Wily Neighbours

'Once a businessman always a businessman.' How true. My father was in the defence services and our upbringing was quite sheltered. But when we moved to a private colony in West Delhi we were in for a rude shock. We found that everyone was materialistic and there was a lot of one-upmanship. The first friends we made asked us that since all three of us were studying in the same school in which our mother taught, we must be getting a substantial cut in our school fees. One of them asked me outright how much the tuition fee was, of which I was blissfully unaware. I was in the dark as we didn’t judge everything in numbers.

My father used to do shopping from the local vegetable market. One foxy neighbour asked my father to get vegetables for him too. He, justifiably, was offended, to say the least, and refused him there and then. As the colony developed, the vegetable sellers started doing rounds. One cheeky neighbour standing on the third floor asked my mother to buy a kilo of fruits from the vendor. My mother acquiesced. But he called out from up there and asked the vendor that he should keep the fruits already selected by my mother for him and let her select another kilo for herself. My mother put down her foot assertively. She informed him that she would not give her fruits to him. Rather, she would choose another kilo from the fruits left.

One day, while I was standing at the main gate, a car came and stopped right in front. There was a person driving along with a co-passenger. He asked me where ‘Arunji’ lived. I pointed towards the opposite row. The man was carrying a box of sweets and an invitation for a wedding, I surmised.  For my benefit, he told his friend that he would be back in a jiffy so that I would not raise any objection to the fact that the car was blocking our thoroughfare. I was stone-faced. To mollify me, he called the fellow on the wheel to not even lock the car as they would be back soon. All this monologue was targeted at me. They, however, took quite a while. Miffed, I went inside and narrated this incident to my mother who laughed and said, “Don’t take it to heart. These businessmen are very wilful. Their children imbibe the same culture and start bargaining as soon as they start talking. They can sell hair oil to a man without a strand of hair. You have to appreciate the fact that they can build a business empire out of scratch. That is really commendable. All said and done”.

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Wily Neighbours

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