The sky was a shade of orange. This could be the doing of either dawn or dusk. Irrespective, it wasn’t going to last for too long. But, it was dawn. The start of something old. Like the day before, it welcomed dew on the freshly mowed grass, carried the same summer breeze and hosted the same hustle and bustle that filled every other morning of this town amongst hills.
With streets made of bricks and houses drenched in sun light, the town boasted of sights literally from the skies. They called it heaven amidst the clouds and it gave people good reason to create this folklore. Keshavpur was no longer the sheepish hill station it once was. The hills, the valleys and Samrat lake, retained their mystique but what was once, well not even a dot on the map was now a dot on the map. The chai (tea) stalls still served ‘kadak’(strong) chai but they now had the company of cafes and restaurants.
Though the beating heart of this town, was still ‘Keshavnagri Bazaar’. From fresh apples, to woollen clothes and fried curry puffs (samosas), the town square boasted an entire laundry list of amenities and necessities. Kids ran past the different stalls, with their mothers following suit. The town elders, spent an extra minute or two before precariously placing fruit into their basket. A deep breath and the same old bargain would follow.
It was also the morning destination for one, Bholaram Shinde. He was 64 years of age and looked every bit of it. The old man had grown old with Keshavpur. He was born in the hills and had promised to call it day, right there. He was a retired civil servant living on a pension that sadly hadn’t aged as graciously as the town.
He had lost his wife to cancer a few years ago and his only daughter was married to a civil servant, much like himself. She currently resided in Mirzapur, a good 900 kilometers and 2 one-day long train journeys away. Daily phone calls that lasted exactly 7 minutes, followed with old Hindi songs was a part of Bholaram’s routine. He listened to Kishore Kumar and was a staunch believer that Mohammad Rafi didn’t come close to the talent Kumar had. This led to many a debate next to Raghuvar Ram’s tea stall.
Bholaram was headed there. Bholaram’s routine included tea and biscuits at the tea stall and every Monday the purchase of ‘Dainik Samachar’, a weekly newspaper cum magazine that hosted the events of the week and ghazals (poems) and short stories.
Bholaram’s father the late Prasad Sahab was a fruit seller in the bazaar. He lived for all of 55 years and worked hard for at least 50 of it. He had toiled to raise a family of 6 children, two parents and a dotting wife. Bholaram being somewhere in the middle of this line up of 6 Shinde children hadn’t spent much time with his old man. But, every Monday, without fail, Prasad Sahab would return home with a copy of ‘Dainik Samachar’ and read to his children the stories of ‘Vikram and Betal’ or ghazals from ‘Sriman Naik’ the poet of the hills.
‘Dainik Samachar’ had persisted through the generations. Kavya Shinde first heard the same stories and ghazals from her grandfather and then her father. Memories of growing up and patiently waiting for every Monday evening when Shinde Sahab would sit the children down and finally spend time with them, undisturbed yet unsatiated, was refreshed each time he went through the periodical. Flipping through its pages would bring back images of 4-year-old Kavya screaming ‘Baba again! Again’. Bholaram lived years of happy memories every Monday morning.
Morning tea followed by banter on national politics, ensured the perpetuity of Monday mornings as Bholaram had come to expect. At exactly, 7:15 am he bid farewell to his companions of dawn and headed for the newspaper stand. He always tipped, 15-year-old Sangram exactly 2 rupees. He was the child of the late owner of the Bazaar’s only surviving newspaper stand. This happened to be the change left over after paying 20 rupees for the periodical worth 18. It once fetched only one rupee, as he would often remind Kavya when he complained about inflation.
‘Dainik’, he said as he approached the 15-year-old boy. He was a rather sheepish looking lad who was yet to find the growth spurts that puberty brings.
‘Nahi hai Babu! Band Hogayi (It’s not there! They have shut down.)’, said Sangram.
It was the same old morning. Like the day before, it welcomed dew on the freshly mowed grass, carried the same summer breeze and hosted the same hustle and bustle that filled every other morning of this town amongst hills.
But Bholaram was 64 again. Except this time, he didn’t merely look it.
By Anirudh Dalmia
Painting by Paul Lovering