Jagadish uncle was a thin man. During my twelve years in school, I had not seen him change much. Neither did my cousin brothers who were several years older to me and studied in the same school. Every day, he would set up his mini stall under a large mango tree outside our school gate. He would be in the same dress everyday — a blue half shirt and a short dhoti, with a thin cotton towel as the headgear.
In winters, he would put on an antique sweater, discolored and disfigured with time. The sprawling mango tree would offer him natural protection in summer and also worked as an umbrella when it drizzled. The only time he used to take a break is during the rainy season as he would be busy farming his small piece of land.
Jagadish uncle used to sell a unique snack, which was believed to have eighteen ingredients. I never found more than five or six items in it though. But the mixture was damn tasty and it used to be our staple food during tiffin hours. Many people tried to copy his recipe but could not match his success. Jagadish uncle could create some kind of a magic with those simple ingredients.
It was my last year in school. Our class won the school cricket tournament that year and being the captain of the class team, I had to treat my team. I was not carrying any money that day but the team would not let me go. Jagadish uncle came to my rescue, as I was one of his regular customers, and gave me credit for the snack treat.
Five rupees was a lot of money at that time!
Winter vacation started the next day and I completely forgot about the credit. I went to his stall a few more times but he never reminded me of the credit. I remembered it a few months later and was terribly guilty about it. I stopped going to his stall as I could not face him.
The school got over and I went to Calcutta for my graduation. But I could not forget about that credit. I would see Jagadish uncle selling his snack from a distance, when I went home during vacations. The aching guilt was growing with time and I had to end it.
One day, I finally mustered the courage and decided to meet him. I went to the school but could not find Jagadish uncle. The mango tree was standing there lonely. I got to know that he died of a heart attack a few days back.
I stood there numb, with the realization that Jagadish uncle had left my life’s balance sheet mismatched forever.
** Name changed