Remember Kulfi?

We are in a small Indian grocery store near our house. This store is better than the rest. The aisles have enough room in between for a cart to glide through without ramming into items on the shelves. It is well-lit. There are two different sections, one for snacks and produce, the other for all staple items: Basmati rice in cloth sacks, durum flour in large paper packages, steel pressure cookers, lentils of all colors, shapes, and sizes, vegetable oil, ghee, and a rainbow of masalas, some in plastic packets, others in glass bottles.

A very old Bollywood song blares on the stereo - it is from the original Bombay era, from a time when the Indian film industry was not called Bollywood. I hear Lata Mangeshkar's voice accompanied by light percussion and soft strings. The song is sad, but it is oddly uplifting after a day of negative reflection.

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I pick up items that I need. A bag full of onions, one of tomatoes. A bottle of Nescafe instant coffee, a gallon of milk, a pint of Half and Half, cilantro, bananas, Lipton Yellow Label Orange Pekoe, mangoes that don't remind me of Lahore. Usman stands next to me and eats a kulfi he has taken out of the wall-to-wall freezers at the back of the store. I decide to break my resolve of staying carb-free for this sweet treat. I bite into the kulfi - this time, I am reminded of Lahore. I recall long, thin bamboo sticks draped with the softest, sweetest, homemade ice-cream with milk and cream and sugar and cardamom, stored in makeshift refrigerated carts that had slabs of ice at the bottom and a metal shelf at the top with small conical holes to accommodate the ice-cream sticks. Old men would pass through small residential streets yelling "Kulfi!" This was before the specialty ice-cream company started sending their younger ice-cream sellers out on the streets with actual refrigerators on wheels, playing the Pied Piper song that summoned kids and adults alike with crumpled up twenty-rupee notes in their hands. But the kulfi-walla had a certain pull, too. His hoarse yell called us out of our houses on hot afternoons. We would rush to our mother, begging her for two or three rupees to buy ourselves kulfi. She would always put up a fight. "You don't know where it's been," she'd say. "It probably has germs!" But we would beg and plead and cry relentlessly, and she would eventually give in and give us the money. I don't remember ever getting sick from Lahori street food. It would probably kill me now if I dared to try it, having been away from those germs for over ten years. 

I come back from my transporting bite of export-quality kulfi to another Lata Mangeshkar song and my cart full of groceries. It is time to pay and go home to a baby who has reportedly refused to nap. I am still eating the kulfi as I pay. "It's so good!" I say to my husband in Urdu. The guy at the register smiles at us. What is he thinking, I wonder. He probably thinks I remember what the kulfi in Lahore tasted like. He may have had a similar childhood on the other side of the border in India. Did he run after kulfi-wallas, too? Does he remember what it was like to run on those potholed streets that filled up like canals when monsoons came with an elemental force? Does he remember the faces of those old men selling their homemade ice-cream? Does he remember at all? Because I don't.