This is about two old men.
Apu had once been a Government employee. For as long as his failing memory could recall. He had never known of any private company, and of its demands on time, commitment, and excellence. Never had he attended such a company’s AGM in a five star hotel. Nor had he ever attended its Board of Directors’ meeting, with its elaborate dinners at ‘off-site’ venues, androgenic entertainment and cognac that we have all heard of, but rarely experienced.
Apu had gradually climbed the seniority ladder and retired five years back as a Bank Manager of the Bank of India. After retirement, he was not doing anything in particular, except that he had got into an accident that broke his hips. Two operations and three years later, he set out for a new life with new hip joints.
These days, we heard, we can find Apu between 10am and 3.30 pm in a small room in an old building near his Kasba flat, sitting in front of a computer terminal. Apu never learned how to use a computer till late in life. He was never comfortable with it. His junior staff used to do his computer work, and he was happy to escape the new complications of office.
Apu is found sitting, as we were promised, in front of a computer terminal. He has with him a laundry list. Just like he takes along a list of vegetables and stationary to buy every other morning. This list, we peep shamelessly, reads as follows:
and so forth.
Puzzled at the code, we wonder if he is seriously sick with some psychiatric disease for which he has been prescribed these weed-killing poisons.
He greets us, “Hello, Doctor shaheb! Kaemon aachhen?”
Keen to impress his daughter, who has just popped in to give him his forgotten glasses, we say, “Sababa”.
Now, we do have some Israeli friends, from whom we have extracted, over the last few years, one solitary word in Hebrew. Sababa. It could mean anything. Generally, it means ‘cool’.
Unimpressed daughter raises left eyebrow, rolls eyes by ten degrees towards the thinning Arctic icecaps, and exits. Without any audible sniff or aside. We can clearly see she is not the sophisticated urban, smart young woman we are so fond of acquainting ourselves with. We, too, are clearly unimpressed, though there was scope for imagining a certain potential. We realise that we, too, can make the occasional mistake. Clearly an overestimation, like a certain Chief Minister of West Bengal.
Coming back to reality, Apu smiles genially at the ‘sababa’ and nods in understanding (nothing).
“Er, Apu-da, what is this list you are carrying? Are you sick or something?”
No answer. Greetings and bhadrata over, Apu is devouring the computer screen with his bare eyes.
He has not come to this tiny hole in the wall to learn computing. Because the board above the entrance says ‘Maalamaal Shares and Securities Ltd.’
The screen, we learn, is filled with the names of companies with eyepoppifying numbers of buyers and sellers.
MLL, then, is Mercator Lines Limited, a shipping company whose price in India’s share market recently rose from Rs. 80 to Rs.180 a pop. He had a hundred. Old man Apu says, “Chhede dao (sell)”
Rapidly flashing his fingers over an aged keyboard, a young man, with a cell phone on one ear, and a land phone on the other, somehow, miraculously hears Apu’s call. He keys in a ‘sell’ order. Apu has just made a profit of 10,000 rupees (around $250). He next turns his eyes over to Reliance Capital, or RCap. There was more shopping for Apu to do till 3.30 pm today, the time the share market closes.
The daughter slips in behind him and notes down the profit in a diary, her eyes reflecting dreams of wearing tastelessly elaborate gold jewelry on her wedding day.
In the meanwhile, far away from Kolkata, in a dusty coal-belt town called Ranigunge, another old man, eighty years old, called Glaxo Benu, is sipping a cup of tea. His shrivelled legs are being oiled by a maid. Benu was a clerk with Glaxo while it was still called Glaxo, and now lives with that name stuck to him for the rest of his life.
Two years back, this was Benu’s story:
Glaxo Benu was sitting on the footpath, enjoying some sun, when his grand daughter and her boyfriend came by.
“What, dadu, how are you today?”
“How do you expect an old man like me to be? I have only a few of my days left!”
“Dadu, have you heard from Ma? We are getting married next year!”
“What? That is great news! Well, khoka, what do you do for a living?”
“Dadu, I work with some shares and stuff, you know…”
“Shares? What do you do with them?”
“Do you know what shares are?”
“Shares? Long back, I had bought some. Why I bothered, God knows! Wasted my money…”
Curious, Golu, the boy, asked him, “What shares did you buy?”
“Oh, some company called Unitech or something. I spent one thousand rupees, can you imagine it? One thousand rupees on a hundred shares of this stupid company. Ten rupees for one! I am sure the rogues ran off with all the money from gullible bokas (fools) like me!”
A proverbial chill ran up Golu’s spine.
“You mean you still own those shares?”
“Yeah, I have the papers in my old trunk in the attic. Why, why do you ask?”
“Dadu”, Golu said in a low voice, “Do you know what the price of Unitech is?”
“You mean the company still exists?”
“It is worth 14,500 rupees!”
“Really, you don’t say? I spent a thousand rupees twenty years back, and you mean I will get fourteen thousand odd today? Okay, not bad. Can I sell this?”
“Dadu, NO! EACH share is worth that! You have shares worth fourteen lakhs of rupees!”
In little time, Glaxo Benu’s two sons took over from Golu. There was a huge row over the ownership of the stock, as the younger son was looking after Glaxo Benu for the last five years, while the older one had been looking after him the years previous to that. Fight over the ownership of Benu and his shares continued.
If the foreign reader does not get it, it is based on the modern Indian tradition that grandfathers’ problems are always donated, while their assets are always coveted.
The money came in, all of it, as promised. But the family of Benu was splintered, unable to handle the pressures of the sudden affluence that threatened to come into their lives. The bounty was split over several times, and went to grand daughters and their husbands, and their children. The brothers were left with a couple of lakhs each, but were no longer on speaking terms.
Glaxo Benu was very happy, and basking in the attention. He could not understand why everyone was asking him detailed questions about his old days and the contents of his old trunk.
If further papers are discovered, we will share the information with you, you poor, helpless fools!
Editor’s Participatory Note:
The use of the term ‘We‘ when referring to the first person singular is to be singularly condemned. Only the following are allowed to use the term ‘We’ when referring to themselves:
1. The Pope, as he speaks for himself, the entire Christian community, and sundry pedophilic priests.
2. The Queen, as she speaks for herself, her subjects and her dogs.
3. Men with tapeworms in their intestines. Roundworms and threadworms may also be considered as similar qualification. People who are generally greeted with the epithet ‘worm’ or ‘politician’ may also use ‘We’.