Crumbs of Heaven
Dr Sanhita Kanungo
Sharma ji walked up to the designated meeting point in the corner of the park. His friends were yet to arrive. He started swinging his
hands and walked briskly along the paved path around the park.
It was hot and sultry even at 7 am and the intermittent drizzle added to the discomfort.
He saw his septuagenarian cronies from the housing society,Das and Chatterjee walk towards him with a smile. They started walking
with him. They had a fourth partner, Pravin Pathak. He had slipped in the shower and broke his femur a month back and was
recuperating at home. Osteoporosis had contributed to his fracture the doctor said and had waxed eloquent about benefits of brisk
walking and exercise.
Till a month back, the park corner was an early morning gossip station and any exercise was strictly vocal. Occasionally they felt
guilty and did some ‘pranayama’ or breathing exercises. But nowadays they walked 10 laps around the park regularly.
‘Do you eat Oats, Sharma’? Mr Das enquired. Sharmaji shook his head ‘You don’t know how lucky you are. Imagine that you squish
some rice and cover it with glue and eat that..that is the exact feeling,’ Mr Das shuddered as he spoke.’ My daughter in law has
started giving me that,since my constipation problem has worsened. I complained but she only laughed. I think that I have to refuse
breakfast from now on’.
Sharma ji clucked sympathetically.
Mr Chatterjee laughed and said,’I wouldn’t mind trying it. It comes in several flavours. I eat something called muesli which Charu says
is frightfully expensive. It is tasteless and hard to chew. They put some rejected cornflakes, cereals, dessicated fruits and slivers of
almonds and raisins and con people like my wife Charu. Since I have IBS I don’t get milk, only plain yoghurt with it.It is truly a
‘And lucky Sharma has aloo paratha with ghee,’ he grumbled.
Sharma ji was puffing and made his way to the bench. ‘Yes, things were good for me but since the health check up where my
cholesterol was high and sugar borderline, my wife has stopped ghee. I don’t know how she fries paratha without oil. They look
parched as if they were in the Gobi desert. The sabji is watery and I don’t get pickles as they are too salty. And do you know my
granddaughter laughed as I was complaining yesterday..She asked me to imagine that the hard parathas were tacos..Do you know
what tacos are? Some Mexican food..Are we in Mexico? My father and his father lived to their nineties and they had parathas with
ghee everyday.’ He gesticulated angrily and continued his tirade.
‘The hospitals scam people with health check ups and make retired people like us suffer. How does it matter if we die? A young actor
in his 40’s died yesterday. From Balika Vadhu..you know that series in Colors.. young chap with a six pack and healthy. They eat only
salad and health food and exercise..so why did he die?’
Mr Chatterjee nodded.’Yes,Sharma,very sad.Young guy ,full of life. But Sharma, do you really want to die now? Truthfully..’
‘Well’ ,Sharmaji smiled sheepishly. ‘My granddaughter is in the final year of MBBS. Would like to see her as a Doctor..first in my
family you know. And then Rohit, my grandson is getting married soon. So maybe I would like to be around for some years.’
Mr Das smiled and said ‘Tickets booked for the US. Going there next year and while my wife looks after my grandchild, I will travel all
around on my own.Maybe Las Vegas too..so no dying for another few years. Banerjee are you in a hurry? ‘
‘Not until the Qatar football world cup at least..’he guffawed. ‘Las Vegas in your dreams,you old man.Ha ha..
Let’s walk towards the tea shop,’ he said.
There was a tea cart and a famous snack and sweet shop nearby. It was a favourite pastime of these friends to stand and admire the
sweets in the illuminated tastefully decorated showcase designed to tempt. The owner and the staff had been warned by their family
members, not to indulge them too much…them, with their myriad health problems.
‘Baked mihidana! What nonsense!!’Mr Das said,’ Mihidana should be fresh. I don’t like the ‘baked rosogolla’ and ‘chomchom’ concept
either. They may be tasty, but are they fresh? Sharmaji nodded..the only sweets worth having, for him were fried ones like ‘jalebi,
malpuas and gulab jamun’. Luscious dark soft sweet balls of bliss..he sighed and now out of reach.
Mr Banerjee was youthful and adventurous.’ You old fuddy duddies..these baked sweets, fusion sweets are works of art. Acquired
taste maybe but you can’t compare them with traditional sweets,they are of different genres’ he pontificated.
They stopped short of the tea shop. An old man, almost their age or looking their age stood there, begging in tattered clothes, looking
unkempt, unwashed and famished.They opened their wallets and gave him a ten rupee note apiece which he received with a quiet
As they ordered their sugarless tea without milk,Mr Chatterjee ordered a masala tea and biscuits for the old man.
‘Make it well’..he ordered Debu. ‘Put milk, lots of ginger and sugar,’he said.
Sharma ji, the new recruit to the diabetic club..asked him..’Arrey Bhai, do you have high blood sugar?’
‘Are you mad? Look at him,’Mr Das hissed. ‘How would he know?’
‘Okay..how many times do you pee. Do you feel thirsty and hungry all the time?’ Sharmaji enquired like a medical professional.
Mr Banerjee rolled his eyes,’ Idiot old Sharma,this man sits in the sun and begs. Of course he is always thirsty and hungry. And he
could have prostate problems and pee a lot. Let him have the tea in peace.’
The old man sipped his tea and dunked the biscuits and ate them with a smile. The three friends smiled too as they sipped their
healthy tasteless tea and watched the man enjoy his.
‘Where are you from? Has your family abandoned you?’ Mr Das enquired.
‘No Babu,I used to work in the paddy fields in Champahati and at other times, earned my living climbing trees for coconuts. Had a
bad fall and couldn’t work anymore. My son works as a labourer in Delhi. His wife and children moved there and live in a small one
room chawl. I didn’t want to trouble them. Recently, my wife died and now the world is my home. I sleep under the stars and the sky
and kind people give me something to eat.’ He smiled a toothless smile.
The three friends grumbling earlier about their healthy breakfasts and concerned families looked ashamed.
‘So let’s get you something to eat’, Mr Banerjee said.
He walked with Sharmaji to the sweet shop. ‘Suren, give us ‘kachori’ freshly fried, ‘aloor dum’ and ‘cholar dal’ too. Not for us, you
idiot,but for that man. Fresh.’.
Sharma ji peered at the sweets, ‘Maybe he would like this mango or strawberry sandesh.’
Suren smiled and said ‘Uncle,the rustic people don’t like these. Take gulab jamun and rasgulla’.
As the friends watched their new companion wolf down the food, they smiled as if they could savour the bites.
‘Are there coconut pieces in the Dal?’ Mr Banerjee enquired. The man nodded. ‘Anything else you want.’?.The man shook his head
and softly said, “Babu maybe an amurti.”
‘What is that?’ Mr Das enquired…’Babu golden,fried and twisted’, the man shyly described.
‘Oh Jalebi!’ Sharmaji exclaimed.
‘No Amriti..the Bengali cousin of jalebi..Amriti!!Nectar of the Gods..’Mr Das declaimed dramatically, as he got up to buy a few of them.
They settled up with the shop and walked home to their tasteless healthy breakfasts. Their family members looked with suspicion at
their cheerful demeanor as they sat down uncomplainingly to eat their breakfasts.
Mr Banerjee crunched on an imaginary Amriti as he munched on his nuts. Mr Das slurped on the salty sweet spicy flavours of the
cholar dal with coconuts in his mind as he chewed his gluey mess. Sharmaji fantasised about a sweet round heavenly delight of a
gulab jamun waiting for him as he munched on his healthy roti, imagining that it was a kachori, spicy and oily with the heavenly
pungent aroma of asafoetida.
A group of intoxicated midnight revellers came across the lifeless form of an old man clutching an empty packet as they were leaving
the park in the dark of the night. The man wore tattered clothes,was unkempt but seemed to have a sticky smile on his face as he left
for his final journey..as though he had just feasted on the crumbs of heaven.
Dr Sanhita Kanungo lives in Kolkata and is a medical professional. She is an avid reader and is an observer of the complexities of modern life.