3 | Guest Post: Rice and other drugs


Disclaimer: Varkeychan enjoys using strong and very vivid language

‘A bird will always use another bird’s feathers to feather its own nest.’

White powder disturbingly reminiscent of cocaine covers the kitchen counter. Amma is frantically gathering it up and screaming at me to get out of bed. What the fuck is she doing? The windows, like Amma’s face, are painted with droplets, the steam erupting from the boiling pot has finally found a place to settle after a walkabout through the kitchen. Amma is preparing my morning fix, some puttu[1].

Rice, the drug no Malayalee can live without: powdered, steamed, fried, fermented, boiled and strained, boiled to a gooey porridge, just give it to us – we need it. It fuels us for a hard day’s labour, puts a smile on our face before a night’s rest, blesses us when embarking on new journeys. It’s hard to explain the ‘high’ experienced by a Malayalee when eating their mix of rice and vegetables; always so familiar, always so special. The cacophony of flavours reincarnates into a symphony as it’s chewed up by the Neanderthal Mallu. Sanity returns.

I’m in a permanent affair with rice, I’ve had serious relationships with tobacco and alcohol, and I’ve occasionally flirted with marijuana, but like a wise Mallu boy I’ve declined the courtship of anything better – stick to what you have, don’t risk losing it.

Today is different, it’s a hot summer’s afternoon in suburbia, and I’m armed with mushrooms almost aptly named ‘Penis Envy’. These phallic, but flaccid, mushrooms are the wrinkled extremities severed from the loins of ancient men… hardly enviable. The spores are the dried up crusty semen which escaped the wilting sight of the ancient men during their last baths. Is there any good that could come from this?

The ‘Awesome Foursome’ – an annoying midget who can’t stop talking about himself; a vulgar, crazy, train wreck of a girl who wears skirts that are too short; a quiet, goody two shoes, judgemental ex Head Boy; and me, the confused Mallu – just devoured these despicable mushrooms at the midget’s house. The midget is nauseous and wants to take a walk. And so our journey around the world begins.

‘A bird will always use another bird’s feathers to feather its own nest.’ These selfish words are etched in mosaic at our first stop. We see Aleppo in the distance. We must keep walking. We don’t want to be the selfish birds. We must go to Aleppo and help. How do you even pronounce Aleppo? Why are we risking death? Have you really lived if you’ve never nearly died? We spot a barricaded oasis[2] on the city outskirts. We take rest. We plan our journey aided by the wise counsel of cigarettes. Cameras and a UFO[3] on the wall behind us scrutinise our every move. The walls begin to quiver as the UFO prepares to take off. We must keep walking. We proceed towards Aleppo. The caged off warzone[4] is covered with Group Five (is that ISIS’s codename?) banners. ISIS warns us that we enter at our own risk. We must enter. We must keep walking. Graffiti on a dilapidated toilet jumps out at us. We keep walking through the carnage from the bombings. The ex Head Boy leads us to the roof of what remains of a deserted building, the train wreck girl spots security outside, the midget says we must leave, I’m confused. We must keep walking. Security spots us. We’re escorted out of Aleppo through the Colosseum. We must keep walking. We walk through a mystical garden where the trees have faces. We walk through a boulevard in Los Angeles. We must keep walking. We find a perpetually parked train. I want to be Shah Rukh Khan. We climb to the roof. Aleppo is to our left, the sun in front. We watch the most vibrant sunset, the sun morphs into Jupiter, rainbows encircle it, it becomes Darth Vader’s long lost holy brother as it falls below the horizon. The floor begins to ripple under the fading sun. The ripples become bubbles of molten lava. The midget hasn’t stopped speaking the whole journey, I’ve become the midget’s echo, the train wreck complains we never have a silent moment, the ex Head Boy says nothing. A confused Chinese lady watches us. The sun and Jupiter have left with Darth Vader’s brother. We must keep walking. We need to rest. We find a shrine[5].  We take shelter. The decorated brick floor dances in front of us. We reminisce. We’re saddened by the numerous cigarette butts we littered on our journey. We tell ourselves ‘don’t throw them on the floor’. A rat attacks the shrine, karma for the bad we’ve done. I try telling a story about why we should pick up our cigarette butts. English can’t convey what’s happening in my vivid mind. I get laughed at. Our journey is nearing its end. We must keep walking. Our minds are blown by the thought of life elsewhere in the universe. Are they like us? Do they need to eat? Do they need to breathe? We must keep walking. We reach the oasis again. We rest. The midget sensually discusses yoga, I get excited, the train wreck exclaims ‘I can’t fucking speak like that’, the ex Head Boy says nothing. We’re chased from the oasis by a guard – ISIS must’ve sent him. We must keep walking. We know the journey has made us wiser. But what did we learn? We must keep walking.

We walk and reminisce. Our journey is at its end. We find Central Park. We sit in the centre of Central Park, our last stop. We’ve learnt so much about each other. We speak, we laugh, we cry. The epiphanies about each other continue to blow our minds. But this all sounds so familiar. Have I really learnt anything?

I always knew the midget had a disproportionately large heart. The train wreck is a loving, welcoming girl at peace with herself and keeps us all together. The ex Head Boy has the most stable head on his shoulders and protects us like an elder brother. Did I learn anything or did I merely venture into parts of my mind I was too scared to explore before? Our journey is over and I’m a few steps closer to lung cancer.

I feel so much wiser. The ‘Awesome Foursome’ showed me so much I’ve never seen in myself. I learnt more than I care to discuss. I’m a dragon in the guise of a chameleon. I fit in with everyone and it takes me a while to spread my wings and fly. I’m a closed book and no one really knows me, myself included. I need to go out, do things, and I will be great. Like the carrot coated in lion pubes, the President of the US, says, ‘I know the best people’. Maybe I will be great one day, and it’s not because of me, it’s because of you. I know the best people.

Why am I such a closed book? Being a NaRI is really hard. There’s the constant worry about the gossip, disappointing my parents, dating outside my kind, and everything else that comes with being Mallu. It’s really hard, but I know the best people and that makes it immeasurably easier.

‘A bird will always use another bird’s feathers to feather its own nest.’ I know this rings true in me. Not because I’m too selfish to use my own feathers, but because I feel a whole lot safer under the wings of the best people.

Eat mushrooms. Don’t throw your cigarettes on the floor. -Varkeychan

[1] Puttu is a steamed rice cake normally eaten for breakfast

[2] An office garden

[3] A circular 360° camera

[4] Construction site

[5] A decorated spot to chill out

Varkeychan strikes again with his evocative Arundhati Roy-cum-Yann Martel-esque style of writing! If you would like to share your story/voice on this platform – please drop me a line on metromallu@gmail.com, or contact me on Twitter or via the comments. MMx

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