Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Have Never Had Lady's Fingers

This speech was delivered at the Infosys Toasmasters Club, Bangalore on the 1st of July 2008 for the 'Cook-A-Speech' contest. The objective was to build a speech around a single vegetable.

‘Abelmoschus esculentus!’

I am sorry that is not one of Harry Potter’s spells but I was still hoping something would happen. That in fact is the scientific name of my favourite vegetable, Lady’s Finger; a vegetable I enjoy eating in every form – sauteed the Andhra way, fried with onions, boiled in Sambar, roasted crunchy the Jaipuri way and of course as a renowned side-dish with Neer Dosa! Umm…delicious!
How many of you have ever had the (mis) fortune of chopping this delicious vegetable?…You’ll all especially know what I am talking about today.

This goes back to the time when I was being allowed near dangerous equipments like kitchen knives. Being a girl, I was supposed to learn cooking sooner or later. And being the tomboy that I was then, the sooner was the better. In addition, these weapons were a good and less gory way to provide a vent to my teenage temper…stabbing vegetables…you see, no bloodshed. And one fine day, a bunch of Lady’s Fingers had to bear the brunt.

But I hated what they did to my hands! All that sticky gooey pulp dried up on my fingers even as I was chopping. It seemed as if Pinnochio’s fingers had replaced my perfectly healthy fingers – they were brown, dry and crusty.

And it got me thinking…I have never really had a Lady’s Fingers – pretty, dainty, slim and fair fingers with perfectly manicured nails at the tips. The kind they feature in the Diamond commercials, the kind any guy would love have placed in his hands, the kind you see on Wedding Anniversary greeting Cards where a sturdy hand holds five delicate fingers and there are words like togetherness, companionship and marriage written all over. That kind!

I started playing Basketball at the age of 6. When I picture girls that age, I see pink dresses and pretty smiles. My parent’s friends never had that privilege. If they were visiting on any given evening all through my school life, they would find this 4 foot something walk in wearing short hair, sweaty-smelly T-shirts and sports shoes and with incredibly muddy hands…you see the seniors played on the tar court, we got the mud-court. And the icing on the cake used to be the sight of my fingernails especially in the monsooons. Mine were just not a Lady’s Fingers.

My faithful companion while commuting to this Basketball Club or to anywhere else for that matter in my school days was my bicycle. And while I enjoyed riding, those daily rides and a hard grip of the handlebars had their not so pretty side effects too – I had callouses on my hands. Right here, at the base of each finger and also on the inner sides of the knuckles. So mine became knotty Lady’s Fingers – the sort that customers pick, feel the knots, roll their eyes and toss aside.

But they say, this too shall pass and it did…over time, my callouses softened and I started keeping the fingernails clean. Soon, the time came to peel Lady’s Fingers. No really…I am a musician and I had always wanted to learn the guitar…so I did. But in the process the ridges of my fingers got in the worst shape ever. And the skin started to peel off at a point. To make it all worse, it was painful too this time. And the feeling I had was similar to sauteing lady’s fingers at home for the first time…I burnt them…the lady’s fingers were wasted.

But you know what, Basketball is my passion. I have learnt some life lessons and found lifelong friends out there on the courts. Music is the supplement my soul survives on. When the guitar emits those magical sounds, my fingers may bleed but my soul is in fact healing. And when the wind is in my face and the sunlight streams down on me as I ride to meet dear friends on a pleasant Bangalorean Sunday morning, I feel thankful just to be alive.

Beauty is only skin-deep. But where would I be without these and other similar joys – a passion to pursue, music in my heart and friends to share it all with? It was always very easy to have a Lady’s Fingers – pretty, dainty and fair, but I would also have had a sad and regretful life…the regret of not having done what my heart desired.

So, I have never had Lady’s Fingers. I probably never will. But I would much rather chop them and cook up a delicious meal for the ones I love, even if it means being Pinnochio-fingers myself for a while. I hope they’ll love me all the same, even with my un-lady-like fingers. I hope they will feel how Tommi Jo Casteel felt about his mother’s hands -

I saw you hide your hands in line,
Behind that lady fair,
I noticed too, hers soft and white-
Immaculate from care.
But Ma, I say, it’s no disgrace
To have workin’ hands like you,
And had she lived the life you have,
She’d have hands just like it too.