A Gulp of DesperationAbdul bhai had never consumed alcohol in his entire life. ‘It is haraam’.
But now the scenario has changed drastically. Everyday he watches outside from his warren like eatery, millions of people limping mundanely with the sound of their footsteps invariably being drowned by honking horns of the usual Putalisadak traffic. Although he has never transgressed from his promise to his father, usual routine sees him with a bottle, as he pours drinks to his customers.
“Bengali! Help me out. Bring me something to eat. Haven’t had anything but Wai wai for the past three days.”
Abdul bhai’s reflective animation was instantly broken as one of his regular customer Thapa dai stormed inside. He was a middle aged man in his mid-fifties with thick whiskers and receding hairline. He wore an old flannel shirt and sported a pair of dark shades that hid his eyes. Taking off his muffler, he collapsed into his favorite chair at table number three and yelled.
“Fucche! Bring me a quarter of Royal Stag and a plate of Sekwua. Also a glass of mutton Haddi soup”.
“What’s the matter Kaji? Where is Bhauju? “Abdul bhai asked.
“Oh you know how women are. Suspicious and unreasonable. She is gone to her parents’ house”
As he spoke, inside the cavernous restaurant surrounded by sooty smoke, he appeared Faginesque. Whenever Thapa dai felt like complaining, frequented to Bengali ‘s Sekuwa corner. He had been a regular for the past twenty years. The oldest customer perhaps. And whenever he was in the house, there was never a dull moment.
After gulping down the first peg, he started speaking unabashedly.
“Somehow the cell phone showed Nepal’s number. I mean, I was in India. Damn It! And you know how jealous your Bhauju is. Now she thinks I am cheating on her. Come on, who is going to flirt with me at this age?”
“What are you talking about Kaji? Is this another excuse for not paying? You already owe me a lot.” Abdul bhai exclaimed.
“Of course not. You are a miser you know that. Thinking about money whilst your old pal is in such a mess. By the way what are you ever going to do with all the money? You have hoarded it since god knows when. You don’t drink you don’t enjoy,” Thapa dai quipped.
Thapa dai always bantered Abdul bhai for being too fastidious in enjoying life. His teetotaling life style was something beyond his comprehension. He was around eleven when he first saw him. A refugee boy of around his age in ragged cloth, along with his mother, begging in his front door. That was the year when an exodus of Bangladeshis had come to Kathmandu, fleeing the atrocity of the Liberation war. After their house was torched by Razakars in accusation of sheltering members of Mukti Bahini, Abdul bhai and his family had fled from Mirpur and had traveled for three months to get to Kathmandu. On their way, he lost his father to cholera and all their belongings were washed away by flooding in Bramhaputra. Thus upon arrival in the alien land, his entire family was relegated to the state of beggary. With the passing of time, however, both Thapa dai and Abdul bhai had become friends. Thapa dai’s father owned a saree embroidery factory where both Abdul bhai and his mother worked. Later on, on Thapa dai’s advice Abdul bhai established an eatery right next to the letterbox at Putalisadak with the modest saving he had.
“Kaji. Were you really in India? Otherwise, how could that have happened?” Abdul bhai asked.
“Search me. Of course I was in Lucknow. You think I am lying? But somehow Nepal Telecom screwed up. I don’t know how the caller ID in my phone showed a Nepali number. Perhaps I should ask your son. Where is he?”
“Firoz is outside. I am worried about that kid. Hanging around with some ruffians. But I don’t blame him. He just can’t get a proper job without a citizenship,” Abdul bhai sighed.
Despite having been in the country for more than forty years and having run his own business, Abdul Bhai’s family didn’t have the option of applying for Nepali citizenship because the law didn’t allow naturalisation of refugees. There was a time when he had thought of returning. But the path that led him to Nepal had worn out and with the passage of time his motherland had become foreign. At present his main concern was of course getting the citizenship, without which he couldn’t buy land or own a house. His son didn’t posses a passport to go abroad. The future simply looked bleak.
“But can’t he work here and assist you with the business?” Thapa dai asked.
“I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life fanning skeuwa all day,” retorted Abdul bhai
“If he had the citizenship I could’ve sent him to Qatar. Safi Miya other day was saying that there is some decent job opening
for those with a high school
degree. All it needs is a four-lakh down payment.”
“I still think it’s a bad idea. Four-lakh don’t grow in trees. You can expand your business with that kind of money,” Thapa dai remarked.
“Well kaji, say whatever you like. I don’t see any other way out. Besides, I am afraid Firoz might be in bad company. Yesterday I could smell booze in his breath. Rumor has it, they might expand the road. If that’s true then the shop is gone. If he could settle down some how, I could retire and go to Mecca,” Abdul bhai spoke stoically.
“God Damn it Bengali! I never understand you guys. Everything needs to be Halal. Can’t you
lighten up sometime? He is just nineteen, let him enjoy life. Anyway no more depressing talk. Pour me some more.”
Bengali took out another bottle of whiskey from the cabinet, begged Allah for forgiveness and carefully opened the seal. As he was pouring into a glass, Fuchhe ran in yelling, “Abdul chacha! The Police have arrested Firoz dai! They have taken him to Hanumandhoka!”
“What the hell are you talking about? Why did they arrest him? “ Thapa dai gasped as a cold chill ran down his spine.
“I don’t know. Ramu dai was saying that they arrested dai for being involved in something called a VOIP. They have taken away his computer too,” Fuchhe replied.
Abdul bhai turned pale. His entire world seemed to crumble. He was unable to speak or hear anything. Everything was dark. And without any thought, he gulped down the drink that he had held in his hand.