Lights dance if you look at them with your eyes crinkled. I did that a lot. Long, straight lamppost lights would begin to run like confused pinwheels. He eyes crinkled like that when he smiled, which he did a lot - the amroodwala who came in the afternoon pushing his hand-card up the hill where we lived.
Only Mummy called him by his name, we called him ‘amroodwala’ in winter and ‘kelewala’ in summer. For the bananas we had to be sent out grudgingly but when he got the guavas, we ran out at the sound of his, ‘amdoodwalaaa’ to claim the best, the ones that were red inside. The red always reminded me of monkeys. Although our visitors were the ashen-faced, long-tailed langoors that raided the garden; jumped on the terrace and if one of us was careless to leave the terrace doors open, came down the stairs into the dining room to polish off any food left on the table.
So Amroodwala would hold one guava in his fingers like a cricket ball, half-turn it and say, yeh! this one’s red inside. His word was enough. Sometimes he was mistaken and the next day on being told so, he would promptly pick two and say, this one for yesterday and this for today. That’s so generous, I always thought.
The little secret has to be that the red amroods didn’t taste any better. It was just the thrill of discovering a red inside, a chance at luck. And luck, well, it was with the others who were allowed the red masala that he gave on paper – neatly folded into a square. Some could even have the guava ‘made’ by him. Parental warnings rang in our heads as he picked one (unwashed warning) and ran his knife (germs, rust warning) once at the centre and then across – taking care not to cut through to the bottom so the slices flowered open like the tin toy that sold on railway stations – the one which when you pressed the tiller, opened four tin petals to reveal a dancing girl inside. He then sprinkled the guava petals with the red masala (dirty hands, fly-sat masala warning) and handed it to the lucky ones while I carried mind inside to be washed in clean water. I would try and replicate his magic by trying not to cut it all the way to the bottom which I eventually always did; mixing red chill powder with salt to get his red that I never did. Tomorrow is another day, a carefree mind would say. An older one now knows that yesterday wasn’t.
*The title 'Friends in small places' is from the Ruskin Bond collection that is 'inspired by people who have left a lasting impression on him'.
Pictures: Shibani Mehta, Chandni Chowk, Delhi 6