For those who have already read Reach to the Poor, Pravin and Raju are familiar characters now.
It so happened that during one of their recent visits to the town, to augment supplies to their shops, both had the feeling that it was time they visited a hair cutting salon.
They always lodged themselves at the Hazari lodge which was slightly away from the hustle and bustle of the city. It was a Sunday morning and after a quick breakfast at a nearby dhaba, they walked in search of a salon. A few minutes into their walk they saw a ruffian at a distance arguing with a wayside hawker woman. It appeared that he was threatening her to part with some amount of money as weekly hafta to shore up his fortunes. The misfortunate woman with no one to seek help, it being a Sunday morning with most of the shops being closed, parted with her earnings.
The money collected, the ruffian parted soon from the place. Our silent observers at a distance, walked upto her, heard her out. They took some time to console her, helped her with some money saying they would teach a lesson soon, to the so called terror whenever an opportunity presented itself.
On their look out for a salon, they came upon a few other hapless hawkers who too had to bear the brunt of the so called Gajya the illegal tax collector.
A poor man was pulling his cart of ice slabs at a distance. They hurried upto him to make inquiries. Despite the heat and a sweating brow, he was kind to stop and help them with directions and also offered water laced with few pieces of ice if they wanted. As was their nature, they politely declined the warm offer of cold water and hurried to the salon.
The road to the salon was a bit bad and they had to take care not to fall into the many inviting potholes. As they reached the shop they could see one hair dresser and two persons waiting on one of the two worn out benches. They seated themselves on the other one and picked up a conversation as was their wont.
The hair dresser also lent his ears and the topic turned to Gajya. Most of the shopkeeperd feared him, said Jayanti Lal who was finishing his creative work on one of his customers and at the same time eager to be friendly with the visitors he asked Raju as to what they did. Pravin with a laugh said, “I burden those who come to me and he sees to it that they don’t die” . Hearing this Raju also laughed in big tones.
This is a poor locality, Sir and we do not have that much earnings to share with anyone said Jayanti Lal with a confused look. Offlate Gajya has been asking for more which we cannot give and that gives rise to skirmishes with him. I don’t mind giving him a free hair cut and a shave if he demands and he paused, maybe that offer I can give to you too. One of the bench customers, Javed looked with fear about himself and in a whisper told Pravin… He carries a knife with him, they say. Oh no, talk of the devil and here he comes….
Gajya’s frame came into view to all eyes who looked his way. With a Pepsi bottle in hand, he was idling his way to the salon. At the same time through another lane, came a ice cart pulled by an old man. One of the cart’s wheels got stuck in one of the pot holes and he asked for Gajya to help him out not knowing who he was. All eyes were riveted on Gajya as to how he would react. The irritated ruffian slapped the man and continued walking towards the salon.
Javed bhai whose turn was next whispered.. Now it is his turn, we will have to wait till he gets his hair cut and beard shaved. We, the timid always have to wait.
Raju’s blood was boiling. He would strike this bully as soon as he was within striking distance come what may. Pravin sensed Raju’s mind and decided to teach a lesson in their own way. Touching Raju he said a word which only Raju could understand. “Big boy”. Many a childhood scenes of skirmishes flashed in Raju’s mind. He smiled briefly. It was time to act.
Raju got up and stood near the dressing chair. The current customer had got down. Javed bhai afraid of annoying Raju whimpered, ” but it was my turn”.. Raju looked at him with a fearful avatar and said “Did You say something” . As if taking up the cue Pravin rose from the bench remarked, “Yes it was Javed bhai’s turn. How can you..” . Raju just laughed.
Helllooo, blared out Gajya. “Everyone will have to wait because it is my turn”. Pravin not even showing that he had seen or heard Gajya rushed to Raju and chided Raju for breaking the queue. Raju told Pravin to keep himself outside of this and tried to get himself seated. To the onlookers, it seemed Raju and Pravin were strangers or not friendly to each other.
Gajya was finding it a bit difficult to make his presence felt. Today it seemed these persons were deaf and blind at least these two strangers as others were atleast passing him a glance. Maybe they didn’t know his credentials. So he shouted at Raju to get out of the chair. Pravin meanwhile was trying to pull Raju out of the chair to the consternation of Jayanthi Lal. Today it seemed he had to deal with not one but three thugs who might pull the rug from his feet if he didn’t act in time.
Pravin nearly managed to drag Raju out of the chair ignoring the pleas from the hair dresser and good old Javed bhai who had now withdrawn his case and awarded his turn to Raju. But Pravin would not let go of Raju and pulled him out. Gajya came and tried to sit in the vacant seat or so he thought but Raju on his way down pulled him down with him. Now Pravin asked Javed bhai to seat himself to which the poor Javed bhai said he could wait. Now Pravin looked so angry that Javed brother got into the chair.
This was too much for Gajya who got up and was trying to work himself into a rage but now Pravin took hold of him and gave him such a resounding slap that his face turned outside to the lane where his eyes met the poor fellow still grappling with his cart. How in a few minutes the equation has changed, he thought. “No, I will not take this beating quietly” he loudly said. You will have to pay for this and he pulled the infamous knife from his pant.
The gleaming wicked looking weapon was well sheathed and in Gajya’s hand could work wonders. It was not without its labor that its master had become himself respected out of fear. Slowly as everybody stood frozen, came the knife at Pravin but the plunge was arrested with a timely kick to the knee from Raju.
What followed was a brawl. Gajya didn’t know from where all the blows came, so thick and hard that he cowered before the lot. A few passer-by fellows also joined in the revelry. It seemed to everybody that Raju was a much bigger thug than the punitive Gajya. All the cash on Gajya was taken out by Raju and he was unceremoniously kicked and dumped out of the shop. The knife now in safe hands, Gajya had to run out for his life.
Raju bhai please be seated said all in one voice to which he laughed and walked out with a smiling Pravin. On the way they treated themselves to cold water offered by the old gentleman after having helped his cart out of the gaping pot hole. When they looked back at the salon, they could see Jayanti Lal and Javed bhai saluting. On their way back they parted with the money to those few hawkers who had lost their money earlier. “A visit to the salon can wait, Big boy” said Pravin as they walked hand in hand back to their lodge.