by Subhash Chandra 

The chill pierced the bones. Despite the two layers of woollens, an occasional shiver coursed through me. After alighting from a bus, I was walking the one-kilometre almost deserted stretch with no shops or houses on either side except 

for a bank a little way away from the road. 

Peanut sellers mushroom all over Delhi with the slightest nip in the air. How come I had not noticed him all these days, though the cold and mist had settled on Delhi about a fortnight ago? But then I am not very observant. Generally, I am lost in memories — mostly negative – of hurts, betrayals, and insults, both real and imaginary. 

A small heap of peanuts with a tiny smouldering clay handi half buried in the crest to keep the nuts warm. Nothing could be more inviting! 

But strangely enough, a figure, covered with a chaadar (sheet) — looking more like a bale — was sitting with his back to his wares, hunching forward a little. 

“Hello,” I said. 

No response. 

“Can you hear me?” 


I clapped hard and a voice issued from the bundle, “You’ll have to wait.” 

“Why?” I asked, a tad brusquely. 

“I’m having lunch.” 

“Oh, how long will it take your Highness to finish your lunch?” I asked, irritated. 


I picked up a peanut for munching. 

“That is not fair, Sir,” the voice chided me. 

If it hadn’t been broad daylight, I might have been spooked. 

I turned to move on but lingered. My classes were to start after an hour. The situation I was in was vexing but fascinating! 

Then the bundle transformed into a young boy not more than twelve. He meticulously rinsed his mouth, washed his hands, and dried them on a piece of cloth. 

“Haan, Saab,” he asked sitting down cross-legged. His eyes were large and lively, hair oiled and combed, a knotted tuft at the back of his head, and a small tilak on his forehead. 

“A hundred grams, please.” 

He weighed the stuff, put it into a small paper bag, and then added one more peanut to it. 

“Why one more?” 

“Just in case the breeze tilted the balance forward.” 

I had come across many who willfully under-weighed. I felt like chatting him up for a while, 

and as I sat on my haunches, he gave me his chowki (a low wooden stool). 

 “Arre, I don’t need it.” 

“It’s all right, Saab.”

“When you refuse to serve customers,” I asked conversationally, “while lunching don’t you lose money?” 

After a short pause, he put his index finger on his forehead, and said, “I will get what is written here. No more, no less.” 

I looked at my watch — half an hour left for the class – and got up. I had to revise the lectures I was going to deliver that day. 

“Namaste, Saab,” he said. 

The next day I again stopped and conversed with him while savouring the hot nuts. 

“Do you go to school?” 

“Yes… To a government school.” 

“You’re not attending classes these days?” 

“The boys’ shift starts in the afternoon.” 

“Which class are you in?” 


“Do you like studies?” 


“Where do you live?” 

“Sriniwaspuri … in a temple.” 


“My father is a Pujari.” 

I stopped by the next day and the next … it became a routine. One day he asked me, “Your office starts in the afternoon?” 

“I am teaching in a college.” 

He got up with alacrity, smoothed his kurta, and touched my feet with both hands. 

“Bless me, Sir.” 

“What is your aspiration?” 

“To become a professor. Like you.” 

Another day. 

“Sir, my English is weak. Can you teach me?” 

That was the subject. I taught at college. He was a bright and diligent child and would always complete the homework I assigned to him. He showed remarkable progress in just a month. And he’d always clarify his doubts. 

And then I had to go to the All-India English Teachers’ Conference in Nagpur for five days. 

Today he was not there. I did not find him in the next day few days, either. Inquiries at the bus stop elicited no information. I grew restless and finally, on a Sunday evening, I went to the Sriniwaspuri temple.  

The Pujari motioned me to sit down on a mat; he was making preparations for the evening Aarti. 

After he finished Aarti, he gave me prasaad, and sat in front of me. 

“Yes, Shriman.”

I want to meet Shaswat. His face had an expression that was a mix of sadness and a calm resignation. He looked vacantly into space, and said, “He has gone.” 

“Where?” I blurted out reflexively. 

He pointed to Lord Vishnu’s idol. A stunned, pained silence sprawled between us. 

I wanted to but did not dare ask how it happened. However, Pujari ji continued, “It was a Sunday and he had set up the shop early in the morning. Generally, he wound up at dusk. But that day, it suddenly got cloudy, and dark and colder in the evening. The street lights had not yet been switched on. Perhaps, he was getting many customers.” 

After a pause, he said, “A big car swerved off the road.” 

A girl of about fifteen brought a cup of tea. She was a replica of her brother. After she went back into the room, he said, “Shaswat always worried about his sister’s marriage and wanted to save up as much as possible. In summer, he sold ice cream.” 

I wondered how Pujari ji got to know the details. Again, he said, “A staff at the bank buying peanuts noticed the drunk demon and jumped aside in the nick of time.” 

Did his spiritual power make him divine the questions in my mind? 

“It is so tragic … I am so sorry!!” I heard myself speak aloud. 

Pujari ji went into a trance, as it were, and uttered words from The Gita 

Weapons cannot shred the soul, nor can fire burn it. Water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. 

Dr. Subhash Chandra is a former Associate Professor of English at the University of Delhi. He has published three collections of short stories, viz., Not Just Another Story, Beyond the Canopy of Icicles, and A Game of Dice, and more than eighty short stories in Indian and foreign journals, and Guest Edited College Fiction Section of MUSE India. He is on the International Advisory Board of Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific (Australia) and the Editorial Board of