Syed sahab was sitting in his departmental store reciting ina low voice from a colour-coded holy book that lay on the counter. Suddenlyremembering something he called out to one of the salesmen, "Fayaz!" As theaddressed salesman came near, Syed sahab beckoned him closer and lowering hisvoice to a whisper said, "You remember those two sacks of sugar that are lyingin the godown since long?"
"The ones that the food inspector last time said aresubstandard quality?"
Syed sahab grimaced, "Upstart! As if I don't know his familybackground. His mother used to wash dishes in our home. He has grown up on ourkhairaat, the ingrate! In any case there's a new food inspector now. Realkhaandaani chap! That reminds me, you take one of those packs of imported datesfor him later today. Yes and you take out those sacks of sugar, there's a highdemand for sugar during Ramzan so we can finish them off."
As Fayaz turned to leave Syed sahab again called him andsaid, "Put up a sign outside the shop that imported sugar is available ondiscounted prices."
"Yes it has a blackish tinge so let's say that it isactually a healthier variety of sugar imported from Africa. People can swallowanything so long as it has an 'imported' tag."
"Will we be selling it at a lower price?" Fayaz asked.
"No silly!" Syed sahab said with a smile, "The 'discount'word makes people feel smart and if you put a 'discount' label on things peoplebuy them even if they don't need them. You just write a higher price and thendiscount it to the 'normal' price!"
"I will do it as soon as Imran returns," Fayaz said.
Syed sahab scowled, "Why where is he?"
"He had to take medicines for his mother, she is very sick."
"Scoundrel! He must be lying! He has surely gone home tohave his lunch."
"But he's fasting," Fayaz said.
"Huh! I am sure none of you guys fast. Liars! As If I don'tknow what a bunch of blackguards you all are! If it were not for my beingvigilant all the time and these CCTV cameras you would pick this shop clean. Iwill deduct a day's salary from Imran's account. Will teach him not to lie nexttime! La hawlu wala quwat! Aren't you guys afraid of Him and that too in thisholy month!"
"But really Syed sahab we are not lying…" Fayaz protested.
"Be gone now! I have to complete one whole chapter of TheBook yet," Syed sahab waved him away irritably, "and yes do not forget aboutthe sacks of sugar!"
Syed sahab resumed the recitation. A while later his friendNizamuddin came into the store looking black as thunder. "You know what? I justsaw 'those' people fixing one more loudspeaker to 'their' mosque and that tooin the direction of 'our' mosque!" Nizamuddin who was the president of themosque which Syed sahab patronised, said bristling with rage, "I am sure it isthat Jamal Khan who has put them up to it!" Jamal Khan had a huge retail outletonly a few shops away from Syed sahab's departmental store. Not only were thetwo business rivals but they also belonged to two different religiousideologies.
Syed sahab frowned, "The cheek! You go and get twoloudspeakers for 'our' mosque, the biggest you can lay your hands upon. He tookout a wad of notes from his pocket and peeling off several of the notes handedthem over to Nizamuddin. Just then abeggar came in and pleaded for a few rupees. Syed sahab took out a ten rupeenote but Nizamuddin stopped him and ticked off the beggar. "What were youdoing?!" he chided Syed sahab, "He's 'their' beggar. He's always beggingoutside 'their' mosque on Fridays!"
A while later there was uproar in the street outside. Syedsahab and Nizamuddin came out of the store to see what it was all about. Acrowd was gathered near Jamal Khan's shop and a young man was being beaten bythe crowd. What had happened was this. Jamal Khan whose piety was at its peakduring Ramzan had this habit of chewing on a miswak which made it necessary forhim to spit out onto the road so much so that the road bore ample testimony inwet, drying and dry forms, to his pious habit. Now this here young man happenedto pass by just when Jamal Khan let loose a mouthful of spit which caught theyoung man on his trouser leg. The young man who looked every bit a yuppiecomplete with a pony tail remonstrated with Jamal Khan that he better becareful with his twig and his mouth. Jamal Khan took this as an affront to hispiety and he harangued the young man whereupon others joined in and the youngman was taken to task for his words which had now taken on blasphemousconnotations. By the time Syed sahab and Nizamuddin reached the scene the youngman had managed to make his escape but the crowd was still in a state ofexcitement. "We must file an FIR against this vagabond," one of the assembledpersons said. Several persons shouted in favour of this proposal. Just thenJamal Khan's shop assistant whispered something into his ear. At once Jamalkhan's expression changed. "My dear friends aren't we perhaps hyper reacting?After all he was just a young man and… "
"But how can we let him get away with blasphemy," Nizamuddinpersisted because he could sense that there was something behind the abruptchange in Jamal Khan's tone.
"Oh! Whoever said anything about blasphemy! In fact the boywas just a bit rude as all youngsters are these days. Besides he didapologize."
"I was thinking that we would down our shutters in protest!After all this is about religion and we may have slight differences but we areone ummah ultimately," Nizamuddin offered.
"Of course! But really there's no need. Just a waywardyouth. Besides we should be charitable in this holy month," Jamal Khan saidwith a forced smile. The crowd dispersed and Syed sahab and Nizamuddin alsoreturned to the store.
"What was bugging him?" Syed sahab asked Nizamuddin.
Nizamuddin laughed and said, "The youth turned out to be oneof 'them' and that too a grandson of the Moulvi of 'their' mosque!"
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