1. One of the most enduring memories of my childhood were of the streets.
A typical mohalla, where my stories were being spun and weaved through time, defying all the odds. I can still remember the narrow lanes, a sad woman living at the end of the street, happy housewives and their oil-stained aprons and we, the children folding paper boats and aeroplanes, laughing around.
Things changed with time, we moved from the home, that town and those streets.
So when I reached the 24th year of my life, I decided to look back to those streets I left behind with my younger sister, who was 18 years beautiful and did not get to grow up with the perfect abuses curled under her tongue, who never stuck a pencil into the spool of a cassette when things got tangled and chaotic. So I took her to board a train with me.
“let me tell you a story.”- I said to her,
“Let’s board a train to that story.”- I added.
As we boarded the train of nostalgia and were prepared to breathe in the dust and pollution my body was soaked in when I came into this world crying and kicking, all the faded pictures outshone with clarity.
We walked from street to street, through the same narrow lanes, the old stories that were somehow etched at the back of my mind stood still in their real-life embodiment and new stories were hand-picked by my sister to keep safely in our backpack.
2. We reached a house which used to be a dispensary. Well, not anymore.
The place once used to be full of all kinds of people, old and young, short and tall, rich as well as the poor. Long queues of men and women waiting for their turn to get their medicines and tablets, powdered in small paper envelopes and absolutely free of any cost.
It was at a comfortable distance from home for me to run and get my cough syrups. There used to be a man at the counter that I never saw anywhere else but that dispensary, maybe he didn’t live in that area after all. The place that used to be so busy, especially on Sunday afternoons was sitting there quiet, locked and lonely. There was a little girl sitting on its stairs, I wondered if she would know what happened to the place but she stood up to walk away before I could ask.
3. We followed the little girl’s footsteps and my sister finally spoke to her.
My little sister has always been sweet and friendly with children. She asked the little girl her name and if she could tell us a way that would lead us to some good tea.
a minute later we were walking with the 9 years old Kavita who was glad to take us to the tea corner just a few minutes away. Kavita was chatty and had a smile to remember. She went to a government elementary school and expressed her wish to become a ma’am at a school when she’d grow up. Playing with marbles was her major hobby and she boasted about beating up an older boy at school the other day because he said mean things to her.
She laughed as I asked the meaning behind her name.
“A Poem.”- she said as she pointed towards the tea corner at the end of the road.
4. The tea stall was a familiar face to me, but the lad brewing the tea wasn’t. That’s when I saw him, an old friend in his wrinkled skin.
He was sitting there, at the stall he used to work as a middle-aged man, oblivious of all those who were passing by, smoking his cheap cigarettes, watching his son brewing tea for the customers.
We sat on the plastic stools. My sister ordered tea and biscuits and I gave this old man a long look before he shot me a glance. “I used to come to your stall as a kid.” I told him with an uneasy smile as he shook his head.
Kundan Kumar started this stall when he was 17 and was known for his strong masala-chai. He once was married to a very short woman who had long hair and skin as dark as the tea her husband was famous for in their neighbourhood. She brought a boy into this world before bidding goodbye to it. Kundan never went to school and neither did his boy. He remained god-fearing most of his life and never smoked or drank on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
5.The day melted into an evening which was finally gulped down by the night.
As we talked, walked and gathered stories from the lazy streets and the busy roads, the sun dissolved into oblivion and we sat near an old tobacco shop with a street lamp hanging outside of it.
In its pale yellow light, I looked at the dimpled face of my sister who gave me a tired smile. In her smile I could see how much she wished to be me, to be the one who grew up with these souvenirs safely kept in my heart, to be the one who ran through the narrow lanes with paper boats and marbles, to be the boy who once took the 30 foot cord of the telephone in the living room and walked towards the kitchen just to check how much the wire would stretch, to be the one who used to be proud owner of a walkman.
I smiled back.
And in my smile, she could see so clearly, how much I wished to be that boy as well.
Beautiful photography by Iris photography club, Delhi University
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(They are a group of some extremely dedicated and passionate students. Do check their work and shower them with some love)