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Yes, he was a revolutionary, yes he ruled Cuba for forty-nine years, yes he was defiant enough to stand up to America—but that is not why I want to meet Fidel Castro. The reason I want Castro back in 2020 is because, like me, he loved eating ice-cream. I think Castro and I shared a real human connect right there. Isn’t it true that it’s the everyday commonplace things about popular people that draw our attention—like when Oprah Winfrey posts an Instagram video of herself cooking pasta or Barack Obama reads a story to little children.
Castro sometimes finished off lunch with eighteen scoops of ice-cream. Can you imagine the joy of eating ice-cream with such a man?
Fidel Castro not only loved ice-cream, but he was zealously committed to its cause. When the USA cut off Cuba’s dairy supply in 1962, scientists in Cuba, under Castro’s orders developed a new breed of cow that produced more than four times the milk compared to the highest milk-producing cow in America. Not just that, in a completely belligerent move, he went ahead and built Coppelia, the biggest ice-cream parlor in the world with a capacity to seat a thousand people at a time. Our world in 2020 could do with a few leaders who can commit themselves to a cause as fiercely as Fidel Castro committed himself to ice-cream.
So, when I heard that a young, revolutionary Fidel Castro from 1959 (just prior to the Cuban Revolution) was in town, I jumped at the opportunity. I invited him to an ice-cream party.
Sharing with you excerpts from my conversation with him last evening:
Castro: “I am Fidel Castro and I am here to liberate Cuba.” (Sentences in italics are actual Castro quotes).
Me: “Sorry Castro, but you happen to be in 2020. You are far away from Cuba and I invited you here for ice-cream.”
Castro: “Oh I thought I was getting ready to liberate Cuba? Anyway, I could do with some ice-cream first! What flavors do you have?”
Me: “May I suggest these three flavors of ice-cream for you – kulfi, pickled mango and tender coconut? These are unique to India. And if you are feeling a tad bit adventurous you can try the curry-mint flavor or the raita-flavored ones.”
Castro: “See, this is the beauty of Nehru’s socialist democracy. You have been able to innovate so many flavors of ice-cream. So much more creative than capitalist regimes. Down with capitalism! We do not need the empire to give us anything.”
Me: “Ahem, Nehru left us in 1964. We are not exactly a socialist country anymore. We are quite inclined towards capitalism, to put it mildly.”
Castro: “Well, capitalism is disgusting. The capitalist system is driving the world from crisis to crisis.” He looked at the ice-creams on the table. “Give me three scoops of each flavor. With chocolate sauce on the side.”
Me: “That’s a LOT of ice-cream, Castro! You should watch your sugar, you know.”
Castro: “Condemn me. It doesn’t matter. History will absolve me.” He helped himself to a big spoon of raita flavor. He tried it and made a face.
Me: “I dont like that flavor too much either, try anjeer and kulfi….I think this beard looks good on you Castro. You know with the worldwide pandemic, men have stopped shaving. The virus has produced a lot of bearded man like you.”
Castro: “It’s a good thing, I say! If you calculate 15 minutes a day, that is 5000 minutes a year spent shaving. The men of your times could use those minutes much better, I think. Are they employing the time in studying, speaking up against injustice, creating a better world?” He ate a big spoon of kulfi flavor, and helped himself to some more.
Me: “Umm..the 5,000 minutes that they save on shaving are being productively utilized on this educational medium known as Netflix. You should try watching it—it focuses on the burning issues of our times.”
Castro: “That is a positive sign. The people respect and believe in men who fulfill their duty. Tell me something. Do you have any Cuban cigar-flavored ice-creams?”
Me: “Not really. We have paan-flavor, though. It acts like a mouth-freshener also. But didn’t you stop smoking?”
Castro: “Yes I loved smoking cigars. But I reached the conclusion that one last sacrifice I must make for public health is to stop smoking. I really haven’t missed it that much.”
Me: “That is admirable, Castro—you are a man of grit. You have survived many catastrophes. There is so much suffering in the world now. How can a lone individual make any difference?”
Castro: “I began my idea of revolution with eighty-two men. If I had to do it again, I would do it with ten or fifteen. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and a plan of action.” After a pause, he said, “I liked your kulfi flavor the best. We should introduce it in Cuba,” he said thoughtfully.
I was thrilled. Kulfi is my favorite flavor too. Also, I ate eight scoops of ice-cream with Castro. It was wonderful because when you are eating ice-cream with someone who eats twenty scoops, you don’t feel guilty at all.
After the party, I drove him to the airport. He had a flight back to 1960-Cuba. He spoke to me about his time in the jungles of Cuba, when he and his comrades were planning a guerrilla war against the Batista regime. “We didn’t have much to eat at all. But the high-point was when one of my rich friends, Celia Gomez sent me an ice-cream cake by mule on my birthday.” he chuckled.
What a fascinating man, I thought. I was dying to ask him one question. I had read that Castro had slept with 35,000 women in his entire lifetime. I don’t know if he had a Census official appointed especially to track this data, but the thought itself was mind-boggling. I was dying to ask him, “How, Castro, how??? How do you find the time?” I have one toddler and struggle to find time to bathe. But I was afraid that Cuba’s Secret Service might chop off my ears for being too nosy, so I kept quiet.
When I suggested that he wear a mask at the airport, he laughed defiantly. This man survived more than six hundred assassination attempts by the CIA, smoked cigars like a chimney, consumed more sugar than all the diabetics of Cuba combined, and still lived a hale and hearty life until he was ninety. Its hard to say whether the secret to his long life was cigar, ice-cream or sex thrice a day. I don’t think a virus could touch him, I comforted myself.
At the Departure gate, we shook hands one last time. “Thank you for the ice-creams,” he said.
“Thank you for your company. And good luck with the Revolution,” I said.
Then he turned around with a click of his heel and marched forward shouting, “Homeland or Death! Socialism or Death! We shall overcome!”
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