Pandas from Haridwar
The duo came every six months to Anta, my village. They walked as if out of a movie. Looked like desi versions of Laurel and Hardy. One was fulsome, the other not even the former's half. The fluffy one had his moustaches droop like a bridge on his lips, while the other had a protruding denture and a clean-shaven upper lip. Rajbir Deswal writeschandigarh Updated: Feb 01, 2014 09:55 IST
The duo came every six months to Anta, my village. They walked as if out of a movie. Looked like desi versions of Laurel and Hardy. One was fulsome, the other not even the former's half. The fluffy one had his moustaches droop like a bridge on his lips, while the other had a protruding denture and a clean-shaven upper lip. Nobody seemed to have informed the latter that it did not suit him at all. But he did not do any talking, while his well-fed colleague remained a blabber-mouth, blurting out meaningless, crammed blessings on his lips for their clients.
They wore the traditional dhoti-kurta with a black jacket, of whose pockets were always 'stuffed and padded'. The frail one carried the hold-all of donations, while the hefty one carried only his red diary and a pencil. He made immense notes for that seemed to be their USP since they carried every record to be finally documented in the ledgers kept at 'Har Ki Pauri' in Haridwar.
These ledgers are still held relevant in evidence of disputed parenthood cases. The Pandas sported three horizontal lines of sandal paste on their forehead, above which was seated a Maarwari cap. "Bhagwan raji rakhe, parmatma!" was the refrain as if involuntarily synched with their breath.
The women in the households looked to them in awe, admiration and obeisance for they 'predicted' things, while the men in Anta thought them to be 'Fasli-Bater'-birds swarming and preying locust like on soft seeds when the crops begin to mature. They secretly, in their male-chauvinist hearts also might not have liked these Pandas spending hours and hours with their women holding their hands and reading palms. This girl will 'rule' after marriage and this one will 'go to a very far-off land, even saat samundar paar - beyond the seven seas'. "Hai…!"-would the wenches then exclaim seeking an upay - a remedy.
I remember once these Pandas told my mother that my dana-pani was ordained in a hospital in the month of Fagun. Mother's heart missed a beat when she called out other women around for moral support. Almost losing breath, she asked for an upay. The Panda suggested that they should have cloth of the length of me, sew it into a bag, fill it with wheat flour, put some turmeric in it besides blackening the corners of the sack. Well, they knew that I was the only son in the family and they could exploit the sentiments of the noble hearts of mothers and sisters. I remember mother did the Panda's bidding donating the stuff there and then to them only, believing in the efficacy of an immediate remedy which was not less than first-aid to my 'prophesied hospitalisation.' By the way, I broke my hand during that month of March.
I still remember the Pandas leaving our household and wading through the watered-fields carrying hugely loaded hold-alls. I also remember the hefty Panda looking at the women in the household through the uppermost corner of his spectacles. And I never believed them unlike my naïve mother.