Yesterday was my daughter’s last exam. Geography brought the curtains down on standard four and a week of chaos. There were papers flying all around the house and the study table creaked under a mountain of books.
In an effort to push forward the spring-cleaning, I suggested that she sort out what was redundant into neat piles. We’d then turn it over to the raddiwala.. and the money was hers to keep.
My 10 year old was delighted. In less than an hour, the books and papers had been packed away. “How much will it be?” she asked me, eyeing the bulging shopping bags. “About three-four kilos,” I hazarded a guess. “You should get around Rs 20.” Noting her disappointed frown, my husband quickly doubled her earnings. I knew where the extra Rs 20 was coming from, but remained silent as I watched the smile return to her face.
“What will you do with the money?” I wondered, and was told it would be go into her piggy bank. “When school reopens I will spend it on vada pavs and pav bhaji from the canteen. You won’t have to pack me lunch for a week,” she beamed.
Her words triggered off a memory flash. I suddenly remembered the jhalmuri (a Bengali version of bhelpuri) seller who waited outside my school every afternoon. As the school buses stopped to negotiate the traffic, he would flit around slipping packets through the windows. You got a taste of the chatpata snack for Rs 5. But it wasn’t easy to lay hands on a crisp note.. it would mean too many explanations and parental lectures. I preferred to add up the char anas and 50 paisas I collected for days.. sometimes weeks.
Since the concept of pocket money was alien to our household and I took the school bus, it wasn’t easy to lay my hands on the small fortune. Fortunately, one of my friends, Deepanita, always had a generous supply of easy cash and the last period was often spent in trying to wheedle some money from her.
She was usually pretty obliging even though in the melee of after-school rush she often didn’t get to savour the jhalmuri she had paid for. She remains one of my oldest and dearest friends.
My ma-in-law who took the public bus to school confided that she would get down a few stops earlier and walk home so she could save on the fare that went into buying boiled sweets. Today, she would undoubtedly stop her granddaughter from buying the junk, but those days she would happily suck on the sweets for hours.
Give and take
Golas and candyfloss from roadside thelas have been equally popular with all generations.. as also khatta kairi slices and churan golis. My uncle recalled feasting on channa in his school days.
“The channawala would drop by once a week and we’d be waiting with our coins. But there were times when we didn’t have any. Looking at our woebegone little faces, he would instruct us to bring him any old newspapers and bottles we could lay our hands on,” he flashbacked. “He’d leave with them after handing us 25 paisa packets of channa. It’s strange that today when I can buy anything I want, nothing tastes as good as that masala channa. I wonder why?”
I know why. He no longer yearns for the channa.. has to earn it. It’s the waiting and the worrying that enhances the taste. My daughter occasionally gets her ice cream, burger and pizza treats that others pay for. But I know that nothing tastes better than the canteen vada pavs that she pays for.