The innocent barter

 

scales

A shopkeeper in the Dharia village always seemed busy, giving groceries to his customers who used to flock to the shop till he closed his shutters by 7 pm. A group of retired people and laborers used to come and sit talking to each other on the wooden planks laid out in front of the shop and comment on the happenings of the day, or about the columns in the daily newspaper which one or two would take turns to read loudly to the benefit of those who were either lazy to read or had pitched their tents only eager to hear gossip.

Every week, on a Saturday, a small boy named Golu used to come to the shop to sell the clarified butter (ghee) his mother used to make at home from the unsold buffalo milk that had few takers in a solitary tea shop and a couple of neighboring houses. The buffalo was the only means of livelihood to his family. Every time, he used to carry a kilogram of ghee and would barter it for a kilogram of sugar or pulses from the shop, as was the agreement with Bansal, the grocer.

As Golu would make his appearance whenever dusk was approaching, some of the elders would inquire about his family, some about his buffalo while some used to tease by calling him as Gheelo (take Ghee). Some used to chide him for unnecessary things just to make him cry, to make merry for themselves, while the only sane guy among them, Raichand, scolded them for showing such behavior to the poor lad.

One day, as Golu came with a kilogram of Ghee, Bansal, the grocer kept it on the weighing scale, as he was busy handing over some condiments to another customer. Someone’s attention in the group fell upon the ghee packet lying on the scale. On the other balancing pan, was a weight of 1 Kilogram. The ghee packet pan was floating in the air and therefore he deduced that the packet contained less than  the weight intended. As was their wont, the issue quickly grabbed the attention of the retired folks and some started making arguments in the shop saying that Golu and his family had been cheating Bansal all this time.

Now Bansal was in his elements having taken up the cue and started shouting at Golu. Such allegations coming at short notice from all quarters forced Golu to tears and he started crying loudly.  Raichand who was also in the shop and who was a retired sales tax inspector consoled the child and asked the others to maintain silence while he got down to inquire as to what could have gone wrong. He was one man who never thought of implicating anyone unless the facts were laid out before him.

Once Golu’s crying had subsided to sobs with deep breaths in between, Raichand asked him, “Golu, could you let me know, how do you weigh your ghee at home in the packet before you bring it here”. Golu between sobs, pointed at Bansal and said, “I always weigh our butter pack against the sugar or the green gram packet that is given to me in barter”.

The Lost Garden

It was an October evening and there on the playground made green by the lush grass and the receding rains were butterflies hopping from one shrub to another on the lookout for that elusive flower that could provide some nectar.

A group of children were huddled together making huts of mud and sticks where the sticks came from twigs, discarded ice cream sticks and dried branches. In that group were budding potters, architects, masons and designers. They surveyed their creation and now made walls of clay. They planted some twigs that now looked as trees in the tiny courtyard. In that group was a boy who was telling stories of long lost kings and warriors to eager ears as the huts were being built.

The sun which was shining so bright on glazed leaves when they had started off was now beating a hasty retreat behind the large block of buildings in which they lived. A miniature well was getting dug and some kid brought water from the nearby tank and poured it into it only to see it disappear. The next generous lot of water persisted in the freshly dug well to make things look complete. They surveyed their creation and sat for some time as the storyteller among them was fast finishing his story partly because it was getting dark and also it was getting difficult to feed his imagination that was now running wild as the script.

There was some sand that had been dumped for construction by a shop long back and this was used by another group of kids who were designing roads and tunnels across and over it.

A puddle of water made by the overflowing tank in the morning had some kids busy digging canals and launching paper boats. This all looked funny to elders and adults surveying the group below from floors above but nevertheless it meant so much to the children who always descended on this play field and got creative every day to make most of the strip of land to feed their imagination.

With the disappearance of such strips of land in metro cities, imagination that was once put to constructive use in such a lost garden, was now restricted to new games that came up for the new generation…

Wonderful foggy night scene at a playground, BBD Bagh, Kolkata, India
Brett Cole Photography

 

Branding Birthdays

To all those, to whom a birthday every year, is a day to cherish!

Perceptions

I woke up to the sound of
birds chirping and the
bard singing his tunes.
In the distance, a church
bell rang in sweet chimes.

Down in the street, there
appeared a few people
celebrating some event.
With bugles and trumpets
they were all ready to start.

The wind had a fragrance
and a vibrance never seen
before, and yet little
flowers kept beckoning it
to keep them swaying.

I wondered what it could be
memorable as it seemed to be
and then remembered it to be
a special day, that could only be
a day to cherish, Your Birthday!

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Diwali musings

Diwali is round the corner; that is when I thought of writing this post to re-live good old memories in the seventies and early eighties in a now bustling metro city named Mumbai, or for that matter, Bombay to the so called old timers like me.

For us children, days were divided into 3 parts. One was definitely school time, another was playtime and the third was holiday time that came in the form of winter and summer and to some like me who lived in Bombay, the Diwali holidays.

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The lanterns hung up by most households with a variety of shapes and colors was fun to watch and compare. In every household, family members and neighbors would chip in to prepare sweets for Diwali and that would include Laddu , Shankarpali, Chivda, Bombay mix,  the Chaklis(muruks for tamil/malayalees) and the good old Karanji. Purchasing the raw materials was a daunting task in itself to prepare all such sweets at home. The preparation used to take a few days after which we used to exchange samples of these with our neighbors who used to give us what they had prepared.

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The earthen lamps that used to grace all homes during this festive occasion was another pretty sight to all in the late evenings.

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The colorful rangoli patterns on the floor outside every door was a marvel. The whole town was painted with new colors outside each door step bringing out the artist in each household.
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This also used to give a divine aura to the surroundings and everyone from the children to the elders with pretty new clothes bedecked with jewelry was always a pretty sight to watch. The illumination was also seen on each face, the innocent joy on children’s as they lighted up crackers and looked at each other. Each group of houses was, a city into itself, plunged in celebrations. The crackers and other fireworks used to light our lives in the night and create a headache for the elderly. With the earthen diyas, the illuminated rangoli designs, the lanterns, and the shooting crackers, Diwali definitely lives up to its name of Festival of Lights. Though the main festival lasted 5 days, for us, it was as long as our sweets, crackers and the vacations lasted.

Here is wishing you, all  my readers, who are getting ready for the festival of lights, a prosperous, happy and safe Diwali..

 

 

 

 

Arrogance Heights

There are chances that once in a life time, at least if not all the time, man might have a condition where arrogance swells in him and reaches the heights of a tall tower that I would like to name as Arrogance Heights. All this is a mental state of the mind and when it will take seed and cause our ruin, no one knows and therefore this story serves to keep our humbleness or control ourselves when we land in such situations. The post was chosen today when Basheer our driver in Bahrain was harping on this topic of how arrogance spoils an individual  and complemented it with an outline of a  simple story that he learnt in school. I am sure most of us at one point of time would have read or heard, but then there is no harm in narrating it for a reader for whom there is always a first time and for those who chances upon this post in their wanderings in the  WordPress forest of literature. I hope after reading this story, you will not book a residence in Arrogance Heights…

Once there was a tiny mouse, who used to live in holes dug by himself, some on the ground, some in the wall of a house where he frequented at night for dishes forgotten to be tightly closed or some left overs lying here and there. There was no issue of food for the mouse, but he always was in awe and fear of an alley cat who  used to frequent the place where the mouse lived. The alley cat would  try to pounce upon him given the opportunity or whenever they came face to face, but most of the time, he used to give the cat a slip by slipping just in time into  one of the burrows dug to handle such situations. There  was a tree nearby the house, and it used to be difficult when the cat after his sleeping sessions on the tree would come down in a jiffy when the mouse was just loitering around and our poor guy had to scamper with many a wounds which he would lick in private and think how his world would change..

Once it so happened, that a sage visited the house and its inhabitants on his way and blessed them and was just about to leave when the mouse approached him and told all about the miserable life that he was living because of the alley cat.  Sensing what was going in the tiny mind, the Sage asked him, in what form would he like to continue in life, if the cat was giving him so much trouble. I would like to be a cat so that I wont have to dread this alley cat and any others that might come this way, pleaded the mouse. So it be it, said the Sage and walked away.

The little mouse was mighty surprised to see himself as a cat and he ran the whole day in leaps and bounds, climbed the tree and jumped to the window to startle the little boy inside and then back and so forth. He went into the house through the door and no body saw him nor shrieked when they saw him. He was loving the freedom and came out to enjoy the world in his new form. But to his chagrin, the house dog barked at him and chased him and he had to beat a hasty retreat out of that house for ever. He too became an alley cat living in one street a day based on the street dogs pushing him away and he soon became tired of being on the run, leading the life of a fugitive who could barely rest in peace anywhere.

He chanced upon our Sage one day and asked him if he could change him to a dog and the transformation happened much to his joy. But the happiness was short lived when children and adults alike threw stones at him whenever he went his way looking for food around the houses and shops across the street. To cut a long story short, our guy changed many forms till he became a man with the blessings of the sage whom he used to chance upon whenever he wanted a change. Even he became sick of being a human life soon having being subjected to mental torture from all whom he acquainted with, professionally and personally. Finally he told the Sage, human life is also not good enough, let me become a tiger in the forest, so that everybody will respect me for what I am and I can live a peaceful life. So be it, said a smiling sage and vanished.

The tiger roamed about and was happy to see nobody came his way or troubled him. He could kill any of the animal that he liked for his food, be it a nimble footed deer, a lost goat or a troubled buffalo. Days went by and slowly the tiger became more of a trouble maker in the forest. He killed animals with gay abandon even when he was not hungry and hence every animal dreaded him.

The sage thought of making a visit to know how the mouse fared in his newly acquired tiger’s form now that the mouse was not even thinking of him. On the way he saw the forest in disarray as if somebody had created havoc to the eco-system with carcasses of animals lying here and there and rotting. As he walked, some of the gentle animals came to him and said how the tiger had became a menace to the inhabitants and pleaded with the Sage to rescue them from the clutches of an animal gone wild.

The sage said he would talk to the tiger on their behalf and ask him to mend his ways for good and the retinue of animals thanked him but still followed  our sage at a safe distance. Sensing some movement, the tiger came out of his dwelling and saw the sage. He just blinked at the sage without giving any respect whatsoever now that he was the king of the forest. The sage put forward his proposition and advised the tiger to come to terms and behave himself for the good of all creatures. The tiger got angry telling the Sage it was no business of his and he should beat a hasty retreat before he got hungry. The sage laughed at this, and the tiger could see the animals in the distance watching all this. How could you laugh at me, when I am ordering you to flee if you valued your life. Why are all of you tired of life and in arrogance, he spoke to the Sage and said that there was no need of him visiting him again with silly advice and demanded him to leave immediately as dusk was fast approaching.

The Sun much as he wanted to enjoy the climax of the unfolding drama below, was beating a hasty retreat behind the dense foliage. On the way down, he saw the rising Moon and told him all about what had happened, so that he could tell him all about the unfinished story when they met the next day morning.The moon ever so eager, climbed fast in time to position himself at a vantage position to see what would be the outcome of the conversation between the tiger and his preceptor, the Sage.  An eagle flying that way also thought of resting his wings and he landed on one of the branches below which the Sage was standing and lent his ears as did other animals in abeyance.

The Sage seemed hurt at the dialogues from the tiger and he warned the mouse turned wild cat that it would be better to be humble rather that destroying himself with arrogance. Hearing this, the tiger who had had enough sprang at the Sage who was standing at a distance of a few feet. As he took off, he knew the Sage would be a an easy prey but to his surprise the Sage easily dodged him while he was in the air and when he landed on the ground, much to his surprise, he found himself having turned into a mouse. These moments didn’t last long, as to his horror, the eagle had already descended from the branch above to pounce on an easy prey in the darkness lit only by the glow of a smiling crescent Moon…

EID Mubarak to All..

eidgreetings
Eid Greetings

Rain Series

A group of clouds came from nowhere
filled with water, they turned to a shower
it is rainy days here again, remarked some
kids left their games and did a rain dance
whatever was left to dry now taken inside
whatever needed to be wet was put outside
the rain drenched and washed the stench
bringing its own perfume that was earthen.

The clouds could now be seen fast receding
a child looked up to see them now flying away
what other task you have, to go soon so fast
please stay and pour some more water on us
to our hearts fill and to fill our pots and wells
No dear, we have other places to water well
and we better not be late, whispered the cloud
as he sped away to catch up with the others…

Sun Stories

Ganga had come late to school today also. The teacher chided her for being late every now and then. She was late most of the days in a month, let alone some days when she was absent. The only municipal school that stood at the periphery of  the village had an assortment of pupils drawn from various walks of life from the village residents.

Little did the teacher know that Ganga’s day started at 4 in the morning. She had to supply milk from Lalchand Seth’s diary to around 25 households which used to get over by 5:30 and go to Ratan Seth’s house to wash and clean the dishes.
Today the teacher had had enough and decided to give the punishment to the little girl. As she stretched out our hands for the cane to land, the teacher’s eyes fell upon the marks on the hands. It was full of cuts and bruises. When asked what had happened, Ganga preferred to remain silent. She escaped the beating this time, but will have to sit outside the class for 2 hours as punishment. As she sat outside, her eyes fell on the chirping sparrows playing in the sand and the parrots flying to some far off land. If only, I was one among them, she wondered as she shielded her eyes from the hot Sun making his presence felt.

Bala is standing beside the road with an assortment of guavas and oranges. Like his elder brother Shiva he is also a bread winner for his family, berefit of their father, and with 2 more siblings and an ailing mother to support. Both of them are out all the time selling wares. In the case of Shiva he has a make shift stall outside the main market that he uses to sell bangles, beaded chains and all  such items.

Bala used to buy 5 kilos of guavas and oranges and walk another 2 kilometers to a vantage scenic spot on the highway so that he could sell them to people or tourists frequenting the place. There were lucky days, when before reaching the spot, his goods would have been sold on the road itself. Bala had gone to school till his 4th standard and after that what ever knowledge he had gained in the last 5 years was  from these very tourists; He had picked up a bit of few languages at least that came handy in negotiating during the purchase or the haggling saga. There were days when very few people picked his wares or gave him a decent money in return for them. Today was a hot summer day and there were not many  people who even cared to look at him, let alone his fruit basket.

Rakesh was enjoying his vacation as his summer holidays had started a few days back. He along with his family is on the way to Nasik and planned to visit places that they had skipped in their visit last year. On the way, they saw some tourists have disembarked from the magnificent vehicles to see an attractive waterfall.

They also stop to get down to take pictures, selfies with all backgrounds possible. At this time, a boy of 12 approaches them. “Saab, madam,   Peru, Santra lo na; yeh bahut sast hai, saab ” in a pleading voice (translation: Sir..please buy these fruits Peru(Guava) Santra(orange), these are very cheap). Rakesh looks at the boy aged same as him, he appears shabby and sun burnt. The boy is watching him with awe and wants him to negotiate the sale with his parents. No no, the father says, we have enough food and fruits stocked in our car, no point in buying from this boy, don’t even know from where he has plucked all these.

The large guavas, for Rakesh, seemed inviting as also the boy’s eyes but his pleas fell on deaf ears and he had to get into his car that was raring to go with his parents. But before getting in, he waved back to the dark boy with his basket of fruits who was still looking at him with one hand shielding himself from the afternoon Sun.

While speeding through, in the cool comfort of his Innova car, that was now negotiating a hump, his eyes fell on a girl sitting outside a small school veranda near to the road. Pointing to her, he nudges his father.  Why is she sitting outside father? He curiously asked. “Maybe she hasn’t done her homework before coming to school ” was the quick reply..” Put the blinds on son for the sun is really hitting us even through the tinted glass”.

 

My Story

This story goes back to my school days in Bombay, now Mumbai, where I grew up. The 4 storeyed building where we stayed had around 72 tenants. Each tenant had a home of 450 square feet that included a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.The ground floor had an assortment of shops that had 2 laundry shops, 2 clinics, 3 groceries, a tailor, a medical shop, a co-operative bank, classrooms of a school and now to the central character of this story, the civil supplies ration shop.

The locality spread across roughly 30 plus acres was called Abhyudaya Nagar which had around 45 such buildings, and also had the Kalachowky police station quarters  opposite our building. The nearest railway station was Cotton green. To serve these tenants, around 3000 and amounting to an average of 15000 people, we had 6 or 7 such ration shops in the locality.

Since this particular ration shop was in our building, in my running around the building during play time and my weekly visits to buy our monthly ration of rice, sugar, kerosene and sometimes wheat, I became friendly with the owner of the shop, who also acted as the cashier. His job was to check the ration card, similar to a bank’s savings pass book and give out necessary receipts after collecting the payment. There was another person to help him dole out the ration to the customers as they came in whenever any or all of the above mentioned commodities was made available.

The wheat, sugar and rice came in jute gunny bags on lorries or trucks. Kerosene used to come to these shops on bullock carts from the nearby Sewri Indian Oil godowns at a distance of 3 kms. A 500 litre tank was drawn by one bullock, and sometimes the 1000 litre tank that made its appearance to these shops were drawn by 2 bullocks. In those days, the rationing for kerosene, priced at 1.20 INR per litre, was anything from 20 litres for a small family for a month or more based on the number of members listed on the ration card.

Since kerosene was a scarce commodity and strictly available only in ration shops during the early late seventies and early eighties, people used to flock to these shops in great numbers whenever such carts made their visits to the shops. At such occasions, during my playtime that would start at 3 pm to 5:30 pm, I sometimes used to volunteer for support to give the grains and sugar to such customers, since the only man was busy managing to give kerosene and grains at the same time. The shopkeeper liked me coming, since as I was known to him, and did not mind me helping him and thereby increasing the throughput and reducing the waiting time of customers in the queue.

I never went every day, as I could now remember but made it a habit of chipping in only when the kerosene carts came and when the queue was more than 15 to 20 people. Some people especially ones from my building was only too glad to see me serving them. There was one occasion when an old woman from the police quarters who blessed me saying, “Son, you will be never be want of food in your life for what ever help you are rendering to us”. It was during those formative years that I learnt my initial customer service and support lessons.

Once, during my 9th standard, these consortium of such 6 or 7 ration shops decided to bring a lottery scheme for all the ration card holders in this area, and the shop owners went to each and every home and sold lottery tickets which had the first prize as black and white television and other prizes which I do not remember. During those times, since color televisions had not appeared, the black and white one costed as much as 5000 INR, a costly luxury item for most of the people. They came to my house and our shop owner asked my mother to buy at least 10 tickets each costing 2 INR to which she obliged, since she did not want to upset either him or me who was present at that time. 2 rupees itself was a big amount in those days, because you could buy a kilogram of sugar or rice or wheat at that time.

The day of the prize came, and I had memorized the lottery series numbers which we had bought. That day however I forgot all about it and after school, I went out to play cricket. The shopkeepers were going to each and every building and announcing the prize winning numbers on a loud speaker and when they came to our building and announced, was I glad to hear that we had won the first prize…

 

 

The Salty Sea

The Salty seaAs I walked beside the sea on the beach
The deafening roar would drown everything
I wondered if the sea had  a life of its own
or was it the creatures in it that gave it life?

The fish and the turtles with numerous shells
were beckoning me to enter it, to behold
creatures that never existed on dry land
or was it tempting me to be a part of it?

The air made salty with the white surf
timid waves changing into high tides,
froth floating on the shallow surface
What could its great depths be hiding?

How could the sea be so salty? I wondered
with all the rain and fresh water flowing into it
It was a moment later,  it dawned upon me
The Sea took everything with a pinch of salt…

Treasure your savings

I had no dreams to be big, though sometimes I felt, I could at least buy a bicycle when I grew up, to tread on  the beaten path by many a person. But today, I have so much with me, I can share some for the needy who is not so bountiful in life as I am.

I worked in a bountiful junk store, that had rusted items for sale and all hard toil and a breaking back could only get me a meager pay and some sidekicks from the grumbling keeper.

One day, a disheveled guy came in, counting his coins, looking for an axe. It was he who introduced me to small time savings. Little did i know that day, when he stepped in as a fatherly figure, he would teach me to save for and sustain in difficult times in his own classic way. He would come now and then to the store, looking for odd things, and sometimes with a bag of rice, hanging on his shoulder, when one day, I thought of trailing him and followed him  at a distance by the pine forest, to find  that he lived alone in a make to do hut.

With a few books, that I had read from the junk store, he resembled a person like Robinson Crusoe. He would put a pot, scour some rice with his palm, and watch it disappear into a rumbling pot that sounded like a hot spring. He would eat the meager stuff with gusto, stretch himself for a while, and then wander out in the woods for firewood and what things, only time could guess on his return. He resembled a Goliath laden with firewood and fruits when he used to come back from those outings.

He had a strong body, now worn out with age as were his boots. I wondered who he was, living a lonely life and away from society. What could have caused him to be in such a state with a heap of clothes, and hanging wrinkles around his neck. Sometimes, I took him to be a Rip Van Winkle, when he stretched himself near his dwelling. A kerchief wound over his neck, he would look all around, as if someone might follow him. What was that he feared, thieves or ghosts?  my little mind would always wonder those days.

Was he a pirate lost and shipwrecked and had come to the coast, and could he have some treasure hidden like the fugitive Joaquin Murrieta of the California gold? Always, he carried a small purse, tied to his worn out belt with wooden twigs. He would count it like a bead string, now and then, and with a smile, and sometimes a sigh he would tie it and look around with fear and sometimes at me, who was lost in gazing at him, whenever he made such visits to the store.

In spite of all this, at the store, he would ask me how much had I saved, for the future was bleak with scavengers and vultures bound to take your treasure and casting you away like rusted junk. He would address me as, “Son,  how much have you saved today?”,  to which I would reply something like 50 cents. But he had no time to listen to my replies or enquiry, as he got lost as soon as it seemed, he looked sane. For a week, in spite of my busy schedule, I noticed his absence one day, and went searching for him at his house near the woods of pine. He was not to be seen there. Fearing the worst, I searched for him at some distance in the thick woods, but fear got the better of me, and I had to beat a hasty retreat back.

The next day, I happened to take my shop owner to a nearby medical camp to help him tide over his fever that had got aggravated. When we were leaving after getting the medicine, I saw our man, on one of the hospital beds. I rushed in and inquired of him, but as always, he looked lost, and was murmuring something. I could not stay there for long, since my owner was calling me, and had to rush to assist him on the way back home. In the evening, I rushed back to the camp, where i saw the doctor and asked him, what was it, that caused my hero to seek medical attention. The doctor looked grave, and said that it was too late to save him, since he was dying of some condition, that i could not understand at that time. I went up to his bed, where he was lying, with his hand on his shillings bag, which was shaking on his shivering. The doctor came and stood beside him and said. He is truly a remarkable person, never cries in pain, in spite of the pain he feels, and always has a smile before he gets lost in his own world. He even paid me for my services from his meager store of coins in his bag. Somehow, I couldn’t take it and gave it back to him, fearing that he would lose his life, on losing his precious treasure.

Every day for the next few weeks, I used to visit him in the evening, and became good friends with the doctor. Every day, when I was at his bed, he used to ask me with a smile, “Son, how much have you saved today?”. To show him my daily savings, I would take the coins with me and show it to him, thinking that would help him to distract himself from the pain. One day, as per the doctor, my fatherly figure had spent all his savings in his bag to buy sweets to distribute it among the sick in that camp. I was moved as was the doctor, for to us, during this period, his bag had become significant, something larger than life, and this act of his meant, he was giving away his life. Fighting back tears, I left him quite late in the night, and was terrified by the darkness on the way back to my shed next to the store.

That was the last day, I heard him asking me about my savings, for the next day, the doctor gave me the sad news and asked me, if I wanted to see him for a last time. I declined the offer, since I wanted him to be seen asking his usual question , “Son, how much have you saved today?”.