With the wind on my face, pigtails flying in the air, standing on the footboard of our Lambretta scooter made me feel in control of the world, my small little world. Papa riding the scooter humming “Raghupati raaghava raaja raam.....,” (the only song he knew then), Mommy firmly seated on the rear seat and brother tucked far away on the extended carrier seat behind her. This foursome journey always felt awesome to me. Seeing the cyclists and pedestrians overtaking us didn’t matter to me and I would proudly wave at them as they sped past. Dinner at Moti Mahal had a fixed menu for us with tandoori roti and chicken mutter masala for the three and a look-alike vegetarian dish to serve my taste buds.
Post a sumptuous dinner it was time for Raju kaaka’s meetha paan. Regular meetha paan for the adults and just the betel leaf and gulkand for us kids. This wasn’t a surprise, yet felt like one, week after week when Papa would ask after dinner, “Now what? Make a guess.” And we would make all weird guesses and finally go and have the paan. We really felt good and surprised about it, every time. Innocence of childhood! Some weeks would see us replacing Moti Mahal with Vikas bhaiyya’s chaat stall, and the gulkand in betel leaves would be replaced by barf ka gola. This was when I was six.
At sixty nine today, sitting in the dimly lit corner of Moti Mahal in a different city, all alone with a piping hot cup of soup, flipping through the pages of life felt good, yet heavy in the chest.
Papa taking us out for dinner and the occasional beach trips were the most memorable events of my childhood. In the past three decades I would have been to some of the finest restaurants and beaches of the world yet longed for someone to take me out like my papa did, with love, warmth and pleasant surprises. I looked for my papa in every man I met and wished if he could fill my life with love and those little moments of happiness. Beach trips aren’t possible now and eating out is mostly solo, and I loathe solitude!
The sparkle in her eyes and the wide smile on her lips distracted me from my thoughts and my eyes followed this girl sitting diagonally opposite my table with a young man. She was a very ordinary looking girl but the happiness on her face made her look stunningly beautiful. She looked at the diamond ring on her finger and exclaimed, “This is so beautiful. Thank you hun.” She got up and hugged him with joy and he planted a soft kiss on her forehead. May be he just proposed to her or are they already married and it’s her birthday today? It’s not Valentines Day either. How does it matter what day it was? Her happiness spread a wider smile on my face.
By the time I was done with my dessert and paid the bill, my driver came over. As he was taking me out of the restaurant in my wheelchair I took a sneak peek at the couple who were celebrating. My old and weak memory failed to recognize who he was but the guy looked very familiar.
“Are you in a hurry? Can you take me via the beach? I wouldn’t take a lot of time. May be just five minutes?” I asked the driver. He wasn’t too kicked about taking an old lady to the beach at nine in the night but had no other choice but to agree.
I love the smell of the beach, the sound of the waves and the breeze on my face.