It amuses me a lot that how do we remember some things so vividly, rather I should say how do we don’t forget some things. Silly fights with a childhood friend, the taste of the tamarind candy that the old woman used to sell outside the school main gate, the three legged dog that could not run but still I was so scared of, the shop around the corner…
This shop around the corner sold all those stuffs like pencils, erasers, perfumed ball pens, pencils with replaceable nibs, notebooks, bubble gums, candies, chart sheets, and every little thing that might feature in the wish list of a small school-going kid.
There were two brothers who ran the shop- Kanti Bhai and Kanti Bhai's Bhai (Kanti bhai's brother). Everyone in our kids group used to address them like this.
Kanti Bhai was short and stout, smiling and friendly, lovable gentleman. His person never intimidated children. Everyone liked him a lot, for that warmth his smile exuded all the time.
His brother was his opposite, so much in contrast to Kanti Bhai's personality- always his brows crooked, grim smile-less face, stringent about taking exact change. He would never entertain children. Kids despised him.
Often, they both used to be at the shop, except in the afternoons when Kanti Bhai's Bhai would go home for his siesta. Everyone would throng the shop during those hours only.
So many of my memories are attached with that shop. I grew up buying things from that shop.
Slate and chalk. Then pencils and erasers. Then ball pens.
When I had stood first in my class, dad wanted to reward me. I wanted that pencil with replaceable nibs- the best attraction of Kanti Bhai's shop.
My dad gave me a 10 rupee note. I ran to the shop, with the report card in one hand and the note in the other. Kanti Bhai was delighted to see my report card, patted my back and gave me an orange candy- reward from his side. I took the pencil. The look on Kanti Bhai's bhai's face, when he was giving back the change, was a silent yell I felt. May be he wanted to shout on Kanti Bhai for causing him a loss in his fortune by giving me the candy for free.
Whenever I looked at this kind of face of his, I would see a fuming bull's head in place of his. I ran back home as fast as I could.
Often we would bitch about him, make mischievous plans to teach him a lesson.
Once, I went to the shop with two friends to buy refills for our pens. Kanti Bhai was not there, our enemy was. Had I been alone, I would have run back, waited for Kanti bhai. But somehow, the friends' presence gave me strength.
We looked at the bubble gum jar, 100s of colourful round bubble gums in the jar. Its lid was not closed properly.
We looked at each other and then at the jar again.
All of us were thinking the same: “Time to execute Mission Bubble Gum.”
I moved towards the rack slowly while the other two were busy distracting him. I mustered courage and stretched out my hand saying "Uncle that one in the corner, I want that black colour refill..." and gave a slight push to the box and immediately moved two steps back.
The box fell and the colourful bubble gums got all scattered, as if they were waiting to be freed from this tyrant. They went into all possible corners. We all giggled with the sense of win and gave hi-fives to each other, careful enough to not get noticed.
The enemy turned back to see, felt that it was his mistake that he did not place back the jar properly which made it fall down. Before he started grumbling, we chirped in chorus, "Oh Uncle! We will help you.. “ and we slid under the racks and the tables, started picking up the bubble gums and carefully putting into our pockets, almost 3 each for each member of the gang. We were smart kids.
Kanti Bhai's bhai could not do anything. He did not know the exact number of the bubble gums. He could not just say how many were missing.
That frustrated-angry-helpless look on his face was our real achievement.
I don't remember for how many days we celebrated our feat. We became the heroes of our gang. We did not have the guts to imagine what could happen if any elderly in our homes had found out. The joy of achievement shadowed the fear of getting caught.
When I go home now, and see that shop again, I suddenly feel that I have grown young and Kanti Bhai has grown old. Kanti Bhai's bhai is not fit enough to come to the shop now. The steps that used to seem high appear so small now. There was a time when my hands couldn't reach the counter. Now, I can touch the ceiling with my hands.
Those days seem like the pages from a children's story book.
The shop around the corner would certainly be a chapter of my autobiography, if I ever write one :)