by Abha Iyengar
Reena was buying fruit at the local market. She was at the Mother dairy shop which had reasonable products at reasonable prices.
She went to the container that held the last few pears and quickly picked up four which were juicy and firm. She was eager to make her purchases and head back home before the rains started once again with a vengeance.
Next to her, a thin old man was making a more careful selection. She noticed the way he picked up each piece, turned it around, nodded his head in dissatisfaction, and put it back. She felt great that she could make quick purchases and was not so particularly engrossed in each piece.
At the payment counter, the old man was getting his purchases weighed and totalled. She waited, for only one machine and behind it one attendant, were in operation. The attendant and old man were talking. There was no one else in the shop, except one more attendant, who was loitering around since there was not much else he could do. The other machine was obviously non-operational. This happened quite often, everyone who frequented the shop was used to it.
“Majumdar Uncleji, fruit juice de doon?” asked the attendant, and Reena was surprised at his hospitality towards the old man.
But his next words shocked her. “Don’t know when you may drop dead,” he said. Reena felt the hair at the nape of her neck rise. This was no way to talk to an old man.
Mr. Majumdar was not in the least affronted. He smiled indulgently at the attendant and said, “Do your work, don’t know from which jungle they bring you people.”
“Uncleji, have you heard of this place called Dimapur in Nagaland? I come from that jungle, it is a wild place.” He grinned. “But why are you not having juice today?”
“You are a monkey from there then…” the old man said.
Reena looked at him carefully. In a white shirt and beige pants, with golden skin which glowed despite the wrinkles, he was tall and spare and looked like a retired college professor. Reena’s heart went out to him.
The attendant was insistent. “Sit down. You need juice to keep you going. Don’t want you falling right here.”
Reena gave him a dirty look for speaking like this to a man who should be shown due respect, but he was not looking at her.
Mr. Majumdar said, “I am deaf, I cannot hear you,” and he grinned. “How much?”
The attendant now looked at Reena and said, “So sorry, Madamji, please wait.” He reached into the fridge, took out a mixed fruit juice, put in the straw and handed it to Mr. Majumdar. “You know at 85 your time on this earth is almost done. Drink up, Uncleji.”
Reena finally shook her head and grinned. This was a certain kind of hospitality that did not carry a brand name.
published 25 September 2013