He would stand patiently on the corner of the pavement, under the shade of a tall old Ashoka tree, the wisdom of his years showing on his weather beaten face, browned with the sun, a slight smile playing about his lips. Calm, always unruffled, his arm stretched out, laden with fragrant garlands of delicate brown blooms, those of the bakul flower. Dressed in a white shirt, always clean and pressed, but one that had obviously seen better days, together with a pair of brown trousers, carefully preserved and crisply ironed on the crease. His feet ensconced in brown Kolhapuri chappals, and a Gandhi topi on his near-bald head.
This is how I remember him.
Every summer and winter break (and some weekends in between), Mum would whisk my sister and me off to Pune, to her parental home, where our grandparents lived. Having to keep us entertained (and thereby alleviate boredom and crankiness), she would take us out for a walk every evening. It was on one of many such strolls that I first saw him, standing facing Kaka Halwai, a sweetmeat store, under the Ashoka. Mum did too, and exclaiming at the exquisite beauty of the bakul flowers, purchased a garland for her hair. This was only the beginning of our association with him. Every day, every holiday - I had got accustomed to walking down that busy, bustling street - and seeing him stand, alone, almost unmoving, hand stretched out to display his fragrant wares better. A slight smile, a confirmation of the price, and subtly shifting a garland from one hand to the other, to be placed in a waiting soft, velvet-like green leaf, deftly folded over and tied loosely with string - all then handed over to Mum, the smile in place. The pattern of years.
Today, whenever I pass by that street, I still slow down that corner, almost expecting to see him standing there, flower garlands on his arm, never once calling out to passers-by, in a bid to sell his wares. The tiny, delicate beige-brown blossoms, those that would continue to give out their exotic fragrance even when dried. Those tiny flowers that helped him eke out his living, for so many years. The dignity they offered him, his humility and gentle nature shining forth. Simple and unobtrusive, similar to the blooms he held.
Of course, he no longer is there... physically.
The fragrance, however, continues to linger.