Two full and one half please.” One customer shouted out to the pav bhaji vendor. The pav bhaji wala nodded while stirring the bhaji. He tossed it with one swift movement and added just a pinch of salt. He kept frying the bhaji. After a minute or so he tossed it again and served it in three plates, topped it with chopped chillies, onions and coriander leaves. Then he took some pavs, applied generous amounts of butter and placed those on the plates before handing them to his customers. The aroma was so good that I could almost taste the pav bhaji in the air. Just then I remembered my kulfi was melting. I savoured it up quickly and turned towards my family, only there was no family.
We a group of 12 people had come down to the biggest market of Bhubaneswar. Now I could see none of them anywhere near the kulfi stall. I was shook. The market was crowded with a sea of people all down to enjoy their summer evening. I couldn’t think of anything, I just kept walking. I walked and walked right out of the market and into the big city outside. I tried to stop some autos but none did; after all I was just six, who would take me seriously? Then suddenly I dashed into a person.
The gentleman got down on his knees, picked me up and brushed the dust off my legs and elbows, apologising vehemently. He then apologised to the ladies walking right behind me as he thought that I belonged to them. When they denied and walked on, he turned to me, surprised, he asked “Daughter, where are your parents? Are you lost?” When I nodded and told him the entire episode, he looked concerned. I asked him if he could just call a rickshaw for me so that I could go home. He smiled and ignored my request.
Just then I spotted a telephone booth. I told him that we could call my home and tell mom, he was surprised, he asked “Do you know the number of your landline?” I did, I also knew the numbers of my dad’s newly-bought LG phone and that of my aunt’s landline. He laughed and said “Daughter, I am amazed that a kid could remember so many numbers.” He called my home and later one of my uncles reached the place. My uncle thanked him with teary eyes. From that day on my reputation as a brave six-year-old with good brains for numbers preceded my reputation of the one who had foolishly wandered out of that kulfi stall.
Ironically these days I can’t remember even one of the three numbers I use. I guess my story would have been a lot different if I would have been lost as a child in this era of gadgets. I am sure I would have had no numbers to give to the gentleman.