“He’d never give them back”, said the middle aged man with an all knowing air but much anxiety while finishing off his lunch hurriedly. “I am sure he will return them to us, but please don’t hurry with your lunch as even if he doesn’t and you are proved right, then in addition to that loss, would be good food wasted and much peace of mind lost”, the young man said as he went on with his lunch with leisure and calm.
Both of them had come to the city from their village at some distance for some work and also marketing. It was just past noon and it was the peak of summer. Stark scorching sunlight in this city can be quite torturous, and added up to that was the dust and smoke of a heavy traffic. The village had electricity but power outages were common. It was a time when rechargeable lights, inverters and similar things were not there, so when there was a power failure in the evening, the young man had to use kerosene lamps to read and write, but he hated the conventional hurricane lantern. He had a beautiful antique brass lamp on his study table, but a few days back its glass slipped out of his hand while he was cleaning it and it was shattered. This morning they had left for the city a little late, and after finishing off with the work at the government office they had purchased some tit bit things which won’t be available at the village stores. It was near noon and very hot when they drove up to the main square of the city as it was here only that a glass substitute for the young man’s brass lamp could be found.
At one side of the main square was a vendor’s stall. The old man who owned this stall was slightly overweight and a jovial person. Lining the three walls at the back and on both sides were racks designed in step like shape, as in an auditorium gallery. Neatly showcased on these racks were lamp glasses of many shapes, sizes, and colours.
There were transparent plain glasses; there were pink, blue, yellow, green glasses. There were glasses with intricate designs carved on them. The young man loved beautiful things. So he took some pieces in his hand and admired their beauty and excellence of workmanship. Suddenly a glass slipped from his hand and was shattered. The embarrassed young man brought out a brass lamp out of his bag and selected a blue tinted ‘chimney glass’ quickly. This was a beautiful piece though, extra long and slim, but without carvings on it, but that did not matter much, as a shade would be put on it anyway. Then he asked the vendor its price and paid the amount. Whilst the vendor was packing the glass piece carefully in a cardboard box, with shredded papers jammed on all sides lest it break, the young man handed over another fifty rupees to him.
“But you have already paid sir”, the old man said in an astonished voice.
“This is for the one I broke.”
“You didn’t break that glass intentionally. It was simply an accident. As it is, pieces do break during transit also. I can’t take this money sir”, the old man said firmly. The young man could not gather the courage and strength to counter such a firm refusal and ceded to the older man’s will.
They were hungry and had decided to have their lunch at a hotel at the other end of the city as the food was good there, which it was. Simple food, some chapattis(Punjabi bread), a chicken dish, a tadka dish, and some salad. The young man discovered first that they had left the bag behind at the vendor’s stall when they were in the middle of their meal. Now his companion had got up from his chair, his meal half-finished, and kept insisting that the younger man also follow suit. The bag had some little things in them, purchased from here and there, but there was a set of silver cutlery among the things which cost a substantial amount of money and the middle aged man was afraid that it just might be too difficult for the vendor to come over greed. Not that they had left the bag in his custody. It was lying on the counter and may be someone else has already picked it up, and one can’t possibly blame the vendor for that.
They rushed back to the main square. The old man was there at his counter as before. When he saw them he had a wide smile on his face.
“Ah sir! I knew you’d be back for the bag anytime, so didn’t leave the shop for lunch, as then you’d have had to wait for me till evening”, he said jovially and handed them back their bag. The relief on the faces of the two men was visible to anyone who cared and the old man also noticed that. He had a lovely smile for them and said that sometimes customers do leave back things inadvertently, and that’s why he always checks the shop after their departure. He showed another expensive looking bag in one corner and said that a lady had left it behind some days back, but hasn’t come back for it yet. “May be she lives far away and discovered her loss later. May be she would come back anytime for her bag”.
“Have you checked what are there inside that bag?”
“Why should I? It’s not mine!”
Suddenly the young man saw something. He saw a iridescence at the back of the old man’s head. It was an aura of beautiful colours, so soothing to the eyes and mind. He saw before him a noble man. The old man’s most ordinary looks and attire, all transformed into something beyond description, so exceptionally beautiful.
“Please check your bag. Check it’s contents”, the lamp vendor was saying, but the young man did not hear anything. He simply kept looking at the old vendor at the counter with a soft heart, thanked him, and as they were about to leave the stall, the young man turned back again and looked at the counter and said,
———————Ch Navakanta Mishra