I published a short story a week back, in a series of instalments. I’ve put it all together here, 5k words and all, for better flow in reading. Sit back, relax and enjoy this as a Sunday read, in case you missed an instalment, want to read it again, or even for the first time!
Note: 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.
Avinash knew this would be the last train to Phoolan Pur. He told his friend Kalash to pedal faster on his cycle-trolley through the earthern lanes, wet with drizzle, of their village Bansipuri, 30 kilometres away from his desired destination – the town of Phoolan Pur – and hundreds of kilometres that were unknown to him, but that would lead to dream city, Mumbai. He needed to reach Jamnapur station to buy a ticket to Phoolan Pur, board the vendors compartment on any train destined for Phoolan Pur station, to meet with a wholesale merchant friend of his father’s, who had been buying rakhis from the family for nearly three generations.
“Faster, faster!” Avinash screamed desperately at Kalash, though it was his own fault for not being at Jamnapur station by 10 O’ clock that night. Since his father passed away due to cardiac arrest in February of this year, Avinash had come close to cursing him for teaching him his art, but not his trade. Avinash had no head, but more crucially, no interest in the business of selling rakhis and other festive products his family had always been employed in making all year round: fire crackers for Diwali, large water pistons in myriad colours for Holi, even mini-raths for children to play with during Rathyatra.
His father, Ganesh Thapar, had more in common with Avinash than either would have admitted. He did not have a head for business either, and having lost his brothers either to the eternal rest or to well-paid city jobs, Ganesh had to take some of his time away from meticulously crafting festive objects, and apply it to working on figures. He hadn’t managed to teach his nineteen-year-old son the latter, because he didn’t understand it any better himself.
Avinash was late for the last train to Phoolan Pur not because of any sloppiness on his part, but for packing his rakhis into a flimsy synthetic bag that also happened to be the biggest and sturdiest bag in his house. It was a bag that had come with the ten kg rice he had bought from town, though how such poor material had managed to hold the bountiful grain that would feed his family for two months was beyond him. His father had preferred the old Bengal jute bags himself, but those were ratty, and their wooden handles could not last another festive season. It was either this inferior synthetic make, or some old gunny sacks which smelled so abhorrent, they were sure to stain his rakhis with bad odour.
He had made them by hand, just as his father had, just as his father had before him. Maybe even beyond that generation, though no one knows much about the family during those times of illiteracy and the British Raj. He didn’t know if they had always made rakhis, or had more conventional jobs like his neighbours had in farming, dairy, literate jobs like teaching, banking etc. His family was not even like the local theatre group because, unlike them, his father worked in the privacy of his home, and never showed his work to anyone except the wholesale merchant. Provided he did see it, for Avinash had never seen him look into the bag as he paid his father. No one saw his handiwork, and those who did, did not know it was him.
“Agar koi kaam pyaar se karo, toh uski keemat bar jati hai. (If you do some work with love, its price rises up.)” was a maxim his father would tell him often, from the time he was a child, helping his father arrange his supply of beads, threads, sequins, rhinestones and others to weave his rakhis. He wasn’t as enthusiastic in making other festive objects, though he’d repeat the maxim even when Avinash helped him print boxes for firecrackers using pictures of the most popular Bollywood heroines from that year. His father would spend hours going through magazines to find the right pictures, not so much to get any sensual pleasure out of it, as to find the most unique, artistic picture of that particular actress. Even to Avinash’s untrained, unsophisticated and essentially boyhood eyes, it was clear his father had taste and diligence and a clarity of purpose doing his work: for the love of it.
But, he was gone, and it was up to Avinash to make rakhis to meet his quota and deadline of July 18th, 2016 – a month before the Rakhi festival, and sell them to his father’s friend. He was dissatisfied with his work, stressed by trying to work neatly, creatively, to maintain the merchant’s interest and unwritten contract, to feed his family of four, with his mother, younger brother and sister, none of whom had any interest in learning the work. He did his best, but his eye for quality ensured that he knew they weren’t good enough.
He left Kalash and his trolley, and rushed to the Jamnapur station ticket counter, carrying his big shopping bag full of rakhis in one hand, rummaging through his lightly wet, canvas messenger bag with the other, looking to shell out the exact fare of 15 rupees even as he groaned at the station’s large wall clock that read ‘10:12.’ He inched closer in the queue, but he knew his time was up. The teller shrugged as he asked for his ticket, telling him he’ll be better off waiting for the 6:08 train in the morning, and should buy his ticket then, as the ticket is only valid if he commences his journey within an hour.
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. That 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 (brother) ! 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.
“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 ( didi or just di means elder sister) 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.
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? Wrapped his arms around it in a cuddle, as though it were a teddy bear or one of his siblings? Or come back home, 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, 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 in 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 the movie 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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