Friday, May 28, 2010

Cinnamon Powder - II: Bade Miyan

It is about 10 in the morning and it is a Sunday. My sister and I have just finished reading the horoscope section in the special Sunday supplement. Pa is outside tinkering with the car. Ma is in the kitchen trying to come up with the lunch menu. Soon enough, we hear the sound of a bicycle’s bell and we know it is Bade Miyan. My sister and I both leave the paper and step out into the back garden. We shout for Pa on our way and tell Ma too that Bade Miyan has come.

Bade Miyan is there dressed in his faded grey-blue Afghani suit with a black and white checkered chador around his shoulders. He fixes his cap a bit and smiles at us. His paan stained mouth and the missing front teeth just add to his charm. He asks after us and wants to know if we have been well. Both of us are too curious about what he has gotten us today and answer his questions hurriedly.

On his cycle, he carries a huge circular metallic container and it is there where our eyes are fixed. He’s waiting for Ma to arrive so that he can show his ware but both of us coax him to open the container and let us have a peek. Inside, there lie all types of fishes – big and small, familiar ones and strange ones. Both of us excitedly keep pointing out to each type and asking its name, just to forget the very next instant. This is Bade Miyan and his trade. He was our regular fishmonger for years. And that is a rarity in the part of Delhi that we lived in. Though we stayed near INA Market, one of the best markets in South Delhi, there was something extremely charming about having Bade Miyan come each Sunday to sell his fishes to us.

Ma has also come out now and so has Pa and while they are busy inspecting the quality (always impeccable) and the size of the fish they want, both of us are busy quizzing Bade Miyan about where he gets his fishes from, why some of them are small, why doesn’t he get us the beautiful orange ones and more. Bade Miyan would always answer us first and always with a smile, never tiring of our useless questions. He would smile and say “Gudiya, woh sunheri waali bhi laa dunga, lekin unhe sambhaal ke rakhna.” He meant the goldfish that most people keep as pets and which to us was something that we saw in films but never in Bade Miyan’s collection and so wondered why he didn’t get them. Of course, we were naïve enough to think that all kinds of fish could be found in Bade Miyan’s collection. He was our fish expert! No matter what kind of fish we bought and how much or how less for the entire week or the special lunch, Bade Miyan would always put in something extra into the basket, shyly saying “gudiya ke liye”. It was always something from his choicest ware – his best fish or the best shrimps or the best roe. Without fail, he would leave something for his gudiyas.

Summer vacations during school days were always something that all children looked forward to (and still do, I presume) and we were no different. Summer vacations meant long, lazy days filled with books and games and painting and people. Most of our summer holidays were spent either visiting Orissa or having our grandparents visit us in Delhi. We are a family that believes in good food on all occasions and the food gets even better when sharing it with people. All occasions are a reason to celebrate and out come the choicest recipes and all the masalas. Fish dishes have an important place in a family serious about their food the way we are! And this is best demonstrated by my Aju – the biggest fish fan ever! I specifically remember one particular summer Sunday when the house was almost quiet except the sound of the bell that Aju was ringing to wake up the good Gods during his daily puja. And suddenly, the path of the sound changed from the puja room to the backyard garden. My sister and I looked up from our Famous Fives and exchanged quizzical glances wondering what Aju was doing in the backyard garden with the puja bell still ringing! We ran out. And there was Aju still holding and actually ringing the puja bell while asking Bade Miyan if he had gotten any hilsi (cod fish but not really) or chungudi (prawns or shrimps) that day. We burst out laughing. Such was (is) Aju’s love for fish that he actually walked out of his puja oblivious to all things spiritual and walked mesmerized by the sound, smell, and anticipation of buying some good fish. While Bade Miyan merrily talked away to him and showed him the best hilsi, again completely oblivious of the ringing bell.

One day Bade Miyan’s smile made his eyes sparkle more than ever and as soon as my sister and I jumped out into the garden, he showed us a plastic bag with one small, black-grey fish in it – swimming and alive! It was to be our first (and last) pet! Both of us were extremely excited. We rushed in to tell Ma what Bade Miyan had got us. And soon it was a flurry of activities; Bade Miyan helped us release the fish from its temporary plastic home into a tub of water and advised us on what we could feed it. He reassured us that soon it would grow bigger. We became more scared of that than get reassured. And from then on, it would be a constant supervision of the fish. We reported that the fish looked sleepy, or wanted more food, or that the water should be changed and even contemplated giving it some ice-cold water. We reported that it had been swimming in the same direction for 3 hours and then reported that it had taken a U-turn. Bade Miyan’s gift still remains the only pet I have ever had and has given me very good memories.

Bade Miyan would come regularly but there were days when he came but his smile was missing and when his eyes looked darker. Those were the days when he worried and fretted about what his sons would become and if his grandchildren would be taken care of. His biggest worry was if anyone would continue in this smelly and difficult fish business after him. He was a man who was passionate and proud of his work but the times were a-changing and none of his sons wanted to continue in the fish trade. They were ashamed of it and wanted to instead diversify to working as mechanics or at tailor shops. All this pained Bade Miyan and he would lament to Pa and Ma that “ab bacchhe to bade ho gaye hain, jo unhe pasand hai wahi karenge lekin is kaam mein jo sukun hai woh kahin aur kahan milega unhe”. Bade Miyan’s worries were not without reason; he was a simple man who considered the fish as almost sacred and gave it the respect that one gives to the thing that lets you live your life. This was the only trade he knew and this was the only trade that he could teach his children, which would guarantee them prosperity. I think he was also scared that if the fishes were to leave his house, it would be inauspicious. However, life did change and none of his children took up the trade. Soon, Bade Miyan became too old and too ill to come on each Sunday. And soon, these days turned into years when Bade Miyan did not come. We worried about him and his family and worried more on days when there was news of communal riots in some parts of the cities. Though these incidents were few and far between, each such incident threatened us with the possibility of Bade Miyan getting hurt. We never got any news about him since he was a wanderer and we could go to no one to ask about him. Soon enough Sundays became mundane and the lazy warmth of childhood gave way to the impatient youth. Life went on.

After many years, a man came on a moped and stopped at the gate of our backyard garden. He blew the horn of the moped and called out for Dr. Sahab, my father. It was Bade Miyan’s grandson who had come to sell fish...

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Dealing with it!"

It is kind of sad when people drift away or apart. And such a phase happens with all at various times of their life. Circumstances change and people change with them. For what is the worth of a person if he or she is not adapting to the changing circumstance or situation?

As we go in life, we meet people who seem to color your world in those bright brilliant fairy-tale colors...but unfortunately, all of this comes with a timer. Sooner or later, the lights go out, the color fades, the music stops and a new circumstance comes into being. And then, once again, the warrior puts on fresh paint and gears up for the new things that will come on his or her way and how it will be dealt with.

"Dealt with" seems like a strange word to use for something that should ideally be lived. We say we are dealing with things, with work, with home, with life! Why are we dealing with it and do we realize that when we are dealing with it, those moments are actually being lived? That is what life is about and that was made clear a long time back by many philosophers - life has to be lived and it is never smooth. So, then why do the dark clouds always seem to hover around? Why not accept it and move on?

All these are of course words. Simple words. When it comes to feeling sad or low or hurt or unwanted or disliked, these words don't do anything. They simply sit there waiting for you to get back in the mood when you can see them and understand them. All by yourself.