This is a vignette I wrote a year back and posted on my previous blog(now defunct). Here I have endeavoured to capture the rustic charm, portraying a funny character of the past about whom I had heard in my childhood.
For today's story I'll cull a character from the stable of the past. Quite rustic but clever, unlettered but conversant of worldly wisdom. He was one Bowli, the barber.
Bowli was technically qualified. It was not his manual dexterity in operating the scissors or honing the razors that alone made him technically knowledgeable; rather he was more known for his ability to light a petromax light than for his ancestral calling. Yes, it was so because he and he alone in my village knew to operate the magic device.
One day, his knowledge and pre-eminence was about to be threatened. His adversary was none his age, but the two teen-agers who were studying in high school and had the ability to speak English. They were named Ramu and Kalu, and as a curious and English-knowing duo they were the loved ones in my village. The entire village had high hopes on them-they would be one day the two high functionaries in government, say the District Collectors or something.
Bowli was envious of the duo, or rather afraid of them, for the boys knew English. He was particularly afraid of the swear words in English as he thought they were very painful ones and instant in their effects, say the words like "Bloody", and "stupid". He believed those were even more effective than the curse of a Brahmin or the spell of a witch. He used to take care that he did not incur the wrath of the duo and did not have to listen to those painful swears either.
Bowli got his chance to prove his superiority one day when the boys came to him to learn how to light a petromax.
'Bowli Uncle, we want to learn lighting a petromax. Won't you teach us for once?' Ramu requested. He was full of respect, and he knew all that the self-respecting teacher needed was a little bit of coaxing to come out.
'You're for learning this small thing? Oh, don't do that. There are bigger things to learn from books. Don't waste your time on this, I say,' responded Bowli.
'Actually the thing is, Bowli Uncle, we want to give surprise to our teachers. If only you agree to help us,' Kalu pestered.
Bowli was in no mood to give up his pre-eminence. Every time when an open-air play was enacted in my village, it was Bowli who was respectfully entrusted the charge of the kerosene lamps. They were the petromax lights, small chandelier-like daylights, and so on. It was a very responsible job at that: the pressure in the lights were to be constantly maintained by frequently pumping air into them, or else the lights would not be bright enough and would get extinguished in the middle of the play. He knew how delicately the pins were to be periodically poked into the fuel injection holes to keep it free of blockages; he knew how the mantles were to be tied to the end of the burner assembly so that they did not fall off in the middle; he knew the proper timing to release oil so that it did not flood the mantles before they were hot enough to capture fire and start vaporising the fuel; and son. He knew many more subtle dos and don'ts of handling those gadgets.
"OK, boys. Do one thing. Come in the afternoon ready to learn this. Don't forget to bring a copy and pencil each,' Bowli smirked as he gave his appointment.
Both Ramu and Kalu got a bit foxed to see Bowli smirking. 'What was he up to?' they thought. But then they waited till the afternoon for the session of imbibing technical instructions to start.
It was around four O' clock in the afternoon when the class started. Bowli enquired from the duo if they were ready to take dictation. As the boys confirmed, Bowli started dictating his stuff.
'Before doing anything else, fill the lamp with sufficient oil and clean it nicely. Then pick the burnt-out carbon globules off the wick…'
'But Bowli Uncle, a petromax light does not have a wick. It is only in a lantern that we use wick, isn't it?' Kalu interrupted.
'Be patient, boy. And take down what I say,' Bowli felt rather piqued a bit for the interruption. However he continued.
'Um..What was that I dictated last? Oh yes, if you don't have sufficient oil and you still want to light it then don't bother. You can add a little bit of water to it. Remember, just a bit…. Even you can piss into the fuel tank, you know.'
Now was the turn of Ramu to interrupt.
'Uncle, how do you expect water to burn? And how do we piss into the fuel tank? So nasty.' Looking at Kalu he said, 'Let's go back. This fellow is kidding us.'
The discouraged duo rose to their feet and sped up. Bowli was heard chortling, uttering words of self-appreciation:
'Learning English alone will not make you wise, boys. Look at me how I can manage without it! Bloody, stupid boys!!'
Labels: short story