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Chapter 77
As the cartons of survival rations diminished, I reduced myintake till I was following instructions exactly, holding myself toonly two biscuits every eight hours. I was continuously hungry.
I thought about food obsessively. The less I had to eat, thelarger became the portions I dreamed of. My fantasy mealsgrew to be the size of India. A Ganges of dhal soup. Hotchapattis the size of Rajasthan. Bowls of rice as big as UttarPradesh. Sambars to flood all of Tamil Nadu. Ice cream heapedas high as the Himalayas. My dreaming became quite expert:
all ingredients for my dishes were always in fresh and plentifulsupply; the oven or frying pan was always at just the righttemperature; the proportion of things was always bang on;nothing was ever burnt or undercooked, nothing too hot or toocold. Every meal was simply perfect – only just beyond thereach of my hands.
By degrees the range of my appetite increased. Whereas atfirst I gutted fish and peeled their skin fastidiously, soon I nomore than rinsed off their slimy slipperiness before biting intothem, delighted to have such a treat between my teeth. I recallflying fish as being quite tasty, their flesh rosy white andtender. Dorado had a firmer texture and a stronger taste. Ibegan to pick at fish heads rather than toss them to RichardParker or use them as bait. It was a great discovery when Ifound that a fresh-tasting fluid could be sucked out not onlyfrom the eyes of larger fish but also from their vertebrae.
Turtles – which previously I had roughly opened up with theknife and tossed onto the floor of the boat for Richard Parker,like a bowl of hot soup – became my favourite dish.
It seems impossible to imagine that there was a time when Ilooked upon a live sea turtle as a ten-course meal of greatdelicacy, a blessed respite from fish. Yet so it was. In the veinsof turtles coursed a sweet lassi that had to be drunk as soonas it spurted from their necks, because it coagulated in lessthan a minute. The best poriyals and kootus in the land couldnot rival turtle flesh, either cured brown or fresh deep red. Nocardamom payasam I ever tasted was as sweet or as rich ascreamy turtle eggs or cured turtle fat. A chopped-up mixture ofheart, lungs, liver, flesh and cleaned-out intestines sprinkled withfish parts, the whole soaked in a yolk-and-serum gravy, madean unsurpassable, finger-licking thali. By the end of my journeyI was eating everything a turtle had to offer. In the algae thatcovered the shells of some hawks-bills I sometimes found smallcrabs and barnacles. Whatever I found in a turtle's stomachbecame my turn to eat. I whiled away many a pleasant hourgnawing at a flipper joint or splitting open bones and lickingout their marrow. And my fingers were forever picking away atbits of dry fat and dry flesh that clung to the inner sides ofshells, rummaging for food in the automatic way of monkeys.
Turtle shells were very handy. I couldn't have done withoutthem. They served not only as shields, but as cutting boardsfor fish and as bowls for mixing food. And when the elementshad destroyed the blankets beyond repair, I used the shells toprot............
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