We grew up in late 80s_the era when you look up in the night; you see the starry sky rather than a layer of soot. The time when life was not confined to our sofas fiddling with mobiles and remotes, but it was sprawled all over the courtyards and terraces socializing with our neighbors.
We lived in an undistinguished mohalla (colony) which comprised of narrow, twisted snake-like gallis (lanes) with houses on either side. We had a spirited group of friends_ all from middle-class families hence more understanding and ease with each other.
The most awaited part of the day would be the evenings after school. Most of which was spent playing hopscotch, skipping, pitthul; occasionally trying our hands at badminton, thus learning teamwork and cooperation on the ground.
Once the energy and the evening light faded out, we all would sit on the steps outside our houses spending hours chatting and giggling. If those steps spoke, they would testify our several stories of arguments and differences, making up with each other, game plans and sometimes secrets too!
We were a close group of four: Alka, who was around 12, the eldest of all. She was a short, stout and headstrong girl. Chavi, the younger sister of Alka and everything opposite of her. She was skinny, taller and a happy go lucky kind. Pammi, a short, podgy girl often unpredictable displaying maturity and mood swings at various occasions and me. Our heart and energies would never settle for routine and we used to go for long evening walks during summer holidays. On one of such evenings, I noticed something on the ground, “Hey wait! Looks like some document”, I remarked as I stooped over to pick it up. “My grandma says you shouldn’t touch any stuff laying on the road as you never know how dirty it could be!”, warned Pummy.”And..you know, sometimes people do black magic on things and throw them away to get rid of evil spirits”, told Chavi widening her eyes. “Stop being so ridiculous Chavi, such stories are made up to fool kids like you,” said Alka snatching the document from me and inspecting it turning back and forth holding it with both of her hands.
I suggested opening the brown envelope and what we found inside was a Ration Card of a man. Photo and address of the man were there on the card. We all looked at each other with mixed expressions of question, cluelessness and at the same time feeling sorry for the man. We all knew how important was the card as we had often been to government rationing shops whereby showing this card we got groceries,stationeries and even sometimes cotton cloths in a govt. Subsidized rates which were very low from the market price.
Our hearts melted and given the time we had in hand and our adventurous spirits; we decided to get that Ration card into the hands of its owner. The nonexistence of mobile and internet made the task challenging plus there was no landline number either on the card as it was unlikely for a Ration card user to afford the same.
“Poor man! must be looking for it…let’s hand it over to the police”, suggested Pammi. “No, the police is scary, and all details are there on the card. it’s better to hand him this personally”, declared Alka decisively.
The address was of Kotwali Road which was almost three km from the place where we discovered it. I exclaimed, “Ohh good! this address is somewhere near to Maniya ki Dukaan..we can try!” “Maniya ki Dukaan ! that famous kachori wala? ” Chavi was suddenly thrilled as she imagined Maniya’s crispy, hot kachoris, the best in town.
Finally, we embarked on our mission and with our usual chit chats reached kotwali road. We tried asking few people, but no one had any idea either about the address or the man himself. It was evening past five and we decided to go towards Maniya Ki Dukaan as people would flock there in the evening to have big fluffy, crusty kachoris straight out of hot oil to have with tamarind and green chutney. With more people, the possibility of getting the information about owner was high too.
Our idea finally worked as we went from person to person asking the whereabouts of the man. One of the middle-aged men took the card close to his eyes and looked at us in the blank expression. “I know this man; he stays near my house, and I will give this card to him,” he said in a very neutral tone again with no expression at all.
We silently nodded with all our eyes on him, and soon he disappeared in the crowd somewhere. We looked at each other with mixed expressions of a question, cluelessness, and surprise.
It was getting dark, and we made our way back home. Continuing our general talks about how we could have stopped there for a kachori each or complaining of leg pain out of walking too much and the like.
We didn’t know whether the Ration card reached the right person, neither we were wise enough to check if it was a valid card or not. We arrived home a little exhausted but proud of ourselves. We had our dinner, and the incident made a good discussion and an interesting story to share with our family and other friends sitting on the steps outside our homes in the summer night!