Human being is fond of turning back from the present to the past again and again. Nothing is more pleasant to him than memories of his childhood. Childhood is free from worries and has infinite capacity of enjoyment. We cannot remember everything that happened in childhood, but certain events are stored in our sub-conscious mind. I grew up in independent house. We had Mango & Guava Trees in our garden. There was also a small and beautiful tree of Plumeria. Branches of this tree are not very strong; regardless of that we used to climb on it as it gave the best view of the road. It was kind of a ritual for me and my brother to sit on the out wall of our house in the afternoon. The moment mom and grand ma would go to sleep in the afternoon; me and my brother would slip out and play. We were as imaginative, inquisitive and adventurous as any other child would be at that age. There wasn’t a single person whom we didn’t find interesting enough in our colony. ‘I am bored’ was yet to be featured in our dictionary.
An old lady used to come to our house in the late afternoon to clean the utensils. We called her ‘Bai Ji’. She was very old and her legs were inverted. She wore thick silver anklets, probably her only possession. There was a small water tank with tap and an elevated patio under the mango tree for washing purpose. My brother and I would see her wash dishes with keen interest. We were pretty sure a genie would appear one day as she scrubbed them so clean. Many times we had discussed how amazing it would be and what should be our three wishes!! She was our confidant as well as informer. One day, while cleaning the dishes, she told us that Mr Sharma, the old man from the corner house has a peculiar habit. He collects stones. “Is It?, But what would he do with the stone collection?”, my brother asked. She said, “ Lagta hai usko patthar se sona banana aata hai”. She was obviously joking. The information was not taken lightly and we took it as a mission to find out whether Mr Sharma is a ‘stone picker’ or not!
Next day, when the streets were deserted and all front doors were closed for afternoon siesta, both of us went up to his house. Undecided we stood on the front steps for a while. The door in the house was firmly shut. “He is not in”, my brother said. “Let’s cycle around the colony to catch him in action”, he decided. We peddled off on our little bicycles for a quick round. After about half an hour out in that sultry afternoon, we came back without the thrill we were looking for. Disheartened and exhausted, we told our little adventure to Bai Ji. She smiled but kept on scouring the dishes. Suddenly there was soft thud on the road. All three of us peeped from behind the tree. Mr Sharma was on the road. Our excitement was sky high. He had a stone in his hand and was trying to scare a cow on the street. He kept on making sounds and scare the poor cow but would not throw the stone at it. The cow started moving and so did he. Unable to contain our curiosity, both of us followed him too. Bai Ji, despite of her short height and declining years, dangled from the wall. Mr Sharma kept on his antics till his house came. After standing there for a while, he turned towards his home. The stone was in his hands. Our little hearts were beating hundred times a minute. He was still standing facing the street. He raised his hand and threw the stone, but in his house!!
“He is a stone-picker, he is a stone-picker”, we shouted while running towards home. Bai Ji quickly ducked behind the wall.