“ Koko ! stop running around, you would either slip on the slushy floor or attacked by a stray cow!” Mrs. Senapati ,a dedicated mother, a loving grandmother and helpful neighbour was trying to catch up with her seven year old grandson with whom she had come to the classic vegetable market named as “Didi Baazar”.
The street leading to “ Didi Baazar” was so narrow that for an outsider it seemed that walking on two legs was impossible. But Hand pulled carts, two wheeler, rickshaws, and bicycles would enter the street with chaotic discipline and the drivers would smile away, rubbing each other- either right way or wrong way to reach their destination , the mighty entrance of the bazaar called “The Didi Baazar” since most of the vegetable hawkers were women from young to old. Only the meat and poultry section was managed by men.
Mrs. Senapati had been visiting this market right from the day she stepped into Senapati household as a new bride. Her mother- in- law thought the new daughter in-law Kanak( that was her name which only few knew, for the rest she was boudi (sister-in-law), mashi (aunt), kaki(paternal aunt) etc , like her identity, even her name was lost ,was assigned to buy vegetables from the market.
Kanak used to enjoy are marketing sojourns. She was the only one who had the freedom to go out under the free blue sky in the narrow street, smelling the ripe tomatoes, spicy green chillies, brown earthly ginger, aromatic coriander , and of course the colours also attracted her, like light green ,purple big ,small brinjals, golden yellow pumpkin, dark green lady’s finger, orange and red carrots, muddy red beet root , white radish with crown of green leaves to name a few. The pungent odour of garlic, the teary onions covered with paper thin multilayered skin and with multiple eyes the reddish brown mud covered potatoes gave a sense of happiness to Kanak.
On Sundays she had to buy sea food, eggs and meat. Even in this section Kanak was very artistic in choosing the right stuff. From poultry to prawns, fish eggs during monsoon and the squabbling crabs she picked up with great interest.
She was the most familiar face who visited the market whether it was rain or shine. By any chance if she couldn’t go, there would be volley of questions by the vendors to know the reasons of her absence. Kanak was considered a lucky charm and her magic touch in market lingo was called “Boni”which meant good sale and lot of profit.
In all these years, Kanak missed her appointment to visit the market only twice, when she was away to her parent’s home for the delivery of her sons- Krishna and kartik.
Time passed like seasonal veggies. The Senapati family disintegrated. Children moved to cities.
Everything changed except the narrow street and Kanak’s visit to the market.
Once Kanak visited a big Mall along with her city sons. Every vegetable was wrapped in neat polythene and with price tag attached. Kanak felt as if the poor vegetables were like bodies in morgue kept under refrigeration. She missed the feel of the vegetables , the smell and the touch. She was just anxious to go back to Didi Baazar.
Summer holidays, krishna and kartik along with their wives and the naughty grandson koko visited Kanak. Every day koko accompanied his grandma . While the boy enjoyed, she would be busy with her shopping. Kanak was getting older. Carrying the vegetable bag was bit strenuous. But the happiness she felt selecting choicest vegetables, fruits and fish for her family surpassed all the pain.
Today was Krishna’s birthday. Kanak was really excited to make a special lunch. It was already 6 am. The entire house was still sleeping . Silently like a cat, she took her cloth bag in one hand and her worn out chappals in the other hand, was on her way to the market.
“ Good heavens!” Koko was already waiting for her. She gestured and whispered “ go and sleep. It’s too early .” But Koko didn’t budge but clung to her like a leech. Kanak gave up and took the little hand , both of them like two happy birds moved towards the narrow street, filled with the smell of both fresh and rotten vegetables.
She wanted to pick up the best fish and some prawns. She dragged Koko along . Bapuni, the fish monger was happy to see Kanak do “ the Boni”. Kanak squat down with her heavy body, aching knees to pick up the best fish.
“ How time races” she thought. In the past, the birthday of her sons was a big event. Always traditional food was prepared followed by temple visit and lunch for all the children in the neighbourhood. There was no concept of gifts,only good wishes and blessings. Suddenly her reverie was broken , she looked for Koko. Time to go back home.
“ KoKo, Koko” she called out loudly to be heard in the market din. There was no response. Her eyes moved in all directions to see where the little fellow was.She was profusely sweating from the weight of the bags and also from the anxiety of not able to trace Koko. Legs felt heavy, throat was parched. Kanak dragged her feet and hoping to find Koko at home.
Now almost limping with pain and weight of the bags , she reached home. The front gate was ajar. Koko could open the heavy iron gate but could never close. “ some relief “, she thought. “ Must be around “. She called out his name again. But only silence. The rest of the members were up. Everyone gathered in the courtyard . Kanak’s pale face and look of dismay followed by volley of questions from the family made Kanak feel small.
All these years of her dedication, god knows, how many tonnes of vegetables she might have carried to get few grams of love and appreciation from the family, was lost. She stood like a criminal. Krishna decided to go to the near by police station to register a complaint. The maid Moni was busy sharing all horror stories of child kidnapping.
Kanak felt faint decided to go to her room. She lifted her sari of the previous night from the bed and lo behold, curled up, oblivious of the world outside, slept peacefully on the bed was dear Koko.
Kanak gave a cry of joy and the rest of the family rushed to see Koko in the arms of his grand ma. Koko while in the market had asked for an ice lolly since Kanak was busy, he came back home for his father to buy one. He entered Kanak’s room and slept in the soft folds of the sari left on the bed.
Krishna wrenched Koko from Kanak’s hand. All moved to their respective rooms. Only Kanak was left with her vegetables, the fish almost rotting and her feelings crushed like prawns under the heavy weight of the potatoes.
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