A small girl waiting for the clock to strike five in the evening.
Still one more hour to go for her parents to be back from office.
She washed her face, changed into another dress, combed her hair and rushed to the ‘phoolon wala park’. There were four parks in the neighborhood, but only this one had marigold plants, hence the name. In the park, she was greeted by five-six kids, all of her age . They all were waiting excitedly for their favorite man – Pitaji.
A man in his late seventies, Pitaji was my mother’s best friend’s father. He would reach the park at exactly five pm – everyday, walk on the jogging track for a while and then sit at the center of the grass-island built inside the park. I was around seven year old at that time. He would tell us stories – Vikram Betaal, Ramayana (not the religious or preachy parts, just the entertaining fights between Ram and Rakshasas), he told us about the legends of samudra manthan, Rahu-ketu, Shiva-Sati,.. and many others. He had very expressive face and would make us ‘live’ those stories. It was like no other story-telling experience I have ever had. He was the one who made me fall in love with fiction.
Pitaji was a very handsome man. Tall (around six ft), very fair, always dressed in white kurta-pajamas which matched so perfectly with his hair color! We all called him ‘Pitaji’. I don’t know how it all started. I guess Manju maasi (his daughter, and my mother’s best friend) used to call him that and we just picked it up from there. We often wondered how he ate his food since he had no teeth left in his mouth! And we never could understand why he would not let us leave the park until our parents came to pick us up, although he gave us a solid explanation for that. He told us that the rakshasas take human form and look out for small kids who wander alone on the streets. They offer sweets and become friendly. And once you start trusting them, they pick you up and make into a nice meal. It was a fear tactic that many might not approve of. But it worked – for all of us. We would wait for our parents and leave for home. He would also remind us to come the next day, and be very very careful of those on the streets.
He was and always would be a very special part of my childhood. This post is to acknowledge the love and care he gave to all of us… and adding that extra spark to the memories of years gone by … 🙂
Pitaaji = Father