Shankar must have been eighteen years old or maybe more, when we were still children. All we remember was, he was the first in our group whom we saw shaving. In those days the radio was the only source of household entertainment, and there was no concept of Breaking News. But this information became trending, as we shared it with others, “Do you know that Sanaki shaves his beard!”
He was called Sanaki, not Shanky as is so fashionable now. In Hindi, it meant someone eccentric. Shankar had some developmental problem and in those days of being politically incorrect, we were told that Shankar had ‘some screws loose’ in his head!
Despite the age and size difference, Shankar was much sought after in our kids’ group. Shankar’s presence in the team ensured its win. He was the star of the kabaddi, football and other games. In cricket, he was known for hitting huge sixes. Whenever a child broke a window with his shot, Shankar was made the culprit. Everyone in the locality sympathized with Shankar, and no one complained against him.
It was his innocence and simplicity that made everyone like him. That he was totally unaware of this, made him more endearing. Once all the children decided to have a picnic near the dam and everyone volunteered what they will bring from home. Some said, ‘Puri’; another said ‘Sabji’; someone else said, ‘Mithai’; another kid said, ‘Parantha’ and so on it went. Shankar volunteered to bring ‘Salt’! When we all laughed he asked, what if there is less salt in the food everyone brings?
The boys in the neighborhood were very mischievous, always on the lookout for trouble. During summers, it was the tradition to steal fruits like mango, guava, litchi, and jamun from nearby orchards. Once we decided to steal some luscious, ripe mangoes from someone’s backyard. As usual, Shankar was made to lead the gang. As we brought down a few mangoes with well-aimed stones there was a commotion from inside the house. Someone shouted, “Who is there? Thief… Thief…!!”
We all ran away quickly leaving poor Sanaki standing alone. An old man’s face appeared over the boundary wall. We never knew who was more surprised, Shankar or his grandfather. All we could hear was, the grandfather shouting at Shankar, “You idiot, if you wanted mangoes you should have told me. Why are you throwing stones with your friend at your own mango tree?”
Years later, after graduating from college, I visited my maternal uncle’s small town. I was told that Shankar was no more after succumbing to a long illness. I went to his house and met his parents. They greeted me with joy and were nostalgic. They told me that Shankar was as friendly to the next generation of children, and he often remembered our gang and looked forward to meeting us again.