Eat Potato, Get Fatso!

Nikky Jain

© Copyright 2021 by Nikky Jain


Photo of a dish of potatoes.

He had joined school in mid-session. In those days this was allowed easily unlike now when you’ll have to have a ton of connections and maybe pull some strings via money and then maybe some school will allow it. Nineties were a simpler times in many other aspects, including romance.

I had been living in Joshimath (a city in India) for more than a year. I knew that wasn’t going to be my permanent home, still I loved that place and everything about it. My Dad was the Civil Engineer and his job took us to more places than many people travel in their lifetimes. There are a separate set of advantages and disadvantages of living such a moving life. It felt interesting in beginning as it sounds, however in later years we (me and my younger siblings) started pissing off on announcement of movement. When we would get slightly adjusted to the place, people, Dad would come home from work to tell us that he has been transferred to another beautiful city. Among all of the cities, towns, villages, we lived in Joshimath for the longest period of time. We lived there for so long that we had picked up the dressing style, language and all the personality traits which would describe us as ‘Mountain People’, though we were not.

Anyway, one year passed dramatically as we got hang of the cold, the snow and the snowfall, the long routes without any transport and people drinking and dancing all the time forgetting the day and time. Next year I turned thirteen, the precise age when youngsters start understanding and imagining the romance with promising partners according to their sexuality, of course. I and my two friends from school had already passed that transition from childhood innocence to adolescence when we purposefully started teasing each other with the names of boys and that too the ones older than us.

There was a house in front of my home where three boys lived. They were all in their young twenties and probably lived there for work. They had their names printed on name slate which hanged on the gate. One of them had surnames same as mine so obviously that one was reserved for me, as per my two stupid friends namely Ruchi and Nidhi. From the other two the one whose religion seemed close to Ruchi religion was given to him and remaining one went to Nidhi. We had a bet that whosoever will make her guy notice her first gets the most popular and everyone’s favourite ‘gola’ treat from the other two, that is, two sweet-sour-spicy ice-golas.

Nidhi had this crazy idea of stealing that name slate and as it has always been fun to be crazy with your friends, we went with her. We didn’t calculated enough and even after an hour of scratching, pulling, using simple tools like wood and rulers, it didn’t come off. Only we made many marks on the door. So that plan failed. Next, Ruchi tried to follow them around in a market but none of them looked back and when they went to the liquor shop, we were in dilemma. I wanted to follow still, not really drink but I thought maybe I could sit with them and see what drunken young boys look like. After considering the short area of place, nowhere to hide and our families especially my Dad who was friends the Principal of school, we dropped the idea. Later we tried staring at them from my balcony when they smoked or read in theirs and dancing on blasted radio. My Mom slapped all the three of us for that dancing incident.

After one month, I won the bet. The one assigned to me came to my home to meet my Dad as he was the junior to my Dad and was assigned in the same project, my Dad was working for. I didn’t talk or stare but I did make him a cup of tea and he did ask my name along with my siblings. It was easy. I misinterpreted that incident and thought that life would always be that easy for me, at least in terms of ‘romance’.

The school days were fun and it used to be six days a week in nineties which only made it more fun for us. We used to play tricks on our teachers play ‘dumb-charades’ outside Principal’s office when she had given us punishment and Nidhi watched a lot of movies so she told us a lot of stories during classes, recess, games period and punishments. She would tell a story in a way that it would look like you’re in a story. She could’ve been a great story-teller, if she knew or wrote her own stories.

All in all my ‘thirteen’ was going well until I met Kishore. He had an idiotic grin on his fine face when our class teacher Miss Gyaani introduced him to our class. I had liked his face, I guess, apart from that he had failed terribly to make a good impression, though it was lasting. Irrespective of gender, everyone would have remembered that smile. His voice was slightly slurred while he gave his introduction and it was obvious that it wasn’t because of his nervous.

He was an army brat, single child and way too interested in comic books the way his slurred voice hopped at every syllable when he spoke about ‘spiderman’. I myself was discovering an interest in reading but I was going towards Shakespeare and Jane Austen.

Boys and girls sat separately in our school and though we talked to boys all the time, none of them were our friends vice-versa boys too didn’t have any girl friends. In case, someone got a crush on someone or a little interest, it was called as ‘love’. Words such as ‘like’, ‘crush’ or girlfriend-boyfriend’ were rarely used. That was the stupidity and purity of nineties in small towns of India.

One day, when I returned from a play ground, I didn’t find my bag. I looked it everywhere in the class but it was not there. Nidhi and Ruchi were equally shocked as who would steal a bag and why? I announced it the class and no one responded positively. As I was about to go to the Principal to tell her about the situation, Kishore said that he had kept it in the corner of corridor for a bet. My first thought was why would anyone tell that there was a bet, he could’ve said that he saw it there. Then, I became furious. First things first, I went to take my bag and checked if all the items were fine, especially my new expensive ink pen that my Dad had bought for my birthday gift. Afterwards, I went to his desk and saw a geometry box; I took it and threw it out of the window. He went blank for several seconds then muttered, ‘if I didn’t find it, I will not let you go with it’. I blocked his way and exclaimed, ‘I had to win a bet’.

He didn’t find the items of geometry box and it was broken. I looked at the dust upon and under my bag and guilt didn’t stay for too long. Next week, he ‘accidentally’ hit me with a basketball, so I had to make sure that I hit him right with my bat. Playground was pretty small but no fun in blaming or hitting it. We developed this hate relationship and it went on. He would throw a candy wrapper on me; I would return it with dustbin ingredients. He would misplace my notebooks, I would tear his. We would fight to answer first and fast in maths class. We would fight to top the class and I would cringe on high level if I came second even from one mark. We would prank each other from shouting ‘absent’ on callout of other’s roll number to tie shoe laces so that the other one would fall flat on face. We would call each other names all the time.

One day, I was buying potatoes with my younger sister, I asked the vendor to cut me a small piece so I could check if it’s sweet potato or not. As soon as I placed the piece in my mouth some dancing voice echoed, ‘Eat Potato, Get Fatso’, my reflex instincts were on high alert when I immediately replied back, ‘yeah, so it’s easier to beat a crow’.

I never realised my feelings for him, even when both of our parents were called to school because of our fight. We were throwing dust and mud on each other because of an argument on the topic. ‘Who came first in the race and who cheated by pushing the other one or splashing water in other’s eyes’. Both of us had done one of those tasks though no one would accept then and no one would remember now.

Joshimath had a quite famous army canteen in nineties. Everything was available there and at a much lesser rate than market. Opening time for regular customers was fixed. He wasn’t regular but still I would always catch a glimpse of him loitering around whenever I went there with my family. Sometimes, some special things were limited in numbers like specific quality shawls, fruits, creams, medicines etc. I had only one rival to compete with for the last piece.

A few months after I turned fifteen I felt some sensations for the first time which made me realize that I feel for him, I wasn’t sure of the name of the feeling but it was something. I had slipped on stairs and two of the guys offered their hands to pick me up, I picked Kishore’s hand. The other guy was Nidhi’s cousin and I knew him better, I shared a better relationship with him, at least in my head, still I went for Kishore and sudden shivers crossed my eyes. Everyone could tell that I was more shocked than the two of them.

None of us knew that, I only had one year in ‘Joshimath’ before I would move to ‘Aligarh’ and would never been able to return again.

Unfortunately, my younger sister had seen my confusion and confronted me that night. I again and again denied of any connection whatsoever but she noticed the impossible dilation of my pupils which was apparently one of the most prominent signs of hidden affection for the one you are either looking at or talking about. I kept laughing uncontrollably which was blushing thoroughly and thanked god that Mom didn’t see or hear us that night. She had put some spectacular restrictions upon us including not roaming around after 7 p.m., participating in household chores and maintaining a safe distance from boys. I learned the hard way that these restrictions only push children to be more mischievous instead of making them well mannered adults.

That night I tried recalling every incident I had had with Kishore and unknowingly my mind gave me a whole presentation on how he never hurt me in any way knowingly, what I did with him knowingly. I could be wrong though, I am not a wizard who can read people and neither am I some expert in interpreting heart matters. I dreamt about him that night, I remember, I saw him coming to my home to meet me and I am blankly staring at him and I was falling head over heels on his guts.

Next day, I saw him in a different way or he saw me in a different way or we were just realizing it then but it was a strangely beautiful experience. Nidhi also looked at me differently; her cousin had told her about me choosing Kishore over him. She smiled cunningly and whispered that her cousin liked me too. ‘Too’, What does ‘too’ mean’, I exclaimed and then Ruchi interfered to tell me that everyone in class thought I and Kishore have something. Now, what does ‘something’ mean? I used to have pride in knowing each and every happening of school, especially my class. I had no idea that I knew so less, in that I didn’t even know what people were thinking about me.

I sort of started dating Kishore, I didn’t know it was called ‘dating’ and if compared to what dating means in today’s times, it was merely something more than a ‘crushing’ thing. We didn’t talk on phone because we didn’t have phones, we didn’t meet outside of school because it was pretty small town and it was too risky, we didn’t touch much because it was too scary and sacred. What we did was, we stopped fighting and started smiling and greeting each other. We started going to school in evening so that we could see each other while he hung out with boys and I hung out with girls. Sometimes we sat in ground, facing each other and saying nothing.

We started actually talking in place of abruptly throwing out insults on each other. People talked more, I listened, and after some time it felt fine. We were not the only ‘hypothetical’ couple who were being talked about. He told me that he wanted to become an engineer; I told him that he is weak in math so that would be tough for him, he laughed. I told him that I wanted to be an engineer too, on that he said that ‘I am strong in maths so that won’t be tough for me’, I laughed. I enjoyed laughing with him; it attracted me towards him, more and more. For the very first as well as the very last time in my life, I imagined my future life with another guy. The concept of marriage and kids seemed bearable and life seemed nice to deal with.

December was his birthday month. I think maybe I had always known his birthday since the first time he distributed sweets on the special occasion. He remembered mine too, I had asked him and he told me the exact date, month and year. I was unable to decide if I should give him a gift or not. At first I thought of waiting until next year when my birthday would come in June and see what he does if he does anything. Then, waiting for six months seemed like a hell lot of time and who knew what would be the situation by then. But if situation aren’t supposed to be good by next year than what’s the point of giving a gift anyway? At least, he will have something to remember me by and in case situations turned bad, that gift would help in mending them. After a lot of thinking and discussions with all of my personalities, I decided to give him a gift. Now, the next round was to decide what to gift.

In those days, perfumes were way too expensive and I had way less money. I knew he liked perfumes, he used to wear one plus he told me too. I used to smell him first if he was around; it kind of suited him as well. I took a round to army canteen too but didn’t find anything suitable. He wouldn’t like a book, I didn’t know his shoe size, he didn’t shave, he already had a lot of pens, wrist watch was out of budget, grooming items would be stupid and a lot of other things I picked up and put down in vain. Then, I saw a men’s wears shop and gifting a simple shirt seemed like a perfect idea. Again, my wallet fell short of money for the one I really liked. There were others but they weren’t as good.

Although, I had declined an idea of discussing the issue with my idiot friends but when it was only a month left, I sub-consciously brought it up. At first, they laughed and teased me about it for like an hour. Then, Ruchi gave this impeccable idea of buying clothe and stitching a shirt out of it. It was time consuming but it was certainly cheaper and also it would be an effort. People in love make effort, you know.

Luckily, I found similar clothe which I had liked for him and it was cheaper too, although still I had to sacrifice almost all of my money to get that. From the remaining money, I bought a birthday card. I knew stitching, I wasn’t too good but we had a stitching machine at home and I liked to work on it. My Mom used to stitch most of our clothes on that machine. I didn’t want to but I had to share the ‘project details’ with my siblings too so they would help me hide it from our parents. It would have been a series of lectures, scolds, slaps and beatings if they had found it. They never came to know about it.

I had used sizes of Nidhi’s cousin because his size matched up nice with Kishore and because Nidhi fetched me the measurements. I worked in nights when everyone slept and in afternoon when Mom chatted with neighbours and no one was at home. Ultimately, I completed it. It didn’t look as good as that shop one but I only had ten days and absolutely no idea on how to fix it.

I tried unstitching and stitching again for some parts and made it look okay. I hid it in my school bag because that was the only thing where no one would see it, at least at home. Two days before 11 December, I wrote a short poem on a card for which I would convince him that it wasn’t written by me, it was either shopkeeper or the person who made that card. It wasn’t exactly romantic. I don’t remember the words now but I remember that I wrote it. I guess that’s how people remember things.

On the ‘day’, I pressed the shirt, wrapped it with a shining paper in an old box, along with a card and went to school, grinning. As per the routine, he was in colour clothes and brought sweets for everyone in class and teachers. I gave him no hint that I had brought a gift. I wanted to see him ‘surprised’. When school bell rang to dictate that we were done for the day, I asked him to wait in a back corridor where no one would come. He did as told. I went after a few minutes to leave no sign of suspicion. I felt burning sensation in all of my face as I presented him with the gift and his expression was priceless.

Well that month and that year was one of the best times of my life. That was the time which I had revisited over and over in my head and would still love to be there again, if possible.

The next year, in first week of January, my Dad gave us the big news of ‘transfer’ again. We were to pack our lives and move to a different city, again. I had around two months. We were to leave as soon as the exams got over, that is, by second week of March.

I almost cried in front of Ruchi and Nidhi, I knew it in my sixth sense that I won’t find such friends again in my life. I told Kishore too and he didn’t react right. I didn’t know how I wanted him to react but it felt awful leaving so much hanging in between. Next day he wore the shirt I gave him to school in evening. It didn’t fit right but it gave me an immense pleasure to see him wearing it. He asked me how I looked and I told him to see a mirror. He asked about the poem too, I told him I wrote it, I had nothing to lose.

Everything felt pretty normal and by February I had forgotten about the moving thing. 19 March was the last day that I heard him. I went to collect report cards and transfer certificate of me and my siblings along with my Dad. Dad decided to buy some vegetables which would not be found in Aligarh and they won’t rot. He was inspecting apples while I was lost in thoughts, staring at potatoes. Someone passed shouting, ‘Eat Potato, Get Fatso’.

I never fell in love again. Later, as life went on, I got married, had two kids, rolled through countless of ups and downs but no one was worried of me getting fat and why I put potato in every dish I cooked.          

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