GREAT MOMENTS IN LIFE
A friend of my friend says
It is quite cold and I am carrying a lump packet of hukka tobacco weighing 2 kg. I am going down in the countryside to a local shop to deliver it, collect money which was 1 rupee, get back to the shop in the main bazar where I was working as a chhota and hand over the money. On the way I notice a group of children playing in a clearing in the dim light of the fast fading day. I linger there for a while watching them play even though the packet is heavy for my little hands and needs to be got rid off as quickly as possible.I hardly ever have time to play. I also notice a man carrying a ladder on his shoulder with a tin can of kerosine in his hand. Every hundred yards or so, he will find a local council lantern fixed on a pole or to a wall. He will climb to it, open the glass pane of the lantern, replenish the lamp with a measured quantity of kerosine, light it, close the pane and climb down and walk to the next lamp. I pass him and then allow him to pass me so that I can watch him do his duty again. By the time I will return it is dark and I find my way in the dim light of these lamps. The pot holes and the boulders would be highlighted with their dim illumination and soft shadows. The narrow open drains (naalees) will have turned in to winding luminous lines.
The council had provided for the lighting of these lamps, but there was no arangement for turning them off. The amount of the kerosine poured in each lamp was calculated to last about three hours, after which it will go off autometically due to lack of fuel. After which time the lanes will plunge into total darkness. Every body was indoors by then and only the thieves and homeless dogs will rule the streets.The council had no intention to light the streets for such.
For this and similar odd jobs, done after school, I was paid a pittance of 2 paisas normally, an anna occasionally (like Sundays) and 4-6 annas on special days like Deewali when the business was brisk.
The year is 1957-8-9 and I was 11-12.
One day I was minding the shop alone.The owner would roultinely leave it all to me for the most hot 3-4 hours of the day in summer, went home for lunch, rested and reappeared on the shop in the cool of the evening. An old man with a long beard asked for something for which I had to go inside the shop. As I returned in the front of the shop I noticed he had already succeded in collecting a handful of hukka tobacco and was on his way. I caught him quickly within yards and got him to release the stolen tobacco back in to my little hands, to which he complied and did not resist. I related this incidence to the owner and he praised me.
BUT, now I think I shouild have let the old man go with it, because I now know what it means when you have the urge and you have no money. But how would I know then?
The owner was kind to me and never scolded me and always considered me as a little brother. The only loss I caused him ever was 8 annas and even then he just kept quite and remained stern for the evening. What happened was that one of his friends sent him a letter without stamps. The dakiya (postman) came to me when I was alone, in the afternoon.He said that the letter was “bairang” and I must pay him 8 annas as a pelnalty. I paid. I should have told him to deliver the letter when the owner was around. The letter it turned out contained a cartoon (April fool). His friend came in the evening and taunted him that he made him a fool. He was foolish not to realise that he played on my gullibilirty. To this day I have not forgiven him.