Nostalgia is a funny thing. There is no telling where you might suddenly bump into an old memory tucked away in some dark, less-frequented recesses of your brain or what might suddenly trigger off an almost dramatic flashback sequence, not unlike the hammy scene you would see in a 70s or 80s Hindi blockbuster. Except, I don’t wildly clutch my hair and totter around like a maniac with a bucket-load of sweat escaping through every pore in my body!
So, yeah, nostalgia. Like I said, almost anything can set it off. In my case, it was coconut laddoos. Yesterday, I was walking by one of the more reputed sweet shops in South Delhi when I spied something that made my eyes pop and my mouth drool. Coconut laddoos! A side note: the sight of an ‘over’grown woman clapping her hands in glee, even as her face contorts into a series of clownish expressions, is apparently not welcomed by the general public. Please refrain from making a fool of yourself in this manner. So alarmed was the doorman at the slurping sounds I was making that he had to break form and ask me if anything was wrong with me, while keeping a safe distance from me.
What had gotten me so very excited was that coconut laddoos were my absolute favorite sweet at one point of time. They are not commonly sold in sweet shops in Delhi and making them at home is a bunch load of trouble (actually, they are pretty easy to make but seeing how I am the unchallenged queen of lazyland, no such magic was happening in my kitchen). So, when I saw them displayed so temptingly in the shop window, I couldn’t wait to treat myself to just one of these yummylicious wonders.
One tiny bite and even before the morsel travelled down the food pipe into my stomach, I’d started on a trip back in time. The fact that the laddoo in my hand was the most God awful thing I’d ever eaten in my whole life only made me long more wistfully for the comfort of a happy memory. Chewing on a spherical- piece of cardboard dipped in condensed milk and sprinkled liberally with a concoction of sawdust and sugar has a way of doing that to you. Well, me, at least.
Throwing away that laddoo in disgust, I thought of that time in my life when I stood but 3 feet above the ground. There was this lady who lived across from my house and the way I remember her, she was a lovely, lovely person. Every evening, I used to run over to her house knowing that there was a special treat waiting for me. She was always happy to see me and the moment I’d bounce in, she’d reach for the jar that had become synonymous with simple pleasure for me.
Smiling all the time and visibly sharing my excitement and pleasure, she would dip her hand into that transparent magic box and when it came out, it would be holding the most delicious sweet I’d ever tasted – those heavenly, incredibly amazing, soft and crumbly laddoos made from coconut. What made it even more fascinating was that this little temptation was made at home by this woman herself. I know coconut laddoos don’t exactly make you jump over the moon, but for me it was magic of the highest kind!
I’d hold the laddoo in my tiny little hand and wonder what enchantment could make something so small so very irresistible. Unlike other kids who, in a fit of greed, would cram sweets by the dozen into their mouth, I never ate it in a hurry. My primary joy would be in relishing each and every bite, playing with the laddoo in my mouth, feeling the texture of the desiccated coconut on the surface give in to the gooey soft center underneath until all that was left behind was a sweet sticky feeling in my mouth and shreds of coconut stuck between the teeth. I wanted to make the sweet and crunchy experience last as long as possible because I knew there wouldn’t be anymore for that day. The lady was generous but you couldn’t fault her for being overindulgent. However, I was never disappointed; just happy that I had something to look forward to the next day.
I have no recollection of how long we continued this secret liaison. My mom, like every other sensible and doting mother, was scared that my teeth would rot and fall out if I continued binging on sweets. Therefore, this whole affair was conducted in the most hush-hush manner possible. I’m sure the lady also enjoyed being part of an intrigue in a kid’s world. I was always welcome in her house and, although I can’t claim to have been very observant when I was 4 or 5 years old, she did seem to enjoy my company. I have no recollection of her ever brushing me away rudely because some household chores demanded her attention. She was always patient with me and there was a strange sort of companionship between us.
But memories are a very strange thing. Even though I can remember this exchange of sweets with startling clarity, everything else is sadly hazy. Whenever I try and think of her beyond the coconut laddoos, my mind draws a complete blank. I have no idea what we talked about, what she did for a living, whether she was married or not, or how old she was. In fact, I am rather ashamed to say that I can’t even put a face to her nor remember her name.
Since I have no other way of addressing her, I am going to find comfort in calling her just ‘Aunty’. And that will have to do. In India, everybody is spared the torture of having to remember names because people who are older than you are usually ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’. Just that. Nothing else. No doubt she’s in some corner of the world and if, by chance, I was to bump into her at some junction in life, I doubt I’ll be able to recognize her or she me. But, I am sure that in her own special way she has continued touching the lives of people around her! For my part, I am glad of this tiny sliver of a memory, the fleeting interaction I had with her, and the sweetness she brought into my life – both in a literal as well as metaphorical way.