The Man in White


 Update for month ended 29 April 2011

Baburam’s routine was unbroken for over 3 decades. He lived near the Dattatrey temple (a temple dedicated to the patron saint of Maharashtra) and always started his day with a visit to the temple. On festival days, he was often seen helping the priest manage the crowds, or even help in a few chores pertaining to the temple rituals, like breaking coconuts, distributing Prasad. And thereafter he would trudge 5 miles on foot to the little shantytown in the middle of the city to start his work day. He would head to the little alley that he had been visiting all his life in this metropolis and meet Sethji, the owner of this crude refrigeration unit, which was a hub of making frozen desserts. He knew his routine so well, and would quietly head to the “store” – just a shed in the corner of the large compound, from where he would pick up the large earthen pot, and head into the freezer room. This was a squarish room, with rows and rows of racks that had little aluminium moulds. He headed to the shelf that he always headed to and pulled out the tray holding over 2 dozen moulds. These were frozen and chillingly cold. His weathered hands were used to handling freezing temperatures and he quietly picked them up, one at a time and placed them into the pot. Baburam was a man of few words, and just as he was going about his chores, so were other near-clones of his who had started emptying out their shelf trays into their similar looking pots. Once done, Baburam met Mistry, the accountant, and handed him the advance money (form the earnings of the previous day), picked up a wad of freshly plucked tendu leaves, using it to cap the wide mouth of his pot, covering it with the thick cloth scarf, and tightening with a string cord. He started his brisk walk to the ice store within the compound. The block of ice was being chiseled by Bade Miyan, the elderly gent in blue checked lungi. He cut out a block and handed it over to Baburam – no words exchanged, as Baburam took a gunny sack cloth to the small stone slab, rolled the ice block into the gunny sack and started clobbering it with a wooden club. He did it till the sack had been flattened, and then he scooped out the crushed ice and stuffed it into the pot. He kept churning the pot as well with his arms, so that the aluminium moulds did not get buried under the ice. Then, he opened the pack of sea-salt, and sprinkled it into the ice. This would ensure that the ice stayed solid for a longer time. And then after wrapping the pot in a red cloth, he picked up the pot, placed it on the cloth ring atop his head, and walked back to the Sports Park by the seashore in the central part of the city. The walk back was tiring, as the hot late afternoon sun shone directly into his face. As he neared the park, he started peddling his wares, shouting out in a high pitched voice, “Kulfiye”. He walked slowly, looking about himself to see if anyone responded to his calls. If one was hard of hearing or the noisy crowds of cricket trainers muffled his voice,  then his sight would not have been missed. Wearing a white pyjama, with a white bush shirt, and a white narrow cap on his head, juxtaposed with the dark red round pot balanced well on the head – that was Baburam.

April is the month when summer starts its appearance in most parts of peninsular India, so D Street was not spared this season change. The D Boyz looked forward to their work, but always rushed to office to escape the heat. And when the leafy tree-lined avenues of  D Street did not protect them enough, the Boyz would look out for their “Kulfiwala” who could be spotted in his spotless white attire and the red cloth covered earthen pot atop his capped head. They would crowd around him as he would sell them the frozen “Indian Ice cream”, neatly scooped out of the tin or aluminium moulds, and placed on a tendu leaf, sliced into perfect rounds. The kulfiwala would then shape a leaf into a scoop like device that could then be used like a spoon by the weary D Boyz. They would devour the cold milky dessert, pay the kulfiwala, and head home, after a long day at work. The heat also made the Boyz volatile, thereby causing them to act erratically especially with their favourite SENSEX, sometimes being influenced by the green leaves of the kulfi platter, or the red cloth covered earthen pot. So finally at month end, the SENSEX juggled between days of green growth to days of bloody red downturns, to finally end cold at 19135. This is about 300 points down from early April.

Baburam would always endear towards the lovey dovey couple; standing close to them, and shouting out his sales refrain, pretending that he had not noticed the weary couple. This trick would always work, because the girl would cajole her man to buy her the sweet cold treat, or the man would offer to woo his lady with this creamy milk dessert. Baburam, would then gingerly place the pot down and go about looking for the “perfect” kulfi mould to serve out to the couple. He would tap the metal outer casing a couple of times, before uncorking the cap, and then slowly scoop at the sides and slide out the frozen dessert onto the green leaf. His experienced hand would then quickly slice the conical cylinder into little white discs. He would then handover the leaf platter to the lady and then shape his scoop with another leaf to be handed over to the man, so that he could feed his beloved. Baburam would then pocket his earning and then tieup the pot, before hoisting it onto his head, shouting – Kulfiye” looking for his next customer.

So this summer, go ahead and indulge in some cool treats and enjoy. I will be away for about 2 weeks, so here is wishing you all a wonderful summer. Have a nice weekend and more …. Cheers….

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2 thoughts on “The Man in White

  1. Narayan,
    It is time you moved out from your “Private” Banking domain to the “Public Domain by becoming a novelist. Especially the quintessential capturing of the Indian hinterland virtually making me see the matka in red!!! Way to go Narayan. Take a Bow.

    1. Thanks Jagdeesh. Sometimes, you take many things for granted. And at those times, it is good to just see that little ant crawling in the grass. Maybe it has a story to tell

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