To read Part 1, click here.
Lefty Talwar’s real name was Tajinder Talwar. He was called Lefty by his friends because he had a slight limp in his left leg, following a failed stunt on his motorcycle, which was among his many endeavours at trying to prove himself a cut above everyone else. Which he was already, in terms of wealth and social status, being the son of a successful silk merchant.
Though his father had failed at raising a son with even an iota of sense in his head, he belatedly made amends by limiting Lefty’s allowance. Lefty, who wore a Rado watch on his left wrist (the ‘left’ part of him he preferred to highlight) and an Apple smart watch on his right, who had been able to drive his father’s Audi from the age of 14 with an illegal license, had now to depend on odd jobs to fend for his expensive habits. It has been nearly two years since his father decided he should become a man in this manner, and Lefty had already developed a knack for detecting opportunities for quick money when they presented themselves, no matter how dubious some of them might be. He’d even grown to enjoy some of these risky ventures, something none of the Talwar family had foreseen.
After a night out at the Khana Ya Khazana dhaba, Lefty decided to take the short cut home through the Jamnapur railway station. He’d left his motorcycle at the dhaba, as he felt too drunk to ride it home, which he would have otherwise, even through the platforms and tracks of Jamnapur station. He stumbled on lamp posts, sleeping vendors and families of three or four lying on the ground, on crates of heavy goods that will all be gone from their resting place as soon as the first train to Phoolan Pur arrives at about 6 am, which was still three hours away. Lefty even enjoyed his bumpy walk home, as it allowed him to use his choicest words at unsuspecting casualties, who were too poor and too fatigued to shoot back at him, or threaten to call the police.
Even as he had almost made his way out of the station through platform no. 1, he stumbled on what seemed like a rock on the ground, hitting the bench with a sleeping young man on it. The young man winced, but went back to sleep, while the rock seemed to roll over, and crumble into a glittering spread. They shone bright in the wet moonlight, and Lefty’s intoxicated eyes perceived them more brightly. “Rakhis! Lots of Rakhis!” Lefty screamed and laughed to himself. He rolled the spread back into the rock, picked it up, and took it home.
Hari Talwar said at the breakfast table, “Did I see a bag of rakhis in the middle of the drawing room this morning?”
The family looked up, both in awe of the loving, weary and sensible patriarch, and in confusion over a fact none had any knowledge of. None, except the culprit.
“Tajinder,” Hari Talwar quietly said, “Given the absurdity of the situation, I have no doubt it is you who is involved in it.”
“Papa!” Lefty screamed in disbelief, habitual protest and a hangover. The word rakhi did seem familiar in his recent memory, no matter how blurred.
“Do you intend to sell them? Give them to the poor? Are you smuggling drugs underneath?” Hari continued.
“Bas!(enough)” shouted Gita Talwar, wife of Hari, and doting mother of Lefty.
“The nikamma (good-for-nothing) has probably robbed some poor vendor of his living. Do the right thing and find the poor fellow, will you Tajinder? I do not want stolen goods in this house. What would people think? Hari Talwar’s son steals rakhis!”
Lefty spent the rest of the day catching some much needed sleep. The bag rested beside his bed, in his room that led to a balcony with an attached staircase that, in turn, led to the garage downstairs. He could not remember why he’d entered his house through the front door, though it may have had to do with the size and bulk of the bagful of rakhis. Even in his drunken carelessness, he had done his best, risking (and earning) the wrath of his father, by leaving the rakhis in a safer place than the narrow stairs that led to his room.
As he got dressed to meet his friends at the dhaba at 7 pm, he decided to take the rakhis, and make a quick job of selling them at one of the evening markets. For all he knew, maybe the owner had left them in the station and forgotten about them. He had never met the owner, and could not return them even if he wanted to. He could get 2000 rupees or even more selling them, which would pay for his drinks for the rest of the night.
He stood uncomfortably at an even shadier corner of the badly-lit market place, acting nonchalant towards the bag of rakhis standing next to him, hoping no one would misconstrue the relationship between the rakhis and the leather jacket wearing rakhi seller who idly played Rage Racing on his phone, waiting for someone to furnish a few notes in exchange of the bag. He might very well have appeared a drug dealer, as his father had suspected, but a most reluctant one, even with a bag of modest festive items.
A girl of nine came up to Lefty and asked, “Are you selling rakhis?”
Lefty looked up, and replied, “Yes”
“Can I see them?” said the girl, with her young, attractive mother catching up with her, who was suspicious of the rakhi seller’s apparent poshness.
“Go ahead.” Lefty stepped back, while the girl rummaged through the bag.
“How much do they cost?” her mother said, in her natural bazaar twang that was part inquisition, part threat, to connote as it regularly does that she was not to be conned.
“Uh, 50 rupees.”
“50 rupees! A vendor won’t dare to ask even 15 for them! Have you never done this before?”
“Ha ha, no.” Lefty said cheekily, almost flirtatiously.
But, the little girl was fixed on a purple one, with pink beads. Even Lefty’s uninterested eyes that had been around silk all his life, knew that the purple silk thread used in this rakhi made it different from other rakhis found everywhere during this time. Whether they deserved to be sold for 50 rupees or not, he didn’t know. But, they were unique.
“I’ll give you ten.” The mother broke his momentary admiration.
“And I am a dacoit!” Lefty laughed, and the little girl joined him.
“Let’s go.” the mother pulled the little girl.
“Mummy! I want this for Raj bhaiyya! Pay him, na!”
Lefty bent down, pinched her right cheek and said, “You can have it for free.”
“Let’s go Chutki! He’s a bad man.” the mother appeared genuinely alarmed.
“What did I do?” Lefty was taken aback. He’d never met anyone before who refused free things.
“Do you have no shame? Is this how you lure little girls? By giving them free rakhis? She can be your sister, your daughter…” the mother kept shouting and walked away.
Lefty stood there, flabbergasted, never approached again, till he left his two-hour career as a rakhi seller alone with the bag of rakhis and went to Khana Ya Khazana dhaba.
To be continued…
Rakhi: A rakhi is a ceremonial wristlet, usually tied on the brother’s wrist by a sister during the Rakshabandhan festival, but has often served as a symbolic gesture for brotherhood and solidarity.