Once upon a time, there was an albino frog, who, tired of being teased by his counterparts for being different, took refuge in my mother’s warm, dark kitchen. However, the poor frog had not reckoned with my mother, who, bleary eyed with sleep staggered into the kitchen in search of a tumbler of tea and almost stumbled over a white blob sitting right by the doorway. She squinted at it, wondering what it could be. Soap? It had certainly felt slimy when her bare foot brushed against it.
As she peered, the soap fixed her in its red bulbous gaze and croaked. My mother screamed and the blob jumped obligingly as though choreographed. When my mother saw the webbed feet drawing arches in the air, her confusion cleared somewhat. ‘There’s a white frog in the kitchen,’ she said to my grandma who was stretching in the sun that streamed through the window, painting a golden halo on her silver head.
Just then, the phone trilled and my mother went to answer it, one eye still fixed on the frog who was now cowering under the sink. Afterwards, ‘Your grandson’s American friends are coming to stay,’ she told my grandma, who was chewing her first paan of the day.
My grandmother nodded thoughtfully. ‘An omen,’ she said finally through a scarlet mouthful of paan. ‘Huh?’ My mother’s mind was elsewhere, busily considering what she would feed them, these friends of her son. Good fish was not available due to flooding and what fish there was was ridiculously expensive. She eyed the white frog which was slowly edging its way to the door, apparently reading her mind. Frog legs, marinated in chilli powder and vinegar, perhaps?
‘White frog visits and immediately you get news of white people coming to stay,’ said my grandmother, spitting noisily. ‘An omen.’
Do you believe in omens?
Let’s say you have an important job interview on which all your hopes hinge. Let’s say you have passed the first two stages and now it is the make or break stage, the one where it is all or nothing. You step out of the house, ready, prepped and a black cat crosses the road in front of you. You almost step on its tail. It yelps out a warning and regards you with cool green eyes. You know then that you are screwed. And sure enough…
You realise that you have left your file with the case study you spent half the night preparing behind. You turn to go back in and get it and find you have locked yourself out. You leg it to the train station but just as you hurtle down the stairs the train’s leaving. You turn to go for a taxi and slip on a puddle of goo from a yogurt bottle someone’s left lying on the floor.
Now if I caught you right then and asked you, do you believe in omens, what would your answer be?
We all like to think we do not believe in omens, in portents, in premonitions. But, come, let’s be honest here, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone or something to blame for the misfortunes that befall us? And don’t we all indulge in what ifs every so often? What if you had walked the other way? What if you had taken your key? What if you had driven to the station? What if you had left earlier, bypassed the black cat altogether? What if?
There are omens and portents in Monsoon Memories and plenty of what ifs. There are also cats and frogs. But none of them black. Or white, for that matter. Monsoon Memories asks if Shirin should believe the omens, the portents, if she should heed the premonitions, that voice in the back of her head…
Does she? Read and find out.