Delights of a small town

Dr. Anjali Mehta

Director – SAGAR TRUST

I had just got my posting orders to a small rural town and I was excited about the work. Well-wishers seemed worried about oneaspect: “It’s a very small town” they said ,”you will find it difficult to get any entertainment there”. Ultimately, we did find ways to amuse ourselves.

Fine dining
The town boasted of a single restaurant named ‘Surya’. Or rather, misnamed ; given it’s spectacularlydark interiors. The designers , while possibly trying to imbue the restaurant with romantic lighting had somehow crossed the line between invitingly dim and eerily dark.The easy part was getting a table there as the majority of the locals preferred to be able to see what they were eating. Only the waiters therewere comfortable in the dark, the diners had to struggle. When attempting to serve oneself with food, one had to surreptitiouslyfeel for the outline of the plate with the other hand. Some of the food invariably missed the margins and some food missed the diner’s mouths.When the waiters cleared the plates ,almost everybody had embarrasingly dark shapes scattered on the tablecloth in front of them. On reaching home,peopleinvariably put on many lights as a reflex.

Shopping in the market
The markets bustled with locals wearing flamboyant dresses edged with gilt and designer glasses. Usually wealthy, they bought items in kilofulls, without even asking the price first. Our army crowd was very conpicuous due to our understated dresses,modest purchases and detailed inquiries about prices prior to actual purchase.But what made us stand out was the vehicle we arrived in.The army typically earmarked it’s old and not very roadworthy (‘condemned’ in army parlance) vehicles for ‘family welfare’.We would arrive for shopping in this giant three tonne truck whose protesting engine sounded like a racing Ferrari. Consequently each eye in the market-place would be upon us.The disembarkation ladder at the back of the truck stopped well short of the ground and to actually touch earth we had to leap down from the last step. All in all, it was a rather dramatic entrance for the small scale of purchases that followed.

There was a single makeshift badminton court which had very quicksand like, sticky mud. It tended to swallow up players’ feet which made the game highly challenging. The winning strategy was to first lob the shuttle to the back of the court , followed by a deft drop shot. Even the most nimble-footed players could not extricate themselves fast enough from the back of the court to reach forward in time.One might wonder why we didn’t end up like Saina Nehwal given that we had such rigorous training. The answer lay in the fact that we were never able to play well on even or level surfaces.

Post prandial entertainment
There was a time-honoured tradition which called for all guests to sing at their host’s house after supper. The shy folk would feel a slight sense of impending doom throughout dinner. Many people were sporting enough but there was a paucity of real singing talent. We did hear some wonderful songs occasionally but for the most part such evenings were merry but tuneless. It took a lot of management on the host’s part to ensure that things went smoothly. The host had to tactfully supress any laughter that threatened to erupt in the audience ;to not openly wince as song after favourite song was mauled to bits, and most of all, firmly take in hand those drunk guests who would begin singing and then refuse to stop!

As you can see, we did steal the little pleasures of life, make regular fools of ourselves… and ended up healthier and less self-concious…