The incident of the Jam Bottle

I closed my eyes.

I could feel the sunlight against my closed lids as I watched the different hues of orange and small specks floating down inside my lids. The sunlight filtering through the trees was warm on my face and I could hear the flies buzzing nearby. Life was bliss as my Class 3 summer vacations had begun.

My parents were doctors in a small town hospital affiliated to a steel plant and I was left to my own devices for the majority of the day, in the care of my maid. I was having a great time doing nothing when my friends called me to play.

I dragged myself home after I could no longer ignore the repeated hollering of my maid to come and eat my lunch. I hated most food but what I just couldn’t stand was food that was healthy and bland. Ugghh ! the Kaddu ki sabzi kept in front of me seemed more threatening by the minute and whoever had invented the blasted thing wasn’t going to be happy when he or she met me. When my maids back was turned, I quickly dispatched it to where it rightfully belonged – the dustbin. But I was still hungry and the fridge looked inviting with its promise of food that could be.

My dad was not the type to take chances, so he locked everything lockable inside the house which included the fridge. That wasn’t a big deterrence for me as I had found a particularly extremely handy nail cutter with all sorts of appendages sticking out of it.

I had the fridge open in a jiffy and rummaged around for something edible when I spotted a loaf of bread and a big bottle of Kissan mixed fruit jam. My stomach was, by now, virtually talking to me. I hurriedly pulled the bread out and balanced the big jam bottle with the other when the dratted thing slipped. I saw horrified, the bottle falling in slow motion and heard the sickening sound of splintered glass.

I knelt down to examine the carnage and found that it was irredeemable. My parents had some weird ideas about being careful with stuff, discipline etc. and I would definitely have some explaining to do about picking the lock and chucking the food as well. My life was hanging by a thread and the clock was ticking.

I sat down and tried to whip my brain cells into overdrive. I went to the store room and looked at the rows of miscellaneous bottles and jars neatly stacked on the shelves. Suddenly I saw it. An old Kissan Jam bottle with some masala in it. I quickly emptied and cleaned it and ran back to the crime scene. In a jiffy, I had spooned the spilt contents into the bottle.

There ! The deed was done. My hide would still be on my back. Just when I was about to replace it, I noticed the label which looked old whereas the other one had looked new. So I held it under the water and scrubbed it with all my might till it was spotless.Huh, now who was to notice anything amiss?

Couple of days passed without incident and then, it was the day of the bread again and out came ‘The Bottle’. We all spooned the jam on the bread and I waited with bated breath. No sign. Things were quiet. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of my father biting into something hard. He gingerly took it out. A small glass piece glinted in the sunlight. I was getting redder by the minute.“How could a glass piece be in the jam! I am going to talk to the shopkeeper and see what to do.” he said

I tried my best skills to dissuade him but to no avail.So off he went the same evening to meet the shopkeeper, Mr Phoolchand.

I spent some tense moments waiting for him and when he finally showed up, he marched right in, with me in tow and told my mom “I am going to write to the company.” My heart was in my boots. I consoled myself with the thought that nobody would be bothered about a complaint from a small town, for a one off incidence. Probably that was the end of that.

Life again turned leisurely with my mind far removed from the jam bottle incident.

And so it was, that one evening when I came home after play and found couple of strangers in the living room, I was caught off-guard to know that they were from the Kissan company.Dad was talking to them and sure enough, there was the dreadful bottle kept on the table. I slowly inched my way behind the drapes and willed my ears to listen as closely as possible, which was difficult considering that my mom chose just that minute to call us for dinner.

They were asking Dad if we had the label, as they wanted to check the batch number and the date. Well, I had taken care of that all right. After long last, they got up and left,I burst into the room to see Dad smiling and say “Well..they said it was probably some isolated bottling mistake and they would figure it out. And see what they gave us absolutely free. A jam bottle, a tomato ketchup bottle and a squash bottle.”

The next day we had samosas with the tomato ketchup and I hadn’t tasted anything better than that..

Somebody was shaking me. It was my son. I had been day dreaming of my childhood again. I smiled at him and hoped he wouldn’t take us for a ride like that.

(My actual childhood experience which happened sometime around 1983 and my parents jaw literally dropped when I finally told them the truth after I had a child of my own.

All pictures are painted using my Samsung Galaxy Note 🙂 )

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Romancing the Books

Have you ever smelt the books you’ve read ? And if you have, then reading can never be perfunctorily dismissed as simply reading, it is always a romance.Book shops and old libraries can never lose their charm despite the ever-increasing onslaught of the ‘e-‘ brigade.

I flipped open a book with roughened yellow pages, which had probably been thumbed by hundreds of readers. The print was still good and I buried my nose in the book  to smell that delightful smell of warmth and vacations…

The first day of summer vacations; the beginning of idyllic days ahead , hot and dry and with the wings of freedom to do what we chose. Let loose from the drudgery of school, my brother and I would make a beeline to ‘Apna Pustakalaya’, a rusty lending library in the small township of Bhilai. The proprietor, a rustic guy of around 40 with a bushy moustache would be perched atop his usual stool behind the front counter. The library was, by no means something to rave about and was no more than a roughly patched up tin shed. But to our eyes , it was nothing short of a heaven for our vacation starved hearts. Rows and rows of books lined neatly in shelves would be grouped under different sections. The books were mostly old, but well maintained in their bound jackets. The moment we entered, we would get lost in the mad frenzy of hunting for the Sydney Sheldons, Agatha Christies, Robert Ludlums and the like. And when we managed to unearth an unread one, we would hold on it to like a treasure. There were shelves lined with Cowboy stories, which mostly gathered dust , and the ones with Mills n Boons that would see girls surreptitiously snatching a book or two.
But the real cherries on the cake were the occasional Archie Digests, the Tintins and the Asterix we chanced upon. Knowing their prized status, the owner would normally keep them under the counter and would give them out only to favored and loyal customers. We would stand in line and murmur in our best endearing voices and would often be rewarded when he brought out an old Asterix from underneath the counter. We were allowed to take 10-12 books on one trip and could make as many trips as we wanted for a measly charge of 30 Rs a month

We would stagger under the weight of the books but our steps were buoyant on the way home.The bookstore was a witness to our growing up as we graduated from St Claires, Famous Fives and Secret Sevens to Perry Masons, Alistair McLeans and Alfred Hitchcock.
Its been several years since I left the town forever but I am sure that ‘Apna Pustakalaya’ still stands as it was and it continues to bring the joy of reading and of vacations to hundreds of children there.