DEHRADUN was once a popular destination for those on the verge of retirement and looking for a place to settle down. Following this trend, my father bought a piece of land and built a house on the outskirts of Dehradun after retiring from the Army in the late 1960s. It was a small, quaint village amid fertile fields near the Haridwar road. The houses were few and scattered. Located about 7 km from the Clock Tower, it had piped water supply and a 16-ft-wide approach lane.
My father missed his daily dose of news as the newspaper hawker didn’t venture into the village. Enquiries revealed that the last place the hawker visited was near Lalaji’s shop. It was about 1 km from our residence. The hawker was not keen to travel the distance on his bicycle for just one customer, but offered to drop our copy at the shop. My father readily agreed. Lalaji, also an ex-serviceman, said he would be happy to receive it every day.
The newspaper subscribed to was a Hindi daily published from New Delhi. It used to cost 11 paise initially and its price gradually rose to 13, 15 and then 17 paise. The hawker delivered the newspaper between 2 and 4 pm as he covered a large expanse before coming to our locality. During the monsoon, the delivery used to be erratic as Dehradun received heavy rain. The Rispana, a seasonal river, was another impediment as its swarming water used to inundate the Haridwar road, which was yet to have a bridge.
It was my (a schoolboy) job to collect the newspaper in the evening. And I did it with gusto as I was allowed to use my father’s cycle. Mostly, when I arrived, Lalaji would realise that he had not read the newspaper. Holding it in his hands, he would gently ask me to wait for a few minutes and start looking for his spectacles. Generally, it was not easy to locate them and a frenetic hunt would ensue, involving his entire family. Once in possession of his spectacles, he became engrossed in the newspaper, oblivious of the customers’ and my presence. Ultimately, the customers’ consistent pleadings for the supply of provisions would come to my rescue. Sometimes, my stay would extend further if one of the customers was interested in the news. Reluctantly, Lalaji would hand over the newspaper to me. However, he was a kind soul and occasionally offered sweetmeats to me.
At home, every passing second would worsen the temper of my waiting father. On my arrival, he would invariably ask about the cause of the delay, but did not bother to listen to my reply as he quickly buried himself in the newspaper in the faint light of the lantern.
With the passage of time, the winds of change swept our hamlet. The green fields gave way to a number of houses. Grabbing the opportunity, newspaper hawkers appeared on the scene and newspapers became available at our doorstep.
The turn of events not only snapped the daily link with Lalaji but also dried up my source of sweatmeats.
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