Branding

 

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48 years old Hari was waiting since morning, huddled in his shawl and sitting near a bonfire lighted by his fellow rickshaw pullers outside Mirzapur railway station. It was 6am in the December of 1999 and he hasn’t got a single passenger. The business was always slack in the winters. Who would like to venture out in 2 degrees of temperature unless absolutely necessary? He called out to the tea seller for a kulhar of tea. In spite of the slow trade, he loved to be at the station in the winter mornings. The deserted station was covered in a blanket of fog. There always was a bonfire lit by his colleagues, who swapped tall tales over kulhars of milky sweet tea and bidis. The smell and smoke of burning wood in the oven of the tea seller along with fumes of petrol of stray bikes presented a bouquet of aroma, which Hari loved.

“Will you go to the Police Lines?”

Hari turned around and saw a heavy guy rendered heavier in his warm clothes, with his wife and two big suitcases in tow. He appraised them and nodded. “25 rupees.”

“25 rupees!” The man was aghast. “It’s sheer robbery! The going rate is five. Do you think I’m a stranger here? I have my bungalow near Police Lines and a shop near Welselly Ganj. I have lived in Mirzapur all my life. Do you think I’m a bloody tourist?”

“Sahab, you are right, but that’s the rate in summer and for a single passenger. Not in winter. Also, you have so much luggage!”

“I won’t pay more than 10.” The man declared with a finality. Hari shrugged and turned towards the warmth of the bonfire.

The man bade his wife to sit on one of suitcases and went in search for another rickshaw. It was freezing cold. His wife looked at the huddled rickshaw puller and asked gently, “You don’t feel cold, bhai?”

Hari turned around and grinned humorlessly. “Even I’m a human, ma’am. But, do I have an option? I have a family to feed. It’s because I’m freezing here that they are resting in the warmth of the home.”

The man returned alone. “See, I’ll pay you 15. I don’t want to search for another rickshaw in this cold. I’m sure that I’ll find one, if I want to, but let’s cut it short. Anyway, Police Lines is just three km from here.”

“Sahab, please understand! Police Lines may be three km, but you have big luggage and it’s a winter morning!”

“Look buddy!” The man said, “I’m a Business Analyst by profession and an advisor to many major industries. I’ll give you an advise for free. One should care only for a transaction, immaterial of the profit, if one wants to improve the business. The concept behind this is, quantity always shows profit. Now, if you refuse me and sit here for another hour in the hope of another passenger, you may find someone, who may pay 30 rupees for Police Lines. But, you will have earned only 30 rupees in 90 minutes. If you take me there for 15 rupees and then come back here in 30 minutes, and then get another passenger, who will pay 25; you will earn 40 rupees in 60 minutes. Even though you are illiterate, you must understand which one shows more profit in long run. A successful business is never short termed. It’s always long termed. This is how the great business houses like Tata and Ambani work.”

Hari was receiving this mana from heaven with open mouth. He didn’t know that something as humble and immaterial as rickshaw pulling can be classified as and put in comparison to those business giants like Tata and Ambani! He was thoroughly impressed by this line of reasoning. He agreed to the fare. The man winked at his wife, who was impressed and was giving him a worshipping look.

“Sahab, is this your first visit to Mirzapur?” Hari asked while nearly standing on the pedal of his rickshaw in his straining efforts to pull the load.

“I told you that I live here!”

“Arrey, sahab!” Hari laughed. “I’ve lived here all my life and so has my father and his father in turn. No one in a radius of 50km is as knowledgeable as you. This is a small place. Someone as brilliant as you would be famous like a summer sun at noon. So, is this your first visit?” He asked again pleasantly.

Flattery and white lies are a kind of Social Oil, which smoothen the machinery of life. The man smiled. “You are a very observant man. In my profession I’ve always seen that such people go a long way. You are right. I live in Boston, America and this is my first visit to Mirzapur. I’ve come to my friend’s place for his son’s wedding.”

Hari was impressed. He had only read about America in Danik Jagran.Β He looked behind to see how does a man from that fabled land really look like. “Sahab, when I saw you with ma’am, I immediately understood that you don’t belong to the rabble living here. And, I was right.”

The man smiled self-importantly and looked at his wife. She was suitably impressed. “What’s your name?”

“My name is Hardeo Singh, sahab. But, everyone around here calls me Hari.”

“Hardeo Singh!” the Business Analyst mused. “It’s a grand name, Hari. But you see? Hari is more suitable to your trade. Each trade has a branding, which makes it famous. If the branding isn’t according to the nature of the business and doesn’t conjure up a suitable image, the business is lost. Do you think Toyota would have succeeded as a motor giant if it’s name was ‘Japan Cars’? Toyota conjures up an image of something grand and dynamic, which is suitable for a car business. Hardeo Singh, although an impressive name, is totally unsuitable for a rickshaw puller. The more I see, the more I like you, my friend! You have unlimited potential!”

Hari floundered in the flights of business rhetorics and grasped one word in three, but this he understood that it’s something good.

“Thank you, sahab. But, that name was given to me by my father. We are not hereditary rickshaw pullers, you see? I’m the first one in generations to do this lowly work. I’m condemned to do this.”

“Condemned? How can you say that! It’s just like any other line of business!” The fine senses of the Business Analyst were bruised.

“Sahab, my grandfather was a rich landlord in Mirzapur. We had hansoms and phaetons at our doorsteps. My father used to say that people stood in long queues on festivals to see my grandfather, who always paid them something or other.”

“Oh! The usual story! Rich man squanders away his wealth and the future generations are reduced to begging!”

“No, Malik. My grandfather was a living saint, if there was one.”, Hari protested in the defence of his ancestor. “His only fault was his good and generous nature. In 1952, China attacked India. Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister during that time. He called out to the nation’s young men and the farmers. My grandfather was 47 years old then. He offered his services, but was rejected as he was overage. He went to Shastriji’s home in Ram Nagar, in Benaras. It’s 80km from here. He fell on his feet and wept to be allowed to die for his motherland. Shastriji was overwhelmed by this passion and lifted him up. He said ‘It’s not always necessary to serve one’s country by laying down one’s life. You are rich. You can give something, which not many can. Everyone has life, but very few have money. Why don’t you help us in our war efforts financially?’ ”

Due to his exertions, Hari was sweating in spite of the biting chill. The man noticed this and asked him to stop near a tea stall. The roadside stall was empty except couple of huddled figures near a bonfire. The man pulled out his pack of Marlboro and offered one to Hari, who gratefully accepted it. “Then what happened?” The man was curious.

“My grandfather was the happiest that day. He was made an honorary Colonel in Indian Army and handled the Quarter Master’s duties. He threw open the doors of his Haveli near Barua Ghat and anyone in need of food or money was never refused. There always was a crowd as the government had imposed strict rationing of food and people were starving. My father was 20 years old then and he joined the army. I was born that year. It’s the fact of the world, sahab, that wars never benefit anyone except arms manufacturers and black marketeers, immaterial of being won or lost. We won that war, but lost everything. My father died near Siachin. For me, he’s just a faded image in sepia tone photographs.” Hari looked at the smoldering tip of his cigarette moodily. The man and his wife were silent, in respect of the mute grief of an unfortunate son. They resumed the short journey to the Police Lines.

“That wasn’t the end of the troubles for us. In 1960, Indira Gandhi passed the Zamindari Abolition Act and we lost all our hereditary fields to the farmers and overnight my grandfather was bankrupt. I had to leave school to support my family. Rickshaw pulling was the only job I was fit for and I started that. My father was awarded Veer Chakra posthumously, but we cannot eat medals!” Hari laughed mirthlessly, looking at the Business Analyst, who couldn’t meet his eyes. They had reached their destination.

The man pulled out his fat wallet and extracted a Rs 500 note and offered to Hari. Hari laughed. “Sahab, how can you imagine that a humble rickshaw puller will have the change of this note?”

“No, no. You keep the change, Hari.” The Business Analyst smiled. His wife was dewy eyed.

“No, sahab!” Hari pulled himself to his full height. “I may be poor, but I’m not a beggar! Please don’t forget that I belong to a Zamindar family!”

“Oh, no!” The man was aghast. “I didn’t mean that!”

“Bhaiya, please don’t say so!” His wife kept her shapely hand on Hari’s rough arm. “Please consider this as a token of appreciation from us.”

“That’s right, Hari. It’s because of the sacrifices of you and your ancestors that people like us are leading a comfortable life. You were right. Your grandfather was indeed a saint and your father a true warrior. Anyone can be rich, but to be rich and then sacrifice everything for one’s motherland requires a true strength and shows the true richness of spirit. Hardeo Singh, you must be proud of your heritage. Please accept this as a token of gratitude from an expatriate, who’s humbled before you.”

Hari stood with folded hands for some time, and then climbed on his rickshaw and left. The couple stood there in the morning chill for a long time, staring after him…

********

Hari arrived at Mirzapur station and was hailed by his friends. “How much did you get?” One of them asked.

Hari flourished the 500 rupees note. Everyone gasped! Hari explained the details and laughed. “I understood that he’s a tourist by his accent. He may be Β a business analyst, but he was no Β match for Hari Mallah.” Everyone laughed. Hari ordered a round of tea for his friends.

******

I know, my friend. By now you must be hating Hari for taking untoward advantage of a kind hearted gentleman, but it takes all kind of fishes to populate the ocean and not all of them are exotic and pleasant. Some are parasites and some are cunning.

Hardeo Singh may not be an apt branding for a humble rickshaw puller, but Hari Mallah was a perfectly suitable brand for a rickshaw puller-cum-conman.

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44 responses to “Branding

  1. Maybe it’s because the previous story of yours I read had a twist at the end or maybe it’s because I’m a little cynic, I saw that twist coming πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚
    Well written story. The narration is just wonderful.

    Like

    • This is not fair! 😦

      But, the fact that you decided to read another story after reading the first one, is a morale booster, so I am happy. πŸ™‚

      Initially I always wrote stories with a twist. Then people started to guess and expect twists, so I quit for a while. I think, this is the last story with a twist. Rest all were plain and smooth endings.

      Thank you so much! πŸ™‚

      Like

      • Your stories are well-written and intriguing! I’m sure to read more hehe.
        Well, for one, I like it when I know there are twists. It keeps me guessing how it’s going to turn out. Much like my childhood favourite R. L. Stine’s books.
        πŸ˜„

        Liked by 1 person

        • It really means a lot, Kamana! Thank you so much! It’s really fun to write stories with twist, because half of the time, even I’m wondering how it’ll end! πŸ˜€

          Thanks again! πŸ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

  2. First of all, i work as a Sr BA, so i am not sure what i should comment!
    But BAs need not be cunning, so Sahab Ji falling for the trap is fine. He went with him emotions and his wife aptly supported him.

    Hari taking advantage of him was cruel. But, in India, this is expected πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no! Another law suit on horizon! 😦

      Falling prey to a cunning person doesn’t prove anyone a fool. It just proves that one is kind-hearted enough to trust the other guy. Trust is the only thing which keeps us machines human, in spite of the Haris of the world taking advantage of that. Hari did cheat the BA and his wife, but was it his victory? It’s just like a school kid spitting on a No Spitting board surreptitiously and crowing about in bravado. Hatred is always a conman’s lot, although they gain a temporary empathy. It’s the empathy which proves that we are human as well as vulnerable.

      As far as I’m concerned, I can’t hate either. After all, I created both! πŸ˜€

      Thanks for liking it, bro!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I do not hate Hari. I mean looking at the profit loss ratio with respect to both their wealth. The 500 would make a difference for Hari’s family while the loss of the same in the business man’s balance sheet doesn’t make much of a difference. It need not be the case always, I know. πŸ™‚

    I had a big smile towards the end. Well woven story πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    • I admit that I didn’t look at it that way. You are right. Also, the peace ana satisfaction – however misplaced and false – the BA got was worth 500.

      Really glad that you liked it, Ranjini! Thanks! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well! It is amazing how you turned a stocky episode into an intriguing story with such detailed characterizations and you topped it off with a perfect, happy ending to a grayish tale. This post is oozing with your astounding narrating skills. Simply great. Thank you for sharing it:-)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hehehe….. Though the end was pretty guessable after the offering of Rs. 500 to the rickshaw puller but liked the way you said all the dark aspects and still kept the story light with a HAPPY end. πŸ™‚

    Rakesh, you very beautifully pointed out that college education is not everything. Practical experience is more useful than theoretical knowledge. Parroting of books and getting excellent grades is not everything.

    β€œIn spite of the slow trade, he loved to be at the station in the winter mornings……. The smell and smoke of burning wood in the oven of the tea seller along with fumes of petrol of stray bikes presented a bouquet of aroma, which Hari loved.” These lines enveloped a myriad of emotions within.

    Also I liked this quote very much: β€œFlattery and white lies are a kind of Social Oil, which smoothen the machinery of life.”

    Btw, the way you have used the wife of analyst in the story, it may raise the eyebrows of Feminist Campaigners. πŸ˜›

    Also, it reminds me of the incidence when Amitabh Bachchan had to apologize for his lines: β€œMishra sashura dekh raha hai” because a case had been filed against him by members of Mishra Community.

    In a similar way, some members of Mallah Community may file a case that their community’s image is being tarnished by your fiction. I guess, this is what Karan Johar was referring in that Literary Festival.

    May God save you from all those idiocies! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey bhagwan! Itne saare muqadme! Feminists and then Mallahs! It can happen only in India. We are too touchy about everything under the sun.

      But, look at the brighter side! Itne cases ke baad chahe kangaal ho jau, famous zarur ho jaunga. Also, that will prove that at least few people read it! πŸ˜€

      Seriously, thanks, Ravish! For another of your beautiful comments! It’s truly admirable the way you go through each aspect and then analyze it.

      Thanks a lot for reading and liking it! πŸ™‚

      Like

      • “Btw, the way you have used the wife of analyst in the story, it may raise the eyebrows of Feminist Campaigners. :P” – I noticed that gestures from the wife, but that is exactly the way some typical women behave, so I refrained myself from commenting. I’ve seen a good amount of such women… πŸ˜› πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, to be very honest, I can’t figure out what I did wrong! I just casted her as a simple, kind-hearted lady. She was just a prop. I was going to use a father-son duo, with the father being the kind one, but I later decided to change it to a wife. A father can’t give a devotional look to a son. Even Dashrath didn’t gave Ram one. πŸ˜€

          Jane do. What’s done is the water under the bridge. Agar ye feminists mera khoon peene aayein to please put in a word for me! I’m not an MCP by a long chalk! πŸ˜€

          Trust Ravish to dig out controversies! But, I just like the way he deep-dives into a post and rips it apart. He’d make an awesome and a feared critic! πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

          Like

  6. The character of the business analyst reminds me of one of my uncles, an erudite professor he was, undoubtedly, but with a penchant for delivering heavily loaded lectures in order to impress anyone. I have an apathy towards such attitude and, I was about to dislike this particular character as I started reading. Bust as soon as Hari started regaling the couple with his colourful narration, I began to smell the rat, because as far as your writing is concerned, I expected some grand twist πŸ˜€

    You’ve built the character of Hari so precisely, garnering compassion from the reader from the very beginning, a perfect way, I should say. When a reader, instead of spurning a conman, feels somewhat empathetic to him, it means an absolute success on the part of the author. πŸ˜› You did it again…loved the story… πŸ™‚

    Let me mention your mastery even at the small detailing, like the description of the town, the ambiance, words have come alive…

    Not a single human being could be placed completely in the black or white zone, most of us deserve the colour gray, so are the conmen…in spite of their nefarious activities, they do have certain qualities that attract and affect us, psychologically. Their success lies there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Whoa! Thanks a lot for such a beautiful analysis!

      Actually, confidence and compassion are two main tools of the trade of a conman. It’s human nature that we always trust and empathize with weaker people, even though they may be guilty as sin in truth. When we realize their true character later, we scream blue murder and blame human nature for breach of trust. Never blame our own psychology. Sadak pe agar ek bike aur car me takkar hogi, we automatically assume ki carwale ki galti hogi. Conman isi nature ka fayda uthaate hain and act meek and weak before you. Once you build your confidence in them… boom!

      If it’s any consolation, my dad is exactly like your uncle. He’s not much educated, but that doesn’t stop him from opining about anything under the sun. After all, he’s a Benarasi. Waha sab Guru hote hain, koi chela nahi hota. And, God bless you if he has started on theology, philosophy or yoga! People are known to be admitted in ICU after his attack. I was the only helpless and permanent audience he could find, so even I have developed an apathy towards it. Everyone else was fast footed enough to sidestep him. Mai hi fas jata tha. πŸ˜€

      You really made me happy today morning! It’s not everyday that one is appreciated so heartily the first thing one sees in the morning! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

        • Hahahah! I’m trying to imagine you struggling to think about food, while he’s expounding his well prepared theories on starvation in Somalia! πŸ˜€

          My dad was more lethal! He had that irritating habit of those management trainers, who aren’t simply satisfied by droning. They rope you in and make the session interactive. He always expected retorts from the listener. If you don’t agree, he’ll immediately go on attack. If you do, he’ll turn a devil’s advocate and ask you why you agree when his theory is so obviously full of holes, and again will go on attack. Bole to, whatever you do, you will come out mauled. He seems to be the die from which Amartya Sen has casted his ‘Argumentative Indian’. No wonder he didn’t find many volunteers for such intellectual sessions. I? I was force drafted. πŸ˜€

          But, this is the training, which sharpened my brain to such an extent that I can argue about anything under the sun and hold my end in any debate. I used to read a lot and study things to fight with him. I learned to find out the weak points in any debate, so that I can use it later to demolish the exponent. Over all, it made me an awesome listener. Now they are reflected in my stories. πŸ˜€

          Like

    • The problem with life is that there are no black and white images there. Everything blends into a dirty gray. Yin yang. The kindhearted BA didn’t hesitate to try to squeeze 5 Rs from a freezing rickshaw puller and ended up paying 100 times. I don’t have anything positive for the conman, except that he was creative. πŸ˜€

      Thanks for liking the story, Indrani! πŸ™‚

      Like

  7. Flattery and white lies are a kind of Social Oil, which smoothen the machinery of life. So true!
    Hari thought himself as super smart by conning the gentleman. The BA felt good due to the act of kindness he did. Surely a Rs 500 note wouldn’t have mattered much to the gentleman but Hari will always be a parasite and revel in that. To each his own – . Branding indeed.
    Btw Rakesh, can yo use a slightly bigger font? It is difficult to read long stories in such small a font.

    Liked by 1 person

    • To each to his own! Very neatly summed up.

      Things are always relative. The man went happy in his conviction that he did a good day’s kindness and the conman is gloating on his expertise. I have been cheated many times by such people. The problem is that even though I doubt such characters, I still end up in their trap, because although the mind is screaming a warning, dil me hota hai ki kya pata, iska koi genuine issue ho! A small amount may not matter to us, but it may make a difference to the guy. The conman thinks that it’s their victory, but is it? At least, there’s not a burden on our conscience that we could have given 100 to the guy for his sick daughter. I know. I’m sounding stupid, but I already have a lot of weight on my frail conscience and don’t want anymore. πŸ˜€

      I’ll increase the font. Sorry! I didn’t know that it’s really small. Thanks for letting me know! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  8. whoaa!!! loved it Rakesh.. trust me the description in the beginning felt like I was reading about Kulpahar – my hometown in UP πŸ™‚ and that’s what kept me hooked!!! Good show buddy πŸ™‚

    PS – Hari was great πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, Mirzapur mere nana ka ghar hai. So, I enacted the scene based on that place. I love small towns. People are much relaxed there and, if you excuse a clichΓ©, stop to smell flowers. May be that’s why I moved to Panvel from Bombay. Life slows down here from a breakneck speed. Sham ko panwari ki dukan pe aaj bhi yaha yaaron ki baithakein lagti hain. Reminds me of Benaras of my childhood. πŸ™‚

      Thanks, Archana! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know what you mean and I love that kind of life too… That’s why we are in Alpharetta and not downtown Atlanta! 😊😊 have a good one buddy! 😊😊

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, that’s called the real branding. Once, I had been conned by a well-dressed man at railway station, who convinced me that he was pick-pocketed, and needed money to reach home. He even insisted us for our phone no. & address to return the money. And later we got to know that he had given us the wrong no.Our India is full if such smart conmen.
    Very beautifully portrayed Rakeshji. I’m a big fan of your narration skills. Your stories are loaded with a high intensity climax in a real-like narrative. Great work. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Sangeetaji! It’s a real praise! πŸ™‚

      India is full of such smart characters, who think that they are a level above the others because they are able to cheat. May be, it’s some prehistoric instinct of a hunter, which gives them this morbid happiness. The guy who conned you would have asked for a pittance, so that you don’t deny. This is a trademark of a conman. To ask for something you can easily give and to impress upon you that the meager amount will help them a lot. Uske baad to aap unhe dhoondhte rahiye. πŸ˜€

      Thanks again for not only bearing through, but liking it too! πŸ™‚

      Like

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