I came across two ‘Wagle worlds’ in my younger and not so younger days.
The first was inhabited by a septuagenarian couple, and the latter was a potpourri of several characters — predominantly female and ably supported by a dog and a goat.
The Wagle couple lived in a bylane off Ghole Road, in a quaint, squat bungalow.
Bungalows like theirs were quintessential Ghole Road.
It had a small patch of garden in the front and an assortment of flowering plants in pots (kundis) neatly arranged on the veranda.
The compound had a wicket gate and a cobbled pathway of tiles led up to the veranda.
These were houses that were built for ‘personal consumption’ and had all the moods and trappings of ‘personal taste’. No fancy Carrera marble, no lavish driveways, no French gardens and other displays of grandiose shrieking for attention.
No, houses like these were imperfect in design and possibly had a kitschy mix of unrelated bric-a-brac, but they housed a fierce sense of being rooted. If one observed them, one could feel a sense of earthing. These were homes that made you want to belong.
If memory does not fail me, there was a rocking chair in the veranda too. And either of the Wagle couples would be found sitting in it.
The Wagles were not related to me or my family. It was quite by chance that we got acquainted.
My youngest sister, let’s call her S, would take that road to school and got chatting with the couple quite on her own.
I do not recollect when or how she came to befriend them, but soon it was a ritual to greet them and then proceed to school. Ditto upon return.
They became ‘Wagle aji ajoba‘ (Wagle granny grandpa) and I became S’s elder sister (mothi bahin).
They did not find it significant enough to know anyone else’s name beside S’. She was the fulcrum and the rest of us were incidental.
Wagle aaji and ajoba usually had treats in store. Wagle ajoba used to make S cards for her birthdays or if she scored especially well in a test or exam. And when the occasion was not significant enough like a birthday or good grades, candies, chocolates, and sometimes even flowers from their garden would be generously shared with S and anyone of us accompanying her.
The couple took great interest in the happenings of her day and seemed to be fascinated by everything that marked it.
She too made them an audience to all her highs and lows. Fights with her friend and our neighbor D were narrated in fine details.
If either aaji or ajoba were missing from their veranda perch, S would barge into the house and demand to know what happened. If either of them were ailing and could not make it to the veranda, the venue for daily updates shifted to their bedside, and in a matter of days, once they had recovered, it was routine as usual — S swinging on the wicket gate, narrating her anecdotes and aaji and ajoba listening in rapt attention like their lives depended on it.
S left school and stopped frequenting the little bylane off Ghole road. We too got busy with other ‘calls of duty’ and assumed that all would be well with aaji and ajoba.
It was only a couple of years ago when she was to get married that she went back to them, to invite them. But the house had changed.
Aaji was immobilised and ajoba had passed on.
Wagle ki duniya (Wagle’s world) had shifted, and I guess in some ways, so did S’s.
The second Wagle world was quite different.
Like the first, it too was nested in a bylane off Ghole road.
But unlike the first, it was inside an apartment of an ill-maintained building.
It was a matriarchal world, where a softly smiling Mrs. Wagle held on to not only the purse strings, but the ongoings of the house as well. The Wagle family was relatively large, but all I can recollect of them was that they were largely women in there.
I was introduced to these Wagles by my friend G.
She had recently shifted to Pune from Mumbai and had taken up residence at the Wagle’s as a PG (Paying Guest).
G would share her room with another girl and the two had an independent entrance to their room.
G would eat at the Wagles, for which she would pay extra, of course.
It was a limited plate with watery dal, a vegetable, roti and rice. I still recall G and I trying to trace the dal in the water.
Most of the times however, we would stand outside her building and chat late into the evenings. The building was at an intersection, and if you were facing Fergusson College, which was barely half a km away, on your left was the fringe of a slum, and on the right was Ghole Road. It was a busy intersection where kids played cricket, hopscotch or catch, all the while minding and avoiding motorcycles that zipped past.
G and I would stand at this crossroad, chatting about the ongoings of our day.
Occasionally, Tommy, our adopted dog, would saunter past or dawdle around us.
Once, as G and I were chatting outside her house, we noticed Tommy following a herd of goat, pretending he was one of them.
We stared and stared again and burst out laughing loud.
Poor Tommy, we were convinced had assumed that he was a goat and was trying to mingle into their midst.
Whether Tommy shared our perception or quite another, only he can tell, and if not, maybe we should consult the goats.