|Creative Writing Competition 2012 India|
|OBJECT||Any Jewellery – Necklace, Ring…|
Their eyes met as soon as he had shut the red bound book and raised his head. Gaurav watched him as he carefully scanned the signboard that hung by means of iron wires above the door before climbing up the flight of 2 stairs. Hesitating, as if to seek permission before making his entry, his blinking eyes was an indication of the nervousness that he kept bottled up inside him.
Guessing by the shock of thick curly hairs on his head and the boyish expression on his face one had no difficulty in realising that he couldn’t have been more than 21 years of age. Clad in a faded white T-shirt that clung to his wiry frame and grey trousers that failed to hide the frayed shoe laces from peeping from underneath the trouser, he flicked his tongue over his upper lip before coming to stand before the wooden table.
“Are you the dream merchant? I….ummm….eerrr…need some help!”
Gaurav’s father had left him with two things for which he would always be indebted to him. The first was a set of clientele who shifted their allegiance from his father to Gaurav the day he took over his father’s business and the second, more important, was this house built on a piece of land in the midst of a busy market place! When business was down Gaurav took comfort from the fact that this piece of property was worth at least 8-10 lakhs of rupees considering the way the market had grown in size and the way it was being frequented by the ever growing population of the small town in which the market was situated.
This market served to fulfil the daily requirements of the townfolks, a majority of whom worked in a nearby mine and the factory attached to it. Earlier they used to come from far off places, but with the management of the factory deciding to run it in three shifts, they had built residential colony for their work-men and employees in the town. More people meant more demand for goods which in turn meant shopkeepers trying to grow bigger and stock more.
The market place itself was an odd mix, growing up haphazardly, like mushrooms in the monsoon season. Initially there was a concrete structure built by the local panchayat committee as a development initiative for the people of the town. This structure was designed in the shape of a square with the row of small concrete rooms forming the perimeter of the square on three sides while the road running from the centre of the town to the railway station forming the front boundary of the square.
Thereafter, it had grown with the town population and the growing demands of the people in the town—a newspaper vendor opening a shop here, just beside Mangoo the meat seller’s rickety shack under the peepul tree, the vegetable grocers’ sitting in a single file at the entrance as if they liked to stick together as a community! Then there were paan-shop owners like Basanti and Ramu and tea shop owner Naresh, who had erected their temporary shelters just outside the lone hotel of the market-place; Hotel Paradise!
Gaurav’s father was one of the oldest members of this market place, having had the means and the vision to buy one of the permanent shops in the market-place. He was an astrologer cum priest who had earned his reputation since the day he was able to predict the birth of twins to the newly wed couple of the Agarwal family, proud owners of the only book-shop in the market place.
Then there were other predictions done, which when it came true, made the humble townsfolk believe that it was because of the powers of Sunil ji “maharaj” that the predictions had come true. When it didn’t, the townsfolk cursed their bad luck and thought of it as their “buri-kismet” and generally became resigned to the fact rather than talk of the astrologer having erred in his wisdom! In return, Sunil was satisfied with whatever the townsfolk gave by way of offerings to him and never demanded anything.
Gaurav had, on the contrary, turned out to be a bit of a lazy bum who believed more in earning his livelihood by hoodwinking people rather than earning it the hard way! His father had, during the course of his profession, collected a lot of books on the subject of astrology, over which he pored sitting in his shop during his spare time. Gaurav on the contrary, rarely took out any book from the book-shelf inside the shop for the purpose of gathering knowledge. Instead he preferred to use them sometimes as a pillow for his afternoon siesta.
He had barely managed to pass his graduation course in Sanskrit literature and had somehow learned to utter a few of the “slokas” by virtue of accompanying his father and listening to him perform a puja. However, Gaurav had one quality that made most people take notice of him and the gullible believe in him-his gift of the gab! Gaurav had a way of massaging people’s ego as he spoke to them.
He made them believe that they were the only person who mattered to him at that point of time and that he had an answer to all their worries. He had, in absolute dis-agreement to his father, put up a signboard outside the shop which proclaimed “DREAM MERCHANTS” in bold black lettering on a red painted tin sign board. He had even printed visiting cards also self proclaiming himself to be one and which he distributed readily to anyone and everyone who cared to receive. In addition, he always made copious notes of all the cases that he dealt with and about all that he had observed and discussed with the people that he met. It helped him to become adept in the art of studying the psychology of the individual. That was his approach when he joined his father’s business.
Gaurav’s drowsiness vanished the moment his eyes located the young man standing in front of his desk.
“Ah! Here was a customer,” he thought to himself before breaking into a welcoming smile. The person didn’t seem very affluent from the way he dressed. Gaurav couldn’t recall having met him earlier. Maybe a new employee at the mining site, Gaurav thought to himself.
“Well, what can I do for you, sir?”
“My name is Souvik and I work at the plant. I am in need of help!”
“Certainly! Your humble servant is at your service! Please tell me what is it that bothers you?”
“Well, I am in love, with a girl. She is the one of my dreams! I would die if I couldn’t get married to her,” Souvik was almost on the verge of breaking into tears!
“Oh, I see!”
Gaurav was beginning to feel elated and felt like pumping his fists in the air with joy. He knew that he had a good case in his hands, a problem that could be solved very easily and one that had a decent payment to be fleeced from the client in the end!
“Perhaps you could tell me the name of the girl and then I can see if I could solve the problem that you have?”
“Well, it is a bit more complicated than what you imagine. Let me give you the whole picture. You see, I am in love with this girl and she acknowledges her love for me too. We both are ready to get married and settle down and we are sure that our families will have no problem in that as well!”
“So then what is the problem,” asked Gaurav barely able to hide the disappointment in his voice!
“The problem is in the work that I am doing. My work at the plant is such that I have to work in shifts-getting rotated to work in morning, evening and night shift one week at a time. While it is ok to work in the day time, I find it very difficult to work in the night shift! The situation has become so bad that I have exhausted all my yearly leave in the last six months and have now started to absent myself from work whenever I have to go for the night shift! Last week my supervisor called me and threatened to fire me from the plant if I absented myself any more during the night shift! I really don’t know what to do. I need your help. Please help me out of this mess!”
“I see,” said Gaurav nodding his head sympathetically and clicking his tongue to express his sadness at the mis-fortune of his client. However, he still couldn’t see the real problem.
“My dear brother, I really sympathise with you. Why do people have to work at night? Nights are meant for sleeping! If someone asks me to remain awake at night and do some work, even I would try to avoid it!”
“Actually, I am very scared! Of Ghosts! While working at night in the plant, I am alone in one part of the building and every time my eyes droop a bit with sleep, I get the feeling that someone is trying to come and grab me by the throat and kill me! Sometimes I hear a shrill voice of a woman calling out my name or banging against the side tin sheeting to attract my attention. I get so stressed out by the end of each night shift that it is making me go mad! I need help-Please help me! I cannot afford to lose my job because then I would lose my dream-girl, the love of my life! I will die if I cannot get married to her.”
There was desperation in his voice and a pleading look in his eyes! It was as if he knew Gaurav had the recipe for his ailments and he only had to plead his case to obtain that recipe!
For a brief moment Gaurav was at a loss on what to do! How could he help this man? What advice should he give him? Clearly it was a problem of lack of self-confidence of this young man. What he needed was probably a psychologist who could slowly work on him and try to rid him of the fear of ghosts! Then the sleek, crafty salesman in him took over! He had nothing to lose, he reasoned to himself. From the bookcase behind him, he picked out two of the thickest books. Opening them in front of him, with furrowed eyebrows and creased forehead, he made a show of poring over the books and thinking deeply at the same time. Simultaneously he picked out a few sheaves of paper and began to make a few drawings of the planetary position after having checked the date and time of birth of from Shouvik. Finally, fifteen minutes later, he was ready with his answer.
“Look Shouvik, I have studied your planetary position in great detail and firmly believe that it is on account of intervention of one of the planets that’s causing this fear in you. I will give you a charm, an amulet that you should always wear like a necklace round your neck at all times. This necklace around your neck should protect you from all evil spirits. Never open it from your body and whenever you are scared, you just need to cling to this amulet tightly and all fear will vanish!”
The look of relief, mixed with gratitude and happiness on Shouvik’s face told the whole story as Gaurav handed him the amulet. As he took the money from Shouvik, Gaurav felt no pang of guilt. His conscience didn’t bother him when Gaurav had taken a few pieces of coal, some sand and shavings of a pencil and stuffed them in an amulet that he kept handy with him. If this didn’t work, then he would always be able to suggest something else! That meant some more money to be made. After Shouvik had gone, he noted down the full case history in the red bound book that he diligently filled. Someday this red bound book would fulfil a dream of his—that of providing data for his book on the fact that astrology was more about dealing with psychology of the person rather than trying to re-work planetary positions!
A year later, when Shouvik got married to the girl of his dreams, Gaurav was there at the wedding party to congratulate the newly-wed couple! And he did notice the glint of light reflected from the necklace with the same amulet, dangling around Shouvik’s neck!