I conclude today the series on those who serve the citizens of Calcutta.
Yesterday, over our Sunday lunch at home, my wife Rajashi and I were talking about all the delectable forbidden things one craved for and had as a child. The churan-wala's wares, for instance. A churan-wala sells churan, a pungent sour tidbit. He also sells (or used to, among other things, like spinning tops and whistles) small red berries with a pungent and spicy powder topping; larger red-orange berries (kool in Bangla, ber in Hindi); 2-3 types of face-contorting sour fruits; tamarind chutney; candied anis seeds; bubble gum; cigarette sweets etc etc.
The churan-wala, the ice cream man and the gola-wala would be part of the environment around a school gate. The gola-wala sells a kind of soft ice cream, served on a tiny earthen cup, basically crushed, sweetened ice, with some more colours and flavours added. Children (from middle-class households) are strictly forbidden to eat such things. And needless to add, children cannot help disregarding this. Unstoppable illicit pleasures.
When I think of these people - I am moved to tears. Little children grow older, grow up, get educated, go out into the world, become adults, become achievers, have kids of their own - who then sometimes return to the same school. But the churan-walas, the gola-walas (many of whom are Muslim) stay on, unchanging, humble, like custodians of memory.
I had once thought about the very special relationship between these sellers of local wares and their children-customers. When there was some delay and the child waited at the school gate to be picked up - it is these people who kept an eye on them. Some years back owing to some miscommunication I was very late in picking up my son Rituraj from his school after his weekly cubs meeting. I reached to find him at the gate, looking a bit woebegone. But just as I fondly hoped, there with him, staying back only to cheer him up and keep him company was the gola-wala. I was moved, and hugged the man saying I hoped I would be able to repay the debt one day.
I like to think that when the good kids go to heaven - they will find the churan-wala and the gola-wala there.