This story by Savie Karnel is from the Duckbill Workshop in Bangalore. Our thanks to Savie for letting us use this on the blog.
I remember that year vividly. It was 1914. Too much was happening around. Gandhi had started an agitation; the World War I had begun. I had just turned 20, and I wanted to make it big. My uncle who worked in the district collector’s office had told me that the glue business would help me strike gold.
“The British need loads of glue,” he had said with authority. “You know glue na,” he had asked. Having received no reply, he had asked again, “Do you follow English, Jatin?
I shook my head. “Goond, the thing which you use to make kites,” he said. “No much investment. Only profit. All you need is a huge kadhai, atta and water,” he grinned.
The idea seemed good. I would be like the Seth, I thought- wear a clean white kurta, eat pan, stain the kurta and buy a new kurta the next day.
Chacha found me a shop right opposite another glue shop. “Now it’s left to you. Draw their customers here,” he advised.
I stood in the shop for an entire day. Even the flies seemed uninterested in me. A week passed like that.
“Jatin, what is it that they are doing? Watch them,” said Chacha.
“Nothing extraordinary. An old man sits all day. A woman sits in the noon. Perhaps the old man takes a nap then. A young lad of about ten runs in and out,” I explained.
“Fool. I know whose shop it is. It is Baljit’s. His son was shot by the British a couple of months ago. He had turned into a terrorist with the andolan and all that. The woman is his widow. The boy is his son,” he said fuming. “Now find out what they do the room inside. Perhaps they add something special.”
Well, my chacha was a British chamcha. But he had made lots of money. People said that even the British Rani entrusted him with the accounts of her personal jewellery. People talked about him, you know- all good and bad things. It’s the way they talk of all successful people.
I wanted to be like chacha, and spied on the opposite shop. After a week of keen observation and walking past the shop from front and back, this is what I gathered: The shop opened at eight. The woman came at lunch time and manned the shop at noon. The old man stayed in the room inside till about six. The boy ran in and out. Perhaps he ran errands.
Thin, with stick like hands and legs, he was a smart boy. One day as I was spying, he came to me and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?” You may think that he was a courteous boy, but the question actually sounded like, “What the hell are you doing here?”
That evening when the fog was thick, the woman came out carrying a bag. I couldn’t see clearly. She was wearing white and kind of became one with the fog. I ran to follow her, but bumped into her. She dropped her bag. Something fell off. At first I thought they were laddoos. No, they were balls. Oh crap. They were bombs.
I took to my heels and did not stop till I reached my uncle’s house. I knocked frantically at his door.
“Bomb. Bomb,” I screamed.
“The opposite shop. They make bombs. I saw the woman. She was carrying it. She saw me. She dropped them,” I said struggling to find my breath.
“Relax,” Chacha replied coldly. “Let’s go to the police station.”
“Police,” I asked. “They will kill them.”
“There’s a reward on anyone making bombs. It’s ten thousand rupees.”
My eyes brightened. Within a couple of weeks of opening the shop, I had already made money. Not only that. I had not sold even a gram of glue.
The next day the shop opposite didn’t open. The day after the old man was found hanging in front of his shop. The British had made an example of him.