He saw me much before I noticed him. His window on the first floor overlooked the turn that led into Kuvawalo Khancho, located in Doshivada ni Pol in Ahmedabad’s old neighbourhood of Kalupur, not far from the Shantinathji Mandir in Haja Patel ni Pol we had passed through earlier.
The narrow lanes breathed history, their legacy and antiquity on display as much in the wear of doors splintering from age as in intricately carved woodwork gracing facades and balconies of homes variously dating back through the centuries beginning in 1760 or thereabouts.
Too often in India, where the antiquity of a neighbourhood or a house is in question, the earliest recorded date of construction is likely to be the earliest surviving record, unless the owner happened to engrave the year on the wall.
At the point where the Calico Dome lay crumpled, retained as much for its former architectural significance as for its significance and role in Ahmedabad’s textile legacy, we had crossed the Relief Road apparently built to ‘relieve’ the main thoroughfares of traffic but Amdavadis will joke that while the intention was noble at the time of its construction years ago, the Relief Road is now the most crowded, and it’s likely a smiling Amdavadi will quip, “No relief on Relief Road,” in an accent that is decidedly Gujju, the OOOs arcing through the air in abandon while delightfully reminding of a jest for life.
However we saw little or no traffic on Relief Road that morning. It might’ve to do with our taking to the road early. Even for the enterprising Amdavadi, eight is a tad too early to be plying his trade. Moreover it was the eve of Uttrayan or Makar Sankranti as it is known elsewhere in India when we found ourselves in Kalupur, a time when much of Gujarat, and Ahmedabad in particular, forgoes all worries and responsibilities to take to the roofs to fly kites.
Much of everything comes to a standstill. The Manja makers were busy at work lacing kite thread with powdered glass for use in flying fighter kites on Uttrayan the next day, a Friday.
Resting his face lightly on a wooden length framing the open window, and prone on a bed set at the window his was truly a room on the roof. The blanket was askew at where he had likely stretched his limbs upon stirring to life at the stroke of dawn. If his window were facing the east the clothes hanging from a line outside the window might’ve shielded him from the awakening sun.
I had sensed eyes on me as I approached the turn in the lane and instinctively looked up seeking the gaze before finding it framed in a smiling face pressed to the wooden lengths.
It’s easy to guess in the manner of a school boy if he has any intention of going to school that day, or if it’s a school day to start with. For one it’s unlikely he’d be smiling and lingering in bed if there’s a roll call to answer later. And nothing in his demeanour indicated he had to answer one that morning. Even so I couldn’t resist asking him since it was a Thursday.
“Not going to school?”
“No,” he replied, smile widening. For a moment I thought he might be actually pleased to be reminded he didn’t have to go to school that morning. Reliving it must somehow double the pleasure to a school going lad.
“Isn’t Uttrayan tomorrow?” I persisted.
“It is. But we’ve holidays starting today. Three days.” The smile never quite left him. Apparently, Vasi Uttrayan, the day following Uttrayan, was a holiday as well.
Thursday. Friday, and Saturday.
Then there’s the Sunday.
January is a nice time to be going to school in Gujarat I thought as we parted, skipping along, dodging cows and silence in equal measure.
Glossary: (1) Khancho is Gujarati for ‘Open Space’. (2) Pol is derived from the Sanskrit ‘Pratoli’, meaning ‘Gate’ or ‘Entry’ to an enclosed area, here Pols are micro-neighbourhoods with houses on either side of a street, with access controlled by the gate. (3) Manja is kite thread developed to sharp edge using powdered glass bound by adhesives, including rice paste. (4) Mandir is Indian for temple. (5) Uttrayan or Uttrayana denotes the period (six months) when the Sun travels North on the celestial sphere, the beginning of which is celebrated as Makar Sankranti or Uttrayan.