Friday, June 01, 2007

Blue Hawaii Slippers

Soon after our school final exams in May, my mother would set off with my two brothers and me to spend the one-month summer holidays in Delhi with my nana, my maternal grandfather. I hated Delhi summers (still do) because I found the dry heat unbearable but the trip was an unavoidable ritual: that was the only time my grandparents got to spend with us kids.

The preparation for the train journey included a heavy wicker basket with the food (puris, two varieties of dry subzi, mango chutney, pickles and fruit), napkins, disposable leaf-plates and stainless steel glasses and spoons. Then there were two hold-alls with the beddings and towels (and later my novels), and a small, almost inconspicuous, rectangular wicker basket wrapped in a silk cloth carrying the family gods. My mother couldn't leave her pooja (altar deities) behind while she travelled...after all, the gods needed caring too. The silk cloth was to insulate the holy basket from "unclean" influences during the journey.

During the journey from Bombay to Delhi, my mother's rules for us boys were strict: don't eat anything from strangers (decline politely), don't reveal personal details to co-passengers (where you lived, what your dad did), don't litter (only gawars, the illiterate louts, did that), don't get down at stations (unless you want to get left behind on some forsaken station) and wear slippers the minute you step down from your berth.

There was yet another rule which was selectively bent by her consent: don't eat cooked food from the railway platform vendors. But, as I told you, this rule was a trifle elastic. We kids, and my mom too, loved the chivda at Baroda, the spicy sev at Ratlam, the tea in kullads at Biyana, and the pedas at Mathura station. Since I was the youngest, I had to stay back with mom, while my older brothers were dispatched to get the pardoned foodstuff from the platforms of the respective stations. And till they returned, my mother would be peering from between the window bars to keep an eye on them and to admonish them if they strayed too far from the bogie.

Once, I made a huge fuss and got off at Biyana station with my brothers to fetch the trademark tea in earthernware mugs. I remember it was early morning when the train steamed into the station and I was wearing green shorts and blue 'Bata' slippers. My mother was anxious that the train would start any minute and was calling out to us to forget the tea and climb aboard. And we overconfident boys kept calling back, "Just a minute more, bhabhi!" (As I told you elsewhere earlier, that's what we kids called our mother).

Then the train let out a long whistle and there was minor panic. Gathering the tea kullads and thrusting money into the vendor's hands we rushed back towards the train. My anxious mother was now at the door, peering onto the platform. I can still conjure her leaning out of the bogie door, in her black georgette sari with cheerful large paisley prints.

My brothers were faster and made it to the train first, and with a smart swing were on the footboard and then up into the bogie. I was a wee bit slower and though I managed to climb aboard even as the train was just beginning to gather speed, I felt the slipper slip off from my left foot and fall between the train and the platform. I was dismayed. I had just bought the pair the day before. There was absolutely no way to retrieve the slipper and the train was now impatiently hastening out of the platform.

My mother saw the slipper fall, heard the train rattle faster and she took a lightening fast decision. "Quick, fling out the other slipper too!" she called out to me over the growing racket of the train. After the briefest twinge of reluctance, I hastily took off the other slipper and dropped it on the last lap of the receding platform.

My mother must have felt as sad as I did at losing a new pair of slippers but she didn't glare at me or scold me. She just gently patted my head and said, "At least whoever finds the slippers will be able to wear them. You couldn't have worn a single slipper, could you?"

1 comment:

shival said...

Being a Gujarati myself, I love Lilaa Chivda from Baroda. Reminds me of my father who used to ask for chivda everytime, when i was working in Baroda.

Great narration! Looking forward to read from from you.

Thank you :).