Funny side is the Sunny side
Four months from November to February witness plenty of elderly Kashmiri shawl hawkers descending upon the streets of Punjab. Their usual trade call is “Have woolen shawls, have Kashmiri Shawls” They know their customized clients/ customers are in every household and like skilled salesmen the lady of each house is their ‘Bhain ji or Didi’.
One such gentleman aged around sixty-five met me in December, 2000 near my house while I was supervising a construction work. He asked me to buy something woolen from him out of the pack he was carrying on his back. Instead of making a curt reply I only smiled, offered him a few almond kernels from my pocket and directed him towards our residential house to see the potential customer.
He was happy and agreed to comply immediately. We all know that women are the toughest customers to deal with and I knew that he could hardly sell anything to my wife at his first meeting.
However, when I came home in the evening, I was told that a Kashmiri gentleman had come selling shawls and told my wife” Bhain your master ji is a very good man”. This was his first stroke on striking a friendly chord though he might have foreseen that nothing would be bought during the first encounter. And he was right. He had sown the seeds of cordiality for future dealings.
He came to our street every seven or ten days and would make it a point to visit my house. Finally, within three weeks he was able to sell his merchandise and that too without letting the lady feel cheated in anyway. With every passing visit the air of formality vanished and I was able to know that his name was Akram and he belonged to a village in Anantnag. Usually, he would be accompanied by a young boy of eighteen or so. He told us that he was his grandson. Without impinging upon his privacy, we never asked more about his family but allowed these periodic meetings to saunter into a friendly relationship.
Years rolled on and Akram’s visits became a regular feature every winter. During each visit, he would insist upon my wife to buy something for herself or for the two daughters and he would proffer a no-profit transaction for Bahin ji and Deedis. Even when nothing was bought during a visit, a cup of tea was the minimum that the duo would be offered.
Gradually, every year, and then every week, he would ring the bell and enter the house like an invited guest. None of us could muster the curtness to tell him that we didn’t mean to buy anything. One cold Sunday noon while the lady of the house was frying steaming hot pakoras, Akram appeared at the gate. Our son, aged 7 years or so, having watched him addressing his mother as Bahin ji had come to understand that the old man was akin to a maternal uncle aka mamu. The boy moved forward, opened the gate, touched Akram’s feet and ushered him in along with his grandson. Both were comfortably seated in the lobby where an appetizing flavour of pakoras wafted invitingly.
Our boy, almost dutifully, thought it incumbent upon him to serve these two guests with pakoras, while we watched the whole scene with much amusement. The child’s warm and innocent hospitality and the obliging and unsophisticated acceptance of the delicacies by Akram and his grandson , untrammelled by the ways of the world where everything is staged-managed ,calculated ,assessed and then processed, presented a blissful sight which we will perhaps never forget.
Nearly 10 years ago, I purchased a transistor radio set out of a whim to listen to songs on FM radio. During a visit Akram took a fancy to it. I offered to tell him the shop from where he could buy it but he would not budge. He suspected that the shopkeeper would charge him more. So he wanted my set for the value I had paid. I gave it to him for something much less.
Now it has been three years and we have not seen Akram in our area. We miss him. We don’t know whether he is well. May be, age has taken its toll. We still hope to see him one day either in person or in the form of his grandson coming to our street. There was much that was funny in this relationship but the fact is that the funny side is also the sunny side!
(The author is a Retired Principal Government College Hoshiarpur Punjab)