My sleepy hometown had sprung to life, almost like a mischievous child ready for playtime after a lazy afternoon siesta. The annual cultural festival along was just round the corner.
The festival had artisans and tradesmen coming from all parts of India to sell their products. Right from Dokra jewellery, Pipli craftwork, Kashmiri shawls, Assamese bamboo handicrafts, Terracotta idols to Kandhamal spices, one could name it and then find a stall selling the same.
The dusty exhibition ground quietly witnessed stooping uncles with pot bellies,talkative aunties with heavy sarees, their over active children with running noses and the lanky teenagers, handpicking items from the stalls, bargaining vehemently and then swiftly moving to the next stall, feeling hungry and frustrated.
Amidst the cacophony of 90’s Hindi Film music, the loudspeakers blared “Buy One, Get Three Ice Creams Free” . Suddenly the crazy crowd marched like an army of zombies in a single direction to the food stalls, the region of heavenly bliss.
The air was heavy with the smell of the deep fried egg cutlets, the chicken rolls with secret Chinese sauce, the simmering alu tikkis and the ever rotating kebabs on skewers. It was amusing to observe contorted faces devouring the tangy gol gappas and mirchi pakodas. There were 101 types of dosas having the stuffing of cheese to mushrooms and on a crowded corner, one could notice a huge vessel on fire letting out the subtle aroma of hyderabadi dum biriyani.
I had always loved this part of the festival : the happy faces giving out a satiated grunt as they devoured their favorite delicacies. Many things had changed since childhood though, the Mathura cake stalls had given way to the bakery with the flamboyant display of creamy pastries, cheesy pizzas and burgers with crunchy stuffing, the earthen lamps had been replaced by blinding halogens and then there were human sized Mickey Mouses roaming to cheer the chirpy children as they were coaxed to eat by their distraught mothers.
Yet, there was one such person, who was untouched by time and the chaos.
He stood in a silent corner like a fading star with his wooden cart bearing a vessel which was covered by red muslin cloth, containing kulfi. His blackened skin and grey hair complimented his frail structure, making him look like a pine tree in autumn. He rang a cycle bell sometimes to gather the attention of the crowd which was almost oblivious to him.
All my childhood, I have had kulfi from him with the extra rabdi that I always demanded and he happily obliged to, amidst the chaos that surrounded him. It had been years since I had last seen him. With the excitement of a child, I moved towards him. Holding my expression of overflowing joy, I went to him and asked for a kulfi. He looked at me with a hint of puzzled expression . “Do you recognize me?” I asked, hoping for some response.
His eyes had a faraway expression as he quietly handed me my kulfi.He didn’t say a word. Quite embarrassed, I paid him, took my kulfi and walked away quickly. “I guess he doesn’t remember,” I thought to myself.
As I put a spoonful of kulfi my mouth absentmindedly, like the fresh spring breeze, the sweetness of childhood embraced me through the extra rabdi that he had carefully sprinkled on the kulfi. I turned back and saw him smiling at me just the way he did many years ago, when I was a child. Amidst the blaring speakers and the crazy crowd, I felt a warm tear of happiness trickle down my eyes as I relived the precious moments of childhood again, making the taste of kulfi, even sweeter.
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