Where did the popcorn wallah go?

Tan..tan..tun…tun..tan…the chimes of his sickle shaped utensil hitting the dark iron wok could be heard atleast a block away. Each afternoon, around the last few minutes of the 13th hour I could hear him approaching. I’d be usually be sweating in my school uniform, just arrived from school, with my mother bidding me to change before venturing out. On most days it would be too late for her, I’d already heard the popcorn wallah‘s tune and like children chased the Pied Piper I’d rush out to our gate waiting for him.

He was a tall dark man, with bright white teeth, often reserving a smile for me. The transaction was the usual, I’d ask him for 2 rupees worth of pop-corn and he’d pop fresh kernels of corn into the wok. The wok was a curious instrument, bigger than the ones at home but not any bigger than the ones they’d make jalebis in the nearby sweetshops. At the base of the instrument was a coal fired stove, and the wok had a sand-salt mixure. The real thrill of the ritual was the sound of popping corn, it gave me a strange delight and he’d cover it up with a strainer but even with that contraption, a few kernels would pop out and escape leaving a trail of popped corn in front of the houses he had sold his produce. In the end, he’d pick a paper bag, and gently blow air to open it. He’d finally fill it to the brim with hot popcorn and finally top it off with a sprinkle of the strange sand-salt combination. It took 5 minutes each day, in the sweltering sun, and I’d pay him up a couple of rupees. But the whole performance was not without its rewards, he’d always fill a tiny paper bag with already popped corn and give it to me for a quick snack, while i watch him cook a fresh batch for me. He’d never charge me for it, it was perhaps a token of our unspoken friendship.

This would continue for the next morning and the next, for almost 2-3 years, the price went up to three rupees and gradually his regular visits declined. Sometimes he’d be back to his village for weddings, and at some point he stopped coming. I, for my part, also grew up and left my home for studies and work. I still wonder where did the popcorn wallah vanish, does he still sell it in another town or place? Does he share the same camaraderie with another boy as he shared with me?

The second man had his stall in front of the Parade grounds in Kanpur. I’d often visit my grandfather for my summer vacations, and he’d take us once a week to this pop-corn seller to pick up our favorite snack. This man was shorter in stature, but more talkitive, he’d talk my grandfather about us and about his well being. It would usually be dark when we’d be visiting him, his kersone lamp would burn and through little strands of light on the wok. He’d only pack the fresh popcorn into thin polythene bags, and perform the magic of sealing the packs by touching the base of the lamp with stretched packing material. This was pure magic, and probably my first experience on how one could seal stuff in poly bags! This man would always give us extra bags of pop-corn, much to the annoyance of my grandfather, for he would refuse to take money for these extra bags. It was a ritual, with him giving us extra bags, and my grandfather coaxing him to take money for all of it. It would always be a sight, sometimes he’d win the argument on others my grandfather would prevail. Each week, when the packs were empty, we’d go for the refill. Over a period of time, our grandfather grew old and could no longer drive the scooter, my trips on vacations declined and the talkitive popcorn wallah vanished from our memories.

I do not know the fate of these men, who shared their affections with us with a fresh bag of hot popcorn, I wonder if they still ply their trade or have long fallen victims to make-it-yourself-for-10-rupees Act II, or worse, compete against 60 bucks a pack popcorn at malls, which we grudingly buy either due to keeping up a social pretence or just lack of other options. Maybe I’ll spot them once again…just maybe..

If you have a similar story of a street vendor filling your childhood with tiny pleasures, do share in comments below.

Why we must stop linking the World Cup Victory of Germany with its past!

Worldmasters!

Two days ago, I witnessed, along with over 200 other people the 113th minute goal by Goetze. It sealed the FIFA World Cup 2014 for the German Mannschaft (team). Those few split seconds at the end changed to resounding display of sheer joy. I noticed people crying on this victory.

For a country where football is another religion, it is not hard to believe how happy the people are, within the next few minutes people were out on the streets singing and merry making. The usually reserved locals were smiling at strangers, hugging and high fiving them.

Soon the Internet is also abuzz with articles about the German efficiency, and of course the usual mention of the Blitzkreig (a reference to WW II war strategy), and of course twitter is filled with Nazi jokes. Finally, I am also starting to observe the indirect linkage of the sports victory with the dark past of the Fatherland.

Frankly, it is annoying. Germans are taught enough lessons through school to understand and reconcile with the past, but the world keeps reminding them. They are tired, of the stereotype, of the world not letting them be. It is in bad taste to keep reminding them of the past, where they have made huge efforts to move on, and deal responsibly with their history.

Modern Germany is not the same as Nazi Germany, and will never be. Period. The flying of the Black, Red and Gold flags by fans is a celebration of being World masters of football. The victory of 2014 has probably lesser ‘nationalistic’ significance than the victory of 1954 when the Miracle von Bern happened, that was when Germans could restore some pride.

Probably, the biggest sign of the current times is the fact that Klose and Podolski are much celebrated and loved, or that I could share the final moments of the match with a hall full of people who were Germans by the love of the game and not by their color or race.

PS – Some idiots started trying to sell a victory t-shirt using Nazi symbols on Amazon.de, it is filled with users requesting the product be taken out.

Elections 2014: The People have spoken…

The four words of the above title have been repeated multiple times since this Monday on various news channels. While, I being not in India was denied the opportunity to vote (as postal ballot is not a reality for us), the rest of the country did.

It has been a remarkable 6-7 months, I have seen normal friends on facebook turning into fanatics, have seen the discourse of the lowest quality where an opposing view was either coming from an AAPtard, psedu-secular, communal, pseudo-liberal, pheku and what not.

The saddest part of all this has been the fact that numbers and statistics have been cleverly selected and shared to prove points, everyone has data points.  It seems nobody is wrong. They also conveniently offer that judiciary has spoken while at the same time doubting the judicial results on the opponents.

By the end of it, I also sarcastically started annoying my wife with abki baar… on each sentence. But it is no laughing matter, being the world’s largest democracy we had a chance to speak our minds.

Tomorrow (it’s today already?) the results will be out, and we will soon have a new Government to crib and blame about. Finally, only time will tell if our representatives will again do the 5 yearly Great Indian Vanishing trick.

I may sound cynical, but whosoever gets chosen, I only hope they bring all the change they might have promised. As often said before, my only wish is what Tagore wishes years ago:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Indian Train Journeys – An experience like none other

Sleeper Class

In the past few years I have traveled a lot by trains in different countries, while nothing beats the punctuality of the Swiss Railways (SBB), or the speed of Deutsche Bahn & TrainItalia, none of these travel systems have the true experience like the Indian Railways.

During my college days I’d used to travel regularly on the Sleeper class from Noida/Pune to Lucknow. Like everyone else, I have been a witness to the unapologetic delays,the festival rush when having a reservation meant little when fellow travelers had to get home to be with their families on Diwali.While I upgraded to the AC IIIrd, it just wouldn’t give me the same experience as the Sleeper Class travels or General class travels between Lucknow & Kanpur.

I have been always amazed at the uncanny ability, of passengers, to analyse delays in the local MEMU type trains stopping in between stations in the middle of nowhere. A typical conversation in this situation would go like this:

‘Bhaisaab, ye train kyun ruk gayi? (Brother, why did the train stop?)’

With an air of authority of such matters the reply would be, ‘Passenger hai, Shatabdi cross ho rahi hai, dekhna abhi crossing ke baad chal padegi (ours is a passenger train, giving way to a more important train, you’ll see it pass)’

And if by chance, the above mentioned logic fails, the second response would be, ‘Lucknow station pe platform khali nahi hoga, aajkal bahut train late hai isliye rukna hai. (No free platforms in the destination, we’d get in once it frees up)’

These conversations happen everyday between strangers, nobody knows how true they might be or who created them to begin with, but there would always be someone to ask and answer.

Then, there would be instances when you’d have reserved a lower level seat and there would always be a gentleman requesting you to shift to the upper levels because ‘ladies hai (women passengers with them)’. If you were a guy like me, most of the times you’d grudgingly oblige, even when the upper berth was your last preference.

But the most fun was to be had to be a part of wedding parties, when at each station some new members of your extended family would join you with fresh supplies of snacks, cold water and family gossip. The singing & gossip sessions would last late into the night, but who’d care about other passengers. Of course, there would always be that elder uncle or cousin who’d be snoring like a siren, feeling completely at home in the wobbling train.

Talking of these train journeys, how can one forget to mention the support economy of chaiwallahs and naashta (breakfast) sellers who’d chirp in at each station offering you wafer thin omelettes, & cutlets from unverified sources. Many train stations have their own special offerings which lure the foodies to step out at the stops and attempt to pick the sweetmeat or savory offered. The chaiwallahs (tea sellers) deserve a special mention with their trademark calls for tea, which is always promised to be enriched with cardamon and tulsi (basil) with a money back guarantee on quality! Lets not forget, he’d be off the train much before you’d be done with your tea, but the promise meant something to everyone.

Finally, there would be the ticket collector in his black coat moving with the air as if he were the king of the train, followed by hapless passengers on the wait list requesting the lord’s mercy be bestowed upon them with a berth to sleep for the night.

But while all this excited me, everyone would often knowingly ignore young lecherous men leering lustily at young women making them uncomfortable, exposing the undercurrents of gender issues in India, or parents beating the hell out of their kids in public as a punishment for their hyperactivity.

Missing: The light heady feeling!

Keep Calm and Stay Positive

Do you know this light heady feeling, when you wake up and believe that it is going to be your day. Years ago I had a string of those days, in 2005 when I had started on my first job. In those first few months, when I’d walk out of my home to commute I’d feel energetic, inspired and positive. The impact, I did pretty well, I worked hard and kicked butt!
But, the attitude gradually died, I know that heady feeling but I hardly feel like that anymore. Yes, you’ll claim its because work in mundane and what not, but the fact is, the feeling did not return even when I switched jobs. The last few years altered me, and that head rush paved way to anxiety and stress.
Last time I felt that heady was in November last year, it was a fine day until I came to work and it turned into something else within a few hours.
Sigh…I miss the days, when I really had the spring in my step.

One more move, again

This is probably the running theme for a while now, running that is…from one town to another, from one country to another.

As I write this down, sipping a Starbucks coffee just because I can use their wifi, I am again in a new town trying to get some work done (by writing a blog post?) with the lack of internet access at the new apartment.

So we moved again, this time as the missus got a job, after a very long wait and its the one worth having. So we decided to move to a nearby town of Cologne, and commute, and this is how the cookie is now crumbling from today.

Strangely, after so many moves in the last year itself, its much less stressful now, but this time around I think it’ll be much longer.

To new beginnings and newer towns…!

Just another blog from a just another guy

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