By the way | A trip through time, and candy as souvenir | punjab | chandigarh | Hindustan Times
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By the way | A trip through time, and candy as souvenir

A trip to a semi-Punjabi town in Rajasthan, as far removed from Chandigarh as from Jaipur, about 350 kilometres in opposite directions. And inside a single-storey structure painted a pale, endearing yellow, looking like a nostalgia shop

punjab Updated: Mar 10, 2018 23:54 IST
Aarish Chhabra
Back in Chandigarh now, where candy comes in several shapes,
Back in Chandigarh now, where candy comes in several shapes, (Amazon)

“What’s he saying?” asks the old man.

“That children need not worry too much about exams,” explains the son, raising his pitch above the TV’s.

“That’s nice! What’s to worry about anyway? We never did, and we turned out quite fine, so to speak,” the old man giggles.

“I don’t know,” replies the son, “This guy says a lot of nice things. A lot of them! This is the latest.”

“I know. He has to, you know. He is, after all, the Prime Minister,” the old man understands.

“Who’s up for some kheer?” shouts the matriarch of the house from the kitchen. Silence means yes. She doesn’t need an answer anyway. It’s just an announcement signifying that rice, milk and kishmish have been put to good use.

And so it continues. But that’s after you enter. Rewind to the outside, and the house looks like the one from that amazingly dignified animation movie ‘Up’. (Yes, the house that an old man makes airborne using balloons. YouTube it, OK!) This one is in a semi-Punjabi town in Rajasthan, as far removed from Chandigarh as from Jaipur, about 350 kilometres in opposite directions. It’s a single-storey structure painted a pale, endearing yellow, looking like a nostalgia shop, while all the others in the lane look like showrooms of glass facades, vitrified tiles, and cockiness.

The gate — actually, just a pair of wooden doors — is open, and the sounds inside tell you the place is still populated. The two men of the house are watching TV. The old man is hard of hearing, bedridden, nearing 90; the son, nearing 50, blind, diligent. The woman is busy cooking an evening snack or an early dinner, whatever it is. She is close to 80, arthritic, authoritative, artfully sweet. They are alive, and how.

How is this happening? Why aren’t they pitiable? I pity myself.

“How many years has it been since we last met?” I ask the old man. He does not hear me, shakes his hand near his ears. And wonders who I am. “I cannot see from one eye; and the other one is too old, you know,” he explains.

The lady knew this would happen, and walks into the room. “He is your nephew,” she screams into his ear, twice, thrice. He does not get it, he says. He wants the son to tell him instead. The son purrs into his ear my nickname.

The old man is now young, his eyes — one not working, the other too old — open wide, wider. “How many years has it been since we last met?” he asks me now. Why does he want to know? This moment, everything, is just the same as it was when he first took me to a shop around the corner, and bought me candy shaped like orange slices. I don’t know how old I was. I don’t know how long it’s been.

I know him. And I am relieved that he knows me now.

“Have kheer!” he tells me. I am busy with tears. He is busy measuring my head, then checks my shoulders, my knees, and asks me to stand up, to see if I have turned out well.

“Go, get kheer for yourself!” he orders again. The news bulletin resumes.

I wander about the house, walk in and out of the two other rooms, touching the chairs in the courtyard; and then into the kitchen where I am handed a bowl of love. The sugar and kishmish are incidental; it’s sweet anyway. “Want more?” asks the matriarch. All of it, every day, I tell myself.

“Let’s go! You have met them, na! ” shouts a cousin who lives nearby. “We have a wedding to attend. That’s what you came all the way from Chandigarh for; didn’t you?”

No, I did not come for that. I came for something else.

The old man knows.

As I walk into his room, where the bulletin is now over, his arm extends, precisely, to a box that houses time. He takes out candy from it and hands me two.

I am back in Chandigarh now, where candy comes in several shapes, kheer is sold in packets, and time is money.

“Want more?” he had asked.

“No, please keep some for next time, taaya ji.”

Writer tweets at @aarishc | Email: aarish.chhabra@htlive.com)