"It is so difficult to get work these days," Juma Khan said with a sigh.
Ever since I remember Juma Khan has been appearing at our place every spring and then he stays in a shed on our premises till winter. During the day time he goes for work as a manual laborer and in the evenings he does odd jobs at our place.
"Why I thought you have plenty of work. I have noticed that you come very late in the evenings and you haven't been taking your weekly break either," I said in response.
"Yes Alhamdullilah there's plenty of work in the daytime but I was thinking of working in the evenings too," he said shaking his head.
"Double shift! Why it is inauspicious to talk of double shift in this place! There was one of our politicians who was very much taken with this double shift business but the poor fellow could not even complete the half shift that he got," I said with a laugh, "Besides why do you want to work double shift. You used to take things lightly. You have not taken another wife have you? Is that why you want to work double shift because you are already in a double shift at home?"
"I have to work hard, sahib ji. You see my son is appearing for middle (8th class exams) this year…" he said ignoring my attempt at humour.
"Then it is he who should be working hard and at his studies too rather than having you working double shift."
"You don't understand sahib ji. It all depends on me and this middle exam is a big thing so it will require more effort…"
"Man I still can't see what you are driving at. I mean it is not that you are educated yourself and would coach him and anyway that would require you to give up working rather than work double shift!"
"Sahib ji, it takes lots of money to get your child through middle…"
"Oh I understand now. You need money so that you can arrange coaching for your son," I said as comprehension dawned upon me or so I thought but apparently it hadn't because Juma Khan said,
"Sahib ji have you any idea how much a cow costs these days?"
"Cow! Now for God's sake what does a cow have to do with your son's becoming a middle pass gentleman!" I said.
"The cow is for my son's headmaster," Juma Khan explained.
"I don't get it…"
"Sahib ji when I got my son admitted to the government school in our area, my cousin Dost Mohammed Khan also admitted his son Mushtaq who is the same age as my Altaf. A year later Mushtaq was promoted to another class but Altaf failed…"
"Maybe it was because he studied harder than your son…"
"No sahib ji what study harder? Both he and Altaf are always together from daybreak till night tending to our flock of sheep."
"Tending to the flocks for the whole day! When do they go to the school then?" I asked.
"They do. Whenever Headmaster sahib who lives in the quarter nearby requires some work to be done in his kitchen garden," Juma Khan said.
"My God! How did that young chap, your cousin's son I mean, manage to pass his exams then?"
"That was quite simple. Dost Mohammed had given a bagful of walnuts to Headmaster sahib and they promoted his Mushtaq to the higher class while my Altaf failed because of my fault," Juma Khan said.
"A bagful of walnuts! Quite a quaint syllabus that!" I said, "So what happened to your son. He had to repeat his exams?"
"No sahib ji. The Headmaster is a very good person at heart. And my cousin Dost Mohammed is a good chap too. He took me to Headmaster sahib and even pleaded my case and the good man agreed to promote Altaf too after I gave him a bagful of walnuts and half a dozen country eggs."
"Half a dozen country eggs as late fees I presume?" I said.
"What?" Juma Khan said with a puzzled expression.
"Never mind," I said with a sigh, "I hope your son's further academic journey remained a smooth one."
"Oh yes sahib ji. Thanks to Allah I had learned my lesson…"
"No wonder that! Not with the fine lot of teachers you seem to be having out there!"
"Next year I took a whole dozen of country eggs for Headmaster sahib and of course a bagful of walnuts too and the year after I took a fat chicken and made it two chickens the following year. Then you know in our village only my brother-in-law used to be primary pass and he would always look down upon everyone so I knew how important this exam is. I took a sheep for the Headmaster sahib when Altaf appeared for his fifth class exams. Now that Altaf is appearing for his middle I know it will have to be a cow this time…that's why I am so worried."
"I guess it will have to be an elephant when your son appears for his matric exams," I said.
"Sahib ji why you making fun of me. I know how important matric is. I will sell off two kanals of my land when Altaf appears for his matric exams," Juma Khan said with a complacent smile.
Well I had heard that success has its price but this enlightening conversation was as good as a rate list for success and I realized that not only does success come at a price but is subject to inflation too!
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at firstname.lastname@example.org)