Kunz woke up at 12 noon - he likes to sleep late on Sundays. Still in his Jockey boxers, he started a semi-somnambular walk towards the kitchen, with a smile on his face. He'd been dreaming very nice dreams. Kunz in boxers (only) is not a sight you'd want to see first thing in the morning..or noon..or whatever time of you waking life. So when he bumped into me on the way, I was less than impressed.
"Geez man!, please don't touch me when you're practically nude. And put on some clothes, it's embarrassing having to watch you go around like this," I told him, shrinking away from his touch.
Kunz was not too happy either. The smile on his face had evaporated.
"What are you doing, sitting there in my way? Can't you move your chair a couple of centimetres to your right so that people can walk around this house without bumping into morons?" he asked and with that continued on his way to the kitchen.
I let the comment go because I was immersed in more important things - scrapping random girls on orkut, for example. I was just putting the finishing touches to one particularly good scrap when Kunz disturbed me with his skin show.
"There's nothing here to eat. I'm feeling hungry. WTF did you do with all the bananas I'd bought," Kunz shouted from the kitchen.
"There's a bag of green chilies next to the stove. Eat that for now," I replied, evading the question of what happened to the bananas.
"Hi thr, if u r intrstd in my fraanship pl add me as ur frnd. Ur foto is very butiful [:)]," Kunz was reading out my special scrap over my shoulder. I hadn't realized that he'd returned from the kitchen.
"Hey, that's personal stuff!" I told him, trying to cover the screen with my hand.
"Oh yeah! I would like to know what is so personal about an Orkut scrapbook. You are so pathetic! Hitting on girls like that on orkut - have some self-respect."
He was right, of course. But I knew just the answer to make him shut up for good.
"I know, da [*]. But what to do? Orkut is my only chance to get a girlfriend. I don't have the skills required to pataofy girls like you do. If only you'd teach me how to do it; I wouldn't have to denigrate myself doing this stuff."
That worked like a charm. He went back to bed to continue dreaming about Sona, Mona, Teena and the many other girls in his life [**] who, I'm sure, he was dreaming about before being woken up by the bump.
What woke up Kunz again was a hissing sound from the kitchen. As the smell of mustard oil wafted into Kunz's nostrils, he sat bolt upright and said, "Food."
Kunz considered the smell of mustard oil to be the official fragrance of Bengal (he maintains that the Communist Party distributes perfumes with mustard fragrance to its cadre, although a search for it on google didn't show up any results). And according to him, since Bengal is what heaven would smell like, mustard oil was the most heavenly smell on earth. Sniffing like a Labrador on the trail of a bone, Kunz made his way to the kitchen. DK had already made his world famous pulao and rajma.
"Hmm...smells divine," Kunz said. "Not like the horse-shit you get when you cook with coconut oil."
The last part of the sentence was delivered at a decibel level calculated to make sure that I heard it. No Mallu worth his drop of coconut oil could let a comment like that pass. But there were other thoughts in my mind - you see, I'd got this rather raunchy sounding girl on Messenger and she was promising me things which I'd only dreamed about till then. Mallu Pride or Raunchy Latino - that was the question.
After much deliberation, I realized that in the war between mustard oil and coconut oil, I was the last line of defence. The weight of the entire Mallu population was resting on my shoulder. Raunchy Latino could wait a few minut.... seconds.
So I made my way to the kitchen to restore hurt Mallu pride. Kunz's eyes turned towards me the moment I entered the kitchen. He was expecting a good fight and I was in a mood to give it to him.
"The next time you say anything about coconut oil, I'll fry your brains in it and feed it to the street dogs," I said.
"The dogs will cover their noses and run away."
"That's because they won't like the smell of your rotten brain, not because they don't like coconut oil."
DK was not enjoying this exchange. The only thing he cared about was lunch.
"Cut it out, guys. Are you going to eat this or not? I'm really hungry," DK said.
Kunz looked at me and said, "I'll give a reply to that after lunch."
I was more than happy to oblige. Food was more important than anything else.
Next day evening, as I was beating Kunz as usual in tennis, I couldn't help rubbing some salt into his wounds.
“You know, if you would use coconut oil instead of mustard oil, you would be a little bit better at tennis. Not better than me, of course. But a little better than the two left feet you are now."
No reply. The defeat had really got to him.
"How do you think Kerala produces such fine athletes? P T Usha didn’t win all those medals by drinking mustard oil. It’s coconut oil and fish, dear friend.”, I continued with no apparent hint of friendliness.
I was surprised that Kunz looked confused instead of angry, as if he was trying to figure out answers to some profound questions about the cosmos.
“Bengalis eat fish too, you moron”, he replied after some time.
It was then that I realized my mistake.
Thinking hard to correct my mistake I said, “Of course, you eat fish. But you cook it in mustard oil. So that screws up the fish. Besides, Bengalis eat fresh-water fish. It doesn’t have as much Omega-3 fatty acids as sea-fish”.
“That’s the biggest load of bullshit I’ve heard in my entire life. Apparently eating a lot of Omega-3 fatty acid-rich sea-fish cooked in coconut oil hasn’t made you any smarter. But look at us Bengalis - Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen, both Nobel Prize winners; J C Bose and S N Bose were world-renowned scientists; India’s only Academy Award winner, Satyajit Ray, is also a Bong. How many coconut oil-using world-renowned scientists, Nobel Prize winners and Oscar awardees do you know?”
I wanted to say that it couldn’t be mustard oil that’s behind Bengalis being smart. Sardars also use mustard oil - but look at how many Santa-Banta jokes are going around. But I wasn’t sure whether Sardars used mustard oil. I didn’t want another argument to backfire and lose my face again. I made a point to check with my colleague Sardar Singh before proceeding along those lines.
That conclusively settled the debate on the court. My efforts to restore coconut oil to its exalted position had backfired.
The next day I checked with Sardar Singh about the correlation of mustard oil and intelligence of sardars. I had to be rescued from drowning in the water closet by sympathetic friends.
A week after that, my supply of coconut oil got over. Surprisingly, I didn't have the urge to buy another packet of coconut oil. Not only had I got used to mustard oil, I had (most shamefully) started liking its taste too. I now feel like a traitor, a defector who was ensnared by the enemies using pleasures that lesser mortals like myself simply couldn't resist.
So if you see me tucking into fish smothered in mustard paste and wrapped in banana leaf at "Hotel Annapoorna - Reputed Bengali Hotel" in Egmore, please show a little sympathy before you proceed to eliminate me from the face of the earth for betraying my Mallu brethren.
The Raunchy Latino turned out to be a guy.
* [For a long time after coming to Chennai, Kunz thought that the south Indian 'da' was a variation of the Bengali 'da' - a way of respectfully addressing one's elder brother. So he went around calling everyone 'da' till one day he came and asked us why he was getting nasty stares when addressing people. From then on, we started respectfully calling him 'da'.]
** [A little bit on Kunz's background here would be of immense help to you. Kunz is an alumnus of a great school in Kolkata called La Martiniere. A typical La Mars guy would have done enough to father a couple of kids before finishing school. By Kunz's age now, he would be almost living a retired life. The place where these guys took their baby steps in this direction was the playground separating La Mars Boys and La Mars Girls which, in Kunz's own words, "has seen many great rugby scrums". He now says that he was actually talking about rugby matches. I refuse to believe it because it spoils my story.]