No one in the school, not even Durwanji, with his pretentious twirling moustache, and usually an encyclopaedia when it came to any trivia connected with the school, could recall which summer the kulfiwala had started visiting.
He was an ancient man, the wrinkles that adorned his blissful countenance a testimony to the many summers he had seen, the veins on his gnarled arms emphasised with age.
He sat at exactly the same spot everyday, under the welcoming shade of the colossal banyan tree, waiting patiently for the school gong to announce the end of day.
Most days, Maa would be religiously at the gate, waiting to pick me up.
But then she was firm and uncompromising when it came to dealing with my pleas for a kulfi – I wasn’t grown up yet, she would counsel, to relish street food.
But Dada has jhalmuri and phuchka all the while, I would vehemently contest.
He’s older than you, spontaneous would be the retort. When you are his age, you can savour street food too.
And a grumpy me, far from happy and bitterly complaining, would drag myself for the rest of the walk home.
But there was that odd day when Manikkaka would be there and if I persuaded him hard enough, adorable as he was, he would buy me a kulfi.
And I would watch in awe the theatrics that followed.
The kulfiwala would dip his gaunt hands into the icy cold refuge of the battered well-past-its-prime handi and fish out a container. A couple of experienced twists of the palm, the cap would be dislodged. A stick would be savagely impaled into the heart of the cold deliciousness. Finally a sharp tug and the kulfi would escape from the confines of the container to the world outside.
I don’t know why, but memories come fleeting back this morning as I stir the milk for the mango kulfi I have planned.
The season’s last Alphonsos rest patiently on the granite kitchen counter, tiny convex lenses of refrigerator-induced perspiration on their luscious golden surfaces, the aluminum kulfi containers wait in anticipation, ecstatic at being unshackled from the grim darkness of the claustrophobic pantry shelves, where they had been relegated to last autumn.
I wonder how the school is these days. Has it got a new coat of paint this summer ? Is Durwanji still there ? Does a kulfiwala still visit ? Do the girls plead to their mothers to buy them a malai kulfi or a mango kulfi as I would ?
Mango Kulfi. A mellifluous duet of reduced milk and mango pulp. Frozen till firm. Just the magic you need to light up a sultry summer afternoon. Enjoy !!!