On a cold winter’s day

by Ashish

Winters in school were nice.

I remember cold winter mornings when you could see your breath. Red school sweaters and warm cozy blankets. Grandmothers in old threadbare sweaters and games of cricket that had to finish half an hour earlier because of the fading light. The vada pavs during short recess used to taste better in the winters, hot and crispy in the weak winter sun. Having to wear chappals at home because the floor was so cold, and the rush of the wind in your ears when you sat pillion on the scooter.

Like I said, winters were nice.

One of my most poignant memories of winter, though, is to do with an old lady whose name I cannot remember. She used to sit outside the school gate around lunchtime, and she did brisk business even though the entire school had strict injunctions to not buy any of her wares.

She’d have little sachets of imli with generous daubs of rock salt, and she’d have guavas… the really soft ones… which she’d slice into quarters and garnish with red chili powder and salt. She’d also have amlas… avlas in Marathi… the really small ones again. These too would be served with a topping of red chili powder and salt.

So you’d take your choice, have it wrapped up in paper, and stuff it into your pocket. Go back to class, sit on the last bench, and surreptitiously partake of your little treasure – one little bit at a time. Place it on your tongue, savour the intense flavour, close your eyes in ecstasy, and swallow. Repeat. True happiness.

Still, the point of this essay is one other item that the old lady used to have only in the winter. I don’t know what they’re called in English, and I don’t know what they’re called in any other language. Small and red in colour, with a small seed at the centre, these things would have a thin, fleshy covering that possessed just the right touch of piquancy. And when adjoined with the inevitable topping of salt and red chili powder, they would transport you to a whole new level of euphoria.

The old lady would give you a coneful of them for a buck… maybe two… and sitting in old, cold classrooms after lunch, and eating these one at a time was sheer, utter bliss. And as a kid, the best part about them was the small seed that would be left in your mouth afterwards. Throwing these around class at regular intervals, and receiving a fusillade in return was an activity that could last for entire afternoons together.

Sigh. My kingdom for a coneful of Chanya Manya Bor.

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