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Free Lunch At Chaat Shops- Remembering Shimla

Free Lunch At Chaat Shops

Jaikishen was a Kashmiri boy, fair complexioned, rosy cheeks, green eyes and golden hair. He looked cute and harmless but looks can be deceptive. He was my classmate and my fair weather friend, like most of the classmates are in school days. One day at lunch break I found my lunch box missing. Someone had surely stolen it and polished the contents off as it was very common to find it missing from one’s bag. It had to be guarded safely but sometime between the classes you have to go to the loo especially when the teacher starts asking questions or punishment for not doing the home work is imminent. So at times the choice is between guarding your lunch box and getting caned on trivial pretexts, the sadistic school teachers have a great knack of thinking up. Those who chicken out, end up losing their lunch boxes often.

Going without lunch is a daunting task. Young growing up boys are always hungry and don’t seem to get enough to eat. In the hills the school timings are from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. I sat at my desk sulking, when Jaikishen came to me. He was my friend though but one of the suspects too because friends couldn’t be trusted in such matters. I told him about the tragedy. He said he will treat me to a free lunch at the Chaat shops. There are very popular Chaat shops along the stairs opposite Gaiety Theatre, joining The Mall to The Middle Bazaar. The place is a little far from the D.A.V. School at Lakkad Bazaar where we studied but young boys when fired with strong desires can cover large distances like cheetahs and hunger is the most potent motivator in young boys. We entered one Chaat Shop and placed our order. I am not sure about the present system of payment or if they have learnt some lessons from their mistakes over the years or not or if they have run out of business but in those days one could eat first and pay later. We had to our fill. First Kulchas, then Channa Bathura and a plate of Aloo Tikki. As I was having my feast, I wondered how indulgent some parents could be. I could never get more than ten paise from my tight-fisted mother and it often went to the pockets of greedy lenders as I generally remained reeling in debts because of frequent borrowing from them. I even thought that this could be his birthday treat to his bosom friend, but I didn’t want to ask. Magnanimity, shouldn’t be questioned.

Jaikishen broke my reverie and asked me to get ready to leave. He walked quickly. I hadn’t wiped my plates clean when I saw him passing the owner or Manager whoever was as the cash counter. He, as always was busy attending a transaction and I saw Jaikishen’s finger pointing towards me. Before, I could gather my senses and understand why that finger of my friend who had promised me a free lunch was pointing towards me, I realized that the senses that I had gathered a while ago might be driven out of me very soon by the waiters who now seemed to be looking towards me. The shop had a very few customers because it was around 1 O’clock in the afternoon which was a little early for the tourists and local evening walkers to crowd in to have tickees, golgappas or samosas. The attendants surely outnumbered them or so did it feel to me then. Jaikishen, I saw had hurriedly started mounting the stairs two at a time. Now the meaning of his “free lunch” had dawned on me, like a glare of a hot summer day. The prospect of “it being free” began to look remote to me as some nagging whistle started ringing in my ears. Experience has taught me that it rings in one’s ears when getting beaten to pulp is imminent and I saw no escape from it that day. The only passage that leads in to the seating space in those shops is very narrow as the shops are very small and what is worse is that it remains nearly blocked by the waiters and the customers huddled together at the entrance.

I knew that I would have to make run for my life. Though I had never done such a thing before but that day, I didn’t have a choice. I didn’t have any money to pay. I shot past the posse of surprised waiters and a flabbergasted owner, like a gazelle. Four flights of stairs a time was what I think I was mounting then. I don’t think my feet were touching the ground, but my spirit was floating in the air pegging me on. I am not sure if anyone tried to chase us but catching young boys running up the hilly path is an uphill task literally, and that was the one we had taken. There’s a steep road near the Ladies Park that joins The Mall Road to The Ridge. We took that as our escape road and within minutes we were a part of the milling crowd on The Ridge.
Note:- There’s another interesting episode to this…will bring that at to you some other day.

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Navneet Bakshi

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blogfriends
2 years ago

Thanks Bahenji- And welcome to this site. Are you accessing it on Smartphone even still?

Chander Kiran
Chander Kiran
2 years ago

Dear Navneet, It is a very well written article bringing the innocent ventures of boyhood alive

ishanbakshi
ishanbakshi
2 years ago

Check out the new comment section taya ji 🙂

You can even attach images to the comments

blogfriends
Admin
blogfriends
2 years ago
Reply to  ishanbakshi

Thanks Ishu for a surprise visit. This is a lovely Editor for Comments section. Ab zyada tar to hamara kaam ho gaya hai, bas ab bandhe hi ikkathe karane reh gaye hain 🙂

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