After a lifetime spent in pursuit of empty pleasures under the glare of the bright city lights, I should have leapt at the chance to visit my 'native', as my 'near and dear' refer to it in their charmingly rustic way. This, by the by, is the sleepy little town of Mangalore, where the sons of the soil are known for their fondness for "peg and pig." The wise man who said, "There is no love more sincere than the love of food," may well have been inspired by a Mangalorean tucking into his sorpotel. So when my aunt spoke in glowing terms of the mango season, the charms of the sun-kissed beach at Hosabetta and the fleshy crabs, I was all set to take off, until there intruded into this dreamy scenario the realisation that behind every silver lining there is a cloud. This being my eccentric uncle; while I wouldn't go so far as to call him certifiable, let's just say that Freud would have licked his lips and cancelled all other appointments for a patient like him.
Accidents happen in the best of families and while I don't lay any claims to blue-blooded ancestry, let the record reflect that in my neck of the woods we are not all humble farmers. Some branches of my family tree bow low with the burden of their fruit, while others are just, well, fruity. Age hasn't withered them nor custom stale their infinite variety. And so it is with my uncle who eavesdrops on random conversations and then displaying flair for embroidery that would be the envy of a professional seamstress, spreads confusion and mischief. "Alcohol was his downfall," he sagely pronounced, while on a mourning visit to a bereaved neighbour, to the mortification of my aunt. The hapless widow was too shell-shocked to take offence and kept opening and shutting her mouth like a goldfish.
Then there was the time he lit the fuse of honest labour with the guile of a seasoned politician. "What is your nephew Raymond doing these days," he asked and aunty gushed about a hotel management diploma from Lucerne, while a wiser woman would have held her tongue. Shortly thereafter Uncle had Cuz Ray foaming at the mouth when he landed up un-announced at his swanky hotel and demanded to be served red rice and fish curry. "But why are you getting annoyed, baba, don't worry, I will pay. Your aunt only told me that you are a cook who has taken classes paying lacs of rupees in Switzerland. I don't want all your fancy French quiche-peesh, some simple fish curry is enough for me," he proclaimed innocently. "I'm the GM of the hotel, not a cook," Ray spluttered indignantly.
Mealtimes with Uncle were like feeding time at the zoo: one of my outlaws defined watching him eat as "a work in progress." "He keeps you up to date on his consumption without using Instagram," was how he put it, mopping his brow. On one memorable occasion, Uncle lost his dentures halfway through a mouthful which was quite terrifying. One minute he was champing away and the next thing we knew he'd disappeared under the table only to surface after a few minutes later holding his choppers victoriously aloft. Carrying on as if nothing had happened he popped them back in and embarrassed the hell out of his sister by advising her to get her well-nourished daughter married ASAP. "See, Edna, I'm telling you for your own good. If you put an ad in the newspaper now, you can say "wheat-complexioned and healthy or healthy and god-fearing," but if you wait too long, who knows? Facts are facts and let's face it: she's little bit on the plump side, na?"
All said and done, I for one feel that he is a victim of circumstance. Or to use that geek-speak expression, as they say in Bellandur Tech Park, "At the end of the day," Uncle is merely someone trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. If he were in Delhi, he could have been a top political adviser while if he were in Washington, DC, he could have been in the White House wearing an orange wig....