“How many times have I asked you to get a mobile phone? '', he recalls his maa yelling, “even I got one”.
“Maa you don’t know the mobile phone; how can you speak to someone you don’t know”
Oh my poor dumbo, what would happen to you after I am gone, you don’t speak to the mobile phone, you speak to the person who is on the phone”
“No maa, the person on the phone is the devil, it’s not the person speaking, it’s the devil.
“You mean your aunt Kavita is a devil”
He gave her the “cmon even you know it’s true” look.
Pranav did not understand why he was thinking about all of this as he was trying to navigate the summer vacation rush at the interstate bus terminal in Delhi looking for a PCO. Do they even exist?
Miraculously, Pranav found a PCO.
[ISD-STD-LOCAL PCO; KEEP COINS HANDY, NO BORROWING MONEY, NO PAY LATER, PAYMENT NOW NOW AND NOW]
“Hello dear friend, kindly state your name”, asked a deep 70-year-old male voice
My name is “Pranav”
The address is Room no. 701, Amprapali Hotel, near New Delhi Railway Station '', Take the lift, come to the top floor, take left and keep on walking till the last room, door is always open, come inside and make yourself comfortable, there is water in the fridge, may be a few snacks as well”.
Pranav heard all of this but could not process much, the man was a little low and the background noise a little high.
Around 8 o'clock, the narrow dingy lanes of Paharganj were bustling with drunk students, lovers looking for a cheap hotel, bag-packers, pimps, drug dealers, street food vendors, local travellers, handicraft dealers looking for that one foreigner to lure, it was mayhem for poor Pranav, the total population of his village was 120 out of which only a handful remained, all the progressive ones moved to bigger cities leaving their old ones behind, not Pranav, he still thought mobile phone was the gateway to the devil, to his mother’s dismay, who would not stop pestering him to move out of the village, “start a family”, get over this rug business which has not given us anything but misery, 70 years into the trade and we still make handmade rugs and that too six a year”, every time his mother said this, he was reminded of his father,
“these are not imperfections, these are what makes it unique”, pranav recalls his dad saying, “to those who understand imperfections well, look for it, perfections may be alike, imperfections are unique and no two imperfections are same. When you really understand what imperfections are, you will be able to create one, then you can call yourself a rug maker”.
Pranav took it to heart that imperfections were good and secretly started to look for it in the people around, he would judge them for their imperfections.
Pranav spotted the hotel and rushed towards it, there was no reception there, he headed straight to the lift to the seventh floor and as instructed, entered the room, took the bottle out, not because he was thirsty but he thought it was part of the ritual.
The living room was at least 50 ft, covered with a green rug, the type that causes headache, a shade above dark green and a shade lighter than fluorescent. “No taste these guys have”, he thought in his head, the state of the rug could have gotten tears in his eyes but he somehow held himself and walked from one end to the other and got seated on the wooden chair.
Pranav was breathing heavily, 110 kilos at a height of 5’5’’, he wasn’t really fit. A receding hairline, round bloated face, dark circles underneath the eye, double chin rested on a hunched shoulder complimented an ever confused look.
“Why are you doing this, you know we cannot deal with our own people how the hell you think you will deal with the Delhi people, it’s a city of djinns, immoral, worse than the devil, soulless people. God left the place long back, you will be butchered and eaten alive by these dogs, you are not cut for expansion son, we should end this business and go away to Dehradun, while we still can” , his mother’s words were so clear that he thought she might be speaking from the poster he was looking at, it was a trick picture, a giant infant was holding an aged but a small sized mother, as the mother looked up, the child looked down.
What the hell is this poster? As he looked around the room he saw miniature bottles of imported whiskey neatly arranged in some sort of a pattern, a cool wind passed from nowhere, no window, no fan, startled, he looks the other way and notices picture of a chick hatching out of the egg against the back-drop of an apocalypse. He was scared, the creaking sound of the chair, the weird pictures, this was not what he expected, he was expecting a “home temple” with sadhus around, this was a different world.
Ostrich dig their head in the sand when they see trouble, Are you an ostrich Pranav?
What no!, he was speaking to himself.
There is a pen and paper on the table, write your name and problem. Guruji will be with you soon.
Pranav turned to see the source of the voice, it was coming from a speaker.
He starts writing,
JAI SHRI RAM
PRANAV BISHT BUT I AM 35 YEARS OLD, I LIVE IN GHUSAINI, POST OFFICE: ALKA GANJ, DISTRICT: PAUDI, STATE: UTTAR PRADESH POST CODE: 234008
MY PROBLEM IS, “KASTURI HANDICRAFTS LIMITED OWNER: BALBIR LAMBA SHOP NO. 23/A. ORDER FOR A HANDMADE CARPET, RECEIVE 239 RS ADVANCE, TRANSPORTATION COST 1200
TOTAL COST 12350RS, ON DELIVERY PAYMENT REFUSED AND THREATENED AND BEATEN BY HIS BODYGUARDS, LAL AND GOPAL. CARPET TAKEN. WANT CARPET BACK
JAI SHRI RAM
Pranav looks back at the speaker,
Keep the paper at the centre of the table, said the speaker.
As soon as Pranav placed the paper at the centre of the table a cold wind from nowhere blew the paper to the area behind the curtain. What the hell? he thought.
Come inside, said the speaker.
He gets off the chair and takes a few steps right, takes off the curtain and sees an old man sitting on the floor, next to him was a lady around 65 sitting quietly weaving a sweater in the summer.
“We will get you the carpet but we will have to charge you”, said the old man.
How much, asked Pranav
Not in money
I don’t understand, said Pranav.
Look at all these bottles, these empty bottles are my secret
I don’t understand
They tell me the future, they are my pet souls, I have captured them, you know the homeless, naughty ones, improper proper send off, someone who committed a suicide, unfinished wishes and dreams, those kind of souls, they will do anything I ask them to but I Need to add years to them, take energy from someone and give it to them, so the price is 10 years’ worth of energy from your life, If you say yes, you will have the carpet and your money here by evening, the choice is yours.
Pranav started to think and stopped at the calendar which was dated 29th September 1903
What’s that date?
Its todays date
But its 2006.
For you, I am a few decades behind.
I don’t understand
You shouldn’t even try to, all you should care about is do you agree to give ten years of your life in exchange of carpet and your money?
What If I don’t want the money and just the carpet?
Same – 10 years, it can’t get any lower but in case you want them harmed and to suffer add 5 more years.
I need time to think
It has to be a yes or a no.
If you say no, I will give you an opportunity to leave now and you can never come back
If you say yes, then you go inside the bedroom and sleep. When you wake up you will have the rug and the money.
Can you tell me how long will I live?
DO you even know
I don’t have to prove anything to you
You have two simple choices, yes or no and you know what happens in the both the cases.
I need to speak to my maa
How old is she?
Stop, ur scaring me, replied Pranav
Okay then it comes out of your end
Pranav went in a deep thought and said, “okay”
I am ready.
Go to the next room, the speaker will give you the instructions.
Pranav enters the dark room, a candle burns in the corner, he falls flat on the bed and immediately falls asleep. A few moments later he is looking at himself sleeping, he steps out the room and can see little people inside the bottle,
The old man is standing next to him, Pranav and the old man look at each other, “that one over there, he is fit for the job”.
Pranav nods, the old man opens the bottle, a cold wind passes thru, Pranav steps in. The old man puts locks the bottle.
Alarm bell rings, Pranav wakes up.
He is sitting on the bed thinking, leaves the room, the old man and the woman are still there. The old man hands him his paper, Pranav reads it, walks out with a smile.
Finds a phone booth and calls again, “they changed my soul maa”
Make me my favourite daal, I am coming with the payment.