with me and my husband at the pool or sauna room. He even tried his lop-sided Japanese-English on me ”Ah! you looking very good. very sexy, today” or “Ah, beauteefool” appreciating my attire, which would mostly be a lazily put together maroon skirt with blockprinted gold on it matched with a similar colored t-shirt. It made me blush, those remarks. Understanding from where it was coming and also the uncanny earnestness with which they were delivered.
Fumiyaki-San made me spend a small fortune, the day he proclaimed it was his birthday, on buying spice and chicken. We already had some chicken stored up in the fridge but he insisted it was not going to be enough. However, when he reached home and saw the packets, he said we were over-stocked. I called my husband home early from work and we foursome celebrated with our choicest wine, Fumiyaki-San’s birthday. We toasted, sang on an off-key note and drank. Only later, halfway through the meal were we to realize that it wasn’t his birthday. That was next week. There had been some misunderstanding.
So, we celebrated Fumiyaki-San’s birthday a second time. The real one. This one at Jackie’s parents home tucking into plateloads of kimchi - carrot, spinach, root, and colors that make up for a tangy rainbow with large bowlfuls of mackerel soup and shreds of boiled chicken. We wished him well as the topic changed to politics. Jackie’s father brought out the long-awaited hatred he possessed (through years of thinking, I presume) for the Japanese occupation and sought to be excused by Fumiyaki-San as he was a guest! But Fumiyaki-San wasn’t bothered. Not when we compared the aristocratic British to the ruthless Japanese rulers in an attempt to forge our niche, coy Korean-Indian friendship. Nor when we drew parellels between Pakistan and North Korea.
Fumiyaki-San finished the kimchi and started on a second round of mackerel soup, nodding blatantly and I wondered if Jackie’s mom and grandmom (Aabojee) would have anything left to eat. (Because they stood in the kitchen like two decent women from old time India waiting to serve upon their guest).
I teased Fumiyaki-San later, remembering how he had bluffed me on my tightly controlled budget against surplus chicken, parsley (the bottle of which I brought to India till it rotted away) and tomato sauce (a whole new bottle, when we already had enough for his chicken recipe).
I didn’t tell him how I had cut corners to allow a shopping budget for the end of the stay. He smiled his disarming smile and continued picking at his fish.
Fumiyaki-San didn’t teach me anything. Yet with his flabbergasted, half-flustering sentences he formed the backdrop to my visit in Seoul. I remember him sometimes when I think of Seoul, the snow or the extremely inane moments that come in between great ones.
Or am I being too presumptuous? Maybe, he did teach me something and I refused to learn.
I’ll be back because I need to figure out Fumiyaki-San and why he stuck in my memory for so long (It’s been a year, almost).
I shudder to just let it go.
(c) Rochelle Potkar
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Why had the God’s abandoned me? Is it because pain and fear were already there and were enough to teach? One guiding the other, the other riding the back of the former?
The sky hadn’t been lit with pristine light yet. And already I knew what I wanted to do.
"Eat it" I went to the fruit I had, just the previous day, out of mirth, scribbled on ‘criticism’ and changed it to ‘pain’ ‘fear’.
And don’t you think the Gods had answered, even in their stark silence?