An Erstwhile Delhi

Delhi Winter

*Picture from

Several years ago, mornings in Delhi were not as dusty as they are today. The sun would rise fresh from his night-time slumber; the birds would be out for a flight over the dewy grass. I would be busy gulping down the milk Granny made sure was mandatory for me before school. In the courtyard below, Granddad would be conversing with a morning stroller. He was an elderly Sardarji, his turban always bright blue and shirt always chequered. On Sundays, when I would be finishing my homework in time to watch the television classic Mahabharata, Granddad would come up the stairs, smiling from ear to ear. Sardarji, by now, would be well on his way home, his arms moving back and forth swiftly.

“What do you and Sardarji talk about, Dada?” I asked Granddad one Saturday. “Do you discuss politics?” Even back then, the country’s political nuances managed to find their way into all conversations.

Granddad guffawed. “Well, sometimes. But mostly we talk about more interesting things.”

“Such as?”

“Writing, for instance. He tells me of the splendid way we can keep track of our memories, for years to come. I tell him of the one,” he smiled and picked me up in his arms, “I have the most splendid memories with.”

Though I couldn’t make much of this at the time, I eventually learnt that Sardarji was a writer. He used to work with a Delhi-based newspaper but now, after his retirement, spent his time penning down his best memories. From the time he had been a young lad in love to his life as a widower, his wife away in a distant world unseen to the rest of us. He lived on his own, tucked away in a cottage in Karol Bagh, with a garden and his writing for company. Now, I also know of how he had severed his relationship with his son, refusing to forgive him for a quick money-making scheme at work. The losses had been quick and abundant: a second childhood with his grandson, whom he got to meet very occasionally, a lonely old age, which he filled with voices from the past.    

At the time, I was curious about the whole keeping-memories-fresh business. Once, all charged after my new Science lesson in school, I confided in Mom.

“Why do we need to keep track of our memories, Mamma? Doesn’t our brain do that job?”

“Of course it does, dear. But when we grow older, so does our brain. It becomes harder for it to retain the memories in all their freshness.”

Now I could see the urgent importance of what Sardarji was doing. How wonderful it was that he had found a way to check ageing, a way to ensure that my remembrances of Mamma’s goodnight kisses, for instance, would always remain nice and ripe.

When winter arrived, Sardarji would put on a cardigan. That too, was always blue. Though morning then would hardly be welcoming, with fog and chilly winds, he never missed his brisk walk. Granddad and Sardarji sipped from cups of steaming tea, while the birds chirped over them, pleased to have company in winter’s desolation. One morning, I spotted the two busily arranging a snug nest for the birds. In turns, the two had managed to purloin a substantial amount of Granny’s netting for the purpose. Another time, I found Sardarji slipping a new set of pens into the hands of the laundry-man’s son. “The boy wants to study, Bhattacharjee Saab.” said Sardarji. “When I walk past his father’s little hut, I often find him scribbling into his books.” Perhaps, Sardarji thought, here was another one on an early start to penning down memories. And, in the process, creating some beautiful ones.

It has been many years since I saw Sardarji last. I sometimes sit by myself in the balcony, watching the evening go by. Little children walk beside their Granddads, balloons in their hands. Young men and women speak incessantly into their phones, moving on to make highlights of their life permanent on social media. Delhi is now far more glamorous, money both more alluring and more pricey to come by. Even now, when I sit back to write, I inadvertently conjure the sight of Sardarji and Granddad sipping tea in the courtyard, Sardarji’s turban bluer than the sky. 


I am writing about #MyRoleModel as a part of the activity by Gillette India in association with


22 thoughts on “An Erstwhile Delhi

    • Welcome to Saddi Delhi, Arvind. 🙂 Happy to see you here.
      I have to agree with you on that. Documenting incidents assumes even more importance in this age of mental stress, turbulence and vulnerability to damage. Sardarji taught me the lesson early and I am glad for that.

  1. Such wonderful memories and you wrote it down so beautifully Debo! 🙂
    Keeping track of memories now seems so much more important to me after reading your post and what your Mum told! 🙂

  2. such precious memories! 🙂
    that’s why we all write I suppose – to capture precious memories in form or the other.

    I could picture Sardarji with his blue turban and checkered shirt.. 🙂

    • Yeah, his shirt would always be chequered and neat. It would be a welcome sight to see the two of them in the courtyard, sipping tea. 🙂
      You are right, Pixie. Memories are super precious.

  3. Loved it Deboshree. The old memories have a way of coming back and leave a lasting impression. Sometimes people inspire without being overwhelming.

  4. Yesss. So true debs.. memories are very important ti keep and remember. .

    You got me curious ..where is sardarji now.. He sounds to be a good man

    Good one debs.. Take care

    • He was a good man, Bikram. I too wonder where he is now. Granddad too hasn’t seen in a long time. Some people just come and go but they leave a tremendous impact on our lives. 🙂

      • yes…
        let me tell you, there use ot be a house in front of ours,, rented by Indian navy, hardly used it had a caretaker-chowkidar-all in one.. named Garja Singh. we were 8-9 years old or younger and use to play in that house , as it had big gardens, he was so good the fruit trees , were for us.. he would play along with us..
        for years and years.. after the navy vacated the house .. he went back to his village..

        I met him in march this year he is 92 years old.. and after more than 20 odd years and he remembered me ..

        • Bikram, that must have been spectacular! 🙂 Imagine meeting someone from so long ago and finding that nothing’s changed. It must have been like travelling back in time.
          Indeed, some people may seem unassuming and simple but they have character so rich and beautiful that the memories they leave behind are eternal.

  5. Very true! Memories lose their freshness and dust settles on them if not captured at the correct moment! You found your inspiration and I hope you keep writing with the same enthusiasm way like Sardarji did.

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