The Tapioca Moment


In the course of our every day lives, there are some simple, innocuous moments which clearly demarcate two different activities, emotions, or incidents in our days. When I tie up my hair in a firm knot on top of my head there is a demarcation between the lazy me and the lady who is about to go on a cleaning spree. Inhaling the aroma of coffee signals that the night is old, and that another day has begun.

I was thinking about such moments earlier today, when I went back in time to my college days. Our hometown nestled in a cool, green valley in the Nilgiri hills in the Western Ghats of South India. The Nilgiri mountains abound with lush greenery and wildlife. The fresh crisp mountain air and the cold weather are always invigorating.

During my college days, I used to visit home during the holidays. Glorious days of catching up with friends and neighbours, and mom’s yummy food.

The days would fly away in a jiffy, and it was soon time to go back to college and hostel. I would usually take the mid-afternoon bus from our town for a three-hour journey. My Dad would drop me off at the bus terminus. Loaded with snacks and packed food from home, I would bid a cheery bye to my Dad.

The bus had to wind down through the mountains to the plains. And from my window, I would watch the beautiful scenery, the birds, the tiny silver waterfalls, the small brooks that one could sight along the way, the monkeys on the roadside, the blue, blue sky and the valley far below.

There were fourteen hairpin bends that the bus driver had to navigate. Some of these bends would cause our insides to churn. And after the hairpin bends, the bus would almost be three-fourths on its way down from the mountains. And there, in a small village, the bus would stop for ten minutes; for the driver to stretch his legs and for everyone on the bus to have a cup of tea and refresh themselves.

The village was always bustling with activity, with vendors coming to each bus to sell all kinds of chips, wafers, candy, juice and water.

One of the stalls in this village sold the most amazing spicy and crisp tapioca chips ever. The moment the bus stopped, I would leap out and buy two packets. One to be eaten on the bus, and one to be eaten in the hostel at night.

I would get back on the bus and open the packet. The first crunch of tapioca in the mouth …. truly a slice of heaven. Soon the bus would pull out of the parking, and we would start the second phase of our journey.

These Tapioca chips signified a huge transition on each such trip. The cold and fresh mountain air that carried wisps of home, love and fun, was replaced by the air of the plains – humid, warm and bringing with it the chaos and vibrancy of the city.

By the time I had consumed the last chip, the bus was trundling through the flat roads, tall coconut trees swaying merrily in the evening sun on either side. My body language automatically changed from home mode to college mode.