I take this blue and white Reynolds pen out of my shirt pocket to write down the name of a shop, while simultaneously listening to my boss on the mobile phone that’s held tentatively between my ear and my shoulder. I hear her voice, loud and clear. A little too loud, perhaps. She is never not-angry.
Walking from one shop to the next, I look up at stark signboards reflecting angry glares from above. Fashionably dressed picture-perfect mannequins in windows seem to smile at me encouragingly. I am averse to well moulded plastic. Too contrived. I walk on, glancing often at the name written on my notepad, and at the signboards above.
No two shops in the same row have signboards of the same color. Each is of a different size, each in different type. So much effort has gone into making each look different, to make each stand out; and yet they all seem the same to me. From one shop to another, out of one room and into the next, asking for directions from silhouettes, waiting for the light to shine and lead the way. Apathy is high in the heat; the silhouettes are muted. Darkness prevails in the sunshine. I am lost, and searching. I’m in a job I don’t want to do, working for a person I don’t want to work for, leading a life I don’t want to lead. I am a product in this marketplace of people. I sell my time, my effort, my services, myself just as any shopkeeper sells a product.
This heat would have weighed less on me, if I had something else I wanted to think about. I look at the sun to blind myself to everything else, to burn everything else away. But it doesn’t work – it is me who is slowly burning out. Somebody please tell me the way.
A beggar notices me, and his smile gives way to a practiced cry for help as he hobbles towards me. Holding out a grubby hand with disjointed fingers, he wishes that some ‘Almighty’ bless me, my forefathers and my unborn children with wealth and happiness. The irony of the situation amuses me. He asks for money, I ask for directions. The exchange costs me a rupee. Five minutes and a walk through forsaken gullies later, I see light.
‘Spiritual Feeling’ says the signboard to me. ‘Ganesha idols, Feng Shui, Vaastu Shastra gifts items sold here.’
Reynolds pen in mouth, I shove my pad into the big black bag I always have around my shoulder. In the shop window are hung several wind chimes. On the bottom shelves, there are little green plants with ribbons around them and an aquarium with fish swimming around. I see a small tub with turtles in gravel too.
The middle shelves are desi – with several Ganesha statues, each with a different color or styling. and a small pot with the Swastika made on it. All over this city, Ganesha squats and dances in homes. He adorns dashboards of cars, and occasionally hangs from rear view mirrors. Ganesha is in fashion. The Swastika no longer is.
I open the door leading into the shop and the first thing I see is myself- tired, sweaty, overburdened and fat. I step in and the wind chime hanging from the door whacks me on the head. I guess I’m not welcome. I’m not a customer; these things work!
‘Good afternoon, sir. How nice of you to come to my humble shop.’
She is short and pudgy, and definitely Punjabi. Middle age shows on Punjabi hips a little too conspicuously. The saffron kurta with ‘Om’ tie-dyed all over it pales when compared with the gold around her wrists and neck.
”Ma’am, I’m from Expert-Export. Mrs. Bhalla spoke to you? I have come to ask you a few questions.”
“Mrs. Bhalla? Yes, yes. But I told her I am busy today. Saturday there are many customers. I told her to send someone on Tuesday. I have no time today. I am very busy. Yes.”
I look around the empty shop.
“Actually, ma’am, she has to make a decision by next Friday; about the retail outlets. She would like to meet you personally on Wednesday”
“Okay okay. Hurry up then. I don’t have time. 5 minutes only.”
“Yes ma’am. It won’t take more than 5 minutes. Don’t worry.’ I pause to open my black bag. I take out a file full of questionnaires I have carefully prepared over the last three days. I pull one out, and use the file as a base.
Pen in had, I begin: ‘Firstly, Ma’am, what sort of margins do you get on idols?”
A few lies and several half-truths later, I exit the shop. Someone once told me, that if you mix truth and lies, it is difficult, no, impossible for the other to detect which is which, because that little bit of the believable gives faith to the listener that he is not being lied to. No one assumes the worst, no one really wants to believe that they are being lied to.
The sunlight is harsh, and I’m forced to squint. Turning around, for one last look at the shop I hope never to return to, I look back up at the signboard. It is glowing now. A bright, aggressive Vegas glow.
No white lies, no half truths now- it reads ‘God for sale’