A group of clouds came from nowhere
filled with water, they turned to a shower
it is rainy days here again, remarked some
kids left their games and did a rain dance
whatever was left to dry now taken inside
whatever needed to be wet was put outside
the rain drenched and washed the stench
bringing its own perfume that was earthen.
The clouds could now be seen fast receding
a child looked up to see them now flying away
what other task you have, to go soon so fast
please stay and pour some more water on us
to our hearts fill and to fill our pots and wells
No dear, we have other places to water well
and we better not be late, whispered the cloud
as he sped away to catch up with the others…
Coming back to playtime during school days in the late 70’s in Mumbai. We did have the physical training classes but the instructor was always missing and therefore were free to play any of the games that we liked to. Some of us used to run around the school building in a “Catch me if you can” game, some used to loiter around the playground and others would visit hawkers who used to descend during that time, while some used to be in the classroom, playing with paper made balls and whatnot’s.
During recess time, there used to come, a few hawkers who could understand our weakness for sweets, especially the chikkis(sweet made of groundnuts and jaggery) and the cotton candy, the sugar balloons that we used to call them during those time. The chikkiwala (hawker who sold the chikki) had a chisel with him which was used to chisel out portions of chikki from his large circular plate, which he used to keep on his bamboo stand, away from our prying hands if not from our eyes. I thought during those times the chikki was costlier than gold, the way he used to hand it over to us for our 5 or 10 paise coins.
The process of making the cotton candies was enchanting for us, as the hawker used to make it a point to do the preparation in front of our eyes, so that most of us would come out and stand around him rather than going to any other optional hawker who offered his services to us on that day.
Since we used to reach home by 1 PM, there was plenty of time after lunch for a quick nap, and then to look up your books, or keep it for the evening and dash off to play with your friends from the building blocks for a game of cricket, marbles, bow and arrows, where both bow and arrow was made of discarded umbrella frames in the rainy days, or roll a metal ring across the roads barefoot and maneuver them brilliantly. These rings were from automobile frames, and so on..every metal thing in those days had a value as far as kids were concerned..
After such games or a round of story telling where kids used to gather around a story teller, who was one among them, and the sun setting would take them to their homes to ponder over their books and deciding priorities as to which homework needed to be completed based on the strictness of the subject teacher. By 8:00 PM most of us used to hit the bed to be in shape for another day at school that started at 7:00 AM.
This was the regular routine unless one fell sick when he or she had the complete dayin bed to give free way to the thoughts that used to hover in the mind like butterflies around a flower.
Then came the short vacations in the form of Diwali and Christmas, when one used to pay visit to relatives staying in the same city, and spend days with the cousins going to parks and beaches. Most of the time in such visited houses was spent in reading since most of them used to go to work and we would have to wait for them to take us out, when they returned from their respective offices.
The Summer vacations were a time when most of the kids used to go to their native homes that used to be in the same state or in different states. There were also a few who had no native homes to go to, so they stayed in the city and played all day except for going home for certain breaks. Since it was hot, some parents did not allow their wards to play in the sun, so playtime was restricted to, in the morning and the afternoons when the shadows came on to the playing grounds. During the rainy season, the ground would be transformed to a football ground. During a long lasting shower, this could become a mixture of fine clay, when some of us would try our hands at pottery.
During summer, when the bullock carts came laden with ice meant for restaurants, that was covered with saw dust and jute blankets to keep it from melting, all of us would rush behind him. As he took his knife to cut out the ice block, we stood in attention, to gobble up the pieces of ice that would get scattered on his cart. Come marriage in nearby community halls, we would rush to savor the ice cream and the cool soft drinks, unwelcome visitors though we were, the host never did mind us visiting such reception parties…
You have been warned : Do not go further, there is danger ahead.
The still waters beckoned me as my little footprints made their imprints upon the hot dry sand from the now setting Sun which was once at its zenith only a few hours ago. As the cool waves lapped at my feet tickling me, needless to say, they were now beckoning to get in more of my self into the blue expanse lit only by a distant horizon and a few stars making their appearance.
I could feel the embrace of the heavy stillness around my waist pushing me ever so slightly, in all directions, four directions I had been taught in school. I never had experienced so much soothing, as if somebody had applied the healing balm all over me. The timid mind had made its plunge into the deep even before, though the body ever so careful made steps with my tiny legs that had now started to complain to me that the water though helping it to hold on was also pushing the weight of my fear into the quick sands that were quickly forming. But as egged on, as I used to walk with parents, I persisted to walk ahead into the inviting spectacle.
When the plush waves pushed with me playfully, I tried to balance with my hands trying to use them as paddles, oars or fins, oh I could see my vocabulary was slowly failing me. The shadow of fear that had appeared quite some time ago in my messy head was now standing next to me, not helping me, but standing still, waiting for me as my mother did, to take care of my ablutions.
I looked out to the beach, how far was I away from the people walking upon it, the playful children creative as they could get with the sand. I could see some navigating the now invisible thread of their playfully wielded kites and the hawkers trying their best to get in a morsel or two of the food in their cans into the mouths of the visitors. Shout I did as as I was slowly drifting away, the sea taking with it, poor me, as it retreated for the evening but all I could manage was a croak. Was it because of the salt that had gotten into me or had I become an amphibian after settling in this water for some quite some time. My skin needed to breathe, my pale self not helping, the fish scurrying desperately getting away from a stranger who never knew or learned to swim like them. There was no log of wood for me to hold on, nor one to write my last wishes for the dear people whom I left back on the beach.
Had they noticed my absence, the dusk fast giving away to darkness, my head and frail hands that bobbed up once in a while, was it visible to them, to anyone who gazed at the deep sea or the arc of the horizon, I knew not. The body got heavier by the minute and whatever air in me gave way to the water now gushing in with a pinch of salt. Water, I was taught was life giving, but my small body could never handle too much of it. The ocean was now feeding me what it knew best, to intruders who had never understood how to step into it. Oh dear mother, if only I had listened to you and had not wandered off into the deep water when you were not looking. I sent you on an errand so that you could not see me running into the vast expanse of bluish water which had always enchanted me, a place of wonder where a lot of my imaginative characters dwelt.
I know the lunch with the wonderful curry you fed with your hands seems to be, my last feed of the day as I now rest myself on the floor of good old nature, bidding bye to all my worries, my unanswered questions and rest now. My tired body has sunk, buried by a thin layer of sparkling sand, a blanket against the increasing cold of the heavy rumble above me. How I, fervently wish, I might be a floating log tomorrow for my loved ones to reclaim and rebury along with their fond memories of me…
It was an October evening and there on the playground made green by the lush grass and the receding rains were butterflies hopping from one shrub to another on the lookout for that elusive flower that could provide some nectar.
A group of children were huddled together making huts of mud and sticks where the sticks came from twigs, discarded ice cream sticks and dried branches. In that group were budding potters, architects, masons and designers. They surveyed their creation and now made walls of clay. They planted some twigs that now looked as trees in the tiny courtyard. In that group was a boy who was telling stories of long lost kings and warriors to eager ears as the huts were being built.
The sun which was shining so bright on glazed leaves when they had started off was now beating a hasty retreat behind the large block of buildings in which they lived. A miniature well was getting dug and some kid brought water from the nearby tank and poured it into it only to see it disappear. The next generous lot of water persisted in the freshly dug well to make things look complete. They surveyed their creation and sat for some time as the storyteller among them was fast finishing his story partly because it was getting dark and also it was getting difficult to feed his imagination that was now running wild as the script.
There was some sand that had been dumped for construction by a shop long back and this was used by another group of kids who were designing roads and tunnels across and over it.
A puddle of water made by the overflowing tank in the morning had some kids busy digging canals and launching paper boats. This all looked funny to elders and adults surveying the group below from floors above but nevertheless it meant so much to the children who always descended on this play field and got creative every day to make most of the strip of land to feed their imagination.
With the disappearance of such strips of land in metro cities, imagination that was once put to constructive use in such a lost garden, was now restricted to new games that came up for the new generation…
Ganga had come late to school today also. The teacher chided her for being late every now and then. She was late most of the days in a month, let alone some days when she was absent. The only municipal school that stood at the periphery of the village had an assortment of pupils drawn from various walks of life from the village residents.
Little did the teacher know that Ganga’s day started at 4 in the morning. She had to supply milk from Lalchand Seth’s diary to around 25 households which used to get over by 5:30 and go to Ratan Seth’s house to wash and clean the dishes.
Today the teacher had had enough and decided to give the punishment to the little girl. As she stretched out our hands for the cane to land, the teacher’s eyes fell upon the marks on the hands. It was full of cuts and bruises. When asked what had happened, Ganga preferred to remain silent. She escaped the beating this time, but will have to sit outside the class for 2 hours as punishment. As she sat outside, her eyes fell on the chirping sparrows playing in the sand and the parrots flying to some far off land. If only, I was one among them, she wondered as she shielded her eyes from the hot Sun making his presence felt.
Bala is standing beside the road with an assortment of guavas and oranges. Like his elder brother Shiva he is also a bread winner for his family, berefit of their father, and with 2 more siblings and an ailing mother to support. Both of them are out all the time selling wares. In the case of Shiva he has a make shift stall outside the main market that he uses to sell bangles, beaded chains and all such items.
Bala used to buy 5 kilos of guavas and oranges and walk another 2 kilometers to a vantage scenic spot on the highway so that he could sell them to people or tourists frequenting the place. There were lucky days, when before reaching the spot, his goods would have been sold on the road itself. Bala had gone to school till his 4th standard and after that what ever knowledge he had gained in the last 5 years was from these very tourists; He had picked up a bit of few languages at least that came handy in negotiating during the purchase or the haggling saga. There were days when very few people picked his wares or gave him a decent money in return for them. Today was a hot summer day and there were not many people who even cared to look at him, let alone his fruit basket.
Rakesh was enjoying his vacation as his summer holidays had started a few days back. He along with his family is on the way to Nasik and planned to visit places that they had skipped in their visit last year. On the way, they saw some tourists have disembarked from the magnificent vehicles to see an attractive waterfall.
They also stop to get down to take pictures, selfies with all backgrounds possible. At this time, a boy of 12 approaches them. “Saab, madam, Peru, Santra lo na; yeh bahut sast hai, saab ” in a pleading voice (translation: Sir..please buy these fruits Peru(Guava) Santra(orange), these are very cheap). Rakesh looks at the boy aged same as him, he appears shabby and sun burnt. The boy is watching him with awe and wants him to negotiate the sale with his parents. No no, the father says, we have enough food and fruits stocked in our car, no point in buying from this boy, don’t even know from where he has plucked all these.
The large guavas, for Rakesh, seemed inviting as also the boy’s eyes but his pleas fell on deaf ears and he had to get into his car that was raring to go with his parents. But before getting in, he waved back to the dark boy with his basket of fruits who was still looking at him with one hand shielding himself from the afternoon Sun.
While speeding through, in the cool comfort of his Innova car, that was now negotiating a hump, his eyes fell on a girl sitting outside a small school veranda near to the road. Pointing to her, he nudges his father. Why is she sitting outside father? He curiously asked. “Maybe she hasn’t done her homework before coming to school ” was the quick reply..” Put the blinds on son for the sun is really hitting us even through the tinted glass”.