Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Pav Bhaji (in a roll)
This post is a draft of some fiction I have been playing around with. Not a literary sort, thats okay. here is the link to the recipe for the food.
“Paging Dr. Rajabalasubramaniam.” Fifteen years, thought Sanjay.
“Paging Dr. Cohen.” Eight years.
“Paging Dr. Khan. Stat.” Twenty years younger than me, Sanjay concluded, with a slightly audible sigh.
He mindlessly flicked two little yellow packets with his thumb and forefinger. He carefully creased the edge, pinched down, and precisely trimmed off the top. Then he watched the sweet white crystals of whatever drop into his coffee. He would have preferred to have three spoons of real sugar. These faux sugars were a concession to his wife and his cardiologist. Last year, when he fell ill, his cardiologist, gastrologist, GP, and wife all conspired, like an AAM funded coven, to keep him from pleasure. After he was released back into his life, Sanjay sat down in his study with the various discharge orders. He folded them up, and placed them under an unread book. Then, he took out some of the stationary his wife had purchased from his niece during a fund-raiser for her band trip to China. At the top, in obscenely curly letters, it said, Dr. Sanjay Nayak, M.D. Underneath his name he carefully wrote a vertical line. On the left side he wrote butter, cheese, eggs, steak, fries, doughnuts, sugar, pie. On the right, he wrote coffee, cream, cake. His pen hung over the “e” in cake as if pondering the magnitude of the work. Then Sanjay folded up the sheet of paper, placed it over the discharge papers, and stood up, as if anticipating that his wife would call him.
The next few months were filled with unbuttered chappatis, cheese made of rice, tofu, baked chips, and sliced fruit. His wife had a wide reach and a strangely knowing look, but she did not have spies at the hospital cafeteria. Every morning, he accompanied his wife to the gym for aquatic aerobics. He kicked and turned and avoided seeing any of the voluptuous jiggles that surrounded him. He dressed, bid his wife goodbye, got into his car. For the ten minutes from the gym to the hospital, he would prepare for breakfast. In his younger days, he always had breakfast after rounds, if he had time for anything to eat at all. But, now, there were fewer surgeries, more paperwork, less patient care, and more time for a bite to eat. Plus, he felt imprudent treating patients with his mind occupied elsewhere.
That is how he found himself listening to the overhead pages, drinking coffee and reading the paper, intermittently gazing at the cherry blossoms outside. Every morning, he started with the business pages and coffee. Then, one egg, poached. Finally, he would dig into hash browns, crunchy at the edges, melty buttery in the middle. On a regular day, he would refill his coffee cup and then go into the doctor’s lounge to read his patient’s charts online. But, today, there was less time for rounds. Today was not a usual day.
He left the first cup of coffee barely touched and an eggy puddle in the bowl. The plate of potatoes however was clean.
Today, he only had a couple of patients to view. His partner had suggested he forego rounds altogether. Routine had served him well for forty years, and Sanjay saw no reason to deviate.
Sanjay swiped his card at the elevator and pressed floor two. An older lady in a wheel chair glanced at him and smiled. He smiled back. Behind stood an assortment of daughters and granddaughters, all struck with the same grave, unpleasant look. Just as the elevator started to close, a lanky arm snuck in. The doors bounced back and forth and then opened again. A tall brown man in his late twenties entered the elevator. While his scrubs were just like Sanjay’s, his fine Italian shoes, carefully chosen glasses, and purposefully mussed hair were not.
“Hey Sanj.” Dr. Jamie said. Sanjay had never known what Jamie’s real name was, but considering Jamie’s parents had arrived on a PanAm flight from Sri Lanka through Dubai thirty years ago, he was fairly confident the moniker was as much a prop as anything he wore. The group in the elevator reshuffled themselves to make room for the newest resident. Dr. Jamie began to talk to Sanjay about the difficult cases that had presented over night. He discussed them as if one might talk about winning a video game—each patient was a slightly more difficult level. Sanjay might have teased him on a different day. But, not today.
He nodded in a way that he hoped suggested to Jamie that Dr. Sanj was not interested in dialogue. Along with missing the class on bedside manner, Jamie must have missed the discussion on understanding social cues. Jamie had managed to discuss the cases of four more heart patients before making it to the fourth floor. Once an overachiever, always an overachiever, Sanjay thought.
Sanjay leaned aside, and allowed the wheelchair to pass. Jaime took a quick stride and passed the patient by before she could make it through the elevator. After the three generations of woman made their march out of the elevator, Sanjay took up the rear like a strange little undertaker.
That morning, he spoke to his patients as carefully as could considering it wasn’t a usual day. There were niceties, compliments, and the like. There was the, “Thank you, Dr. Nayak. You are always so considerate.” But, mostly, there were the good reports. The “you will be alright, as long as you take care.”
After he finished his patients, Sanjay considered going back down to the cafeteria. He had never finished rounds before the end of breakfast service. Just as he started to turn down the cafeteria hallway, edging the orange directional line with his shoe, his pocket began to ring. His grandson had programmed the phone to show a picture of chocolate bundt cake when his wife called. When asked why, Graeme, or Grayhum as Sanjay pronounced the silly name, said that Dadi-ji loved him like cake. Instead of answering the phone, Sanjay turned quick on his heels. Within ten minutes, he was in his car, sweet coffee in one hand, driving towards the airport.
He waited until he was sitting in his airplane seat, buckled, and sipping on orange juice before he called his wife back. “ I only have a few minutes. Yes, I will call. Of course, I would.” Sanjay’s wife had more to say, but luckily the stewardess cut her off. In forty-five years, he had never cut off his wife. He was happy to let her prattle on, to run his home and his life. She was a capable woman amply able to see through his ploy. By then, Sanjay heard the stewardess say “Crosscheck” and they were off.
“9:15” Sanjay mindlessly said out loud. Right now, he should have been sitting in the cafeteria, two fake sugar packets in hand. Instead, he was watching the stewardess pass out trays with square boxes of small helpings of food. He avoided food on planes, and nothing in the scent emanating from the trays suggested he should change this policy. Covering his eyes with a mask, he hoped to sleep away his boredom.
Mostly, his mind rattled in and out of consciousness. Emotions and memories wove themselves into uncomfortable semblances of the truth. Time crept forward at a pace that suggested it wasn’t moving at all. Finally, as his muscles relaxed into the hard seat and his toes uncurled in his shoes, Sanjay’s mind let him sleep. Within minutes, the stewardess announced that they had arrived at their final destination, Mumbai.
By the time Sanjay had composed himself, collected his two newspapers, his golf magazine and his computer, the doors were exposing the passengers to the oppressive texture of the Bombay morning air. His skin tensed in reaction. Slowly, rationally, he chided himself for reacting so. All those years ago, when he arrived in Boston for residency and the chill of the winters seemed to shatter his skin and Sanjay warmed himself with his memories.
His capable wife had organized all his papers in his billfold, and as a man, with a briefcase and a carry-on, the customs ceremony was cursory. At the currency exchange, Sanjay saw a family he recognized from the plane. The father and mother wore smart casual outfits that even Sanjay recognized as expensive. They were yelling in Hindi to their assembled children. Their three teenage boys, each with longer hair than the last, seemed to hear and listen to the pleas to hurry up. The slim, lovely daughter was gazing absent-mindedly at the diamond ring on her finger. A few steps behind stood a tall blond man, likely the fiancé, seemed completely frozen in place. Sanjay couldn’t decide which aspect of the moment had stopped him—the heat, the people, the sounds, the smell. Sanjay took one purposeful pause, and then walked out into the assembled populace.
Sanjay’s sisters had promised to send any number of nephews and nieces to meet him at the airport. His wife had negotiated with them that she would hire a car service to take him directly to the hospital. As he sat in the black sedan, Sanjay wondered what she had said to broker such a deal. The overly air-conditioned car made him feel like he was back in his cafeteria. The driver had classical music playing. Sanjay wondered if his wife had arranged that as well. As the car made its way into traffic, he watched people preparing their tea, street-side, their movements in time with the music.
The tall black glass building that was his destination seemed strangely out of place, rising out of a hodgepodge of alleys filled with knick-knack sellers and the like. When Sanjay made no overture of departing, the driver said quietly, in English, “you are here sir.” Sanjay smiled, a little embarrassed. Sanjay looked down at his cell phone as if he had meant to linger. He grasped his newspapers and magazine, and shuffled out of the car. The driver met him at the trunk to help with his bags.
Sanjay turned on his heels and began wheeling his bag to the end of the street. The driver opened his window and raised his voice, “no sir, this is the entrance.” Embarassed again, Sanjay smiled, and moved slowly towards the entrance.
When he sensed the driver was satisfied with his progress, Sanjay stopped. He turned again away from the entrance and made his way to the corner. He walked across the street, bound by the lines of the cross walk, a rule following rebel. When he got across the street, he stood watching the hospital entrance. An assembled group of nursing students chattered; their mood seemed to be echoed in the jaunty periwinkle of their hats. A woman in a deep maroon sari stood beside a teenage daughter whose yellow miniskirt was impressively short. A group of young doctors were walking towards the entrance as well, stethoscopes in hand. A small band of construction workers, an assemblage of woman, men and children really, sat on the curb, shoveling pav bhaji into their mouths.
Sanjay’s phone began to ring. He remembered his wife saying something about updating his phone to work internationally. This call was from his sister. All three of the girls would all be sitting in the hospital room, at his father’s right hand. Their faces would be streaky and sober. At least one would be holding prayer beads, and another a book of mantras. They would be discussing the next fasting day or the last holy day. In a few minutes, he would be expected to walk into the room and pray like he meant it. The phone rang again. They needed him now.
He turned and walked to the pav bhaji wala. With his bags to his side, he sat on the curb. He arranged the grilled buns to one edge of the plate, and the onions to the other. He massaged the skin of the lime wedge and then gave it one precise squeeze. He cocked his spoon and then took one purposeful stab at the potatoes. He closed his eyes and ate breakfast.
Pav Bhaji Rolls
I am sending this recipe onto yeastspotting by Susan of wild yeast.
And also to Of Chalks and Chopsticks, a food fiction event started by Aqua and currently being hosted by Jaya of Desi Soccer Mom.