I do not know what his real name was. We all called him baaiji, which would have been appropriate if he had been a woman. This is the story of our milkman, who remained a part of our lives all the while we lived in Bhopal (BHEL).
I do not think we had him when we lived briefly in Piplani. However, ever since we moved to Berkhera, Baaiji was our milkman. Every morning, he would call my mother and all the other ladies of the families he served with the call “Baaiji” from outside the gate. On his rickety bicycle at the back hung the two cans of galvanized steel.
The ritual was always the same. My mother or one of us kids would step out usually with a gleaming clean stainless steel vessel. Almost without fail, my mother would complain about the water in the milk. “We do not get any butter any more”… you have been adding more and more water”… and the last one in that string of complaints would be… “We will stop buying from you if you go on doing this”… Very very rarely was there a compliment - “The milk was really nice Baaiji… I have been getting a lot of cream”.
Whatever you said, Baaiji would grin his wide smile and say - “koi baat nahin baaiji”… (no problem or whatever), then would dole out milk from one of his cans using a measure. After he had measured whatever quantity we were buying from him that month, he would always add some more on top. Then he would move on to the neighbors.
And so it went for years, the same ritual the same statements. At the end of the month we would pay his bill. I never remember him questioning or counting what we gave him.
We could as well have called him “Koi baat nahin”. We would buy less and less from him over time, but never stop completely. There was a time when we stopped buying from him. He would still show up every morning, stop by and give some milk for my dog at no charge.
He had become a permanent fixture in our lives and we in his.
Sometimes if it was a weekend, we would chat with him, about the crops. He had some land on which he mostly grew wheat, which bought from him occasionally – a quintal (100 kg) for a year. That was another interesting ritual – some other time. We would talk about his family, and he would share in his usual shy manner.
During the later years his smile became progressively toothless, as times became harder. The water in his milk kept increasing. He would give us all kinds of reasons - “What can do saahib, the buffalo went and sat in the water”. I think he had trying times at home, with the farms, family, health and so on, but his smile never faded, just like he never stopped saying “koi baat nahin”.
There are no pictures of him, just like there are almost none of anything else from those days. All that remains is an image in my memory - the smiling toothless face, the rickety bicycle with the cans, the soiled loincloth, and the shy bent head.