Of Childhood Ventures and Adventures
I was on my way to college that day, when I saw a couple of kids sitting on the pavement outside the railway station. They had a crumpled newspaper spread out before them on which were some jamun fruits. The young boy & girl were dressed in old dirty clothes and their eyes were busy scanning the passersby, waiting expectantly for someone to purchase those jamuns. I walked up to them & took a closer look at the jamuns. Most of them were bruised, their flesh already squashed.
“Sirf dus rupaye, didi, sab le lo (Only ten rupees, sister. Take everything.)!” the young girl smiled.
I picked up a good one from the lot & popped it in my mouth. Its bitter taste made my face contort. I saw their faces drop as they studied mine intently. Not wanting to disappoint them, I decided to buy the bitter jamuns anyway. But when I opened my wallet, there were only ten rupees in it that I needed to get back home.
“Sorry, mere paas sirf dus hi rupaye hain (I only have ten rupees.)” I dejectedly told them.
“Koi baat nahi, didi. Agli baar le lena (No issues, sister. Buy them next time.)” she replied, with a consoling smile that was too mature for her age.
Smiling back at her, I began walking towards my college. Just a few steps ahead I saw a huge jamun tree on with its fruits scattered on the road, painted purple by the juice of the squashed jamun fruits. I now knew where the kids had found the jamuns from.
As I walked on with a wide grin on my face, an incident buried deep within the treasure chest of my own childhood memories began playing in my mind.
Summer vacation had almost come to an end & school was about to reopen in a few days. I was all of twelve & my sister was eight years old. Over the summer vacation, I had bought a lot of secondhand story books, comics & art books from the paper mart. Soon, my part of the wardrobe was filled with them & there was no more space left in it for school books or even new clothes.
Much to my horror, mom said she would give away the books to the paper mart. The fate of my beloved books had been pronounced & there was nothing I could do to change her mind. I was plagued with worry & grief. Will the new owners take proper care of my books? Or, would the books just collect dust in the paper mart? Would the pages get dog-eared or worse, torn? I had to save my books.
Even as a child, I was extremely impulsive & did whatever I felt was correct. And, the fact that both my parents were working only added to my freedom. The next day, I packed half the books from my wardrobe into two large bags. In the evening, my sister & I dragged those bags into a rickshaw & went to a large park not very far from our home. There, we neatly arranged the books on a pavement outside the entrance of the park, placed a placard that we had created which read ‘Books at 50% discount! Buy one, get one free!’ on the fence & set up shop. I wasn’t exactly a good influence on my younger sister, I know. My mom never fails to remind me.
The other vendors on the pavement were a bhelpuri hawker, an icecream seller, a balloon seller, a man who offered giant wheel rides for kids & a toy seller. They were all surprised to see my sister & I selling books on the pavement, considering that we wore good clothes & looked like we hailed from a well-off family. The passersby were amused as well. We, however, remained oblivious to their curious eyes, waiting excitedly for a customer to grace us with a purchase.
After a while, a lady approached us & bought four Tinkle comics. She said that they were for her daughter. She enquired about me & was surprised to learn that I studied in the same school as her daughter. She started laughing when she learnt why I was selling the books. My sister & I were overjoyed. We had made our first sale! We had earned only 75 rupees, but the feeling was priceless.
As the evening sky turned dark blue, we decided to call it a day. The next day too, we went to the park. But, we did not make a single sale that day. Then, a friend from my school saw us as she was returning from her tuitions. She was surprised, to say the least, to find us there. And then, I realised the possible consequences of my stupidity & how easily I could get caught. I made her promise not to breathe a word about it to my parents or anyone at school & decided not to do it again. That was my first shot at entrepreneurship.
I retraced my steps & went back to the kids selling jamuns. Smiling at them, I pulled out the last ten rupee note from my wallet & handed it to them. “Thank you, didi!” they burst happily in unison, their eyes lit up with glee. I took the jamuns wrapped in the newspaper & emptied them on the road underneath the jamun tree on my way. I had to walk back home that day, but if I could see the precious smiles on their faces that still remain etched in my memory once more, I would walk a hundred miles all over again. Because, their eyes had the same sparkle that my sister’s eyes & mine had, that summer evening.