By Savitri Narayanan
“I will go shopping,” said Reena over breakfast.
“Mummy please get some finger chips and banana cake,” said Biju.
“And some burgers and samosas and ice-cream, too,” added Aju as he put more jam on his toast, “Toast, jam, eggs and khichri are boring!”
The cottage in Garhwal had been locked up for years. Papaji loved his roots and farming so never thought of migrating. After Class XII in the village school, Bhavin had gone to Delhi to do his engineering, got a job, got married and stayed on there. Meena too got married and moved to Nainital. The Dangwals continued to stay with the help of loyal servants but when they were no more, the cottage was locked up. So it turned into a vacation home but, in view of the lockdown, they had come down to stay for a while. It took no time to settle down, as each found their favourite spots – Aju and Biju for their online classes and Bhavin for his meetings.
“We are running out of things in the kitchen,” Reena continued as they cleared the breakfast table, “Hope Champa comes along; I would love to explore the local market for some glass bangles.”
Champa was their neighbour’s daughter, the eldest of four. On the verge of her teens, she kept an eye on her younger siblings and also lent a helping hand in the kitchen. Across the fence, Reena watched Champa’s mother weeding the vegetable patch.
“Champa, bring along that bag,” she called out, “These broad beans are ready for plucking, we’ll have them for lunch.”
“Be quick, Champa,” added the widowed aunt who came out of the kitchen with a chopping board and some vegetables “Bring it before I peel and chop these potatoes, if not I will chop off your plait!”
Laughing aloud, she too settled down in the sun.
“How much work they do! And what comraderie!” was Reena’s thought as she too called out to Champa across the window, “When you finish your work, shall we go to the bazaar?”
Champa applied some kaajal, put on the green salwar kameez, and tied her plait with matching green ribbon. It was exciting to go to the bazaar with Reena aunty. She bought so much – fruits, biscuits, sweet bread, cupcakes- all sorts of things. At the end of shopping she also bought ice-cream or they went to a restaurant.
“Remember your manners, don’t act greedy,” Mummyji reminded from the kitchen as Champa stepped out, “Don’t say, ‘I want this, I want that’ – when things are offered free, learn to say ‘no’.”
“Just be with aunty and guide her,” added Roopa mausi glancing up from the chopping board, “Aunty is from Delhi, new to Garhwal; not used to our bazaar!”
Reena aunty was fun. She loved shopping! Fruits, vegetables, biscuits, incense sticks – her bag was getting full fast. “Champa, why aren’t you buying anything?” she paused as she put the bunch of strawberries into her bag.
“Don’t need anything, aunty, have everything at home.”
Reena aunty took a good look at her and said, “Take this bag, Champa! You pick up whatever your family likes, I will pay for it. This is my wish!”
Champa was tempted, but remembered instructions from home and picked up a bunch of bananas and a packet of biscuits.
“Only this much!” exclaimed Reena aunty gazing at the meager shopping, “Go, get something more! Wafers, chips, sweet buns – fill the bag for your brothers!”
“No aunty, Papaji has bought everything, thank you!”
The winter sun was warm as they walked back home.
“What’s for evening tea, Mommy?” asked Aju as he barged into the kitchen. Pleased with the morning’s shopping, the kitchen shelves full of ingredients, Reena had happily immersed herself in cooking.
“Oh! How lovely! Sooji ki halwa, my favourite!” Aju pulled up his chair and sat down, ready to eat.
“So much halwa! After so long!” Bhavin too joined in.
“Biju, drop thisat Champa’s house before you start eating”, said Reena holding a large bowl of halwa, “Think of those children, younger than you too!”
“I started eating!” said Biju, “My hands are jhootha”
“Mine too!” added Aju with a mischievous grin.
“No big deal, I will pass it on myself,” saying so Reena crossed over to the neighbour’s yard but paused at the kitchen window as the conversation spilled out. The family had gathered in the kitchen for their evening tea so Champa had an audience.
“Buy whatever you like said Reena aunty and gave me a bag too. Pick up whatever you like, I’ll pay for it; it’s my wish is what she told me!”
“And didi, you picked up only these biscuits and bananas!” said Chinni in disbelief.
“We must have good manners,” said Champa solemnly, “And must not be greedy! Say ‘No’ when things are offered free!”
Reena’s eyes welled up as she retraced her steps. In the store room it took only a few minutes for her to fill a large bag with goodies and call out to the neighbour.
“Champa, I need your help again,” she said handing over the bag across the fence.
“Fussy children here, they don’t like these; they want cake with icing and biscuits with cream it seems! What to do, we’ll shop again tomorrow. Please share these with your family.”