Red Chillies

Short Story: Cook

by Stan Ageira, Mulki  

Feb 14, 2009

“Hey Lawrence wake up.”  I was awakened by the whisper. I got up and realized that it was a false perception. There was no one except for my wife sleeping beside me. The voice carried the tenderly fondness of Rev. Fr. Pinto. It was my imagination. Rev. Pinto had died couple of years back. I must have at times got up quite early or slightly late, but by practice most of the time would get disconnected from the sleep by five in the morning without the assistance of any alarm clock. Occasionally Rev. Pinto’s imaginary appearance has sounded me in my dreams, that too on very special days. His strong and affectionate personality had always influenced and determined my action. I knew he was always there for me.

But then, what was so special about today?

The test begins for every human being to shun the lethargic morning and gain energy to display the force and stamina for the rest of the day. I had always enjoyed the performance driven life.  The pleasure was derived from meeting the intellectual and physical demands of the living conditions of life. It was a huge challenge.

In the circle where I lived I was known as Lawrence master. Mister Lawrence was hardly used while addressing my name. My wife had been working as a nurse in city hospital. The wedded life had given us three children. The youngest son was in his primary and the twin daughters were in high school. 

It was a new date and a fresh morning. Everything seemed normal, but I knew the day could turn out to be different as it progressed. The ambition was the key factor. I lived with the desire to be successful as far as possible. It was not easy. I was born in a poverty stricken family in Madikeri, a place in Karnataka. We were the lowly rented tenants of the local church. The church authorities had given us a small house inside the church compound. Taking care of the church garden was the assigned job. I did not remember my father’s face. He had lost his life when I was a toddler. That was what my mother had told me. My mother had passed away when I was in grade 7. Suddenly I was thrown into a wretched condition. My education was temporarily discontinued. I had to work to support my only sister.

I was working under the parish priest Rev. Fr. Pinto with whom I developed an affectionate bond during course of life. My desire to continue studies was encouraged by him. It was tough. But I survived in the toughest circumstances. I had to prevail over from the miserable state. It was a daunting task. I succeeded with patience, grit and determination. It showed in my character as I pursued my schooling. My sister decided to be a nun.  I moved to Bangalore and was offered a job in an English speaking school soon after the completion of bachelor degree in education.

That was not the end of it. I focused my attention on a master’s degree. It was an amazing journey for someone whose parents were poor manual workers. I had converted myself from ordinary into extra-ordinary by breaking the general pattern. It was an exceptional achievement. The tag of poor laborer was wiped out. I had risen well above the average. The achievement commanded respect, dignity and status. People called me Lawrence master. I was sure no other person could have achieved this from the state that I was in. As a result haughty attitude of pride and arrogance stemmed within. 

On the personal front my marriage with Estella paved way for three cute children. On the professional front I wanted more. I had become a strong candidate for the post of the head master. Nothing could be great if I manage to finish my career as a professor or a principal of a college. I had the substance to power my ambition. Perhaps millions of other ordinary children lacked this essence. 

I looked at my wife who was still in deep slumber. The mission for the day flashed in front of eyes. It had to be a special day. After all Rev. Pinto would not appear in my dreams just for nothing. I felt strongly motivated and stepped inside the bathroom. 

When I came out after fifteen minutes Changappa was ready with a hot cup of tea at the dining table. Changappa was our cook known for his obedience and punctuality. At times I would wonder Changappa’s act of loyalty was really genuine or an act of pretense. 

“Good morning master.” Changappa wished with soft voice. Changappa’s soft tone sounded honest, but I do not know why it irritated me.

Changappa was a young boy aged about fifteen years. He was well known to my sister who was serving as nun in a convent in Virajpet in Madikeri. Changappa had become an orphan after the death of his parents. I was looking for a cook and my sister strongly recommended him for the job. I had no other choice.

I did not bother him to wish him back.  I do not know if it ever bothered him. His every move would make an attempt to please me. I had shown no signs to surrender. Changappa went and picked the news paper which was stuck at the window. I collected the daily without looking at his face.

“The tea is too sweet.” I grumbled. “Do you plan to make me diabetic patient?”

“I am sorry.” He was disturbed. “Yesterday you had complained about less sugar, hence today I added a little more.”

Changappa seemed very humble and committed. Respect and deference was apparent in his behavior. The anticipation of a praiseworthy comment was evident in his facial expression. I had refused to sense his emotions. The admiration was ignored. I do not know why I intended to discourage him. My tendency to nag him must have had caused immense mental discomfort. But I was not ready to change.  Mostly the complaints were based on the ingredients related to Changappa’s food preparation. I always found fault in his mix. 

He was my cook. What made me to dampen his enthusiasm? I did not know.

Changappa gathered the empty cup and walked towards the kitchen. The scene reminded me the life in Madikeri.  Rev.Fr. Pinto’s kitchen reflected in my mind. The structure seemed similar. I dropped the newspaper on the dining table and got up for my morning walk. An hour of walk was a part of my daily routine. I came out briskly and energetically with long regular steps. I was in deep thought while crossing the road. Changappa had been willingly doing all kind of work. How could he evoke strong aversion within me? I had no answer. 

I was struck by the moderate breeze. It refreshed my body and mind. My thoughts deviated from Changappa. He was an ordinary cook. I was on a high for a different reason. The final interview for the position of headmaster was called by a private high profile school. The selection would guarantee the elevation in my financial and social status. I had already informed my family on the scheduled final interview. I was determined to cross the final hurdle. I knew my family would be more than happy if I manage to conquer. They also must have had been eagerly waiting for this special day.

I had become a teacher from an obscure corner from my life. To become a headmaster from a teacher’s post would be a huge leap. This was not the end. I wanted to move on, to be a lecturer, a professor or even a principal of a college before my retirement. One needs special talent to rise from nowhere. If given a chance, would Changappa ever touch the height of my achievements? I felt irritated. What made me to compare myself with Changappa?

I returned at 6:30 am. My wife was engaged in the exercise of waking up our youngest. The daughters were in the sitting room with school books. I was completely ignored as they were busy with their whispers in a furtive manner. I was not aware if their soft talk was centered on my final interview. It seemed so. I helped my wife in her efforts in detaching our son from the slumber and then I moved into the bathroom.

I was to some extent disturbed by the family member’s disregard towards my critical final interview. How could they forget the significance of this day? I just hoped they would at least remember the occasion at the dining table. It was 7:15 am when I joined my family for the breakfast.

“Why do you look so grim-faced?” My wife questioned. “I hope nothing is wrong.”

“Everything is okay.” I must have sounded grumpy.

“Our Dad does not hide, he has no secrets.” My elder daughter expressed her view.

“Dad, did you ever deliberately hide any secret from us?” The younger daughter sounded naughty.

“What is there to hide?” My son interfered.

I was left bewildered for a while. Did I prevent any secret from being known? The topic of discussion had drifted away from the subject of paramount importance. How could they forget my interview for the post of headmaster? When it was informed to them couple of weeks back they had naturally exhibited the thrill and elation. They perfectly knew that the selection would bring a pleasant change in the standard of our living. But today it appeared no one was bothered to wish me good luck. Perhaps they had jointly failed to give the due attention to the defining moment of my life. Their non-reaction dented my enthusiasm. I felt low, down and neglected. Obviously I was hurt. My pride did not allow me to nudge their memory. 

How could they be so imprudent?

“Changappa…” I screamed out of frustration.

“What happened master?” Changappa came running from the kitchen.

“Why are you so careless?”  I inquired unsympathetically. “Don’t you know how to prepare the dumplings? It is painful for the teeth. They are harder than the granite. You are a cook for the name sake. How many more years do you require to learn proper cooking?”

“What is wrong with you?” My wife objected. “The dumplings are soft and delicious.”

“You have no knowledge.” My yelling continued.

I wanted them to convey their desire to see me successful, which was unfortunately missing in their expression. 

All remained quiet and tight-lipped. They consumed their breakfast and caught on with their tasks. The van from the hospital would come at 8:00 am to pick my wife where she working as nurse. The kids stepped out from the house at 8:30 am to catch their school bus. I was left alone with Changappa. Normally I would accompany my children while going to school. Today, I had applied for leave to attend the interview at 10:00 am.

I had reached this stage of my life with sheer determination. It was my dream to become the headmaster of a school. But my closest had failed to reciprocate my emotions at the imperative moment of my life when I needed them the most.

I was trying hard to overcome the gloominess.

At 9:30 am I was ready for the interview with the bag in my hand. I would always drink a glass of water while stepping out of the house. Changappa appeared with a glass of water. I drank and walked out. Changappa followed me to lock the main door.

“Master….” Changappa’s call made me to stop and look back.

“Please do not bother me with irrelevant questions.” I expressed my displeasure.

“I am sorry if I bothered you.” Changappa was repentant. “But….”

“What do you want?” I was losing my patience.

“Good Luck Master.” His voice indicated his sincerity. 

“Why are you wishing me?” I refused to open up.

“I overheard your conversation when you informed this to your family a few days back. Since then I have been praying for your success.” He folded his hands.

I was shocked and touched. Involuntarily I was motivated to thank him for his gesture. But the exaggerated sense of self-importance did not allow me to be compassionate. Changappa was an ordinary cook. I had always believed that I was far superior and a rank higher than the normal class. That too Changappa did not possess any quality that could uplift him to consider seriously. His humble act was consciously ignored. I pretended as if I was in a hurry and rushed out. The bus stop was not very far. 

I was very confident of my success in today’s interview. But now suddenly my self belief was bolstered by the unknown self assurance. My adrenaline had begun pumping. I had thought of going by bus, but now I changed my mind. The auto rickshaw was stopped and I moved in. I informed the destination point to the driver. At the same time I decided to buy a brand new scooter once after the selection of head master’s post.

The final interview got over at 12:00 and I reached back home at 12:30 pm. The children would return from school at 2:00 pm and my wife was expected back only by 6:00 pm. Changappa was too curious to know the result of my interview when he opened the door. The expression on his face said so. But then he hesitated and waited for my instructions. 

“I may need some lime juice.” I wiped the perspiration from my forehead.

Changappa ran into the kitchen and took just five minutes to return back with a glass of fresh lime juice. His quickness in his work was exemplary. He always had displayed great enthusiasm, vigor and force, similar to how I was under Rev. Fr. Pinto. 

“This is how you prepare the lime juice?” I glared at him after the first sip.

“I am sorry.” He turned nervous.

“But…. I think your juice preparation is excellent.” I smiled.

Changappa took some time to absorb my words. He was more used to my deliberate coldness. A rare word of admiration pleasantly surprised him.

“Changappa...” I called him. “What do you expect from me?”

“I want you to be the headmaster.” His innocence touched me.

“I have been appointed as headmaster.” My voice vibrated.

“Thank God.” He looked up at the altar.

“Today was a significant day of my life. I would not blame anyone. But every other member of this house forgot this special moment except for you.” I turned extremely emotional. “I want to gift you something at this defining moment of my life. Tell me, what do you want?”

“Me…?” He paused in reluctance.

“Don’t worry. I will keep my word.” I assured him.

“I want….” Changappa took a deep breath. “Could you help me to continue my education? I would not desire to live and die as cook. You had risen above from the position of an ordinary cook. I want to follow your steps.”

How did he know that once I was a cook? I was astounded by his revelation.  The usually reluctant Changappa had disclosed the hidden secret without any hesitation. The secret which I had concealed from my family was unveiled by my cook. He was right. At one point of my life, I was working under Rev. Fr. Pinto in his kitchen during my Madikeri days.  The intensification had taken place from an ordinary cook to a successful teacher. Now I was about to become the headmaster of a high profile school. It would not be possible for every other human being. I was exceptional and incomparable.

Now Changappa had expressed his desire and shown the fire to emulate my footsteps. I wanted no one to touch the highpoint which I had experienced. That could be the reason why I hated him. I was looking for faults to discourage him.  The revulsion was caused by the spark which he demonstrated in his conduct. The selfish and jealous nature within me wanted to dampen and dispirit his aspiration. My nagging behavior was prompted conceivably by the hidden self centered interest or perhaps by the low self esteem which I camouflaged with a pompous front.

“Who told you that once I was a cook?” I was inquisitive.

“I realized while working under you.” He explained. “Those who have the know-how on recipe would complain and explain the precise mix of ingredients. Hence I thought perhaps you must have had been a cook to pin point such specific faults. But last year when your sister was here on vacation, she cleared my doubts. But master, could I continue my studies?”

I was strongly inspired to hug him affectionately in my arms. But I did not do so. My ego and self image over powered my emotional sensation. Changappa was waiting anxiously for my answer.

“I ensure that you will continue your education. I will provide the financial support.” I sounded typical like Rev. Fr. Pinto. They were the exact words my mentor had put across when I had gone to him with my wish.


Comment on this article

  • Shan, Mangalore

    Thu, Oct 14 2010

    Well a good story, which tells us that if we wish to do anything we can achieve it.There is one more message in the story once when we achieve the hight of achievement we should never forget the path wwe have walked to achieve it. it is not that no one can do what I have done But there is always a chance for all to prove their ability we can never underestimate a person from growing.

    Agree

  • Sarita, Australia

    Thu, Feb 19 2009

    Heart touching......beautifully narrated story...........so very true lot of us have begun our life journey from scratch, but once we reach our desired destination we forget where we came from and look at others below our nose.

    Agree

  • Elveera Miranda Furtado , Mulky / Kuwait

    Thu, Feb 19 2009

    Excellent story Stany. Congrats! Waiting for your next story in Daiji!

    Agree

  • sunil , Mangalore/Iraq

    Mon, Feb 16 2009

    Hi Stany I never miss anything what you write .. you are very realistic . but now i have only Daiji to read your articles

    Agree

  • Rosy Noronha, ChikMangalour/Kuwait

    Mon, Feb 16 2009

    wonderful story i enjoyed it keep up the good work waiting for some more.

    Agree

  • Anita, Dubai

    Mon, Feb 16 2009

    Wonderful Writing Mr. Stan......a brilliant story, hope many of us learn something from it.

    Agree

  • Charles D'Mello, Pangala

    Mon, Feb 16 2009

    Good touching article. In india as children are mostly pampered till their college, such things are rare in reality. In western countries such things happen more often as children are left on their own to find a path and complete education.

    Agree

  • Jossie castelino, mangalore

    Sun, Feb 15 2009

    Good one. one must treat others in the same way , as one would want to be treated by others.

    Agree

  • ANCILLA BRITTO, SHIRVA/DUBAI

    Sun, Feb 15 2009

    Very good, excellent story.Such coherently written stories articulate the thoughts and aspirations of many of us.Very inspiring indeed.

    Agree

  • John B. Miranda, Pachinadka/Bantwal/Dubai

    Sun, Feb 15 2009

    Very good article by Mr. Stany. Keep it up. Waiting for next.

    Agree

  • Shanti Lobo, Bondel/Cambridge

    Sun, Feb 15 2009

    Excellent story!!! Well expressed feelings and much nearer to reality…. I couldn’t believe this is a story, looks like true incident…..well written. Thank you very much for presenting this to the readers….

    Agree

  • ILYAS, Balehonnur/Dubai

    Sun, Feb 15 2009

    Very good Story. Keep on writing. All the best

    Agree

  • girish hadeel, vitla

    Sat, Feb 14 2009

    its so nice.i know its cute ...understand all the people.

    Agree

  • Laila Pinto, Mangalore / KSA

    Sat, Feb 14 2009

    Very touching and well - written. Hope to read some more.

    Agree

  • benzil, mangalore

    Sat, Feb 14 2009

    nice one.. beautiful............

    Agree

  • joe, mangalore / sharjah

    Sat, Feb 14 2009

    Another beautiful piece of literary excellence from Stan's pen. Stan has an unique and distinct style of narrating things which makes the reader to be on pins and suspense. Do continue writing Stan, I am a BIG fan of yours!

    Agree

  • lancy mp qatar, mangalore

    Sat, Feb 14 2009

    excellent story. yes, almost everyone has aspirations to excel in life. as God loves us, all of us must love others by opening our eyes, minds and clenched hands to encourage and support with whatever means we have and afford to share even if it hurts a bit.

    Agree

  • Abdul Salam, Dubai/UAE

    Sat, Feb 14 2009

    I enjoyed the read very much, very intriguing!!! Best of luck with your writing Mr. Stan. Keep up the good work. I'm looking forward to the next

    Agree

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