Victor Mani. Yes, that’s the name my granny gave me, right after my parents were buried and I was yet to begin walking. Well, now that you know all about my family, let me tell you where I am today.
In the bakery.
Granny and I bake bread, almost all day. In the daytime you can’t recognise me because I’m covered in flour. In the night time you can’t see me cause I’m jet black. You can barely discern my features until I break out into a smile. Even then, you can only tell that I’m smiling and nothing more. Why bake bread? Perhaps you are wondering whether I was passionate about baking bread? You couldn’t be further from the truth.
Anybody in town, who chances to see me on the odd occasion in the daytime, without flour on my face, say there was only one person who they knew to be darker than me; the late Pandu Mani, the flour merchant and also my father. Maybe now, you have an inkling as to how granny began baking bread and how I inherited this noble profession.
What’s wrong with baking bread? Sounds simple after all. Mix the flour with yeast, warm water and salt. Add a bit of sugar and butter and pop it into the oven and soon enough, you have a loaf of bread! What could be easier than baking bread!
From where I stand, among sacks and sacks of flour, everything and anything is better than baking bread. It’s a bit different, baking one loaf of bread in your kitchen and baking 300 loaves in our little shed. Flour and dough, are deep rooted in my psyche. Before I do anything; eat, sleep, visit the market, go to church, attend a wedding or even take a dump, I have to think about flour or dough and the effect they will have on what I’m about to do. Even after I bathe and scrub myself for half an hour, I have lumps of dough in my hair and armpits. You see, with a little bit of moisture, all the flour turns into sticky lumps. The dough clogs my pores and I’m always breaking out with acne. And my lungs, well if you can imagine, are probably a repository of all the batches of flour that I have used over the years. Finally, if that wasn’t enough, the itching. Anywhere, anytime and for however long.
Why not stop? You see, being raised by my granny, has made me cautious to a fault and also timid. I just can’t have my way with the world. Besides, Granny and I haven’t learnt to do anything other than bake bread. There are too many little hotels and tea shops that depend on us for their daily supply. We simply can’t get off this train without terribly hurting ourselves.
In short, I’m more a baker than I am Victor Mani. Isn’t it the same for all of us – what are we, if not, for what we do?
Why do I keep talking about how dark I am? Well honestly, I didn’t start it! People from our town can’t get over the contrasting sight of white flour and my dark skin. Plus, I never get a shy smile from a girl. Mostly, it’s loud outbursts of laughter, or if the girls have been brought up well, a queue of giggles.
Even if granny finds me a good match – a dark-skinned and well-meaning girl – I can’t help but giggle at the thought of us both in the bakery, covered in flour. Maybe I should have a small store in the front with clean glass counters to display fresh loaves of bread. I could continue supplying to the hotels, but my future wife can sell bread to customers, without her oval face being coated in flour.
Ah! That would be swell. Granny and me in the back, churning out loaf after loaf of bread, while my wife sat in the front, chatting with townsfolk and exchanging pleasantries.
So that’s how I pass my time. Granny, on the other hand, is just waiting to see a little Victor Mani.