Going to Poona - Part Three: Returning to Dehu Road after Dark
Chai and Pakhora Wallah
When I woke up, the train was just pulling into Dehu Road Cantonment Station, and I thought for a minute we were still at the railway station in Poona. The Chai Wallahs and the Pani Wallahs were still around the train, and I could hear them calling out “Pani, Memsahib” and “Chai! Chai, Sahib” but they were different Chai Wallahs and Pani Wallahs, and there weren’t as many as in Poona.
We got out of the train, and some porters came and asked Daddy if he had any luggage to carry, but he ignored them.
Then I saw him; Krishna was standing right outside the window of out carriage. I don’t think he had been there all day, because he said he was going home when he had come to the station that morning. Daddy had some packages that he gave to Krishna to carry and Krishna said, “Salaam Sahib. Salaam Memsahib!” and “Salaam Chota Sahib,” and then he said “Good evening, Memsahib” and Mummy smiled at him, and said. “Good evening Bearer”. Mummy and Daddy never called him, “Krishna"; they always called him "Bearer".
He put his hands together when he said, “Salaam” and I did the same, with my hands together and said, “Salaam, Krishna”.
Then we left the railways station, and outside the station there was a tonga rank, The tongas were standing there with the horses looking at the ground, or having their dinner out of a bag on their noses. There were Tonga Wallahs; squatting on the ground and talking to each other, but as we came out of the station, they ran up and called out, “Tonga Sahib?” and one Tonga Wallah got up on the front of the tonga and held the whip in the air and called out and was asking us and other people to come to his tonga.
Daddy told Krishna to get a nice tonga and I think it must have been Krishna’s friend, and he came and we all got in. Krishna and I were at the back as we had been in the morning; Mummy and Daddy were inside, and the man started the tonga and we clip clopped along the road. Krishna had Mummy’s parcels in his lap and he had his arm around me in case I fell off. I didn’t mind because I liked it when Krishna did that, and he had a nice smell.
It wasn’t very hot any more, and I could hear Mummy telling Daddy how lovely the sunset was. Mummy loved looking at sunsets and would stand on the verandah and look at them and tell me to look at them too, because they were so beautiful.
We were going along the Bombay-Poona Road, and when the Tonga Wallah arrived at the road where we lived, we turned the corner. I knew we were turning into our road, because that’s the corner with the big tamarind tree is; where my two friends live. We were going along the road and it was beginning to get dark, but instead of going all the way home to our bungalow, the Tonga Wallah suddenly stopped the tonga.
I could feel Mummy and Daddy getting out because the tonga creaked and tilted to the side. They came around to the back where I was sitting with Krishna.
“Come along, Ian-Hugh,” said Daddy. He only called me that when there was something really nice happening, or I wasn’t feeling very well.
I turned to Krishna, but he just nodded his head and smiled a great big smile.
“Come along, Darling,” said Mummy.
I got down from the tonga, and looked at Krishna. I didn’t know what was happening
Krishna put his fingers to his lips, as if we had a secret, yet he didn’t get down. He stayed on the tonga with the Tonga Wallah. The tonga started up again, and went on up the road towards our bungalow. I waved to Krishna and he waved back to me.
When the tonga had gone, I saw the area beside the cinema had changed so much. There were lots and lots of people. It was like there was a big party going on. There were people everywhere. And wherever I looked there were people eating sweets. They were lovely sweets. My favourite; my absolute favourite sweets were Jelabies.
Daddy said, “Shall we stop here or do you want to go home?”
I looked at him and he was smiling and I knew that he didn’t mean it.
“I think I’ll stay,” I said. It was so exciting. Daddy and Mummy walked over to a man and I went with them. I was holding Mummy’s hand. The man was making Jelabies in front of me. There was a big degchi with a fire under it. The degchi was full of boiling gee and the man had a sort of funnel which had lots of little spouts like a comb that he put stuff in; Mummy said it was batter in the little funnels and he drew patterns on the top of the gee and it got fat and made funny shapes. Just like little iron gates but it was made out of bright, bright yellow crispy sweets and it tasted lovely. The funny shapes jumped around on the top of the hot gee. These were Jelabies that he was making. Daddy paid the Jelabies Wallah and he gave me some in paper. I couldn’t eat it straight away because it was very hot and the man put it into little white paper folded up. And some of them he put in pieces of folded Indian newspapers with all squiggly writing on it like Daddy was teaching me how to read.
There was another man selling Gulab Jamin and Barfi but Jelabies were my favourite. Daddy bought some Barfi and Gulab Jamin, bit they didn’t eat them. I think they were for later.
Rama and Sita
Outside the cinema, in the big space between the cinema, where my friend Lal was the projectionist, and the entrance to the swimming pool there was an area which was usually empty and dry and flat, with lots of little stones and white dust. Now it was full of hundred of people doing things; walking around and laughing and having a good time.
There was a tall box and it was a Punch and Judy show, but not Punch and Judy like we had on the boat when we came to India, but it was an Indian Punch and Judy show and they were telling the story of Rama and Sita; when Sita gets captured by a wicked, wicked god but Hanuman the Monkey god, who comes with all of his monkey army and rescues her. It was so exciting and I was standing there with the other children and the grownups and everyone was laughing when the nasty god got beaten and I suddenly felt someone holding my hand and it was Krishna. And that made everything even better.
Hanuman - the Monkey God
When the Puppet show about Rama and Sita had finished, a man’s head came up out of the top of the Punch and Judy show and the man said, “Thank you for watching and could we put some money in the man’s hand?” and another man came and some people put some Pice or Pie in the man’s hand and he said, “Shukria and Salaam Sahib”.
Then we walked on a little bit towards home and there was a man and he was just sitting on the ground and he opened his mouth and he took a big sharp knife and he cut off his tongue; it was horrible. I was watching and Mummy was watching and I could tell she thought it was horrible too. I don’t think Daddy liked it either. The man closed his mouth and he made his eyes go inside out. I couldn’t see the brown part of his eyes; just the white bits and he turned his eyes inside out and then he opened them and then he laughed and he went “Ha ha ha” and he opened his mouth and he waggled his tongue. His tongue was back again, He had cut it off and suddenly it was working again. Then he stuck it out and he licked all the way around and his tongue went all the way around his cheeks and over his nose and it was nasty; but it was funny at the same time.
That was so exciting and people were laughing and having a lovely time. But I think I liked the show about Rama and Sita best… and Hanuman. And the Jelabies.
Then Mummy and Daddy said that it was late and we had to get home. So we walked home and all the way along the road to our bungalow was so beautiful because usually it was dark at night and you would walk carefully and you would have to take a torch so you didn’t trip over things, or walk on a snake. But this time the road was so pretty on either side because every house; every fence; every brick wall; on all the windowsills were tiny little lamps and they were all burning.
They were diwas. Mummy and Daddy were walking along in front and Krishna and I were walking along behind them. Krishna was holding my hand and he was telling me why the diwas were burning. Krishna said that that was because it was Diwali and that is called the Festival of Lights because of Rama and Sita and Hanuman that I had seen at the Punch and Judy show. How beautiful it was.
When we got home, even our bungalow had diwas on it, although nobody was there. Well we didn’t think anybody was there; just the Sweeper and Khansama. Our bungalow was covered in lights as well; from lots of diwas. They were on the railings; on the veranda; on the windowsills; they were on the front wall. They were everywhere. It was so, so pretty. I think Diwali was my most favourite time – ever.
Daddy said, “I know it’s late, but wait and see. There’s a big surprise. Go and put on your pyjamas and you can come out again. But don’t forget your chappals because you don’t want a scorpion to sting your toes, do you?”
There was a surprise for me. Khansama and Krishna and Mali had made a special surprise for me. Mummy and Daddy knew about it, but I didn’t. They had planned a firework display – just for me. I sat on the top step and Mummy and Daddy sat on their chairs on the verandah behind me. We all watched.
There were fireworks that went “Bang” and there were some that made coloured lights go in the air. They were Roman candles. There were skyrockets and they were so beautiful. Krishna and Khansama had bought the fireworks all by themselves, and paid for them themselves and it was a special treat for me. I think the Mali did as well.
At the very end, when we clapped and we laughed, I suddenly realised that the Sweeper and his family were down at the side of the bungalow as well and they were watching. That was nice for them.
We clapped and clapped and clapped and Krishna said, “This is the special one for Chota Sahib,” but it was all special for me, There was a big post near the gate to the compound and there was a round thing on it like a white snake all curled up which he had nailed to the post.. Krishna lit the end of it, and for a little while, nothing happened, but then it started to make a spitting noise fizzing and started to go round and round and it was so beautiful. It went round and round and it made big circles and all different colours. It went round and round; faster and faster and it made lovely colours and sparkly bits. There were colours and bright flashing sprays of light.
Daddy said, “That’s my favourite; my most favourite firework of all”. It’s called a Catherine Wheel. It went round and round and round and round. There was smoke and coloured flashes. And the smell of fireworks as well. In the dark it was so beautiful. Eventually it stopped turning around and there was smoke and we all clapped and Mummy and Daddy said, “Say ‘Thank you’ to Bearer and say ‘Thank you ‘ to Khansama and say ‘Thank you’ to Mali’”
So I said, “Thank you, Krishna and Thank you Khansama,” and I said Thank you to the Mali as well.
Then, before we went to bed, we had a tiny bit of Jelabies and that was the best day of my life - ever.
A Glossary of Words used in this three part Story
Sahib:Used formerly as a form of respectful address for a European man inBritish India
Chota Sahib: Little Sir. Term of respect for a small boy
Memsahib: A married white or upper-class woman. Respectful form of address
Chapplis: Form of sandal with two broad leather straps: left to right and right to left meeting at the heel of the foot with a buckle. Leather sole.
Chappals: Open type of outdoor footwear, consisting of a flat sole held loosely on the foot by a Y-shaped strap, like a thin thong, that passes between the first (big) and second toes and around either side of the foot.
Degchi: A deep round saucepan traditionally made of brass or copper, but stainless steel is also available.
Tonga(Tanga)A light horse-drawn carriage used for transportation inIndia,Pakistan
Bearer: Man in charge of the running of the household; under Memsahib, or Sahib. Also given the responsibility for a male British child.
Poona: (Present day Pune)The eighth largest metropolis in India, the second largest in the state of Maharashtra after Bombay(present day Mumbai).
Sadhu: a holy man, sage, or ascetic.
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