The bell would ring at twelve noon. A couple of loud gongs and a horde of girls would flood the school courtyard. It was “tiffin time,” the magical half hour of freedom from rigorous school routine. The girls’ eyes would focus on a particular corner of the vast compound where a thin, moustachioed man with a wheatish complexion would be opening, what looked like, a medium sized tin trunk.
In the next couple of seconds, all hell would break loose. The girls would surround the man. Grubby, sweaty palms (a bewildering number of them) clutching shiny coins would be extended towards him and their eyes would gleam with excitement as they tiptoed to catch a glimpse of the treasures inside the trunk. The man would smile indulgently and reach inside to begin the day’s sales.
The man with the tin trunk or Walter as he was known in official circles had a very important job. He was our school’s candy supplier while we treated him as our very own Willy Wonka with a treasure chest of goodies: green peppermint sweets, stick jaws and fudge toffees. Each of these would cost fifteen paise and if you bought a rupee’s worth, he would give a discount and sneak a couple of extra in.
The green peppermint sweets were my favourites. Round and pale green, wrapped in cellophane paper, these were exquisite melt in the mouth creations that left a refreshing peppermint aftertaste. You couldn’t stop at one. The stick jaws were tricky and it was never a good idea to have them at lunch and land up for class with an immobilised jaw afterwards. Our teachers were not amused if you couldn’t move your mouth to answer their questions. The stick jaws were devilish things and I always avoided them. The fudge toffees would be sugary squares with a hint of chocolate but delectable all the same.
Every once in a while, I have a craving for peppermint sweets. Like now! I haven’t see one in ages. Though I believe there are still some bakeries in Kolkata that stock them. Perhaps on my next trip, I should get myself some. I often wonder what happened to Walter. He’s probably very old now, if he is alive that is. I wish him well, wherever he is. He brought so much joy to an entire generation of children.
Simple pleasures, fifteen paise a piece.