March 31, the last day of school. Goodbyes to friends. Promises of plans that would never come to fruition. A flurry of last minute packing that would exist in spite of my mom starting to plan months ago. The smell of mothballs in the room from the large VIP suitcases that were taken from amidst their cobwebs to be used again. Grandparents giving constant worried advice to anyone listening; taking me aside to give me the ‘you’re a big boy now and take care of your mother and sister’ speech. A chocolate handed over by my Uncle along with the reminder to not take anything from strangers. Repetitive advice being given to ma, who nods absent-mindedly.

The smell of aloo ki sabzi with long green chillies and tomatoes. Dozens of hot pooris crackling away in oil, soon to be wrapped in aluminium foil for the long journey ahead; meant to last the entire journey, will be devoured in the first few hours. Tiny packets of lemon and mango pickles on the side. Tinkle comics and Hardy Boys packed in my mother’s bag for me, only to be handed over at the beginning of the journey and not a minute before. Colouring books for my sister. A last minute dash to the musty old lending library for James Hadley Chase and Sidney Sheldon for my mother. Crossword puzzles and sudoku books that no one will ever touch. A room full of gift wrapping paper. A constant lament of there not being enough space.

The smell of the platform. The tired food and drink vendors fanning themselves. The old man sleeping soundly on his bag on the floor, a sleep better than most 5 star hotels can promise. The odd foreigner with a big backpack fending off pesky vendors. The big group that draws everyone’s attention only to get on a train and leave the station oddly silent again. The constant luggage count every 5 meters. Having to walk fast with the coolie because your mother doesn’t trust him. The last minute haggle for an extra 20 rupees. Tight hugs and goodbyes to my father, who we would see only in 2 months.

The first sight of your train. The settling into your seats. That small talk Papa made with the other passengers with the unspoken sub-text of ‘please keep an eye out for my family’. The crisp white bed sheets and soft warm blankets. The first meal; rolled up pooris with aloo handed one by one by ma from the bottom bunk. Your personal light shining on the letters of your book. Your curtains. Your little kingdom.

Your little purse with change and some money. That feeling of independence. A chai wala’s ‘chai garam chai’ refrain hitting your ears. Waiting for tomato soup with extra bread pieces. Waiting for lunch. Waiting for dinner. The lull of sleeping passengers in the afternoon. Being on guard of sister and luggage when ma uses the loo. The smell of moisturiser and Pond’s powder after she gets back. Random conversations with fellow passengers. Games with fellow passengers. Friendships with fellow passengers. Promises to stay in touch.

Nana waiting for us at the railway station with his Dawood Ibrahim sunglasses. The entire neighbourhood aware of our arrival. Chicken curry and hot phulkas on the table with cold, creamy, delicious rasmalai for dessert. Cold skyscrapers of ice cold milk with Roohafza my grandmother would force us to down everyday. Hot kachoris from Rawat that my grandfather would get for breakfast. Nani’s famous Mutton Pulao. McDonalds burgers every other day because my city didn’t have ’em. Seekh kebabs from ‘Talk of the Town’, Butter Chicken from ‘Chawla’s. Faloodas at Bapu Bazaar. Kulfi at Statue Circle. Rajma Chawal at Surya Mahal. Rogan Josh at Niros.

Meeting friends after a year. Cricket matches with ‘one tip one hand’. Four corner, red letter, hide and seek and dumb charades. Night walks, morning matches. Getting accepted amongst the neighbourhood kids. Becoming popular amongst the neighbourhood kids. Learning my first hindi swear word (BC). Laughing at my first ‘non-veg’ joke.

Endless dinners and kitty parties. Me calling out the numbers for Tambola. Never-ending apartment gossip sessions. Ma and Nani talking for hours in the afternoons. Cards at 6 in the evening. Helping Nana clean his precious Fiat Padmini that smelled like groceries and seat cleaner. Thakur and dacoit movies on Sony Max in the afternoons and Aahat and CID at night with Nana. Non-stop shopping trips. Dinners with relatives. Recitals of the same stories that seem interesting in spite of you knowing the story better than the storyteller. STD calls to Pa. Nana constantly asking us to hang up.

Almost time to leave. Ma and Nani’s faces lose cheer. Time seems short. Hurried gift buying for the people back home. Last minute bucket list. Preparing for the same journey again. Goodbye dinners. Goodbye parties. Irritable ma shouting at me 10 times a day. Sulking 10 times a day. Making my sister cry.

Saying goodbye to Nani, the warmest hug in the world.

Saying goodbye to Nana, never to see him again.

Summertime is special, folks. Grab it and keep it close to your hearts. It will be over before you know it.



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Pranav Mathur

I work for other people in the day and on myself in the night. Wait… that sounds wrong.