Watermelon – Lady Chatterjee’s Lover
Fast Food tales – A series of food-themed short stories
People tended to get surreal names on campus which they carried like a cross their whole lives. Aloka had already prepared a shortlist of potentials. The one she liked best was a naughty ‘Loki’ and the worst she thought could be an unflattering ‘Alu’. Nothing could have prepared her for the cruel ‘Frozen pussy’ that she got branded with, thanks to Anjan Chatterjee. She could have admitted to having the tiniest bit of a crush on this suave, witty and charming senior before the branding – that was the irony of it. She was not sure what she had done (or not done!) to deserve this misnomer. Her gang of course thought it of no consequence and had taken to calling her Ola. They did not register the dampening effect the ‘frozen pussy’ seemed to have on the guys, ensuring Aloka sat out all the dances at the Socials.
Instead of retreating into a shell, this not-so-subtle, social boycotting only spurred Aloka on to throw herself into all kinds of activities. The thawing of her allegedly frozen nether regions started when she aced the audition for the Inter-college drama fest and was cast as the lead in a Greek tragedy. Paradoxically, she could let go of her normal social ineptitude once she was on a stage, performing for a faceless mass of people. It was an outlet for her pent-up frustration and indignation at the unfair branding that had been visited on her.
Winning the competition felt good but it was nothing compared to the feeling of A Chatterjee walking up to congratulate her! Publicly and with a bunch of his friends looking on! Clearly, frozen pussies and Greek tragedy heroines did not go together. Flushed with her triumph, she could not bring herself to forgive him, though he smiled down benignly at her. Possibly because she did not see a shred of realization or remorse in him? She resolved to ignore the Chatterjee and give him the royal ‘freeze’ now that her tattoo was uninked.
A few days later, Aloka and her gang were engaged in their weekly watermelon ritual just outside the mess. Aloka had found the perfect cure for the scorching summer heat. Her gang would pool resources and buy a gigantic watermelon every week. This, they would halve and pop into the canteen storage freezer. The watermelon halves once frozen solid were attacked with Aloka’s knife and sundry mess spoons for chunks of juicy, ice-cold sweetness. Aloka had even managed a watermelon brain-freeze once, having greedily appropriated a whole half to herself.
This week’s watermelon seemed to have been left in the freezer for two hours too long! It had successfully frozen into rock hardness and no amount of poking or prodding seemed to dent its unwelcoming surface. Who should walk by but Ace Chatterjee, looking down his supercilious nose at the puny effort of mere mortals! ‘Let me try’, he said, secure in his superior technique, almost wrenching the knife away from Aloka’s reluctant hand. Aloka looked on, her heart sinking at this intrusion in the one space which she thought was completely her territory.
The first confident plunge of the Chatterjee’s knife glanced off the surface leaving barely a mark. A worried look entered the Chatterjee’s eyes while Aloka visibly relaxed, a faint mocking smile appearing at the corner of her lips. The Chatterjee’s efforts grew more frenetic and frantic, till the last plunge snapped the knife’s blade off the handle. Aloka looked down at the neutered knife in stunned silence and up at Anjan’s face. The horror, remorse, failure, humiliation were all there to see but the instant their eyes met, Aloka and Anjan dissolved into helpless and hysterical laughter. Every time their eyes would meet, fresh bursts of mirth would hit them and they would be off. They held onto each other as they laughed, long after their friends stopped. ‘And so it begins’ muttered the most philosophical of her friends, as he looked knowingly at Anjan and her. And so it actually did!
Liked this fast food tale? Read about Pompa’s bittersweet Chocolate (and Cricket) centred Short story : Chocolate – bittersweet end of childhood
Read about Amitabh Bachchan, Watermelons & Feeding frenzies from the Food on Celluloid section