Ode to the Galli: A personal essay

Photo of children playing cricket
Technofreak/Creative Commons

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every time the car turns around the corner, 

you want the driver to slow down, 

to avoid the pothole,

yet wait for the tires to just sink in.

 

and when the horn blows,

the kids playing cricket 

go off the street 

marking the entry of the chariot

that must be given way

or the uncle ji driving 

will curse his way through

No matter how deeply asleep I was, the jostle of our car from a pothole at the end of the street would wake me up. It signaled that we were only mere seconds from being home. And if that didn’t work, the barking of our two dogs, Annie and Pennie, would do the job. As I regained my consciousness, I was welcomed by the familiar tones that made their way over. Walking by any house on the Galli, a Greek chorus of intrusive Indian relatives reminded you to stay safe, expected you to make the right decisions and pressured you to do whatever they deemed best for you. These are the unwritten rules of being an only child. And when you’re a boy — especially when you’re the oldest boy — the societal constructs are even more overbearing than the hormonal changes. With each conversation, I simultaneously edged my Punjabi and Hindi from beginner to advanced, furthering the entropy of this system with my mispronunciations. 

then the time out from the innings will resume 

until the ball can no longer be seen,

or makes its way to Gupta aunty’s house

where only your dadi can retrieve it

 

but that also requires going home

which you don’t do unless

that urge for food 

has beaten your self-control,

which is when mummy’s roti and sabzi, 

topped with ghee,

are finally appreciated

When I close my eyes, I see my friends and my make-believe stadium come to life; the audience roars. The memories of playing cricket on the street, in the parks on either corner — anywhere that gave us enough space to bring the bat to the ball — live on. But it wasn’t only the unmatched joy of playing: It was running away from home, even when our stomachs would growl, begging for food and water. If you went home that meant you couldn’t go back out, so it was far more convenient to wait for the ice cream truck or dust-coated cart selling bhel puri wrapped in a paper cone. Nothing beat getting our hands on our favorite snacks: Lay’s Magic Masala, Kurkure and if it was cold, mango kulfi. Yet, no matter how much I ran away from the roti and sabzi I so dearly love, my hunger always persisted until I made the effort to tread home for a meal.

unlike being woken up by

the daily assembly of the school

across the street

a higher success rate than an alarm 

 

still a lot better than being trapped at home, 

watching the same movie for the fourteenth time,

playing carom 

when the monsoons flooded the streets, 

thanks to the nonfunctioning, sewage systems 

ignored

ignored just like the time when the pujari in our temple

was accused of pocketing the money to get a new Shivling, 

Now don’t be silly, 

Gopi Lal bahut acha admi hai!

you remember that the poor farmer 

selling his crops at the mandi

is to be bargained with, but religion remains uncontested

Religion is a BIG deal not only for my family, but all households along and around the Galli. Our backyard is often used for havans, our living room cleared out for the major poojas. And in the small temple in our house, on some days sitting alongside my grandpa and on others my grandma, I learned different aartis and bhajans. I became a part of the traditions that make the Sofat family Hindu. And while we practiced Hinduism, we had neighbors who were Jain, Sikh and Muslim. While our religions were not similar, our faith brought us all together — making the Sofat family believers. 

driving past one last time

my thoughts sink in and ask 

Brahma, 

Vishnu, 

Mahesh.

Oh, lord. 

Do I have to leave?

Oct. 14, 2015, marked the date I parted ways with this Galli. By the time I left, it had become a central part of who I was. The doors of houses surrounding me remain open to me at all times, and the people within them are still part of my family. And, this is my “Ode to the Galli,” where I found the small details that complete my vishwaa — my universe.

Contact Vishwaa Sofat at [email protected].