Sunday, August 07, 2011

It's a mad mad biz world

There is a jinxed little shop near my house. It stands next to another shop that is used by some Christian prayer group for some activities which require a lot of jumping up and down and flailing arms shouting “Alleluia!! Alleluia!!” long Bible thumping sessions, and of course free food. The free food is served last due to tendency of people to vanish after the food.

These two rooms stand on a stretch of round bounded by a vineyard on one side and a private farm on the other side. It is the closest shop to our colony that is at the edge of a reserve forest. But instead of rolling in the big bucks the shop is jinxed with failure after failure.

The first occupants of this shop named it Extreme Freeze. Extreme Freeze had a freezer… and nothing else. It was started by a clueless Tamilian Christian couple from the Gulf who had retired and wanted to start a small business of their own with their savings. On retrospect it was wise to start small, for they never grew beyond small. In fact they grew smaller and smaller till one day they disappeared after downing the shutters. The trouble was with the freezer says the rumor mongers. It had nothing. Yes you heard me right. It had nothing. The clueless couple hoped to fill it someday but found that paying the rent and electricity bills ate up all their monies leaving them nothing to buy for the shop. After paying bills for six months they decided to close up. All that was found in the shop was evangelist literature predicting the end of the world while exhorting readers to convert err… save their souls by praying to the ‘living god’.

The next occupant was a slightly retarded brother in law of a big time Mangalorean trader in our area. He named the shop Pai and Co Industries. The shop opened with much fan fare and plywood shelves and after the initial stocking of Britannia biscuits it sort of fizzled out as the retarded brother in law was too retarded to buy new stock. He sat in the shop drooling over evangelist literature predicting the end of the world and exhorting readers to convert err… save their souls by praying to the ‘living god’ till the last biscuit packet was bought and was thrown out by the Mangalorean trader. The rumors of the jinx continued.

After Pai and Co. Industries we had Moonwalk Café. Moonwalk Café was the brainchild of a large hairy man with long curly tresses dressed in a black leather coat, black tee shirt, jeans and knee length leather boots. He looked like a black cowboy who had lost his marbles. He was actually the useless scion of a rich family who spent his share of the family wealth in the café. He had dreams of becoming an entrepreneur like his brothers and thought that Moonwalk café was the way to the mega bucks.

Now Moonwalk café was neither a café nor a Michael Jackson memorial as people first thought. It had a refrigerator and a tray of sandwiches, a cool beach umbrella on the porch under which some plastic chairs were scattered for people to lounge about. The chairs would be regularly strewn with evangelist literature predicting the end of the world exhorting readers to convert err… save their souls by praying to the ‘living god’. The place attracted his cronies by the dozen and when the sandwiches and sodas ran out, he sold the café and sneaked out of the neighborhood in the dead of the night in striped pajamas and a torn vest to avoid the creditors.

The rumors of the jinx grew stronger and stronger and no one in the neighborhood was willing to take up the shop.

After some time another bakra walked into the landlord’s parlor. This man’s luck in getting bakras was noteworthy. They just walked into his parlor and sneaked out when the business flopped. Landlord kept the rent advance and grew richer by the minute.

The last person to take up the shop was the local butcher. He set up shop one day just like that and started doing roaring business because – you won’t believe this - he knew how to run a business. People were waiting for the jinx to strike but nothing happened, for a year. Last week he shut shop and people looked ominously at each other and gathered in excited gaggles to discuss the jinx … till he opened up again, with a larger shop, after a hostile takeover of the alleluia joint from the evangelists. The poor suckers didn’t know what was coming.

All is peaceful on this stretch of road, except for the infrequent flash mobs that land up in front of the butcher shop predicting the end of the world exhorting customers to convert err… save their souls by praying to the ‘living god’ before scampering away like hysterical mice.

The landlord on the other hand is wondering why his once profitable shop has become jinxed, but has refused the services of umm certain people who volunteered to pray for his shop if he converted and saved his soul by praying to the ‘living god’.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The ugly business

Year 2075, Bengaluru, India

A young lady walks with her head bent down through the narrow steaming gullies between the tall buildings. It is dark and a mild rain spray-mists the air in billowy swathes. The tap tap of her stilettos echoes like tiny shots in the dark. She seems resolute as she heads downtown through the cold deserted alleys.

Through the murky darkness of the night, a figure looms up suddenly scaring her witless. It was the dealer. He had on a cheap leather jacket and a black Stetson. A thick gold chain glinted in the dark dully.

“Do you have it?” she whispered looking around fearfully.

“Do you have the money?” rasped the dealer staring at her face partially covered with the silk scarf. She was beautiful. Her fine cheek bones accentuated her oval face giving it an ethereal beauty. She took out a hand beaded purse that must have cost a fortune and removed a bundle of notes. He grabbed the money greedily counting it again and again. Satisfied, he pocketed the money and removed the precious commodity she was seeking. Her eyes glazed in anticipation and all thoughts of the grave danger and risk to her health and reputation vanished in a cloud of hope. She wet her lips nervously. This was her third day of cold turkey and she had finally managed to steal her mother’s pearl necklace to buy the stuff. Her father had cut her off funds a long time ago when he had gotten to know of her addiction. Selling pieces of jewelry was her only option. Her mother never knew. .. not with the vast collection of jewelry lying unused in her cupboard.

Grabbing the precious cargo from the dealer’s hand she raced home. The dealer stared at her receding back with some contempt. He had seen the worst cases of addiction in his days, but this was probably the worst. Tearing his eyes away from her, he shrugged and retreated to the dark corner of the street to wait for the next buyer.

She reached home and crept up the marble staircase like a wraith. The house seemed to be in deep slumber. Closing the bedroom door behind her, she opened the packet. In the crumpled piece of newspaper, lay the precious stuff. She raced to the toilet and switched on the lights. She looked at herself in the giant mirror and flinched. She looked quite horrible she felt.

She removed some of the white stuff from the container and wiped it gently on her face. Three days of going without Fair and Oh So Lovely cream had made her feel black and ugly and downright contemptible. Her self esteem had taken a beating. She felt useless.

Spreading the cream on her face she thought she would be fair and lovely soon and then she could step out of her home to resume normal life. She did not worry about her next stock up. The dealers were always there, lurking in the dark. It has been years since the government had banned fairness creams. But the underground factories and network of dealers evaded their quest to abolish its manufacture and trade. It’s devastating effects to self esteem and self worth nevertheless; millions of women bought it illegally fuelling the ugly business to dizzying heights.

She smiled at herself in the mirror. She looked radiant she felt. She dropped the tube into the flush tank and walked out of her bedroom her head held high. Fifty grand was worth it if it bought you happiness and a feeling of well being she thought before stepping out to face the world confidently.