I can’t remember which month it was, but let’s say that it was June. I was outside on the streets in Sarojini Nagar, playing with little boys and girls my age. I’d say they were my friends, but they most probably weren’t because I didn’t have any. (Except for Gautam, who stopped talking to me after I broke his tooth.)
Anyway. I was outside playing with other children in the colony when he arrived with his ice-cream cart. I stood transfixed as the ball went rolling past me and the children screamed. Kya kar rahi hai? Ball pakad pagal! What the fuck are you doing? Get the ball, you moron!
Teri wajah se haare hain hum aaj rang in my ears as the other team did a victory dance. We lost because of you. The crowd dispersed. Kal se hum ni khelre iske saath. We’re not playing with her anymore.
I didn’t care. I just stood there, looking at Nitu didi as she unwrapped her ice-cream, revealing a Mango Duet (the most glorious treat I’ve ever had) and threw the wrapper carelessly on the road.
I licked my parched lips. She saw, and my already sunburned face felt like it was on fire.
Khayegi? Want some?
She split one of the duet sticks and handed me a singlet.
I went home happy, unperturbed about the other children not wanting to play with me. I was greeted by my mother at the door. She looked angry. Beta, agar ice cream khani thi to humein bola kyon nahin? If you wanted an ice cream, why didn’t you just say so?
I wanted to say something but the shame rising through my oesophagus choked me until lava-hot tears sluiced out. Though she never said it out loud, I felt like I was pure evil and had somehow let her down.
I shot a look at my father. He looked like he disapproved too. Aage se kisi se kuch nahin maangna, he said. I had just learned my first life lesson. Don’t ever ask anyone for anything.
Do you remember your first life lesson? Where were you in 1989? Have you ever had the Mango Duet?