Saturday Story 13: Goodwill Hunting
Dominic Kirkpatrick gulped down the very last sip of black coffee and glanced outside the window. The first, faint rays of sunlight were streaming through the windows of the cabin. It was time. He donned his hunting boots and adjusted his cap and gloves. Gosh, that Indian chap still wasn’t ready!
“It’s getting late, dear chap,” said Dominic, in a slightly imperious voice.
Vikram hurried out of his room, looking a bit flustered. This was supposed to be a relaxing two weeks in the English countryside. While booking this property on AirBnB, he’d actually looked for a place which was cut-off from the world. Where even the wi-fi was as moody as a woman being wooed by Dev Anand in a B & W Hindi film.
But does it ever work out the way you imagine? The property matched the description, in fact exceeded all expectations. But what to do about the host? An Englishman in his 60s, a connoisseur of the good life, who was said to ‘mostly keep to himself’ (as Vikram liked it!). But something in the old dog loosened up when he heard Vikram was from the ‘Poonjab’.
Why, his grandfather had served with the Army back in the day, and he was posted in a place called Rollpindy. You mean, Rawalpindi, in Pakistan, muttered Vikram under his breath. Well, a couple of days later, Dominic was drawn into the kitchen, just when his guest was preparing a typical tourist breakfast.
“Smells divine,” gushed Dominic, forcing Vikram to offer half of his MTR upma, out of politeness.
Little did he know this would become a daily habit, depleting his precious stash of ready-to-eat khana. Well, Dominic must have sensed the vibe. The need to do something in return. Before you return to your country, my dear Indian, you must experience something unique. The weather is just right, the forest beckons. It is time to go a-hunting.
Now like any full-blooded Poonjabi, Vikram was always game for adventure. But hunting seemed dangerous, and unnecessary! What was the need to procure one’s protein with one’s own hands? When plenty was available, nicely cling-wrapped, in the village grocery store? Ah, my boy, you won’t understand, until you have ventured out into the wild and experienced the thrill of it.
In Italy, they use hound dogs, explained Dominic. But we Englishmen rely on our senses. He strode along purposefully, hunting knife in hand, while Vikram lagged behind. Surely, there were rules against these things now? he didn’t want to get caught doing something illegal… in a foreign country. Getting the next visa would become a royal pain.
“Ahaaaaaaaaaa!” whooped Dominic Kirkpatrick. As he moved in to capture the yellow fleshy body with his bare hands.
Unfortunately, that was the only spotting of the day. After two hours, the search was abandoned. The duo headed back to the cottage, where Dominic pulled out all the stops. As he delicately cooked the hard-won prize in garlic, rosemary and sage, inviting aromas filled the room. Finally, the culinary creation was laid out, on a 17th century bone-china plate.
A single mushroom in a blob of butter stared back at Vikram.
The Laetiporus sulphureus, or wild mushroom, also known as ‘chicken of the woods’.
Time to open yet another ‘Kitchens of India’ Dal Makhani…
Two years later
Vikram Khanna is in Sangla valley, with Dominic Kirkpatrick and members of his hunting club. Searching for the Himalayan mushroom known as ‘guchchi’.
“It’s a new craze for mushroom hunters from across the world. And I am happy to cater to them through my start-up.”
Chicken in the woods is no match for a real, desi murgi but it does lay a dollar egg.
Don’t miss the audio file ‘Inside the Author’s Mind’: Why I wrote ‘Goodwill Hunting‘.