Friday, February 25, 2011

Chooran waalaa

Its been a while since I last thought about that old man who we only knew as the Chooran waalaa. He was entirely unremarkable in his appearance; a small, dark, bald man who would always wear a white dhoti-kurta. In the 1990's he seemed an anachronistic relic of pre-Independence era. A man with nothing on him except a basket full of chooran and sweet and sour pellets that made your mouth tingle.

I remember him coming to where we used to play in the summers, calling out hoarsely in his guttural voice, selling to us his little joys of life. Two pocketful of goodies worth Rs. 2; there was nothing too expensive then. Not even fun.

Now and then I saw him walking along the road under the hot summer Sun with nothing but that basket on his head. He was a poor man. I often wondered what had happened to his family because he seemed too old for work like this. I don't think he ever complained about his fate.

We used to share our favourite spot in the canal near my home with him. Summers were just endless hours in the canal, thrashing about in  that cool water, trying to catch some fishes which somehow never survived more than two days at home. I still think that it was the tap water that killed them. Like the municipal corporation that killed our canal and overlaid it with a wider road.

His lunch was invariably in the old village temple near my home, where he used to put his basket down and chat with the man who pretended to be the priest. Though we knew he was no more than a refugee. Time was so simple then, you knew everyone around you and everyone knew you. Somehow all of it just went away; you went away - to college, got a job, started earning and lost him to memories.

And then you saw him again, still in his white dhoti-kurta, his skin still as dark as charcoal except for a huge scar on his chest, and you knew that this was the end. Somewhere a voice went silent, like your canal, covered, hidden and to be forgotten.