Wednesday, March 21, 2012

North East Chronicles - 9: Ronga Aloo - The villain!

(Ronga Aloos - or sweet potatoes are eaten and are favorite side dish of Assamese.  This root vegetable plays  a center-stage in the special dishes that Assamese prepare for Bihu)


In life there are some incidents that would throw insights that are lot deeper than any spiritual discourse.   These are incidents that make you think deeper, change your perspective of life.   If you think life is boring, then, better expect surprises from it.   It could be a financial, physical, mental or a metaphorical surprise.   It could be that the event is over, but the experience stays on.

This event could be a simple event and many of us could have seen commonly across.  But this happened, when no one was around.  And the profundity of the event had to be experienced, and experienced to comment.


Prima facie, if you think,  the raison d'affaire is exposed ahead of the story, the answer is yes.  That makes the story more contextual.

Between the later half of his second decade and the first half of his third decade on this 3rd planet from the sun, he suffered from allergic bronchi.   He has always been allergic to dust.   There are some other allergens that he kept track usually in his mental diary.    The reason for this event was some allergen.  What allergen, he still did not know.   But the good doctor told him that at the end of this event.

He can still remember that day vividly. That day was off in Numaligarh.   His second-in-command, who oversaw the cabling work at the refinery had left for Guwahati.   The outhouse of our cottage was empty.

It was a quiet, sunny day.  It was a day to relax and recoup from a hard week under the baking sun.  He could remember waking up late when the sun rays singed his skin through the netted window.  It was going to be a lazy start.

He could see the odd bus going from Bokaghat to Dimapur.   People going on their dailychores - walking, cycling and an occasional tractor would provide the occasional titilation to the midday tranquility.

For the next two hours, it was slow movement of a reluctant being that dominated the wake up chores to what was called breakfast.   The breakfast had some sort of a rice mix with coriander paste.  Then, his laborers in the outhouse had cooked some potato-type root vegetable- was ronga aloo?  The smell still sickened him.  Somehow, those guys liked it.  It was the only cooked item in the house.

The 500m walk was like
running a marathon -
laborious and painful
  The lazy bugger boiled some rice in a cooker and mixed the coriander paste and cooking oil.  He needed something of a side dish.   He turned over all the vessels upside and down and scrapped the bottom of many - desparate to find a achaar bottle or the likes.  

Finally, he saw this ronga aloo, fried and kept besides the stove.   Was it cooked?  To test, he brought the bowl closer to hiss nostrils.   Odourless a feet away, there was a pungent smell from the aloo bowl. The skinned aloos were consumed by yeast - the color all reddish.  

It almost hit him like a tsunami.   The smell was nauseating to start with - his head started swimming, and suddenly he could feel it coming.   It usually came to him only when he faced dust pollens.   Clang! fell the bowl and the plate of coriander-rice, and the contents splattered all over.

Ronga Aloo - a sweet potato turned
 The air that he inhaled had to get through reduced path of swollen bronchi - and his chest heaved.  

He started palpitating.  His chest became tighter by the minute, and he was sweating.  He rummaged his suit case to get the inhaler.  It was not there.  A faint blip in his brain said that he never got the inhaler to Assam.  He thought it would be only pollution-triggered.   And now this, out of the blue!   With difficult he moved towards his wardrobe.

Somehow, he managed to get dressed and put on his slippers.   Holding the rails of the stairs, he climbed down to the ground - somehow, managing to close the door again.   The palpitation has doubled.  He was sweating like a drenched fowl.   And out, in the blazing sun, he stepped out. 

The sun welcomed him with a shower of heat and bright light.  It would make his ordeal more difficult.  Walking was like mountain climbing.  Slowly, inch by inch, step by step, the arduous journey went on.   There was not a soul in sight.   The only company was the relentless sun.  

Only couple of dogs looked curiously as they went past him.  The air became warmer, the skin was burning.   The heaviness that set across his chest spread to his palms and toes.  Suddenly the only objective in his life, was to reach the hospital gate. 

After almost an hour, nearly dead,  he touched the hot iron rails of the gate.  It did not matter.  He just collapsed against the rails.   The gate was half-open.  The purpose was achieved.   Only if some good samaritan could see him.

The VK-NRL hospital which
saved him

Some 5 minutes went by.   It was almost like a full day.  The breathing was laborious and shallow.  Froth was flowing from his mouth.  He did not even attempt to speak.  

Suddenly, two chirpy nurses who had finished their duty came out and saw this soul lying against the gate-rails.  One went for him and another rushed inside to get help.   A stretcher came out, and he was put by two men.    A smile appeared in his face and after that, it was all black.

Suddenly the blackness lifted - the sun of life appeared before his eyes.   His breath was shallow -  his face was covered with a glass cup.  He was breathing OXYGEN! -  pure oxygen!  His brain was sucking in all the oxygen - like a ravenous mongrel.   He could feel the purity of the fluid that flowed through his lungs.   Free of the smell of the ronga aloos.

Oxygen - life's elixir!
His mind now tired screamed in relief.   Oxygen was pure, and it is life.   The most important thing - than food, than water.  Breathing was life!  And oxygen was the elixir!

His skin was brittle and chilled because of the cool air from the air conditioner.   He could see a dull light room across.   The hum of the air conditioner was soothing.   A small hand touched his forehead.   The nurse said - 'tho hosh aa gayaa' in a Malayalam accent.  

They had run an intravenous shot of Deriphyllin to bring his breath to normal and then put him on the ventilator - the nurse told him.


He was absolutely conscious by now.  Almost three hours since he smelt the ronga aloos, he was alive again.  The ordeal to reach the hospital had taken everything out of him.   Suddenly he felt hungry.

The doctor walked in.  He read the chart and touched his hand - 'kaise feel kar rahaa hai?  OK?'   (' how are you feeling, OK?).   He smiled and nodded at the doctor.   The doctor told him that he can leave in another 30 minutes, and he was pretty lucky to make it to the hospital gate.  The doc wrote a prescription and enquired why he was alone.

He replied that his friend has gone to Kolkata and others had went to the town - and this was a long weekend.   The doctor patted his hand, and asked him to be careful about allergens.   He nodded - that was all he could do.

The hospital ambulance dropped him back at his house an hour later.  They did not take any money!  God bless them!

His mind was blank still - but clear.   He just wanted to embrace them all - he felt they had given him rebirth.

The ronga aloo plants seemed to smile at him!
He was alone again.  The splattered food now was being visited by house flies and ants.   There was literal competition over the spilt food.

At the corner lay the spilt ronga aloos.  He covered his nostrils and then threw them out the window.  He stared at the thrown items. 

How suddenly smell, breath and oxygen - so mandane and things-he-took-for-granted gave a new perspective of life!   How important such things become - and change the meaning of life. 

And how a simple ronga aloo can become a villain!

And as he was closing the door, beyond the fence,  from a neighbouring farm, the ronga aloo plants swayed merrily in the wind - it seemed they were waving at him!

- The One

(Pic courtesy the Internet)


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