Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Sohan Papdi – Saikat Banerjee, Haryana


Air has become chilled, dry and the warmth of sun seems to be pleasant. The winter has just peeped in. Woolens are still not compulsory but the chillness can be felt in the air. My daughter was playing with her friends in the garden. I was watching them play and their childish tantrums. It made me remember my golden days as a child. When I was in school I used to move about here and there after my school. Many people may not know the reason exactly; I still remember those days of crisis when parents had to work hard for earning a single penny. I belonged to a lower middle class but my parents never let me face the hostility of being poor. I was admitted to the best school in the town, was provided every single amenity for studies and had never been made to compromise with things which were required for my upbringing. Parents always try to provide their children with the best available facilities. My father always nortured a dream right from my childhood i.e. he wanted me to study in English medium school and speak fluent English; in the times of utter crisis like when sometimes paying my school fees appeared impossible for him he would then sometimes under the dim light of the lantern utter to my mother “ ak din amar chele khub bhalo ingegi bole amake gorbito korbe” (one day my son will speak fluent English and will make me proud), just thinking about it made him feel proud as a father and immediately with this enthusiasm he would get busy to arrange the money for my school fees. Today I am an established person working as an associate professor in the university. Till date my father’s eyes get filled with tears when I am addressed as a good speaker of English literature. My mother does not know the complicacies of hierarchy for her I am the best son she could have. I am lucky to have parents like them. My daughter also likes my speaking skills; for her I act as the saviour who always saves her from her mother’s scolding when she does something wrong. She is just the replica of me when it comes to hooliganism, surely she can manage her grandparents, father and friends, the only exception is her mother. Sometimes she complains to me about her mother how she scolded in front of everybody; the funniest part of it is she tells be “Baba, Maa does not care of my prestige she scolds me in front of anybody. Please tell her not do so.” These are the words of my eight year old girl. Surely today children are very conscious about their image; the credit goes to the present age i.e. Age of Globalisation. I don’t remember such advancement during my time. For me playing was the most important thing after school. I was fond of cricket; I used to play several hours under the scorching heat of the Sun till my mother appeared in the playground and dragged me home. When I was around eleven years old, One day I saw a salesman selling sohan papdi, my eyes lit up, I was very hungry at that time. I asked him what the cost of sohan papdi,. He replied its two rupees for fifty grams. I didn’t have a single penny. I asked him what else I can give him apart from money, he answered scrap metals, tin, etc. I started to think “ where can I get these things?” Suddenly it struck my mind that there is a small scale battery industry nearby; there was a heap of garbage outside this industry which comprised of zinc and metal plates. I asked him to stay right there till I am back. “Some of the plates left there might be in good condition”, I thought and without wasting anytime I ran towards that area in search of those plates. Suddenly chill ran in my spine at the thought of crossing that ominous blackberry tree which appears to have remained there since the time immemorium. According to my neighbours a man had hung himself with that tree. They said “ His spirit resides in that tree and the area was a forbidden one”. It’s the nature of human to believe in myth like this. But the myth became more stronger from some incidents that took place around the premises of the tree. A child crossing the tree was hit by a branch and was severely injured. A man died within hours after he crossed that tree. Still knowingly there was a life risk involved I decided to go that place. When I was near that tree I started chanting gayatri mantra. It gave me power to accomplish the work for which I had set out there. At last I reached the garbage site and found there was a huge dump of garbage; to find scrap metal plates from there was like finding a needle from a hay stack. After a tedious search I could manage four – five such plates. Somebody rightly said that “no pain can ever match the pain of a hungry stomach”. Till date I cannot believe what I had done for my hunger. I went to the sohan papdiwala and gave him those plates; he asked me from where did I get them? I thought if he became aware of the place he might not come again to sell sohan papdi. I asked if I bring you these will give me sohan papdi? He nodded his head, I asked him to come daily and promised him that i will provide him these things. For me it was like a jackpot. After that whenever he came I got sohan papdi in exchange of those useless plates which for me turned out to be quite useful. My parents are unaware of the fact till date. “Baba, please listen to me.” It was my daughter jerking my hands. I was still lost in my thoughts when she started pleading I want to have sohan papdi, Maa is forbidding me to have it because according to her it is not the time to have sohan papdi.” My wife was making her understand it’s already 12 noon so its lunch time, she can have in the evening when she will go out with me. But for her, sohan papdi was more important she could not wait till evening. Her only hope was me and when I looked at her I remembered my face when I didn’t have money to buy sohan papdi. I decided to take her to the sweet shop because I wanted to fulfill all her desires.

Still I can recall that day when it was raining cats and dogs. I was waiting under a tin shade of a shop, hoping that rain will stop soon. But alas! my hopes were washed out with a heavy downpour. I was not having umbrella with me. My friends went home early but I was waiting for the rain to stop. It was more than an hour I was standing there. I was thinking about my mother who might be worried about me. Next moment sound of a bell invaded my thoughts. I looked up to see and was astonished to see that it was the sohan papdiwala. He asked me, “where are your friends?” I replied that they had left early today. He asked me should he drop me to home. But I was afraid, my mother had instructed me never to take help from strangers. But he had an umbrella with him. “I have to reach home soon and the rain is also not stopping”. He said “I would drop you there tell me the way”. I took a deep breath and in the name of Almighty started my journey with him. In a few minutes we reached home. My mother was eagerly waiting for me in the verandah. At the sight of me she felt a sigh of relief. I thanked the sohan papdiwala for his help. That day he had already sold out his entire stock of sohan papdi so, he promised me that he would bring sohan papdi next day for me and for that I don’t have to give him metal plates. With time I moved out for my higher studies and in the course of few years I heard the sohan papdiwala passed away in a fatal road accident.

Twenty years have passed but I still remember those past events so vividly. Then I was a school boy now I am an Associate Professor. Then I was one among the crowd now I am an individuality of my own. I feel that small things do matter in life, that time I was not having even a single penny to buy sohan papdi now I have enough of that. I still recall that many times when my mother use to come late in the evening from work I had to depend on that sohan papdi for curbing my apetite. I was helpless, my parents had to go out for earning a living. I don’t wish to see my daughter helpless for anything. I will not let her face the hardships which I faced as a child.

When we reached the sweet shop, she hurried to the shop owner. She demanded to give her sohan papdi. I could not take my eyes off her, the way she was relishing her sohan papdi. She was contended and I could feel my hunger satiated by seeing her happy and contended. I was feeling the same satisfaction which my father always feels i.e watching me conversing in English fluently.

Key Words

# Sohan papdi- a famous sweet dish of India made of flour, sugar and milk.

# Sohan paadiwala – a person who sells sohan papdi

# Baba – Father in Bengali.

# Maa- Mother in Bengali.

# Gayatri mantra- Chanting of Sacred hymns of Vedas.

# Verandah- Space in front of main door of house.

Editorial Team of Indian Ruminations.


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