People From My Childhood

Ganesh was a shoeshine shop. He also changed soles. Repaired them, sometimes. Sitting under a bitter neem tree, he hid behind three lines of soles. Different sizes. Different material. Rubber and leather. Ganesh had a steel scrubber with which he sandpapered the soles before balming them with glue. Then he'd leave the soles to dry. Actually, to partially dry. So they weren't sticky. That way they stuck better, he explained once. Ganesh liked trees. Not enough left, he used to say. But I am old. The trees will be born again. I will too. Ganesh, the changer of soles, used to tell me and himself.

Maya was the daily press. She was a door-to-door news service. News in exchange of cups of tea and biscuits. In her free time Maya was also the funnies and sillies. She kept the rickshawallahs entertained with her jokes and imitations of people. Maya ironed clothes for a living. With her heavy, fire box she removed creases and frowns. From clothes. And faces. She even left laugh lines in the middle of clothes. One trip to her table and the clothes came back laughing. Maya put her money in the gap between her breasts. A habit from the days of more 'holding power'. Now, 'they' were a loss-making unit. Much money went down the drain, through them. But Maya didn't care. As long as she had a good laugh.

Pheku was the Jack of hearts. Young, good-looking and also a master story-teller. But Pheku couldn't write. Pheku took chai to the shops and the clinic. Somedays in the waiting crowd at the clinic, he'd find someone who would return his smile. Or maybe just look him up, smilishly. And Pheku would come back grinning, with a story. Actually, a 'pichchar' with Pheku as hero. And director. But Pheku liked to lose. The heroines in his stories always ended up saying, 'But Pheku, you sell chai'.

Chhedi and his Grandpa lived under a staircase. In the day their house disappeared into a neat TV carton. At night it rolled out on the landing. Chhedi slept with his mouth open while his Grandpa sent hourly coughs up the staircase so the Sharmas knew he was keeping a good watch. Chhedi was born to give trouble. Chhedi would quote his Grandpa whenever he saw it coming, which was often. Because Chhedi, like his Grandpa, had an easy temper. Most times his fights were over the name his Grandpa gave him. Because it meant Hole-maker.


  1. The same place known for Ganjing, Mikra! Mochis and neem trees, hmm, smells like a conspiracy. Your Ganesh sounds like mine... could they be the same person?

  2. Lots of Ganj where I grew up, but no Ganjing alas! Perhaps mochis and neem trees have a primaeval bond.

    Actually I grew up in the citta that you now inhabit :)

  3. How lovely...take me back to when I was three...people from my childhood weren't all real.

    There was the Big Ears man who would take me away to boarding school if I didn't do as my mum said. He didn't have a face. Just big goblin ears and a long wiry beard.

    And the ghosts after dark who would jump out a story I'd been told by BIGGIRLSATSCHOOL. The ghosts of a man who's heart, liver, and kidney'd been ripped out of him. Now, they'd definitely come to get me...saying, HEART. LIVER. KIDNEY. I am coming to your house!

    Also people from Abroad like JulianDickGeorgeAnneandTimothy from the Famous Five. Names I wanted to give my baby brother. Unfortunately for me, my parents wanted an Indian name!

    And black people who looked like the Gollywog from Noddy. Only they wrre nice people. And I mustn't stare!

    People from my childhood were never born, never die. And are always much more exciting than anyone I could possible meet in the `real' world.

  4. Dhiraj,
    Very well-written indeed. Maya is pure maya, isn't she?

    "She even left laugh lines in the middle of clothes." This line is going to stay with me.

  5. Thanks River, yup some people can do that. And it's definitely a gift.

  6. Dhiraj, hope everything's alright. Just checking on everyone I know of in Delhi.


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