Wednesday, August 09, 2006

My sentimental mornings

Every morning as I walk the walk from the bus stop to work, I stop by at a nearby darshini for a big post-workout breakfast. It’s been a while since I’ve confessed to my darshini addiction and my routine is juggled around everyday to accommodate either a darshini breakfast or a lunch into the day’s menu.

Sometimes, I eat breakfast at the smaller darshini on the quieter street closer to the office, depending on which bus I take, since the stops are pretty far apart. On bus number 20 or 27-E days, when I walk up to the corner, I see a familiar face look up from his plate of set dosa to smile at me. Every 20 or 27-E day. He waves me over to share his small section of the steel table that everyone stands around. And once I’m done handing over my colour-coded food ticket, having procured my breakfast items, I squeeze through the crowd towards Mr Reddy, former advocate, High Court.

That’s how he introduced himself the first time I met him, as I shared his table along with other strangers, as you often do in darshinis. Nobody usually looks at what you’re eating, no one smiles hello or asks how you’re doing. Everyone’s busy digging into bowls of vada-sambar, scooping up potato palya with a piece of crisp paper dosa or dipping fluffy idlis into cool coconut chutney. Nobody smiles goodbye and tells you to have a nice day. Perhaps because darshini dining deserves one’s undivided attention.

As I cut my vada with the standard two-steel-spoon technique, I was vaguely aware of someone looking at me. I looked up and remember thinking to myself that this man looked a lot like my grandfather who passed away. I used to call my dadu Ha-dadu, because of his loud, unabashed laughter. Hah Hah Hah.

I smiled at Mr. Reddy, who then asked me if I would pour his coffee from one steel tumbler into the other, to help him cool it. And then he said, Myself, Reddy. Former advocate of the High Court. And we started talking. A little more each day.
And he waves me over whenever we meet at the corner darshini. He asks about my work, my family, my travel plans for the month, my bus route, traffic, weather, anything. And just when I think he isn’t there as I step up to the darshini, I hear my name being called from one of the steel tables and make my way through the crowd to join Mr Reddy and pour his coffee from one tumbler to another, leaving half to cool as he sips the other half.

He walks to the nearby park every morning and treats himself to breakfast before going back home. Sometimes, when I’m late to breakfast and he’s already asked someone else to pour his coffee, he’ll still wait for me to finish and walk past my office with me, on his way home. Sometimes when I’m early, he joins me and I wait for him. He sips his coffee slowly and his hands tremble gently with age.

This morning, Mr Reddy’s daughter was standing next to him at one of the tables. She lives in the US and is visiting Bangalore with her husband and child. She introduced herself, saying that she’s heard about me and thanked me for helping her father with his breakfast. Thanked me. Whatever for, I asked.

She smiled and fed her son khara bhaath as he sat on the wobbly table. You go ahead, appa, I’ll finish with this and catch up, she said. Mr Reddy told her that he’d like to wait with them if they didn’t mind.
Today you carry on, he said to me as I handed him his walking stick that rests beside the water cooler while he eats.
In all these months I’ve never seen him smile so wide as he did this morning when he was watching his grandson make a mess of his upma.

Ever since Mr Reddy and I have established this informal routine, I’ve been thinking about my own grandfathers. One in Kolkata, whom I speak to every Sunday morning. And one who remains a vivid memory.
I’ve been missing Ha-dadu and wishing that I wasn’t a bratty teenager when he passed on. I wish I had shared breakfasts with him. I wish I had offered to join him on his morning walks. I would’ve liked to talk to him. Really talk to him. I wish I hugged him more.

The next time I hear Shastidadu’s voice will be when I get to Kolkata next week. He’ll jump up from the sofa in front of the television when I surprise everyone by landing up at the flat early in the morning. He’ll feign anger at my not having told them. When I bend down to touch his feet in a pronaam he'll catch me by the shoulders and stop me halfway. He’ll ask me why I show no signs of getting married to a nice Bengali boy. He’ll raise his hand, pretending to be ready to slap me when I steal his spot on the couch, curling up near the armrest where the seat has started sagging to accommodate his weight.
And I’ll remember to hug him.