Sipping ginger tea at a roadside tea stall outside my college, I was distracted from my friends’ conversation as I observed an elderly man rummaging through a small plastic bag for coins, sitting in the driver’s seat of Mumbai’s typical black-and-yellow autorickshaw, while a young girl in school uniform sat in the back. The man, having found the exact amount he was looking for, cautiously made his way to the neighbouring burger joint. He managed to buy a burger and cola, which he happily handed over to the little girl, uttering only ‘Nazia’. In response, she smiled from ear to ear, reaching out gleefully to her father, screaming ‘Abbu!’ What Nazia did not notice, however, was Abbu tip-toeing to a nearby cart and purchasing a vadapav for himself with whatever money he had left. And in that moment, I was transported from the dingy, pungent lanes of Mumbai to the much more pleasant roads of Chandigarh, where I spent my childhood.
As a schoolboy, Fridays were always special to me. My father had made it a routine to pick me up from school every Friday afternoon in our new car, and treat me to lunch. While I wasn’t quite a food connoisseur then (not that I’ve evolved into one now), I did enjoy the weekly burger or pizza in Sector 17, where I would even get a chance to play a game or two, always wondering when I would be old enough to pot some balls on the snooker table. But the highlight of the afternoon would be the thrill I got sitting in the car, saved from the crowded school bus I took every day. In the evenings, I would narrate, in great detail, the events of the afternoon to my mother and elder sister, who would indulge me by feigning excitement.
It was in that moment that I realised how different our worlds were — Nazia’s and mine — yet how familiar it all felt; a doting father indulging his young child, who felt the happiest in that moment, carefree and gay. As Nazia finished her burger, I recalled how my Friday lunches with my father would invariably end with him buying me ice-cream as a penalty for being late, and I rushed to buy Nazia and her father some ice-cream. It would have been perfect for the hot afternoon, but her father drove away before I could reach the ice-cream shop.
I never bumped into Nazia or her father again, and neither do I remember their faces in this sea that is Mumbai. But seeing the precious bond between father and daughter that day brought back to me several memories from my childhood, which made the tea sweeter and made me forget the harshness of the city for a moment.
My father and I often discuss alcohol whenever I visit Chandigarh, and he has also ‘permitted’ me to drink occasionally, but no beer can match the burgers and pizzas I used to relish as a child. I do hope that Nazia enjoys many more lunches with her father, just as I did in my childhood.
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