Do you have it in Red?

"Sir.... Sir?" she said pushing the pen towards him, "Will you take it?"

He looked at her and smiled.

xxx

He peered inside the Fiat 118ne window to look at the dashboard. He had a fight with his friend the other day that 118ne was faster than a Maruti 800. He stood on his tippy toes to see clearly what the speedometer said - Aha! 140 kmph! Much faster than the 120 on the Maruti speedometer. He was correct. He was all of 6 years... The life long love affair with cars had just begun.

xxx

Those were the 90s, the economy had just opened up and new things, for the first time for a lot of us, were now available. Liberalization brought with it shiny Hot wheels toy cars. These were small models of mostly American cars that could now be bought even at the local kirana store, well , at least few of them stocked up.

He was 7 years old and liked helping his mother with groceries. Every time he went to the store, he looked at the Hot wheels placed in a glass shelf which quite innocently came up to his eye level. That was the time when middle class parents only indulged their kids out on their birthdays, sometimes not even that. He knew his parents weren't rich, but every time he went to the store, there it was, a gleaming hot wheels right at his eye level. One day, he just went ahead and asked for it. His mother asked the man behind the counter for the price. 25 rupees.

"That is too expensive. Do you know how many Wibs bread would come for that money?"

They started walking, he started calculating. She was right. 5 loaves of Wibs Bread. That was too much bread for a 7 year old to handle. Not that their family was living hand to mouth. No. But he was being taught the cost of things, and what better way than Wibs Bread.

The next time they were at the grocery store, he threw a fit, a very rare tantrum, he really wanted that Hot wheels. His mother took him away kicking and screaming. He had seen tantrums work with his friends and their parents, she knew what he was trying and she knew that he had to know that it is not okay. Gave him the thrashing of his life once home.

And that was that.

xxx

It was the 90s version of a party. His parents were invited to a dinner and he tagged along. Unlike today, house parties actually had home cooked food. They were doctors, with two very well behaved sons, who even had a bunk bed. This is 1995. This is when Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was considered entertainment! They had their own room and a bunk bed. In 19-freaking-95.

Post dinner, as the men settled down to discuss politics and the women were busy exchanging recipes, the 3 boys, were sent to the kids room.

The room was painted blue and the curtains matched the paint. The bedsheets matched as well. In a corner a basket ball was placed and they had a season ball (the kind Tendulkar plays matches with!). The room was spotless. It looked like a girl had made a room for boys.

His parents werent poor by any stretch of imagination, sure they werent doctors, but they had decent jobs. They both worked for the government. Father for LIC and mother for a bank. Government bank, of course.

"What do you want to play?" The elder one asked.
Surely, they might have one hot wheels, he thought. They have all this awesome stuff.
"Do you have a hot wheels?" He said 'a' hot wheels. One.

The younger one ran to the cupboard and pulled out a plastic bag, with some saree name on it, Paneri or something.

He then sat on the bed and unloaded the contents of the plastic bag. Hot wheels. So many. Probably 20 or 30. This was Heaven.

"Come play with us!" the elder one said.

He just stood there, calculating how many Wibs bread could these many hot wheels buy.

145.

And that was that.

xxx

They had just come out after watching the 6 to 9 show. Shahrukh was good, but how had he reached so far in his career he wondered. He hadnt liked the movie, a 10 year old boy wasnt the target audience of a romantic muscial anyway. It was July, and like it normally does in Bombay, it was raining when they came out of the single screen theatre. They had a scooter, they had to wait for the rain to stop, the car wallas pulled out of the parking one after the other.

Then it happened, a red car pulled up in front of them. It was just like the car in the song (Ho gaya hai tujhko toh pyaar), with the three pointed star and the red paint that gleamed even in that rainy night.

"What is that car?" he said pointing to it, a little too loudly. His dad gently pushed his hand down. Back in the 90s, you did not point at things, you did not point at people, you did not point at anything.

Then maybe because he was in a good mood, or because he liked the film, "That is a Mercedes." he said. "You see that star? That is the logo of the company"

"Just like in the picture!"

"Yes. Just like in the picture"

Those were the times when you only saw Maruti, Fiat and Ambassador on the road. Seeing a Mercedes roll by you was like meeting a film star or something.

As they started to walk to the parking, he looked back at the car in the distance, it's tail lights lighting up as it went over a speed breaker, he thought - One day....

And that was that.

xxx

He did not leave any chance to ask for Hot wheels. Whenever he saw his father in a good mood which was rare, he would slyly slip in the topic of how great those toy cars are and how all his friends had at least one.

"Why dont you come first, in class? If you come first, I will buy you one."
"Promise?" He couldnt believe it. All he had to do was to study hard and come first!

He came third in the unit test, then 3rd again in the Semester, then 2nd in Unit test II and then finally.... 3rd again. He went to his dad, hoping for some consolation prize. After all he worked hard, what could he do if he couldnt come first.

"No. The deal was for you to come first. No first, no prize. Life is tough."
Maybe Life is tough, and maybe it is unfair, but maybe a 10 year old boy doesnt have to know it yet.

And that was that.

xxx

It was Diwali, his Dad had moved up to the Manager position in LIC and the LTA was good enough to take the family out of the country. Which was obviously going to be Nepal. It was off season as it gets quite cold but Diwali in Kathmandu but it is worth experiencing so off they went.

Someone suggested they visit the local bazaar, there was memorabilia there, products by local artisans and even some chinese products. Back then, Chinese products hadnt taken over the world and the Indian mentality still put imported stuff above Indian made, even if it was made in Nepal, or china for that matter.

As they were walking through the bazaar, he saw it there. A gleaming Red colour Hot wheels Mercedes. "How much?" he asked.

"100 for the pack" the stall owner pointed at a packet with Chinese looking inscriptions and 6 cars in it. 6 cars for 100? This was a un-freaking-believable. This was a deal. This was a no-brainer. There was a Merc in there, a Ford, a Chevy, and a bunch of brand names he didnt even know. Remember this is before Hyundai even set its foot in India.

He ran up to his dad-
"It's only 100 rupees" He said with eyes that reeked of desperation. He had let his self respect go. This demand could very well be turned down like all his other demands, but he had put himself out there. This was once in a lifetime. He was never going to come back here again, even if it did, would it be during Diwali, even if it was, would 6 cars come for only 100 rupees? It was worth a risk, it was worth getting his self respect get a little more maligned.

His father looked at the stall that was 20 yards away, in his excitement, he hadnt even said what that 100 rupees was for, he just stood there, his arm pointing towards the stall.

Dont know if it was the spirit of Diwali, or something in the Kathmandu air, his father pulled out a 100 rupee note and handed it over to him. It felt great. He bought the chinese knock off and came home.

And that was that

xxx

He looked at the 6 cars placed on his study table. It made him feel guilty. 20 Wibs bread loaves he thought. This is what happens when a 11 year old boy spends half his life calculating the cost of things. He learns the cost, but misreads the value.

He took the cars to play with his friends, who were floored with the chinese graphics and the imported tag.  11 year old boys are idiots.

"I like these cars. They are imported, no?" A friend said.
"Yes. You dont get this stuff in India. This is not metal, this is top grade plastic. This will never rust, you know?" He said. Sales came naturally to him.
"Can I buy one?"

Why not, he thought. That way he could give back the money to his dad and get rid of his guilt.
"You can buy the ford for 50." He would sell 2 cars and then get to keep 4 cars. This was a windfall situation.
"No, I want the Mercedes," the kid said.
"Mercedes is not for sale. You can pick up any 2 of the rest."
"No, I want the Mercedes. You take 100 if you want."

For that kid, the one that got pocket money, 100 was 4 days pay. For him, however, for him it took 4 years to get here. But 100, for 1 car. That was clearly a profitable deal. There was value in this transaction.

And then, that 11 year old boy, who had spent 4 years, fighting, crying, justifying that he deserved a hot wheels, even if it was a cheap knock off, with what would have dented the hearts of the hardest men, handed over the red toy to his friend.

And that was that.

xxx

He looked at the pen and the well dressed girl who sat in front of him. He thought about the well behaved boys, what are they upto nowadays? He thought about the friends, what are they doing? He thought about the boy who bought the car from him, wonder what car does he drive?

"Sir?" she smiled, "any problem?"

He looked at her, then at the Silver Mercedes behind her, the 3 pointed star shining.

"Sir.... Sir?" she said pushing the pen towards him, "Will you take it?"

He looked at her and smiled.

"Yes.... Do you have it in Red?"

And that was that.

XXX
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2 letters to the editor:

    On January 6, 2017 at 2:43 PM     
    Sundeep said...

    So did you actually buy the "three pointed star"?

    On January 6, 2017 at 11:04 PM     
    Anonymous said...

    Very well written. Nice story. I'm from Sri Lanka and I have been a fan of your blog for long time. Beg for write regularly..