off the cuff

Travel broadens your seat

‘Have a little, just a little more,’ was a sentence that I dreaded to hear

16:32 April 3, 2018

When your wife’s relatives in each city decide to feed you, then you quickly realise that travel not only broadens your mind but also your seat.

“Come and have breakfast with us, and then uncle number one will host lunch, and don’t forget to see the aunt and have tea with her, she does some amazing things with chocolate brownies,” said my wife’s uncle.

At first it seemed blessed that so many relatives were willing to feed us since the Airbnb hostess was a meanie and only gave us a tiny cup of tea and a watered-downed ‘upma’ (semolina breakfast dish), and was a vegetarian by religion and not only forbade consumption of beverages in the room, but frowned upon my carnivorous wife ordering takeaway tandoori chicken pizza to the apartment.

After day one of the feeding, I found that bending down and tying my shoelaces made me go red in the face. “I should buy slip-ons,” I thought to myself, feeling a bit dizzy.

“We have to meet my cousin, he is an Ironman,” said my wife. “OK,” I said, not really paying attention and thinking it must be someone with humongous muscles.

He is among the few people I met in India without a belly slouching over the belt. He runs a coaching centre and prepares people to take part in the Ironman triathlon, which is a 3.9-km swim, 180-km cycling and 42.8-km marathon run to the finish, back to back.

He looked at his cousin and then at me and I could see a faint feeling of sadness in his eyes when he saw the condition of our physiques.

This is from years ago, but in my hometown, the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad, relatives and friends believed that if you are slim and lean, you are sick and not eating enough, and being fat and rotund was healthy. “Have a little, just a little more,” was a sentence that I dreaded to hear.

Animal territory

Then I heard that same sentence just before leaving Dubai for good, at a restaurant specialising in north Indian cuisine. After I began to breathe heavily and started perspiring, having eaten too much, the waiter, who had been trained well, came to us and pleaded, “Just have a little more ... rice ... ghee.” In my wife’s home state of Kerala, people try to entice you into making yourself a glutton by saying, “A small one. Have a small one.”

The other thing I learned in my travels was that maybe because of our over-eating and over-consumption, because of our disregard for the environment and because we are encroaching on the territory of the animals, the lowly sparrow which was ubiquitous during my growing up years has disappeared from most Indian cities. Near the Airbnb we were staying in Malviya Nagar Market in Delhi, I was amused to see a sculpture of a sparrow. I believe it was declared a state bird of Delhi in 2012 but nothing was done to help conserve this species and it has also disappeared from cities such as Bengaluru and Hyderabad. My friend in Hyderabad says even the crow population is dwindling. Feeding a crow at certain times is said to be auspicious, but these birds are also slowly disappearing as they feed on rodents that are sprayed with pesticides.

Our cat (which has since been stolen even though he is a stray Arabian Mau but cute looking) had lost its voice in our initial days in Bengaluru, maybe because of the frequent spraying of chemicals and fogging against skeeters and snakes and bandicoots in the community. All it could manage was a croak when he wanted to tell someone to scratch it under the chin or pet it whenever he was feeling down and out and without any friends in a new country.

Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi.