Remembering a Punekar – The Series

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All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

So goes the first verse of J. R. R. Tolkien’s poem All that is gold does not glitter, which appeared in his trendsetting novel The Lord of the Rings. Most of us are familiar with the movie version of Tolkien’s fantasy novel and the tale of the weird and brave that it lovingly narrates. It talks of dwarfs and giants and orcs and fairies. People who were once a part of ‘middle earth’. Like the lost and lonely from Tolkien’s book, our great city too has its share of the unseen and unsung.

To borrow a page from Tolkien’s book then, I attempt to create a world of people and faces who are fast disappearing from amongst our midst. Unlike Tolkien however, my narration may be marred by flaws.

Occasionally you may encounter a hiccup as I attempt to recreate ‘a blast from my past’. In my endeavor to create authenticity I may drag on speed. A moment may injudiciously be spent mulling over triviality.

But, dear reader, I implore you to be patient as I dig up these faces and people from memory. They may seem a bit strange and peculiar at first. But they have their own saga of guts and glory and have fought the odds to survive. These are people whom I have encountered as I grew up in Pune. They were seen wandering on roads hawking a trade or selling produce. Demure and unassuming in their social status, they exist all around us, unsung and uncrowned.

The first who comes to mind as I start with my recount of the faceless is Vasudev. He probably had a name like the rest of us, but all we ever saw of him was his Vasudev character.

Vasudev, as I was to learn from my mother much later, were folk singers or troubadours.

But unlike the French troubadours who sang of country love, the object of Vasudev’s amour was, of course, the Lord. This tradition of singing is seeped in Bhakti and evokes the goodness of the Lord in verse in music.

So coming back to Vasudev who was a regular on Jangli Maharaj Road and its vicinity, Wednesdays were Vasudev days. He would come early in the morning, around 8 or thereabouts. Wearing a conical cap adorned with peacock feathers, he was a hard-to-miss figure.

He wore a long and heavily pleated kurta and a salwar under it. A reed pipe with bells at its end was safely tucked in the red sash around his waist. Most times, he wore a string of bells around his wrist or ankles that jingled merrily as he sang.

Vasudev could be heard before you saw him. And by the time my sister and I had rushed to the balcony along with our grandfather, he was already under it, waiting for us to arrive.

He never greeted or spoke but continued to sing. After having sung a couplet or two praising the good Lord, he would proceed to play a short tune on his flute and turn himself around in what could be assumed to be a dance.His songs would usually consist of invoking a certain God from a certain place like Khandoba from Jejuri, etc.

Being a regular at our place, my sister would often ask him to include her in his song and he would gladly oblige — calling out my sister’s name and prefixing it with Punyachi (from Pune).

Including my sister’s name in his well rehearsed ditty created no offense to the pantheon of Gods. However, including her in his verse always exalted her status.

Having regaled us with his song and brief dance, Vasudev would graciously receive the 10 and 25 paise coins we would fling down to him from our perch in the balcony. With one more short burst on his flute, he would leave only to return the following week.

We never saw Vasudev on any other days or at any other time. Vasudev was old even back then. No one noticed when he stopped coming.

Then, two years ago or so I heard someone singing on the road. I ran out to see who it was and saw it was a person wearing a peacock hat. Excited I ran down to give him some money. But he was a younger fellow who was not happy with the Rs. 20 I held out to him. He had no flute either

For a stipulated fee he offered instead to read the lines on my palm. That was a no win bargain. I left dejected.

Vasudev was same but Vasudev was no more.

Like the 10 or 25 paise coins — those grand treasures of childhood — he too had left.

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