The Gastronomy of Chance
“Kitne k hogye?” she asks, with the spicy golgappas burning her mouth. It was always a challenge to pass Sharma ji’s chaat bhandar in the by lanes of Chandni Chowk, without stopping there.
“Äbhi 2 baaki hai didi”, Sharma ji’s chotu replies, who was well aware of this ever so regular customer who had been visiting this corner even before he started working here. Not everyone had it in them to endure Sharma ji’s extra spicy golgappe, and were given a bonus sweet dahi golgappa post the endurance test.
His eyes reddened and he was still jumping from the after effects of chat. Looking at his plight, she offered her sweet dahi golgappa to him without saying a word, signaling Chotu to facilitate her decision to sacrifice her bonus golgappa.
By the time he recovered from it, she had begun to move ahead with her backpack on. Gratified by the gesture, he felt obliged to return the favor. New to the city as well as the habit of making advances in life, he kept thinking about whether or not to pursue the idea further.
Walking ahead and contemplating on the idea, a kid kept tugging his pants asking him to buy food. The bell of Jain’s kulfi catches his eye and he buys a kulfi, sending the kid to rush and hand it over to that girl with the red backpack while he buys one for the kid in return.
His heart raced faster, as it was the first time that he thought of taking an initiative and acted upon it, that quickly. Making computer codes for a living, which required utmost planning, he was used to calculative moves. For someone who was always socially awkward, he came a long way in the last 5 minutes.
The kid came back running and sticking his tongue out. It was either because of his just delivered kulfi or the excitement of the one waiting for him. He chuckled at his enthusiasm, feeling a little shy and tapping his head.
While he was paying Jain sahib for another two kulfis, a voice rose from behind. “Bhaiya isme rabri to laga do”. He turned and saw her there, smiling. A thousand emotions ran through his head, unable to transpire into words. Three of them started walking, eating their rabri laid kulfis, with the silence vanishing in the hustling crowd.
He said, “You seem very familiar with this place”. “I have been coming here since I was in college. Ramleelas and Bal Sahyog facilitated my ever lasting love for the food here” she answered.
“The only place I know of is the Paranthe wali gali here. I’ve come there often in the past one month. It is the only spot that is open till late, thanks to my work timings”, he chuckled.
“You’d be surprised to know that you’ve been consuming Chandni Chowk’s least tasty thing, thanks to your work timings”, she said brazenly.
“Umm..wow. I have been living in a fallacy, till now”, he said.
“Are you an Engineer?” she questioned.
“It took you long”, he said cheekily.
“You spend your words wisely and you’re socially awkward. Should have made that analogy sooner”, she said.
“Didi, kebab”, the kid shouted, walking all along with them. They made a halt at Mansoor chacha’s kiosk. “3 galauti kebab, chacha” she shouted. The kid ran ahead to receive the order.
“How did you know I was a non-vegetarian?”, he asked inquisitively.
“We wouldn’t have been talking, if you weren’t”, she said with a straight face.
“So what do you do for living?” he asked. “Eat!”, she said with utter seriousness, looking towards the kiosk, waiting for the order. “Of course. A living I meant”, he said.
Before she could react, the fragrance of hot kebabs distracted her. They sat on the pavement nearby and dug into the kebabs.
“So what brings you here today?” he asks. Before she could answer, her phone flashes *Home Calling* and she gets up. “I have to rush.”, she said standing there waiting for a response, unsure of what exactly though.
He gets up; torn about what to say, especially with the sudden end to an evening he was getting comfortable with. He knew he’d regret not being able to make that one final advancement. He couldn’t bring himself to ask her name, or an innocent meeting again. They parted with a “It was nice meeting you”.
Feeling a little stupid for not overcoming that one last hurdle, he sits on the pavement. He looks at the kid, eating his kebabs with utter concentration and delight. “Ache hai?”, he asks him. “Yes”, the kid replies. “School jata hai?” The kid nods. “Kaha par?”, he asks.
“Bal Sahyog”, the kid replies.
- Achalika Ahuja