Published in The Daily Post on Feb 24, 2019
Part I -The Atta Crisis
It was around midnight when exhausted and anxious Sia opened the door of the posh apartment in North Jakarta for the first time. Aditya showed her the place enthusiastically and waited eagerly for her reaction because the apartment was his choice. Sia liked it at once. It was spacious, airy and fabulously done. Every room was decorated aesthetically. She went out to check the immense terrace. The warm and amiable September breeze welcomed her. The view of the city-lights and skyscrapers at the horizon delighted her. She peeped down and a green luxurious golf-course excited her. She heaved a deep sigh. A smile came on her tired face when she thought that she would also be described as NRI now onwards. Shranya, their seven year old daughter was thrilled to see her comfy room, round fancy bed and a balcony of her own. Aditya was glad that Shranya and Sia liked the place. Relocating to a completely new country at the age of forty-two was tough, but he had to take this huge step because career-wise it was essential. He felt contented. That night they all slept like babies in the extra-soft beds of their new home.
Sia got up next morning with a mild headache. The long journey and hot humid climate were the culprits. All of a sudden she became nostalgic and homesick. Aditya made masala tea to cheer her up. Sia liked the gesture, but the comfort provided by the tea was short-lived. After finishing her tea Sia asked for the wheat flour. She wanted to make aloo parantha for breakfast for Aditya. Aditya got up confidently and gave her a one kg packet. Sia opened it and was flabbergasted to see the brownish coarse powder inside it. She checked the name written on the packet. It was written bogasari. She looked at Aditya and Aditya looked back at her in all despair.
“This is not atta. I can’t make aloo parantha with it. Hmm, Welcome to expat life!” she muttered to herself.
Anyhow Aditya told Sia not to worry much and they would have bread for breakfast. Aditya had come to Jakarta one month prior to Sia and Shranya beacsue he wanted to initiate the paperwork and settle down a bit before both of them arrive. He shifted in the apartment when Sia was about to come and brought some basic things from the nearest Indian shop. Though he had realized during his stay in hotel that food was very different in Indonesia, but he did not anticipate this kind of atta crisis.
That evening they tried all the three shops in vicinity to buy the correct atta but the only option available was bogasari. They were very disappointed. When they went to the third shop, the boy in the shop noticed their misery and told them that atta was not available in entire Jakarta. He also informed them that this kind of scarcity was a common problem for Indians staying in Indonesia. He laughed and said, “Madam, This is Jakarta. It’s not like Canada or USA here. To find Indian food items in the local market of Jakarta is as difficult as finding Indian news in Indonesian newspapers because market and newspapers both are filled with Chinese maal”.
Sia understood very soon that the boy was right about both the things. She also realized the peculiarity of Indian, especially North-Indian, food while wandering around Jakarta to buy groceries. She was not able to get all the items in her grocery list even after spending almost thrice the amount she would have spent in India. Gradually, she got to know about the quirky things people do to solve this crisis. One of the women in her apartment complex told her, “You know dear, we all buy atta in bulk and store it in refrigerators for next few months. It looks odd and ugly but what to do? Some rich Indians send their servants to Singapore by air every month to bring comparatively fresh groceries, but we can’t do that. Whenever we go to India we bring as many things as we can in our overly-stuffed suitcases, and the last option, that never fails, is to mix a little salt and oil in bogasari to survive”.
Sia got scared listening all this. She did not have any option so she somehow spent almost one month eating bogasari at the place of atta. She lost five pounds because of those hard and brown roties. She didn’t know whether she should be happy or sad. On the other hand, Shranya was happy because she got full supply of biscuits, chocolates and cakes as rotis her mother was making those days were really bad. Little Shranya thought that perhaps Sia had forgotten how to make proper rotis after coming to Jakarta.
However, after a few weeks atta came in the market. Women hastily informed each other on WhatsApp about this awesome news with pictures of brown and blue sacks of white atta. Sia also bought it in bulk and filled her refrigerator with big sacks of finely crushed white atta. Her craving for aloo parantha had become boundless and borderless by now. She felt ecstatic the next day when the first bite of delicious aloo parantha melted along with butter on her starved tongue. Thank God the crisis was over at least for a few months.
Everyone needs that perfect protective shell,
Where we can live, breathe, grow and excel,
Without having the fear of the predator’s gaze
Where we can hide, retreat and rejuvenate.
Where we can shout, roar, giggle and wiggle
Be a dumb-head who fails to solve even a simple riddle
Without being conscious, like clown dwarfs,
Of those watchful eyes of hunter sharks
Yes, all of us need love, care and protection
Of that defensive shield which saves us
From the maddening, haggling, narcissistic rush
The egoistic selfish materialistic slush
Underneath which, I can be me and you can be you.
The real ME and the real YOU