If the world were coming to an end in half an hour, what would be the last thing you do? Here’s a delicious, juicy thought
I remember Ginjariya Daji spoke that day, when no one was around, about his love for imarti, a sweet made by deep- frying urad dal flour batter in a circular flower shape. I was 10 years of age attending a marriage in my village.
Every friend of mine was serving food — so was I. Ginjariya Daji was an 80-year-old beggar in my village whom every kid of my age was fond of.
I served imarti to Daji who was sitting away from everybody holding a leaf plate with food in it. Nobody had served him any sweet. He chuckled and said “aur de de, achhi lagte je (Give me some more, I like them). I served him two more imarti. I don’t think he ever got a chance after that day.
I remember him as I crave for a fancy sweet, Kaju katli. As long as I knew Daji, he cared only about food, apart from loving his sister Kalia. Both of them are dead now.
I feel very content that I gave him extra sweets. He took one imarti to his house and shared the pleasure of eating sweets with his sister. I don’t remember Kalia, but when we kids used to tease him saying “Kalia is dead”, he would go after us with a stone in his hand like a mad man.
Amidst the pandemic — a life of uncertainties — my thoughts go again and again to kaju katli. The craving began soon after the lockdown was announced. I think my condition is a bit similar to that of Daji — I need someone to whom I can express my love for the sweet, who will give me some extra pieces to keep, to either share with my loved one or eat before death. I want this memory to go with me, along with everything else dear to me.
What if we are told that you have only half an hour left of your life? Pintoo, a child lead character of Bakarmax’s new comic Karejwa, only wants one thing for his last wish, with only half an hour left for the world to end — a sweet, hot, melt-in-your-mouth karejwa. Writer Varun Grover, a stand-up and political commentator who wrote this child comic, had conceptualised it by including many metaphors to current political reality.
Some thoughtful questions that may look trivial at first glance but worth exploring, are posed in this comic. What would you want your last memory to be before an apocalypse? For Pintoo’s mother it was her school, her classroom as a kid. For his grandmother, a visit to the Ganga but for Pintoo, it was a taste of his favourite sweet, karejwa.
There are parallels between our craving for sweets and the story of Daji with current reality amidst the pandemic. I do believe the world pre-Covid has ended, and I had a few wishes before that end could hit. But I failed.
There were warning signals but like many others, I never realised what was going to happen until it actually happened. I am left with nothing but a passive regret for failure to fulfill some of the wishes on my bucket list — eating kaju katli was one of them.
The story of Daji, a lower caste beggar, tells how in a small world of his, he cared for very few things required for his survival. While the village reeled under old customs of caste, class and religion, he only wanted sweets. Some Hindu right-wing leaders are propagating an insane theory for an antidote to extinction, politicians leave people to riot while they choose safe havens for themselves. Media is busy sensationalising news for TRP. Amidst all that Pintoo, a child, a common Indian, just wants to fulfill his last wish.
On many occasions during lockdown, I thought I should flee from my home with my press card and meet people, do whatever I am accustomed to doing. That brings to mind some of the classics in literature about voyages, like Gulliver’s travels. Pintoo was also on a voyage that would take him to a sweet shop, but I couldn’t flee because I had an Hamletian dilemma in my mind — to go or not to go. Dreaming of such adventures is not a good idea amidst a pandemic.
Daji and Pintoo both knew that death is very near, but for all of us it is uncertain. To live for what we really care for in our life is tough — most of us are stuck in trivial, monotonous day-to-day happenings of life. Yet we don’t know what will happen next.
I finally ate Kaju katli last Friday. It has become one of the sweetest memories of my life. I went to a partially open sweet shop in my city and bought 100 gram of the sweet. This time around, the taste seemed a bit different but of course mind-blowing. I could imagine the feeling Daji had while eating imarti at the wedding.
My journey till the sweet shop was uneventful, quite unlike what I imagined during the lockdown. I rode on my scooty, stopped at the sweet shop, bought the sweet. Pintoo’s voyage was dotted with multiple realities playing out around him. For Daji, I imagine it must be like an old man walking in slippers, wearing a white kurta browned by dirt, torn at a few places. Kids are teasing him, some adult teen mocking him, the priest of the village temple passing by avoiding touch and finally when he would reach this marriage venue where he got a chance to savour imarti.
While enjoying my sweet, I also thought about diabetes patients. How unlucky they are, living a life deprived of their favourite sweets. I can’t imagine myself going through life without rasgulla, kaju katli, gujia. If someone tells me that the rampaging virus has triggered the end of the world, I would first go and gorge on sweets before doing anything else.
(Cover: For people with a sweet tooth, the lockdowns were especially hard as their favourite sweetmeats were in short supply Photo: Ankit Kapoor (Bakarmax.com))