Sundays with Siddique
by Sujaya Mohan
One of my favourite past times on a Sunday evening is to stand by my balcony and sip hot masala tea. My apartment is situated in a locality that has abundant coconut trees around. Though I can no longer see the sunset because of the many skyscrapers dotting the city’s skyline, I can feel the aura created by the gentle breeze that is accompanied at that time of the day.
Most often than not, I am transported to the wonderful world of my childhood. It brings with it lots of happy memories, thus lifting up my spirits and preparing me for the challenging week ahead. I like it more during the summers when the days are longer as I can just sit there and travel back in time to relive some wonderful memories.
On several such Sundays, I am often reminded of Siddique….
Siddique happened to be a baker in my hometown. His family owned a bakery and supplied the bakery products to several eateries throughout the town. Siddique too followed this tradition. After several years, a lot of bakeries started cropping up all through the town and they started producing their own stuff. Siddique did not have enough capital to start his own store and thus his business started dwindling. Undeterred, he came up with a strategy. Equipped with a wooden box attacked to a cycle and with lots of positive attitude, he set off selling his produce door to door. Talk about direct marketing in those days!
He had his schedule set for all the seven days of the week and Sunday was the day he visited my locality. I used to look forward to his trips and would long to taste his savories. He had limited items- sweet bread, fruit bread, plain bread, rusk and muffins. But each would be fresh out of oven and taste heavenly…and the smell….how I wish I could lock it away in a box!!! I guess in these times, his products could give any bakers a run for their money.
He would come any time between 5 and 5:30 and I would be loyally waiting for him by my gate accompanied by my grandfather, who would sponsor the goodies. I was allowed the luxury of buying any one of the breads along with either the rusks or muffins. I would have my wish list ready and would always end up wishing for something more.
My joy would leap and bounce the moment I would see his silhouette trudging uphill on his bicycle. He was a giant of a man always wearing a smile up his sleeve. Seeing me, he would park his cycle on the footpath and would announce the menu with such flourish that would leave me totally amused. It would be the same items every week, but still he was proud of what he did and knew we enjoyed his sortie. He would carefully open the magical wooden box, bring out the fresh loaf of the bread of our choice, slice it into equal portions, cover it in a handmade paper bag and hand it over to us before collecting his dues. He would then have a word or two with my grandfather about the week gone by and in a couple of minutes would be on his way to appease the next waiting child.
The next item on my agenda would then be to go to a nearby grocery store and buy salted butter for the bread. The butter, packaged in a small rectangular box was a national hit and thus a brand in itself. I would go to my grandmother and ask for the money.
She would always give me the money first and then ask what I needed it for. When I would tell her the reason, she would always say, “But there is already butter at home”. I would remark, “Phak!!! Who wants to eat your butter? It doesn’t taste like the other one”. And she would argue, “So what? it is fresh and homemade. I don’t know where and how is that butter made”. I would smirk and say, “Don’t worry, once I get the butter, you can always see for yourself. The date on which it is made is always printed on the pack” and so saying, I would hurry off with the fear that she would change her mind and ask for the money back.
Being born and brought up in an orthodox Brahmin family, any eatables bought from outside were not allowed inside the kitchen. They used to be kept on a stand in a corner of the dining room which was outside the kitchen. To build this makeshift stand, a small steel plate, covered with little water would be used as a base, and then a long steel cup would be inverted on this base. A steel tray with the bakery products would then be placed over this. The arrangement with such military precision was made to keep the ants at bay!
After buying the butter, I would return home, pack all these goodies in a basket and then head to the terrace or the garden for a mini picnic. “Why don’t you spread some raw mango chutney along with the butter? I just made it in the afternoon and I am sure it will go very well with the bread.” I would often hear my grandmother suggesting in the background. True, the taste was heavenly and I would savour each and every bite and had absolutely no clue as to what to expect more from life. Once done, I would start longing for the next Sunday to again taste Siddique’s bakes.
One day Siddique was unusually late. He used to always come on time except for some rare occasions where he would be held up because of his customers. It was almost dark and disappointment in me had beginning to set in when I saw a lone figure trudging slowly uphill on his faithful bicyle. But what was this??? Why was he so slow today?? As the figure came close I noticed a plaster on this arm. The poor chap explained that he had a fall and had fractured his arm. “Then why did you come?” I asked him innocently, feeling guilty and relieved at the same time. He gave a big smile, patted my head and said that he didn’t want to disappoint all his little customers. My grandfather and he exchanged knowing smiles and he moved on.
Though all this was several summers and several Sundays ago, these simple incidents always remain etched in our memories for the abundant pleasures that they bring in life. I moved out of town for higher studies and then with a job, marriage and a kid, I became just an occasional tourist of my town. Siddique stopped his door to door selling many years ago mostly because of his age and failing health. I have had the opportunity of tasting breads from several well known bakers, but I am always reminded of Siddique’s. I also prepare raw mango chutney religiously every summer, but it just doesn’t taste like my grandmother’s.
Sometimes I feel, things should remain just this way. Otherwise, they will simply lose their significance. Their exclusivity is what makes them dwell in our memories forever…. ***