Nowadays our children have their school tiffins from healthy, sanitized lunch boxes, or from dietician-supervised school canteens. But in our unhygienic and un-health-conscious childhood, we would be allowed a once-a-week (or more, if we spent judiciously) indulgence of scandalously-unhealthy treats which tempted us just outside the school gates.
There was the phuckha-churmur-wallah and the alu-kabli-wallah (both selling sour-and-spicy snacks of chick-pea, potato, onion, tamarind, chilli powder and god-only-knows-what-else) with their fiery wares which drew us in droves as we slurped, gobbled, licked our fingers, wiped our eyes, hung out our burning tongues, and rubbed our runny noses. My older cousins often teased us and said that the dirtier the phuchka-wallah, the tastier would be his wares. The dirt of his hands (and elsewhere?) was the secret ingredient behind his mouth-watering (and eyes-and-nose-watering) recipes. But being gastronomic bravehearts, we were not deterred by such trifling rumours, and gulped down the gruesome grub to our heart's content.
There was the hajmi-churanwallah selling numerous dark and dangerous looking hajmis (supposedly-digestive-aids) and aachars (pickles) of ancient pedigree. He was such a great favourite of mine that for a long time I fantasised about marrying his son (he himself was nearing seventy), and living amidst a treasure trove of unending supplies of amshi (dried mango pickle) and kuler achar (berry pickle).
And then, there was the cake-wallah who would take down the black tin trunk which he carried atop his dirty turban, squat on the ground and open it in front of our eager eyes. Inside that plain black trunk (on which his initials would be painted in white block caps), would be a magical bonanza of colourful pastries (which we called 'cakes' in those pre-Monjinis days). The colours would be dubiously lurid, and the cakes themselves were suspiciously stale, but who cared? The crayon-pink and neon-green, and the rather more expensive brittle-brown (which cost more because it was claimed to be chocolate) coated confectionary was regarded as a coveted special treat by us, reserved for celebrations like birthdays or sports-days or result-and-promotion-days or you-are-my-best-friend-from-now-on-days.
After school, we would burst out of the confining school gates, a chattering-clattering-clamouring flock, with disheveled uniforms and inky faces, gathering in noisy, demanding groups around these treat-sellers, who dispensed dirt and deliciousness in equal degree.
WHO TEMPTED YOU WITH IRRESISTABLE TEMPTATIONS OUTSIDE YOUR SCHOOL GATE?