When I was in school, Saturdays were special for two reasons – my sister and I got our pocket money on that day, and we had school for only half-a-day on Saturdays (yes, we worked five-and-a- half-day weeks then).
We were each given 20p by our Dad, and this amount could buy us many yummy treats. Small shops lined the road to the bus stand from where we took the bus back home.
The salivating would start the moment we eyed the various candies. There were mints, lollipops, candies like grains of rice (which were actually cumin seeds dipped in coloured sugar), poppins, wafers, cakes…
In addition to these, there was an old woman who sold berries in small portion sizes – gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries and some other local fruit. And then again, there were roasted peanuts and cashews.
However, during summer, the star attraction was a vendor who sold candy that he called ‘Bombai Mittai’, meaning sweet from Bombay. He called out this name with a nasal twang.
The specialty of his candy was that it was pink coloured, sticky and stretcheable. He carried a pole, atop which the candy was rolled. The pole was covered by a huge plastic sheet.
He had magic in his hands. When some child wanted the candy, he would craft various things out of it. There was always a crowd around him. For example he crafted a watch at 10p, a rabbit at 15p, a house at 20p, a star at 5p, a peacock at 35p and an elephant at 40p.
One summer, the moment we started seeing the Bombai Mittai seller, we decided to save up. This meant foregoing our treats for one week.
I decided that I wanted a peacock, while my sister saved up for an elephant. We felt it was totally worth the wait.
Once we had saved enough, we waited in excitement for school to close that Saturday.
There he was, already sculpting. I thrust 35p into his hands and said breathlessly, “One peacock please.”
I watched in excitement as he sculpted the most beautiful pink candy peacock ever. My eyes stopped blinking. Finally, he added the crown and gave it to me.
Plop! In my excitement, I dropped the peacock. My heart nearly stopped, and I was too dazed to do anything.
My sister pushed me aside and thrust her money into his hand and said, “One more peacock please.”