Sunday, 25 November 2012

We Mean Business

Life can change in an instant. Capitalism can catch you unawares. Some little people can suddenly become rich.

And this happens on a quiet evening when I have sneaked inside my study to somehow experience what silence feels like. Not even a minute has passed and I am still trying to get hold of the oh-so-elusive sound of silence, when Omar barges inside.

“You are so nice,” he coos.

“Thank you, Omar.” The compliment makes me feel good. Only it is not really a compliment. It is just a prelude to the sales pitch that now starts:

“Show me your finger.” Here he takes my finger, slips on it a piece of wool tied with a knot and continues, “this is a ring. See how good it looks on your finger.”

“Ring? Eh...yes, it is beautiful.” I try to be nice.

“Yes, designing and making it required a lot of effort. Now you have bought it, and you owe me thirty Rupees.” He wears the expression of a businessman who has made a real good bargain.

“I bought it? I see. It seems a bit expensive.” Something tells me I am stuck with the bargain but still I try to haggle.

“When I made this ring for the first time, the wool snapped and I had to make it again. So it’s like two rings, thus expensive.”

Omar’s logic leaves me speechless.

“You can pay me later. I have to go to make a few more rings,” Omar announces and leaves.

While I am still looking at my fingers, trying to figure out which finger would look good with the woolen ring, Zainab and Apple come romping inside.

Apple hands me a plastic flower threaded with a woolen string. 

“I have brought a bracelet for you.”

Zainab steps forward and shows another plastic flower threaded with a longer woolen string.

“Here’s a necklace for you.”

“See we have used wool not an ordinary thread. And look at these beautiful flowers! You will look so nice in them. We are selling it cheap, at Rupees 10 each. You owe us twenty Rupees.” Apple gives this lengthy sales pitch and informs me that my jewelry collection has grown by leaps and bounds.

Have they rehearsed their sales pitch, or does it come naturally to them? However, by now I know that this transaction is like fate: irrevocable.  So I simply resign myself to it.

Embolden by the success of this business venture, the Lilliputians decide to branch out and diversify their product line. And seeing a potential market, the others join the three pioneers.

An hour later there is a new product: papers puppets. Expensive paper puppets. Of course, I have bought a few.

If there is any consolation, it is this: I am not the only victim of this sudden onslaught of commercialization that has sneaked inside the Land of Lilliputians.  Every adult in this Land now owns a piece of jewelry, ingeniously made with wool and plastic flowers, plus a few puppets. And we have run up a huge debt.

The Lilliputians, by the way, have become immensely rich overnight.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Apple’s First Good Bye

One fine evening I receive a telephone call. It is Apple and she has to share something very important, as she informs me.

"You know about my best friend, Aimen Omair, my namesake?" she asks.

"Yes, you have told me so much about her. What happened? You two had a fight?"

"No. it is something else, something very serious." Here she starts padding out of the living room to huddle somewhere in the veranda with the cell phone. (Apple’s mother later recounted the scene)

"Aimen Omair has left school!” She says after settling down in a corner where nobody can hear her.

The nature of the emotional upheaval dawns upon me.

"Oh no! Apple this is so sad."

"Yes. Now I don’t even feel like going to school. You know she used to sit with me. And she always stood first while I came second. Now that she is not here I will stand first…not that I am happy about it.”

Good bye is a mixed baggage.

"Yes, standing first is no compensation for losing a friend. Do you have her phone number? You can always call her, or maybe visit her sometime."  I try not to read too much between the lines.

"Phone number! You know what...she wrote her number in my school diary and it is: 1234567. Do you think it could be anybody’s number! And she said she lived in Islamabad in a house with a black gate! I can’t check every house with a black gate!" 

Now a note of exasperation creeps into her voice, momentarily replacing sadness.

"Yes, checking every black gate can be…well, tedious. You do have other friends?" I try to somehow assuage her. 

"Yes, there is one boy I sit with. He is not very hard working. Actually I made Aimen Omair study hard, and I taught her English and Urdu...."

"So you can also train your new friend."

"Yes, but boys are so unruly. She is not here, now I will stand first but I am not happy about it. I miss her."

"I know Apple, I am so sad for you. But you have so much work lined up for you: you have to train your new friend so that he can stand first."

"Yes, I will make him work. I will tell you how it goes…but I do miss Aimen Omair."

So every good bye is also a new beginning. In seven-year-old Apple’s case it is about training her new friend.