Heidi: My friend, philosopher and guide

Heidi was the first book ever purchased for me. I was about 6 or 7 years old at that time, the same age that Heidi is when her story begins. Heidi was also the 16th and the 73rd book bought for me. Yes, you read it right. Till date, I have owned 3 Heidi books and each one has a story attached to it.

Heidi-1 was with me for just a day. Raju, my maternal uncle, had just received his first pay cheque and in a fit of generosity decided to buy something for his 8 nephews and nieces. So what does he do? He goes and buys some books, one of which is Heidi. Only, Heidi is not one book here — it is a serialised version spread over 6 palm-sized books with tiny illustrations and microscopic lettering. He then distributes these 6 “Heidis” to 3 of his nieces and nephews in a random manner. I am one of the recipients and get books 2 and 5 of Heidi.

We 3 recipients of the Heidi books were so thrilled with the gift that neither its random distribution nor the impossibly small lettering bothered us. We could squint and read, couldn’t we? It was a Saturday that day, so we didn’t have to worry about school either. After lunch that day, we got down to reading the books in serial order, with each one reading his or her books aloud for the others. I still remember the instant connection I felt with Heidi — her spirit, loyalty, adventures and love for her family and friends proved irresistible. At the risk of sounding corny, I knew that I had made a friend.

I am not sure whose mother discovered the books that evening. The small lettering was deemed unsuitable for us children and were confiscated, never to be seen again. My poor uncle got an earful from all our mothers for buying something so child-unfriendly. And that was the rather dramatic end of Heidi-1.

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A special friend

Sometimes, in this journey called life, one meets people who are there with you for only a short while, almost as if they were on a specific purpose—that of making a positive difference to your life. I met one such person in the very first week of a year-long stay in London—Mohand.

But before I tell you more about Mohand, a little background information…

The year in London is, perhaps, the most memorable year of my life, in more ways than one. And one of them was searching for affordable, vegetarian food that I could manage within my limited scholarship allowance. I could have cooked in the communal kitchen in the place where I stayed, but I could not stomach the sight and smell of meat, chicken, fish, etc.

Rajshri, a friend & colleague from work, was already in London on a short-term visit when I arrived. A vegetarian herself, she had done quite a bit of research on vegetarian food joints in Central London and introduced me to some of them. The Cafe le Midi, on 23 Warren Street, was one such place, and we would meet up for lunch on Saturdays there. Rajshri soon returned to India, but I continued going to the Cafe every Saturday for lunch.

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