Sangeeta Sharma

- Sangeeta Sharma

 It was that time of the day when the shadows lengthen on the ground more than the actual size of the objects and human bodies.
The heat of the sun diminishes a tad bit and cooler breeze replaces strong scorching winds. When people start stepping out of their houses to make their daily miscellaneous purchases and kids for playing with their buddies after spending a long hot day indoors.
By almost that time of the day, I could reach the town-hall area of my native town, Ghaziabad.
I was aghast by its extreme vapidness. The streets were dusty littered with dried leaves, used disposable bowls, glasses and wooden spoons, ice-cream cups almost everywhere. I felt I was visiting a very laidback dust-laden township shorn of its vintage beauty.
The place that used to delight us no bounds, during our childhood days, for which my siblings and I used to countdown for months in advance was right in front of me but sans any joy and pleasure.
I had boarded the same cycle-rickshaw from the station to this place that we used to 40 years back just to relive my cherished memories of the place. I had got down from Uber cab at the station deliberately to ride a cycle-rickshaw. However, nothing seemed to appeal me as before.
Only few shops around my ancestral home, that was located in the heart of the city, had survived the winds of change. Nanku’s sweet shop was nowhere to be traced....same way the haberdasher’s shop had gone with the winds of change.
New names on the signboards and new faces at the counter of the shops put me off all the more.
It was with great expectations and enthusiasm I had reached this far-off place. After having settled in the US for the last 10 years, this visit to India was the third one when I could actually brace myself up to reach this place from Jaipur where I was visiting my younger brother. As I passed through the street, I tried to gaze into the eyes of the shopkeepers in a vain effort to remind them my childhood face. Every time I looked at a new pair of eyes looking at me, I slowed my speed expecting at least one of them would call me out by my childhood name ‘Munna,’ recollecting it. Disappointingly, it didn’t happen.
After loitering through the streets for some time, for some reprieve, I thought of entering the corridor of the old ancestral house. To my surprise, I found that the façade of the ground floor, drastically changed. It was now a shopping plaza – with six shops on one side and six on the other. All shopkeepers seemed to be absorbed with their salesmen attending their customers.
As we all know, in India, shopping is no less than a mania –be it a big city or a small township as this. Women, in particular, have become shopaholics - it may be online shopping or off-line but this is one activity that keeps them busy and their spirits high. Life is spicy for them only when this everlasting search for the right dress is on. Like a mirage it seems achievable. However, the moment they become the proud owner of the dress, they start finding lacunae in it and the perennial hunt goes on.
 In this fast-changing world, where short encounters form long-term impressions, people want to create the best first impression. Hence, the search for that exclusive garment which is eye-catchy, trendy still elegant goes on perennially. Be it any garment shop or any first-rate branded garment shop in a costly mall… they are always full of potential customers. If not real shopping, women console themselves with mere window-shopping. Here I was able to make out-some of them were saree shops, some cloth material, readymade garments and footwear shops.
I was amazed to look at the frenzied movements of women in and outside the shop. Some pointing towards their chosen dresses and requesting the salesman to take them off the hangers or the mannequins, others asking the cost of the dress they have liked and some busy haggling in newer ways so as to manipulate the salesman to reduce the cost of the one in hand.
 In US, he has never seen such a thing happening. There, dresses are showcased with their cost displayed on the tags and there is no room for bargain. If the cost suits your pocket, purchase it or move ahead. However, in India, and especially in such middle-class markets, there is still lot of scope for haggling. Even if the shopkeepers display a ‘Fixed Rate’ board, they yield to the constant insistence for reduction in the fixed price. Middle-class homemakers, who find time leisure-hours only in the afternoons, set out to shop, sacrificing their siesta. Immersed in the experience, they even forget the afternoon heat. Salesmen, too, are at their best, luring women customers to the sarees and dresses they have liked. Never wanting to lose their prospective customers, they even drape sarees over their trousers to show to them how beautiful will they look once they drape them-to tempt them all the more.
Off-shores, it had taken several years for me to get stable in my job, that too after a long relentless struggle. At around the age of 30, I had reached Utah, USA, where my paternal uncle was based. He provided me shelter for the first few months while I was devoid of job. But as I got an appointment on probation, I moved out to a small apartment with few other males sharing the space.
 After gawking at the nude show of increased consumerism, I thought of climbing up to the first floor of the house which used to be the hub of action of Dwivedi khandan. At least, visiting the first floor bedrooms, kitchen and open space would serve the purpose of my visit to some extent. I reached for the staircase. The architecture had completely altered. One shopkeeper , who was the only one idling his time, informed that the house has been sold off to some Chaurasia family three years  back and they have put up a gate at the entry of the first floor which is well secured from within. There I was again, left with no access to my sepia-toned memories.
Disheartened, I thought of at least savouring Pandit’s khasta kachauris of the past repute   which were popular even now as the last ditch effort towards revisiting my childhood pleasures. The next moment, I was standing there in front of his 4-feet wide hearth lit with gas cylinder now. Earlier it used to be coal-laden, not any more. A 4-feet wide frying pan filled with hot oil made the place hotter than it was at that time of the day. Around 50 kachoris, simmering in that hot oil and very rich aroma of refined wheat flour being deep fried in refined oil whiffing, made my mouth water.
As I was devouring hot khasta kachauris with traditionally flavoured aloo sabzi, it clicked me…this delicacy, at least, has allowed me to relive my childhood taste. It had not changed a bit. Exactly the same traditional taste of the good old days.
The concoction of fenugreek, cumin, hing and fennel seeds was amazing.  Finely sliced green chillies, red tomatoes and smashed potatoes added to the flavor all the more.
 One thing that was constant as my childhood days was this north-Indian delicacy and second was the excessive heat of May. As I took bite after bite, I could feel sweat-beads rolling down from my scalp to the back and front of my earlobes to my side-burns and dropping from my jawline onto the ground. My body had almost become a mini fountain oozing droplets of sweat incessantly.
Was this sweat due to the hot spicy aloo sabzi with khasta  or was it the result of the exhaustion of my travel from Jaipur to Ghaziabad or the excitement of visiting my maternal ancestral house after a long span of 20 years or if not any of these, then it may be due to the disappointment of not finding much of what my heart had cherished.
Migrating from our homeland to an alien land always makes our roots the most special - its people, its smell, its food, its soil, its feel, in general, and every speck of the place, in particular, makes you nostalgic. While all these thoughts were spinning in my mind, ‘Aur loge saab’ shook me out from my reverie to the reality. I said, ‘No, no, thanks!’
I, however, internally agreed to myself that Indian cuisine is matchless. Compare it with Italian, Chinese, Continental or any other cuisine, Indian is unbeatable.
It is not astonishing at all, I realized, if people from all over the globe are drawn towards India, it is not because of the iconic Taj Mahal alone or the old forts of Delhi, Jaipur and Udaipur, snake-charmers or the narrow lanes but because of its delicious spicy food.
After relishing the delectable khasta kachauris that had made me forget all the disappointment, I realized why when we ask visiting tourist-friends their food preferences and give them an option of bland and boiled their-type of food, why they decline the offer and settle down for the Indian food instead….it could be anything from panipuri to biryani to samosa or pavbhaji!!!

Indian cuisine wins all hearts!!

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