“Arrey o, havildar, look how sparkly I look!” taunted one of the street urchins, in the direction of Constable Sandip Sahu. Constable Sahu was a sincere, morally upright, gravely responsible law-keeper. Which, of course, made him thoroughly ridiculous. Though several competent and moral cops exist, there are few who flaunt it, for fear of being found out or laughed at. Havildar Sahu had neither of these problems. He had grown thick-skinned to all the ragging he had received his entire life, but still managed to do the right thing in every situation, or at least attempt it. Had he been more enterprising and/or ambitious, he’d have been awarded a Bharat Ratna by now.
Street urchins, regrettably, still abide in several corners of this place, though not all the children at the scene of the crime – playing with and destroying rakhis from what seemed like an unattended bag of rakhis – were unfed, unsheltered, uneducated or uncared for, as such pictures of Indian life would have some believe. A gold mine of colourful rakhis had been discovered; it was inevitable that children would come and play with them. Constable Sahu looked in horror as they tied several rakhis on their wrists, ankles, even attempting to tie them to their hair, while some tried to restrict their breathing by suppressing their nose or mouth with them.
“Stop! Stop! Put them back!” Constable Sahu rushed to the scene, causing them to further taunt him in their loud, cacophonous, sing-song voices, for in that lay half of the fun to their game. Everyday they devised new excuses to annoy the noble Sahu, and today they had a most unusual one.
But, Constable Sahu was not to be defeated. It was harder than usual, for he was conflicted by the unusual brilliance of the little wristlets, and the need to protect them from being spoiled. At least, real gold would not have been as delicate. Though it would hardly have been as much fun for children to play with, as these bands that embodied a multiplicity of colour and texture.
He pulled, he screamed, he pleaded, until all the unspoiled rakhis were back in the synthetic shopping bag, and the children back to finding other means of having fun, and possibly annoying Sahu further. The rakhis had proved to be remarkably well-made and sturdy, having survived the careless play, to looking spick and span after some mild dusting from Sahu. He felt an intense desire to dig through the rest of the gold mine, for each one was unique and simply exquisite. But, he was already late for reporting at the Jamnapur Police Station, something that happened quite often due to the pesky brats that get in his way to work. He picked up the bag and decided to register it as a ‘lost and found’ case.
“Sahu, now you’re proving to be even more sanskari (moral and traditional) than Alok Nath! Have you got those rakhis to make sisters of the entire female kind?” sub-inspector Singh said teasingly which, again, was a daily occurrence, that included a general rehashing of Alok Nath jokes and the parallelisms that can be drawn between the actor and Constable Sahu. He ignored it, to go about his business of dealing with the rakhis.
Inspector Mukherjee broke the banter among his subordinates to announce that a protest rally had gone all wrong in the nearby town of Subhay, and that extra forces were needed. Even Constable Sahu, who was mostly left to guard duty, was wanted for the job.
“But, I had a case to…” Sahu trailed off, realising that a bag of rakhis, that looked nearly as good as gold and cost nothing in comparison, would not warrant any excuse or rationality on his part towards his boss. The best he could do was leave them at the ‘lost and found’ cupboard, though his colleagues usually took things home from there, before the owners could show up and claim them. He could leave them under his table, or in Inspector Mukherjee’s office, but he knew he was likely to not see them again when he came back. He kept them in the cupboard, hoping his colleagues would be too busy with the rally to think of opening it. He locked it, kept the key in Inspector Mukherjee’s desk drawer, and hoped for the best.
But, someone did find it, for just like every other government office, the Jamnapur Police Station also had its own ecosystem. And Mother Nature went by the name of Deepa Sharma.
She was called Deepadi by everyone under the sun, except for her son. She was in her late forties, hoping to send her son to college, trying to stretch the 24 hours of her day to an extra minute, if that would result in an extra hundred rupees. She cleaned, she made tea, she nursed, she sewed, she even taught singing to those who couldn’t afford a proper teacher, because she had been a small-time folk singer when she was a teenage girl.
She did not mollycoddle her son however, which was unusual for a woman whose sole motivation in life was her son’s future happiness. She tried to instigate that same sense of enterprise and hard work in her son, but was frequently disappointed at his indifference. However, she knew that she still had a few years to mould his character and turn him into a responsible young man, and would not give up where there is hope yet.
One of her resources for making extra money was selling things found in the lost-and-found cupboard at Jamnapur Police Station. She cleaned and made tea there, and it wasn’t rare to find herself alone in that division, whether the policemen and women be out on duty or leave. She had to make sure she only took things that would not be missed: precious things like gold jewellery, mobile phones and money were off-limits. But, she still found odds and ends she could turn into some form of gain, and today she found a promising big, shopping bag. She hoped it contained money that the inspector had forgotten to keep in the safe, so that a few hundred-rupee notes would not be missed.
Instead, she found rakhis. Lots of them. She was momentarily disappointed, even angry, until she saw hope again. Here was another opportunity to teach Akash, her son, one of the many lessons she wanted him to learn in life. Any man, whatever his job, should have some business sense, Deepadi argued, and decided Akash would take these rakhis and sell them in Phoolan Pur. It would only take a day off school, and he would learn how to manage in a big town, and earn a few thousand rupees in the process.
“But, where and how will I sell them?” Akash said in frustration, as his mother told him about the plan.
“In Phoolan Pur.”
“But, I’ve never been to Phoolan Pur. You only took me there once as a child. And remember how I briefly got lost there?”
“You’re a big boy now. Soon, you’ll be going to college there, and working. Why don’t you start now?”
“But, how? And where did you get those rakhis? Did you pick them up from the road? Or steal them from the Police Station?”
“Chup! You will do as I say. You will take the train to Phoolan Pur tomorrow, and you will sell these rakhis. Don’t sell them at the station or in a market, there might be police there. Sell them outside a cinema. Salman Khan’s Sultan releases tomorrow, and you’re sure to get a good crowd.”
“I am sure there will be police outside the cinema too. At least, I think so. I’ll find out for sure, if you ever let me watch a film there one of these days.”
“Bas, Akash. You won’t have such quick replies to everything once you’re unemployed and starving. You will go to Phoolan Pur tomorrow, and you will not come home until you’ve sold each and everyone of them.”
And so, Akash went to Phoolan Pur the next day. He did as his mother suggested, and looked for the nearest cinema from the railway station, found one that was playing houseful shows of Sultan, and stood outside. He sold a few rakhis, at the ridiculously low price of rupees two and five, a price that was set by the buyer instead of the clueless seller. He groaned at the thankless job (for Akash was still innocent enough to not know about the modest treats that a little money could get him) until he found a familiar face among the bargaining customers: his friend Sanjeev.
“Arrey, tu kya kar raha hai yahaan? (What are you doing here?)”
“I’m selling rakhis.”
“Ha ha, your mother has made you a man after all.” Sanjeev was some years older than Akash, and of a lower middle-class background. He could live off his parents as he went to college, hoping to graduate one of these days, or years. In short, he’s what you would call a bad influence on Akash, and certainly not company that Deepadi would approve of. Which only made it more desirable for her son.
“Are you here alone?”
“Ha, no. Came here with my girlfriend. Other friends too. Come meet her. And watch Sultan with us, yaar. It’s Salman bhai’s new picture after all!”
“I can’t. I have to sell all of these today.”
“Arrey, leave them. People have been robbing you anyway. You won’t even make a hundred rupees at this rate. Come with me. Have you ever seen a film in a theatre?”
“No. But, how will I watch it? Isn’t it houseful?”
“C’mon, don’t you know everybody knows me here? I’ll get you a seat. And who cares about sitting anyway? It’s Salman bhai. We’ll all be standing and dancing and whistling.”
Akash was beginning to lose his already tenuous resolve. The offer was too tempting to resist, and though he did not have much hold over the rakhis (he didn’t see the attraction in them), he worried about his mother’s reaction at him failing to earn any money. He was ashamed to admit this to Sanjeev, but he still hesitated to leave with him.
“Thank you, Sanjeev bhaiyya, but I have to sell these today. I need to take the money home.”
“I’ll give you the money.”
“Sure. What are friends for? You can return it to me later. Now, let’s go. Show’s about to start.”
“What about the rakhis?”
“Oh, leave them. No one will take them. You can take them home later, if you wish.”
The appeal of a Salman Khan movie was obviously greater than selling a bagful of rakhis, and Akash’s feelings would not be alien to even the most hardened of tradesmen. However, what Akash had to learn that night, his mother’s plan of him receiving life lessons coming to fruition after all, was that friends who say they’ll pay to save you from your troubles rarely ever do, and that most relationships based on money (or lack of) aren’t durable enough to mature into something meaningful. You learn the most from mistakes, and Akash was well on his way towards making one.
Sanjeev was right about one thing, though. No one did touch the bag of rakhis. It had to survive the elements as it stood night long outside the theatre, whilst Akash returned empty-handed, with his head in the clouds, to Jamnapur the next morning. His mother and Constable Sahu both felt the loss of the rakhis deeply, albeit in different ways. Akash begged his mother for the train fare, so that he could go back and find them, but it was a hopeless case to Deepadi.
To be continued…
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