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“Anything Else, ma’am?”

I was on my way home from college, when my mother texted me and asked me to pick up some groceries from the local kirana store.

I listed out all that I needed to the shopkeeper, more interested to the songs on my mp3 player, tapping my fingers in rhythm and impatience.  It had been a long day, and I wanted to go home. After fetching the items, he asked courteously, “Anything else, ma’am?”

I froze.

Ever since we moved to this neighbourhood ten years ago, this is the shop we visited most often for grocery shopping. I have tagged here along with my mother, peering excitedly at the glass bottles of candy, displayed prominently to entice kids like me. I have come here, a warm coin curled up in my fist – that week’s pocket money – and spent a long time wrestling with the conundrum of which chocolate to buy.

I have visited this shop often during the summer vacations to buy zillions of ice-creams and at Christmas, dragged my father here, to buy chocolates and plum cakes. I have come here with my playmates, when some magnanimous parent or other had handed one of us a currency note and said, “Go buy some sweets and share them with your friends”. I have stood behind, giggling and prodding each other, daring them to go talk to the shopkeeper. It was a daunting task back then.

I have heard the same shopkeeper (minus the silver streaks in his hair) tease me and address me, while I shyly hid behind my mother’s pallu. When I couldn’t reach a packet of crisps, he has many-a-time come to my aid.

I don’t know when I transcended into this new category of customers — customers who were not to be teased, but spoken to courteously. I don’t know if it is a welcome change.

*

I was sitting at my desk, next to the window, studying for my upcoming psychology exams. Now and then excited giggles and laughter from the kids playing below would reach my ears.

Suddenly someone shouted — “Priyanka Didi!

I recognized both the person being called and the caller. Priyanka was the youngest girl in our group of playmates. The one we never took seriously, the one to be picked last since she was always thought of as a liability to the team than an asset. I was the eldest, and animously called by all those in our neighborhood playgroup, Didi. To think that someday my title would pass on to Priyanka was surreal, but it had, and somehow till that afternoon I had never realized it.

As for the caller, I was already a teenager by the time she was born. I have seen her take her first steps, played ‘peek-a-boo’ with her and pulled her cheeks.

She had grown up in front of my eyes, but somehow I never realized that so had I.

*

Jolly Didi was my grandmother’s aide and companion. She had always been there, as far as my childhood memory stretches back to, and whenever we visited my grandmother, she would play with me and my sister. She would tell us jokes, teach us new games and narrate funny anecdotes from her village. My sister and I would follow her all around the house while she did her chores, constantly chatting.

She was a constant at my grandmother’s house for most of my early childhood, until she left to get married. Soon after that we moved to Mumbai, and all she became was the vestige of a childhood memory.

I never spared her much thought, until last year when we were visiting my grandmother, and she came for a visit with her son.

I don’t really know what I expected would happen. Maybe I wanted to relive the camaraderie we had shared when I was a child. I would love it if she became her previous self, tell us jokes and play hide-and-seek with us in the garden. But it was not to be.

Clad in a simple orange cotton sari, her head bowed and eyes downcast, she was not the playmate I remembered. Her behaviour towards me was courteous, bordering on reverence. I vaguely remembered her treating my mother and aunts with similar politesse, but I couldn’t fathom why she would treat me in the same way.

A particularly disconcerting moment was when she tried to sit down on the floor, near my feet. I jumped up, shocked, and asked her to sit next to me on the bed. She obeyed me but with a timidness in her behaviour that frustrated me and left me bemused. I wanted to but didn’t know how to dissipate the awkwardness in our relationship.

When her son poked me in jest, she immediately chided him, and begged my pardon. I wanted to scream that I had behaved similarly with her, when I was a child. She instructed her son to touch my feet and when he ran away shyly, she repeatedly begged pardon for his discourteous behaviour. I told her it didn’t matter, that he was just a child, and I didn’t mind – but the words sounded hollow and patronizing, even to my ears.

I was dying to relive, for even one moment, our earlier companionship and comfortable ease. But it was a thing of the past, and I didn’t know how to bring it back it back to life.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “All Grown Up.”

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It’s Been Too Long

With the cool evening breeze, a waft of nostalgia drifted into my room today. Fond reminiscences of my high school friends came to me, and I had a sudden desire to pen down all the memories that were crowding my mind, insisting that they be heard. This semblance at poetry was the result.

It’s been to long since I had an ice-cream with you in the cloy summer heat,
It’s been too long since the long walks home down the empty street,
It’s been too long since I laughed so hard that the nearby trees shook –
And the birds took to flight, all a-clamour,
Indignant at having their siesta disturbed.

It’s been too long since the last plate of shared pani-puri,
The last time we argued about the merits of Harry Potter over Twilight –
Like we were discussing the fate of the world!

It’s been too long since we shared songs over our phone’s Bluetooth,
Since we talked in hushed whispers under the librarian’s nose,
Since we giggled over certain words and talked about others in an awe-struck whisper,
Been too long since we discussed our futures on the playground swing!

Back then, life seemed so simple,
The future just within our reach,
All we needed was to pass the exam, and the world would be ours.
Grand dreams, solemn promises to never lose touch,
Promises fade, only memories don’t….

Been too long since I laid out the tale of my heartbreaks to you,
And you with a sympathizing air told me:
All boys are fools. You are better off alone“.

Been too long since we bunked of class,
Since riotous games, crazy dares and long hours of playing charades,
Been too long since our group studies, where we did everything but study.
The marks are inconsequential now when balanced against the memories.

The last laugh, the last cry still echo in my mind.
It’s been too long since, dear friend, we relived those memories in time.