An old man and a boy. The man seemed infinitely old to my 6-year-old eyes; when I review my memory, I realise he must have been about 50. The boy would have been a year or two older than me, or perhaps short rations made him look younger. But his clothes were always clean, unlike the draggled rags of his bearded companion. His voice was very sweet, soaring above the man’s tenor in a tracery of song. I’d run out to the balcony, lean over the railing to hear them. They always walked from the Raja Basanta Roy road crossing towards Lake Market, perhaps to sing for a cup of tea and biscuit before the tea stalls on Janak Road. The first few times, they’d look up at me, the boy would put out his hand with the palm upwards without interrupting his song. I went and asked my mother for a coin. She gave me 25P, a denomination that I don’t see these days and yet a fair amount for alms back then. The boy caught it deftly as I tossed it from the balcony, raised the hand to his forehead in salute and walked on, still singing.
It became a habit. Twice or thrice a week I’d hear their voices raised in song and run out to the balcony with a 25P coin, then watch them wander off towards the market. In the year or so before we moved to Delhi, I never spoke to them, never asked them any questions. They never broke off their song to speak to me. But it lingers in my memory like a grainy shot from an old film. Complete with slightly scratchy soundtrack.