Slaking thirst at the Raj Farm: Squirrel days of summer!
It was a cold winter morning. As is the norm at the start of the year around these parts temps were below freezing. I set out for weekend grocery shopping in masked glory. Shopping list wasn’t too long. Even with my tendency to check out for interesting stuff, not necessarily required, wrapped up shopping quickly by my standards. Stepping out of the shop I was greeted by cold blast of wind. After dropping shopping bags in the trunk turned on the ignition of the car. It was quite cold inside the car. While waiting for the engine to warm up turned on the heater too. Longing for warmer weather my thoughts traveled and I drifted back in time to my early teens back in India.
It was a warm summer day late in the morning in the Mumbai / Bombay suburb Mulund. Summer holidays time. After my lunch I was itching for some activity. My brother was quite engrossed in reading a mystery novel. Other friends in the neighborhood were either preoccupied with whatever they were doing or out of town for the holidays. I decided to go out for a walk. Stepping out of our apartment I headed right. There were some late morning devotees entering and exiting the nearby Ashram Temple (A). I soon discovered my sandals needed some work. Luckily there was a cobbler right near the temple. Waiting as he set about repairing my sandals I could hear devotees ringing the temple bells. Could also hear the sound of flour mill (C) nearby grinding flour for customers who liked their dough fresh for their breads/naans/rotis/chapathis. Repair work done I turned right at the crossroad. Walking at a leisurely pace I was just soaking in the surroundings. To my right were trio of shops: Coal shop, Milk shop and ration shop (D). Coal guy was loading bags for delivery in his cart, Milk shop was serving a customer hot milk in Patiala mug sized containers, there was a line of customers at the ration shop waiting to buy fuel (kerosene), rice and other essentials at Government subsidized rates. Business as usual. I kept walking ahead. Just ahead of the next crossroad were couple of interesting shops: Ice factory (E) with huge blocks of ice covered by sawdust to slow down melting and also serving cold drinks and a used book store (F) which always used to be chock-a-block with all kinds of books, in shelves from floor to ceiling. Those were the days much before advent of personal computing. Always wondered how the book shop guy managed to remember what books were where. While all I could normally see was madness the guy must have had a method to it as he had been in business for years I decided to turn right instead of going straight as the Sun was, at the top of the game around noon time, beating down mercilessly. I resisted the temptation of buying crushed ice from the streetside vendor (G) who was selling crushed ice of all kinds of colors and flavors. At the next crossroad I again turned right. Just ahead of me to the right was Balaji / Raghavendra temple (H). Always had a bit of complicated relationship with God, sometimes transactional (especially around the times school exam results were due ), sometimes pally when prayers were answered and sometimes angry when it seemed bad appear to be triumphing over good . I did a mental bow and proceed ahead. By the time I near the next crossroad my throat was parched and needed liquid replenishment. Fortunately there was a sugarcane juice shop (I) right there and I thought nothing better than a freshly crushed sugarcane with a hint of ginger for quenching thirst. I ordered a glass of the summertime favorite and closed my eyes. Suddenly I heard the loud ringing of telephone. Wondering where the sound came from I opened my eyes. Imagine my surprise when I found myself inside my car and it was wife calling me on cellphone to ask me what was taking me so long .
Broken out of my reverie and transported to the present I mumbled that I ran into an old friend at the grocery store and would be back home shortly. By then the inside of the car was hot as I must have been lost in my thoughts for a good 15 minutes. I opened the windows to let some outside air in. Nothing like a cold blast of air to jolt one back to reality. Driving back home I was amused by the thought how my wife would react if she unmasked the “old friend” and learned I was referring to was myself, albeit younger. Was also hoping my marriage had a “can get lost in thought every now and then” clause for me to cover for reaching any place later than planned