Fiction Park

The Art of Tenderising Meat

  • Was searching for Sekuwa meat some form of spiritual release? Or was it an act of passion, of love, of lunacy? It was certainly not one of reason!
- Sandesh Ghimire
He demanded to walk through the entire preparation. Like he wanted to know and see everything. He wanted to know when the Khasi was killed, how much garam masala or cumin was used and so on. I thought he had health concerns, but that was not the impression I got later

Sep 24, 2017-“If we allow that human life can be governed by reason, the possibility of life is annihilated.” —Leo Tolstoy 

Though a man for all his features, one could say, he had the nose of a dog, which he brought to full capacity whenever he meandered through the streets of Kathmandu to search for the best Sekuwa places. Every day he roamed the city and upon reaching a hub where he might have reasons to believe in the existence of a Sekuwa place tucked in beyond the crowd, he took an unusual, almost forced deep breath. To a passerby, his behavior often struck as a pitiful lunatic episode of a homeless person. Somebody who had witnessed his deep breathing more than once described it as deuta chadeko.  But what seemed to be divine ecstasy was, in reality, only a ritual to grasp the surrounding through smell.  The collective confusion of half burnt incense, farts, roadside vegetables perfumed in human sweat, the river that crisscrosses through the valley, heaps of trash piled high in unoccupied public spaces—he became aware of, through his nose. All these odors did not form a queue before they entered his system. They came tangled, in bundles, and his mind, with the assistance of his doglike nose separated one smell from another, the way one separates important but wet, crumpled papers.

Occasionally, as he went through the motion of separating one smell from another, he encountered odours which he had come across for the first time, and like the biblical Adam he took on the noble task of giving those names. His imagination stretched overtime he encountered a new smell, and though he enjoyed the luxury of being the first man, he cared—mostly—to find the waft of marinated smoke in the air. After encountering a trace of Sekuwa, he embarked on a mission, like a police dog, to find the origin of that smell. 

It was said that he relied only on his oblong Romanesque nose to seek his destination, which meant that he discarded the conventional routes of finding Sekuwa establishments. Rumors were rife about how he went through shops and over fences as he followed the smell trail. It is also said that he had ended up in someone’s residence, during a celebration where Sekuwa meat was being prepared. 

“The other day I was in Ranjana Galli for a soda, and he emerged from the back of his shop. The Soda wallah was alarmed, but he appeared to be more confused than agitated. 

At first we both thought he was a thief, but he was empty handed. I knew who he was, so the soda wallah let him go.” The man, who was clearly the most excited in that group of four, exclaimed. Even in the dim of Bhatti light his enthusiasm was vividly clear. 

“Ah! There is a Sekuwa ghar at the far end of Ranjhana. Isn’t there?” 

“There is…but there are so many who frequent these places. How do you recognize this so called Sekuwa hunter?” 

“He only asks for two pieces of Sekuwa but pays in full.” The Sahuni jumped into the conversation: “He demanded to walk through the entire preparation. Like he wanted to know and see everything. He wanted to know when the Khasi was killed, how much garam masala or cumin was used and so on. I thought he had health concerns, but that was not the impression I got later. And, he wrote everything that was said. I asked if he was a food journalist, but he denied it.  As he was paying, he said that the search was all part of a plan—a plan to find or invent the best recipe to tenderise meat.” 

“Ha! What for? Why spend your days looking for the ‘perfect way to tenderise meat?’ He must be a lunatic—a rich lunatic, for sure.” 

And so the conversation circled around the mysterious Sekuwa hunter without any conclusion.

.......

His legend had started circulating sometime around May of 2015. I always wondered if something had happened when the earth cracked—grief had altered many lives, but was it possible that the earthquake had somehow given rise to such a bizarre hobby? Was searching for Sekuwa meat some form of spiritual release? Or was it an act of passion, of love, of lunacy? It was certainly not one of reason! 

...........

There was bound to be tantamount interest on such a man. In Sekuwa parlors, the frequenters had abandoned their regular interest for money and politics. Their gossip singularly focused on the hunter. The operators of these establishments were often asked to provide descriptions of the mysterious figure, and with the little information that was supplied, theories were floated to identify, vilify, glorify the man and his behavior. And, as it often happens in circumstances like this, facts soon dissolved into the realm of myth. Some had truly come to believe that the hunter’s nose was the literal nose of a dog. 

The Sekuwa places he had managed to visit were always dimly lit—the owners could neither affirm nor deny the doghouse theory. There were some owners who aired on one side or the other, but they were quickly dismissed. Others, who still had a grip on reason hypothesised the hunter to be a health inspector. There were other theories—but back to the story. 

.............

I began my hunt for the hunter: eavesdropping had not ratified my curiosity. I searched for the hunter in new Sekuwa houses, continued giving attention to the gossip, inquired to everyone I could—to no avail. Rumors about the man spread like wildfire. He was spotted in Nayabaazar and in Teku, almost simultaneously. When I went to Teku, I would hear that he was spotted an hour ago in Sankhu. Finding the hunter had become as difficult as catching an oxygen bubble inside the ocean. What I had found were people, perhaps like me, who were curious about the man. 

“Kina bhautharera hideko? Kaam pani jaana chodis?” My family had begun complaining, but the man had gripped me the way smog had captured Kathmandu. 

Months passed and my interest in seeking the man had started to dissipate, but just then an idea dawned on me. 

I announced a meeting and gathered everyone who had interest in seeking the man. There I spoke the following words: 

“Brothers, the matter is simple. We all are wondering who the Sekuwa hunter is, and we want to know why he desires to tenderise meat. We all have wandered around Kathmandu without any luck. Look, we need to move on with our lives, but we cannot do so until we put our curiosity to the grave. I suggest we unionise our efforts to search the man!” 

“What? Unionise efforts to go after a rumour? Is your head really above your neck?” 

“Only you are seeking the man, not us.”

“Kaslai ke dhanda, kaslai ke dhandha, ghar jwailai khanakai dhanda bhaneko yehi ho!” 

Was I hurt? Did I boil with anger? Perhaps, but there was no second left to waste. My recourse was clear: I had to systematise my search. I hired two people, to whom I instructed to find every single Sekuwa shop in the valley and pin its location on a map. First they got a listing from tax offices of all registered Sekuwa corners, and they gathered the rest of the names and location by tracing every single inch of the valley on their motorcycles. A total of 7,852 places were identified. 

Then, I started the process of elimination. A methodology which had mathematical certainty for discovery. I crossed out every single Sekuwa place that the hunter had already visited. Some 6000 Sekuwa places were eliminated, and to my luck, the remaining Sekuwa houses were all concentrated in an area with a very small radius. The hunter had yet to visit Sekuwa houses in Koteshwor, Baneshwor, Maitighar and Thapathali. 

Instead of visiting every single Sekuwa house, I devised a more efficient way to find him. On a single day I paid a visit to all the Sekuwa houses in Baneshwor. I asked the owners of all the establishments to immediately notify me of any sighting of the hunter. Further, luring them with a promise of high financial reward, I asked the owners to trap the hunter until I arrived on the scene. 

The plan was bound to work, and in less than a week’s time, I was to know who the hunter was. But I was so lost in devising a way of finding the hunter that I scarcely knew what I would do when I met the hunter. So in preparation, I took on the task of Sekuwa hunting, the way the hunter did: relying only on the nose, but I was careful to not slip too far away from Baneshwor. 

Channeling my energy and attention through a single sense became a meditative act. A new world opened up to me. By the third day, the chaos of the city transcended its physical nature, and presented to me in an alleviated state.  I became aware of a new map for the city:  Mo:Mo and smog created the highways, while the odor of decay, farts, and trash formed the alleyways. 

On the fourth day: 

I left my residence a little late than usual. There were nimbus clouds all over the sky, providing the perfect balance of sun and shade. I remembered everything that had happened the last three days with quickness and greed. All the new odors that I had discovered were to become my conversation starter when I met the hunter. I knew he would talk to me, after all, we both lived in the same plane of existence. 

A little farther away from my residence, I smelled the burning of animal skin. My curiosity peaked, but I did not rush. In the past three days, similar odours had led me to butcher shops. But it was not coming from a shop. The smell trail originated from a space that was enclosed all around by Jasta Paata. It was the kind of place where middle aged man went to play Badminton early in the morning.  The smell was getting stronger; red meat was definitely being barbecued and the smoke had the perfect amount of marination. Garam masala was at the helm, but there was ginger and garlic to keep the interest.  I heard my heart thumped at the back of my throat. I was nervous, yet excited. 

Not wanting to interrupt, I cautiously opened the door of the enclosed space. Namaste, I said as a way of announcing myself, but there was nobody in my immediate sight. I went in. The air was warm, and smoke  filled the room. There was an animal tied to a rod, which was slowly being rotated over the fire. Was it a whole pig or a goat? I couldn’t tell. 

“Welcome, I am cooking some tenderised meat. I heard you were looking for me.” He spoke from behind. When I turned, I saw a bald head, which shone like a stone on a hot day, and when he smiled his teeth, the ones that remained, were as black as coal. 

“Come, I will cut you a piece.” We walked towards the fire, and I saw a man with a demented look but I was not the kind to judge by appearances. I was looking at his face, trying to start a conversation and in his pupil, I caught the reflection of a human body being turned over the fire.  When I turned, I saw a child, perhaps ten or eleven years old.  The body had a layer of turmeric, and if I was not that close to the fire, I would have surely mistaken the child for a pig. There was a surprised look on the child’s face. Perhaps it was a surprise when death took him over. 

“The thigh is the best part. I also recommend the shoulder area...which one will it be? Just think of it as two legged pig. Trust me, this is better than pork. ”  

Published: 24-09-2017 08:13

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