Of cons & cadets...


**This piece was written for DHANVANTARI-2013,the annual magazine of AFMC,Pune** so if any of you would prefer to read it there,please logout & wait for your copy....

A warm April evening in 2009,the faccha batch had finally had finally been given its copies of DHANVANTARI..Eagerly sifting through the magazine,a story named 
‘Spit & Polish’ written by Surgeon Capt (mrs.) Sheila Samanta Mathai,R Batch caught my eye…

As I progressed through the story,an initial expression of shock slowly gave way to a smile and as the truth dawned on me,I ran over to Byom’s room..I had to tell him what had happened...Afterall,he had been my partner in crime…
Byom’s reaction wasn’t much different to mine..A shocked expression & the choicest of swear words later,we had laughed off the matter…
The above story was still revolving in my mind when the Boy spoke,yet again in chaste English “Its okay if you don’t believe me,most people don’t.”…

It was Sept,2012 & we had just stepped out of KARACHI SWEET MART ,Fatimanagar,our ice-cream cones still unwrapped,when we had been approached by him..
A dark complexioned thin lad not more than 9-10 years,he wore clothes which seemed tattered yet
clean..Sheets of stickers in his hands revealing his intentions,we decided to oblige him...
At  Rs 10 a sheet,they seemed like a bargain...

Having handed him Rs 20 after having bought a Shinchan & a Smiley strip each,we had just turned around when the boy asked politely “Excuse me sirs..Time permitting,can I talk to you for a minute?”…
The request was unusual but what surprised us more was his English,which was as good as any we had heard..

“Sir..I have a request” he had asked with a glint,maybe a glimmer of hope in his eye..

“You see sir..I live in the Hadapsar slums nearby..My father’s an alcoholic & mother works as a domestic help to make ends meet”
As Byom exchanged skeptical glances with me,I decided it was time to interrupt with a “So what??”…This wasn’t the first time we had been approached by English-speaking strangers,so being curt wasn’t that bad an option maybe..

He looked pained by that reaction of ours but anyway,he continued.“I study in a school during daytime & sell stickers at night to help her out”..We were melting,but still wary of his intentions,we decided to remain unsympathetic..
He went on “You see sir,I’ve been saving for an English dictionary since the past two months but I’m falling short of 250 Rupees”

Byom gave me one of those ‘I-knew-this-was-coming’ nudges…

All those lessons about being a good Samaritan came flooding to my mind as did the incident which happened when we were facchas trotting down MG ROAD in blacks & whites..
The request indeed was unusual..I had been duped in the past by English-speaking impostors in the garb of lost wallets to sick children but never had I been asked for money to buy a book…

“How come you speak such English when you can’t even afford food??”I asked,wanting to be doubly sure…
“You see sir,my tuition teacher pays my school fees”pat came the reply..

Still unsure,I exchanged glances with Byom who made it pretty clear he didn’t believe him…

“What if I get you a dictionary tomorrow from my hostel??”
“Pragati Express sir…Heard of it??”
“yes..Pune-Mumbai…Right??”
“Right sir!!..I’m leaving Pune forever for a boarding school by the Deccan Express tomorrow morning..My tuition teacher has got me admitted into a good school in Thane..I might never meet you again”
He said in a deep & sad voice…& silence prevailed for a few seconds..

I was caught between the proverbial ‘devil & the deep blue sea’…On one hand there was the risk of squandering my parents’ hard earned money for the umpteenth time & on the other was the chance to help someone in genuine need…

I stood transfixed,still wondering what to do when the boy’s voice shook me out of my misery “Its okay if you don’t believe me,most people don’t.”..Holding his bag of stickers,he started to leave..

It was then that I shouted out almost as a reflex “Come with me,I’ll get you a dictionary”..Byom had an almost puzzled look on his face & he kept mumbling something under his breath,just that I couldn’t make out what…
Despite such an unusual request,the situation seemed distantly familiar…
The glint in his eyes was back & as we walked down to KROME MALL I finally deciphered what Byom had been muttering & it  was DEJA VU…

Whiling away our time at MG Road as facchas on a Sunday sometime in 2008,we were getting our shoes polished & the Boot-polish guy,a boy in his early teens,seemed to be taking longer than usual… “Don’t mind saab..You see,my Polish-box is broken,even my brushes are quite old but don’t you worry,your shoes will shine like mirrors”…To say that his box was in tatters was an understatement & his brushes had fewer bristles than a toothbrush…
“Why don’t you get yourself a new box??”I asked
“How will I feed myself then sir??..you aren’t the first person who’s asked me this Question nor would you be the last but I’m yet to find a person who could back his sympathy with some help”
His words were stinging & two young egos were hurt...Byom had flashed out a 100 Rupee note as did I…In a flash, he took them & disappeared after having hailed us as Kings, Emperors & what not…

Pleased that finally we had done something great, we would have basked in the warm afterglow of that act forever, had it not been for ‘Spit & Polish’

Yes, we had been conned & conned comprehensively at that…The old Pune legend of a con who appeared with broken shoe-boxes & brushes & used saliva to polish shoes had been relived 29 years later…
So, that’s it with the story I guess…

Still wondering, what happened to the sticker boy & his Dictionary claims??...Well, having finally understood what Byom was hinting at(he didn’t want us to be conned again),I refused in the garb of getting back to hostel before 9:00 pm after walking half the distance with the boy…He accepted our refusal with a weak smile & simply walked away with a ‘Thank You sir’ adding to our guilt..

We both walked away in silence & never spoke of him again…Perhaps,we felt guilty for turning down someone genuine…
If any of you manage to spot the dictionary guy in Pune,do let us know…that would relieve us of our guilt.. 
& yes,beware of the legendary Shoe-polish Con of Pune


Comments

  1. Lol ...nice read ...
    Hockey will make him understand english ;-)

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