Avinash hoped the darkness provided by the walls and the curtains would obliviate his existence: to the world, to himself. They were gone, vanished in the thin, cold, misty air of two nights before, and were not to be found anywhere. His friends said going to the police would be pointless; no one cares for a bag of rakhis that seemingly cost nothing.
Even if they cost everything to the rakhi maker, everything that his family would depend on for the next two months until he sold his Diwali goods. Even then, he had hoped to buy materials for the firecrackers with his rakhi money, which he knew his father would not have been confident, or stupid enough to do, depending on savings instead. But, even bidding goodbye to the dead, for it was only five months since his father had been gone, cost a lot in the real world – an expenditure no one had foreseen.
This, and a million other thoughts and anxieties swirled in Avinash’s head. It had felt like a furnace lately due to these undeniable worries plaguing him, but his was a furnace with hope. He had his father’s surprising optimism, a condition made possible by the cultivation of love in everything he did. Avinash believed that if he loved his work enough, did everything he could to do it well, nothing bad would happen.
His farmer neighbours would disagree, as they regularly submitted to the elements despite resorting to every machinery (including the finest machine of all: human) available, and still a good harvest remained a matter of luck. Vegetables may rot or die, but a rakhi is a precious, dependable commodity for one day of the year. And they were gone, who knows where.
He had switched his cell phone off, after receiving incessant calls from the wholesale merchant when he was late for their meeting. He didn’t dare switch it on again, and conversing with anybody at all, provided no relief or comfort in unravelling the mystery. Who would steal rakhis?
All he did was place the bag on the ground next to the bench, on which he barely slept for five or six hours. Should he have used the bag as a pillow? Wrap his arms around it in a cuddle, as though it were a teddy bear or one of his siblings? Or come back home again, and leave early in the morning, this time making sure he did not miss the train to Phoolan Pur. All the alternatives tempted him, because his decision at the time, though it seemed wise and came recommended by the station teller, had proved to be as much of a disaster, an almost equal, irreparable loss, as that of his father’s death.
His mother accused him, and went over the details several times, in her impassioned, high-pitched soliloquy, that was part mourning, part rage and all show. This might seem like a stereotype that Indian mothers are often subjected to, even for relatively trivial things like their children being late for school or for not standing up to their bullies, but the narrator hopes it truly is a stereotype, and therefore, not the truth. However, in Avinash’s case, as in every other case, his mother’s words provided no comfort. He had nothing to do, and so he tried to sleep.
Kalash barged into the one-storey house without decorum, as he was prone to do being a frequent visitor, and announced to the family, “Turn on the news! For everyone’s sake, turn it on!”
Avinash’s mother found watching TV at a time like this inappropriate, but his siblings promptly obeyed, looking for any excuse at all to escape into the TV world they adored, even if it was the boring news. Salman Khan even made an appearance on the news channel as they switched it on, which they found exciting.
“Avinash, come! Come!” They all screamed, and repeated until Avinash appeared, bothered, hot-headed, murder in his eyes, cursing them for trying to make him civil at a time like this. But, Salman Khan called his name too, and this time, he listened.
“Avinash Thapar, if that is your name according to this business card, we’ve been calling you, if this is your number according to this business card which, don’t worry, I won’t reveal on TV, but anyway, bhai (brother), we have your bag of rakhis, and so, if you’re watching, come collect it from me here at Phoolan Pur Cinema tomorrow at noon. Okay dude, take care. And, be there.”
They watched the clip several times, until they were sure that it was THE Salman Khan, speaking to their own Avinash Thapar. His father had made those business cards during last year’s festive season, because he’d hoped his son would help expand their business as soon as he learnt how. Avinash had innocuously dropped a couple in the bag, hoping the wholesale merchant would help promote his work. He had forgotten about them, but even as his father had printed the cards the previous year, he didn’t imagine anybody would ever look at them.
There had been a bomb scare. If ordinary citizens had been allowed to plough the area the day after Akash abandoned the bag of rakhis outside Phoolan Pur Cinema, they’d have found the rakhis, and done whatever they wanted with them. However, since Salman Khan was coming to pay a surprise visit to Phoolan Pur Cinema to promote his new film Sultan, the area had been scanned to every inch of its everyday life, and a suspicious bag that seemed filled to the bone with rakhis had seemed like the only object to be harmful to the superstar’s person.
The superstar, on the other hand, delighted at the fact that the bag contained rakhis, and only rakhis, and nothing but rakhis. A business card was also found, and several security personnel made calls to the number of one going by the name of Avinash Thapar, but he was not to be reached. Even the superstar tried it, hoping to surprise the rakhi maker, but ultimately had to resort to making a public announcement on national TV. He delighted in the rakhis, the off-duty painter in him appreciating their craftsmanship and artistry, and wanted to know more of the maker.
Avinash wore his father’s only tailored shirt and trousers and this time, he did not have to worry about his journey to Phoolan Pur. His mother broke into her trinket-box that contained her savings to provide him with enough money, and also packed him a lunch-box full of sweets for the superstar, though Avinash had seen Fan earlier this year, and was skeptical if the meeting will be all that everyone else expected it to be: a real event.
A couple of his friends accompanied him to Phoolan Pur in the jam-packed train, where most were headed to catch a glimpse of the superstar. Predictably, Phoolan Pur, right from the railway station to the cinema, resembled the makings of an exodus, all for Salman ‘bhai’ Khan, who was brother, lover, beloved son and more to the nation. Avinash was early for their purported time of meeting, but predictably, failed at gaining admission to the theatre. His friends were agitated, but he’d grown used to disappointment. He hoped once the crowds thin out a little, he’d attempt to retrieve his rakhis.
Unbeknownst to him, Lefty Talwar and his friends, Constable Sahu, Deepadi and her son Akash, had also made it to the spot, erstwhile keepers and protectors (and also, thieves) of his rakhis, after watching the announcement, equally curious at catching a glimpse of the superstar and the rakhi maker. Constable Sahu believed he would have solved the case if only he had time to discover the business card while going through the bag. But, all the individual parties believed it was ultimately the chance of a lifetime that the rakhi maker should get to meet the superstar, via losing his bag of rakhis and having it believed to contain a bomb.
At 12 p.m. sharp, Chief Inspector Narayan announced that Salman Khan had already left Phoolan Pur the previous day for another engagement. However, the bag was still in custody of the Phoolan Pur Police, and if the owner wished to retrieve it, he was to come to the police station with identification documents.
The crowd dispersed, and not many gathered in Phoolan Pur police station. Except, those that had found themselves tangled in the fate of the bag of rakhis.
Avinash still doubted if the bag would be returned to him. He had his Aadhaar Card, freshly-minted Voter’s Card, Ration Card and even his birth certificate and board exam admit card. He was also doubtful about what he would do if he did get the bag back, for the wholesale merchant was sure to never be interested in working with him again. But, they were his, whether they were sold or not, and he needed to see them in the flesh, to get some of himself back.
They believed him, they gave it back, and Constable Sahu even congratulated him. Lefty, Deepadi and Akash were not as forthcoming, finally realising their guilt, but also pleased at the reunion. Avinash looked inside the bag professionally, to see whether his goods were still salvageable for the days leading up to the Rakhi festival. They would do, he believed, but he also found a folded sheet of A4 copier paper, and it read,
I didn’t want to make you feel small by giving you money. Your rakhis are worth more. The love that went into making them is clear for all to see. I will trouble you further and steal one of them for my sister. Think of it only as a rakhi, from one brother to another.
My team will call you to help set up a stall for you in Mumbai at a handicrafts fair, where you should be able to get a good price on them just in time for the Rakhi festival. If you wish, they will also help you set up your own shop in the city, if you want to sell your work all year round. I hope we shall meet someday, and you could give me tips on how to make good art!
And so, our Rakhi Maker did manage to sell his rakhis in time, and buy provisions for Diwali. He also became a more punctual and efficient traveller, travelling back and forth from Jamnapur to Mumbai regularly. His business flourished, as did his art, but he was still to meet all those who helped him along the way. However, just like the letter that was framed on his wall, and the maxim that had been imprinted in his mind right from boyhood, he never failed to kindle the love he had for his work, as he went about doing it. After all,
Agar koi kaam pyaar se karo, toh uski keemat bar jati hai.
If you do some work with love, its price rises up.
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