Tiffinful Of Kada Prasad

There was just too much blood — not blazing red like I used to imagine until then, but a dark amber. From the top of his head, it trickled down, soaking the right side of his lemon-yellow kurta. Hanging limply in front of him was a long piece of cloth also drenched in blood — must’ve been his pagri — it’s one end resolutely hanging on to just above his right forehead, partly because of the sticky dark amber fluid but mostly because he was pressing it with his right palm. His longish hair was disheveled and his head was tilted as if the angle would stop the blood flow. He was dragging his feet in the middle of the main street, helped by 5-6 men, none of them with turbans, and none hurt or bloodied.

In my young life, it was the most terrifying sight: The oozing blood, the odd head tilt. In the rear seat of the Ambassador car already crammed with five adults and six children, far more people than it was meant to seat, I snuggled closer to my mother. She tried to block out the sight by cupping her hand over my eyes but I had already seen what I wasn’t meant to.  

Until then, the abrupt and early chutti — my mother, like a lot of other parents and guardians, had suddenly fetched up at school — had meant playtime and celebrations but now I was beginning to get scared. It was no longer about fun and games as we drove home amid silence in the car, some shudders and more gory sights.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had just been assassinated and her followers were out to avenge her death. Calcutta, like lots of other places in the country, had erupted with rage; the city was rioting, two communities clashing. 

After an initial, and transient, sense of horror, I was back with my playmates indulging in the pleasures of hide-and-seek and name-place-animal-thing. We were too young or maybe shielded from the harsh realities of life, for the finality of death and the evil in murder to agitate us for long.

It took more than a week for an uneasy calm to be restored in the city. When things were seemingly normal again, schools reopened and we returned to mischief, math, and Betty-Veronica. All was forgotten, including our two classmates Cutie Singh and her cousin Dimple Singh.

Two months later, Cutie resurfaced, her long plaits dangling in front. “Hi!” I said to her cheerily, “where’ve you been?”

“You don’t know?” Cutie said, surprised.

“Know what?”

“There were riots and Sikhs were being targeted,” she replied. Of course, I knew this but her simple statement came as a catatonic shock for it suddenly dawned on me that Cutie was different: She was a Singh, a Sardar; unlike me, she wasn’t Hindu. Until that point, such banalities had meant nothing. 

“They killed my uncle,” Cutie said.

All of a sudden, the sight of that injured man in a lemon yellow kurta re-emerged. What Cutie had just said was a ghastly, unpalatable truth so intrinsically sad and chilling that I started to cry. “Why are you weeping, silly girl?” Cutie asked as she leaped and hugged me. We were both sobbing and as we embraced, our tears and snot and innocence fused us together.

The next day, Cutie got me home-made kada prasad. During recess, as we gobbled the rich sweetmeat digging into Cutie’s greasy tiffin box with our fingers, we shared secrets and tall stories. Our world — the innocent world of two little girls who still didn’t quite understand discrimination and sectarian strife — was happy and carefree. The ordeal of the past seemed over and forgotten.  

That image of the two of us nonchalantly tucking into home-made kada prasad remains etched in my memory. Sadly, so does that of the bleeding man with the odd head tilt staggering on the road. Curiously, the two imprints serve as a constant reminder that the world can be a good place. All it takes is some loving, some empathy, an odd hug or two…and a tiffinful of kada prasad doesn’t hurt either.

Shilpa Gupta
Shilpa Gupta

Shilpa Gupta (formerly Rohatgi) is an insatiable travel writer and photographer who, in a former state of sobriety, had worked as a journalist with some of India’s top publications including India Today and The Indian Express. Owing to the peripatetic nature of her husband’s job, she is constantly on the move. Which is just as well because there is nothing she likes better than being like a marble on a slope, never to be found in the same place again. Shilpa brings back beautiful memories from their sojourns, of course, and priceless souvenirs too. But doubling up as memories and souvenirs are the countless articles and photographs she has been contributing to international travel magazines, webzines and travel anthologies.

Read more by Shilpa Gupta


Picture Credit: Asmita Bharadwaj Das onewholesomemeal.com

26 thoughts on “Tiffinful Of Kada Prasad”

  1. Vivid description of a extremely sad incident ended with sweetness.Such feelings of writers of your repute is really a souvnier.Very touching dear shilpa.you write so well..absolutely journalistic.

    1. Beautiful write up. I was a Class 12th student in Delhi when it all happened. Your writing has opened a floodgate of memories. I lost a classmate in the most horrible manner. But at that time, till the reality set in, it was a welcome break from the school.
      Keep up the good work. It always is a pleasure to read your work.

      1. Thank you for your appreciation, Prashant.
        I still shudder thinking of the sight of that man on the Calcutta street. We – you and I – were too young to understand the gravity of the situation. Glad it’s in the past.

  2. she is an extremely good writer who paints a vivid picture with words…the two incidents juxtaposed…sadness and sweetness..looking forward to more write ups from shilpa

  3. Shilpa is like a movie projector! As you read, the images form on the screen of your mind and you become a part of the story! The descriptions are so vivid and the writing style so simple that the text comes alive in your heart! I just shed over half a century off my age and became the ten year old with her and Cutie Singh!

  4. What a wonderfully written narration! U know how to keep readers hooked with ur creative and artistic writing! Loved reading this n all ur articles!!

  5. Hi Shilpa, just read your article twice over. The flow of the story was amazing. Also, the unique balance between ” Gore ” and ” Innocence ” was beautifully handled ! Very impressive.

  6. Very poignant, tragic and yet having a comforting ending to the narration of that dreadful incident. Hope we never see such times again. Humanity must reign supreme at all times to ward off such insane altercations. A very immersive article.

    1. Thank you for making the effort to read the piece and also for providing your valuable feedback. In the most adverse situations, the teeniest noble act shines through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *