Just 45 rupees
It was a warm sunny afternoon in Karachi and Ahsan was spending his summer vacations playing console games while relaxing on his favourite beanbag. His mother entered the room with the usual frown on her face, one that he expected every day.
With a hint of annoyance in her tone, she questioned him,
“Can you be a little productive during your vacations?”
“Mom, it’s just the first week of my break”, he whined.
“Take the car and get me these vegetables”, she ordered, handing him the list.
“But Mom, I need to finish this game before the electricity goes!” he explained.
“Fine, then you’re not getting biryani for lunch”, she retorted and walked out of the room.
Ahsan was in a dilemma. He really wanted to finish this mission but giving up on biryani was an unbearable option, and having yesterday’s daal chaawal was definitely out of the question. With his taste buds craving biryani, he let his tummy lead the way to the car and headed towards the market in the new car his father recently gifted his mother. He parked his car by the vegetable cart and approached the vendor – a short old man with a bushy moustache and a long beard.
Ahsan asked politely,
“Assalam Alaikum Baba! Kaise mizaaj hain?”
(Hello Baba! How are you doing?)
“Walaikum Assalam beta! Mein theek hun. Tum kaise ho?”
(Hello son! I am fine, how are you?)
Ahsan, idly tossing a potato into the air, asked,
“Mein bhi theek. Aaloo kaise diye?”
(I am also fine. How much for the potatoes?)
Baba, in his rough but soothing voice replied,
“Beta mandi se aaj 30 rupay kilo mile hain. Tum 40 rupay kilo se le lo”
(I got them for Rs30 per kilogram from the vegetable market. You can buy them for Rs40 per kilogram from me.)
After realising that he had left the list in the car, Ahsan replied,
“Theek hai Baba, doh kilo nikaal dein”
(Okay Baba, please take out two kilograms)
As he turned to get the list from his car, a black Land Cruiser screeched across the road and parked next to his car. A woman stepped off the driver’s seat and started walking towards the vegetable cart; she was wearing huge sunglasses on her face and held a designer handbag. On his way to get the list from the car Ahsan noticed two guards with AK47s in her car.
Then he heard the woman ordering arrogantly,
“Teen kilo aaloo de doh”
(Give me three kilograms of potatoes)
The Baba innocently pointed towards Ahsan and said,
“Baji, pehle inn ko farigh kar dun, phir aap ke liye bharta hun”,
(Ma’am, let me just fill his order first, then I’ll do yours)
“Mere paas time nahi hai. Abhi dena hai tou do!”
(I don’t have time. If you want to give it, then give it now)
She exclaimed rudely.
Baba looked at Ahsan helplessly, who gestured to serve her first and stepped aside. Baba quickly filled a bag of potatoes and weighed it at three kilograms.
“Bus itne se aaloo teen kilo mein, zaroor koi garbar ki hai scale mein!” she accused.
(Only these many potatoes in three kilograms? You must have messed around with the scale)
Embarrassed, Baba replied,
“Nai Baji, aap check kar lein”
(No Ma’am, you can check yourself)
With a stubborn look on her face she retorted accusingly,
“Haan haan, mujhe sab ka pata hai. Har koi chori kar raha hai. Kitne paise huwe?”
(Yes yes, I know everything. Everyone is stealing these days. What is the total?)
“120 rupay, Baji”
Wide-eyed, she looked at him and shouted,
“Teen kilo aaloo 120 ke? Pichlay hafte mein ne 25 rupay kilo se liye thay! Aik haftay mein 15 rupay barha diye? Hum ko bewaqoof samajh rakha hai?”
(Rs120 for three kilograms of potatoes? Just last week I bought them for Rs25 per kilogram! You increased the price by Rs15 in one week? You think we’re dumb?)
“Baji, aaj mandi se mein ne khud 30 rupay kilo se liye hain. Aap 35 rupay se le lein”,
(Ma’am, I bought them from the vegetable market for Rs30 per kilogram today myself. You can buy them for Rs35)
“Mujhe sub bahaane pata hain tum logon ke. Mein 25 rupay se aik rupiya oopar nahi doongi!”
(I know all of your excuses. I am not going to pay a rupee above Rs25)
She shouted, handing him Rs75.
Baba’s face probably aged another 10 years in that conversation. He handed her the bag of potatoes and accepted Rs75 from her. She hurried towards her car and drove away. Ahsan stood there, in shock.
How could she, driving around in an SUV and carrying a designer bag, argue over 45 rupees; an amount that were mere pennies for her? How could she accuse the Baba for tampering with the scale when she was the one who took advantage of his innocence?
“Beta kuch aur chahiye?”
(Son, do you want anything else?)
Recovering from his daze, Ahsan asked Baba,
“Aap ne apna nuqsaan kyun kiya Baba?”
(That was a loss for you, why did you do that, Baba?)
Baba smiled, an old man’s wise smile, and said,
“Beta, woh tou khush hogayi na. Allah usay khush rakhay”
(Son, she was happy in the end right? May God keep her happy.)
Ahsan could feel a ball of emotions forming in his throat. In an attempt to hide this, he spoke quickly and told Baba all the other vegetables he needed. He gave the amount Baba asked for, collected the vegetables and headed towards his car, all the while thinking about the incident. After putting the vegetables inside the car, he walked back towards Baba, took out Rs45 from his wallet and gave them to Baba.
“Nahi beta, mein bheek nahi leta”,
(No son, I don’t accept alms)
Ahsan smiled and gently said,
“Yeh bheek nahi hai, sirf aapka nuqsaan poora kar raha hun. Rakh li jiye aur mujhe bhi khush kar di jiye”
(I’m not giving you alms, only trying to make up for your loss. Please keep it and make me happy too)
Baba, with tears in his eyes, accepted the money and prayed,
“Allah tumhe khush rakhe aur Jannat naseeb kare!”
(May God keep you happy and bless you with heaven!)
Ahsan, still overwhelmed by the incident, thanked him and started walking back toward his car. Ahsan was still in deep thought as he crossed the road and then suddenly he heard a loud horn and a screech...
The speeding bus took Ahsan’s life.
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