by Brij Arora
I have not had panipuri since I was a child. My family lived in Sattowali gali in Amritsar. A vendor of panipuris used to come to our street and had a special way of shouting out to attract customers.
Paanipureee le lo panipureee!
He usually came by about late afternoon when we children were going out to play in the street. Women had finished their afternoon siesta and were getting together for some gossip before starting the preparation for the night meal.
The panipuriwala moved from one group of women to another. He would serve panipuris in a dona made of dry leaves stuck together with thin wooden sticks. His hands moved lightning fast, punching a hole in the panipuri, putting in a piece of boiled potato and some boiled channa, filling it with chutney and then that tangy jaljeera.
He served from one person to another, acceding to requests like ‘some more chutney for me’, ‘some more jaljeera for me’.
I had a close friend, Mahesh, who lived near my house. His mother and my mother were bosom buddies. Occasionally, our mothers would call us to join and have panipuris. We really savoured those times.
Many years have passed since then. I went away to Chandigarh to continue my education. Mahesh continued to live in Sattowali gali. He joined his father in their business in the grain market. I completed my studies and started working in Ambala. Mahesh and I did not meet for years. My family moved out of Sattowali gali.
Recently, there was a wedding in a family closely related to us. I went to Amritsar and visited Sattowali gali after decades.
Memories of days long gone were crowding my head. I had decided to go a little early and meet Mahesh. He was a grown up man with wife and two children, a boy and a girl. We talked about old times and our other friends.
Suddenly, I heard a sound which was very familiar. It was that panipuriwala. We stepped out with Mahesh’s family and asked the panipuriwala to serve us.
He started preparing the panipuris exactly the way he used to do. His hands moved ever so deftly but I could not help noticing a little tremor. I asked him about it. He was surprised to hear this from a stranger. He looked at me intensely.
Suddenly, there was a spark in his eyes. He said, “Sir, are you Brij”?
His voice was shaking and when I said “yes”, there was this broad end to end smile on his face.
When he had served us all, Mahesh wanted to pay him. But the panipuriwala said, “This is on me, this is for Sir.. seeing him after so many years is all the payment I need.”
This story was written during the Short Story Writing Workshop. It was edited by Rashmi Bansal.
Pic by Ketaki bhat – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40700863