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Translated from the Hindi by Varsha Tiwary

Muskmelons were brought in the afternoons. They had to fetched from the bazaar. During that season every time I went to the bazaar the air seemed to be permeated with the scent of muskmelons, even though it held many other odours—horses, asafetida, and countless other spices, dust, and new cotton cloth dipped in arrowroot. But during those summer months the most intense scent pervading the bazar through the afternoon was that of muskmelons.

It felt as if the market itself was set up inside a giant muskmelon, and suffused in the muskmelon’s inner air, we all were walking on a road carved through that muskmelon.

In that market one could get fruits: cucumbers, snake cucumbers, watermelons, kulfi, falooda and many other things as well. Sherbet berries, that my sister loved. But the truth is, after stepping out of the house, as soon as I arrived at the perimeter of the bazar, and the signboards of shops and flocks of people became visible, the scent of muskmelons overtook me. My eyes took in all the color, the hustle-bustle and the activity. The formless sound of several, unfamiliar voices speaking at once hummed in my ears like a mantra. At times a hawker’s call, a rickshaw’s bell, the sound of a horn as well.

The sounds and pace of the bazar had a dense, but strangely foreign aspect. Whatever one saw belonged to no one. Whatever one heard was not addressed to anyone in particular. The people constantly bumping into each other as they walked were utter strangers. It would amaze me that so many people present together at once were completely unrelated. They all had come there not for one another, but to obtain some other thing. Throngs of people—of women and decked up girls, hijras, lepers, beggars—all looking for something for themselves. When they got it, their eyes shone with a special glow of satisfaction. Then they would buy something to eat or drink and go back. They remained completely oblivious and neutral towards one another.

But despite this clamour, the thing that suffused my consciousness was the scent of the muskmelons. Even for a second, my senses would not fail to remember that there were muskmelons in the bazaar. Even when I could not see them anywhere, I knew exactly where they were. Even though not before my eyes, I could feel their presence intensely.

It is said, that in the times gone by muskmelons were not grown in this country. A thousand years ago, the Muslims brought them from other regions such as Persia, Central Asia or Arabia. I had also read somewhere that when muskmelons first ripened on the banks of Yamuna, Babur had broken into an impromptu dance. It is impossible to imagine for me how the bazar must have felt in summer afternoons without the muskmelons. Could a bazar possibly exist that smelt only of horses, asafetida, spices and the odours arising from hundreds of bodies?

One thing is certain. The scent of muskmelons can no more be expelled from the bazar. Even if they are not there, their presence lurks. As far as I am concerned, whether it is a summer afternoon, or a bazaar, the path of memory can be treaded only by first passing through the scent of muskmelons.

Once, a muskmelon was brought to our house around evening. It wasn’t summertime. Probably an out-of-season muskmelon had grown on an ever-flowering vine in someone’s field, and he had delivered it to our home.

We all were in the courtyard. It was a huge courtyard—surrounded by verandahs and rooms on all sides. We all waited for the muskmelon to be cut. In the center of a huge brass platter, sat the muskmelon.

I sat apart and was probably the farthest from it, as it has always been my nature to be so. Everyone else sat close to the muskmelon, almost surrounding the platter. I have often seen, and it has always happened, that others are very close to events. Proximate. Sometimes right in things. But because of this they are probably unable to experience the things that I am often able to experience.

It was evening. The sky was darkening gradually. Shadows had disappeared. In fact, we all were under the shadow of the sky when it was cut. Because I was the farthest, and away from all, and as everyone else was shadowed by the sky, I could not see everything clearly. Even if I could, all I would have seen was everyone’s back.

Suddenly I began feeling as if it was a summer afternoon. Somewhere outside (although we all were in the courtyard), there must be bright sunlight. And I started hearing the same sounds as I heard in the bazaar. A hawker’s cry, rickshaw bells. Horses somewhere. Tongas as well. For sure, I was out in some bazaar, and this was a summer afternoon.

By the time my sister came running, bearing a muskmelon slice for me, I already knew that the afternoon is held within the muskmelon. And can be brought out whenever needed. Even at night.

Uday Prakash (born 1952) is a Hindi poet, scholar, journalist, translator and short story writer. He has worked as administrator, editor, researcher, and TV director. He writes for major dailies and periodicals as a freelancer. He has also received several awards for his collection of short stories and poems. With Mohan Das he received Sahitya Akademi Award in 2011. He returned his Sahitya Akademi award in 2015 as a protest against the killing of M. M. Kalburgi that initiated a storm of national protests by writers, artists, scholars and intellectuals.

Varsha Tiwary is a writer and translator based in Delhi. She has been published in TBLM, The Wire, Outlook magazine, Shenandoah, Eclectica among several others. She has recently published her first book-length translation, 1990, Aramganj (Rakesh Kayasth) by Eka Westland.

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