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Lost in time

Bawaji?s only son was in the Indian Air Force and had died in the 1971 war. He knew most of us by our names. I felt special.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 00:10 IST

Down a narrow lane from my school was a candy shop. It was actually a general store but a range of mouth-watering chocolates and candies in colourful wrappers were displayed on the racks visible from the street — as kids we were oblivious to anything else in the shop. A Parsi gentleman, a former freedom fighter who had accompanied Gandhiji on many protest marches,  owned the shop. We used to call him Bawaji.

The shop would open after 10 a.m. So it was only after school, when we walked back home in little groups, that we rallied to gaze wistfully at the spread. We weren’t even qualified for pocket money at that age. All that one was entitled to was an occasional motherly benevolence On such fortunate days, armed with at most Rs 2, I would wait impatiently for the three hours of primary school to get over, and then rush to the candy shop.

Bawaji’s only son was in the Indian Air Force and had died in the 1971 war. He knew most of us by our names. I felt special. Not only was my name the same as his son’s but Bawaji said there was a stark resemblance in our features as well. I was his favourite, and often used to get a complimentary toffee, much to the envy of the others. He would tell me stories about his association with Gandhiji, his freedom fighter friends, and about the wars of 1965 and 1971. He always encouraged me to join the armed forces.

My father was transferred the next year to Mumbai so it was goodbye to my candy shop.

I’ve returned to the city after 25 years as Squadron Leader with the Indian Air Force. I’ve been transferred from Fort William Station, Kolkata to Palam Air Force Station, Delhi. I wanted to surprise Bawaji and tell him that I had fulfilled his dream by joining the Air Force.

But all I found was a ruins in place of the glittering candy shop. On inquiry, I came to know that the MCD had pulled down the shop although it had been allotted to Bawaji by the government as compensation for the loss of his son’s life in the war. It was demolished taking away what little the two old people had. Bawaji’s wife suffered a major heart attack and died after the incident. After his wife’s death, Bawaji became emotionally unstable and committed suicide within a month.

I returned to the site later. Nothing really had changed as such — students in the same school uniform walked in like-minded groups from the school, the same discussions about cricket, the same trivial fights and peculiar idiosyncrasies, the same everything exactly as it used to be 25 years ago — except that in place of my candy shop lay a pile of broken bricks and dreams.