The retreating rays of the mighty sun, having travelled longer distance, dispersed into its various shades of life, leaving behind the blue-green tinge and cutting through the surroundings like knife in butter, transforming everything into different shades of a ripe apricot. The greenish water of Yamuna and the much clearer water of Ganga couldn’t elude the influence of the charming dusk.
While most of the people were either busy appreciating the beauty of this holy land or fishing to feed their families, ‘The Collector’ stood on a wooden platform, carefully hooked to the river bed, his eyes scanning the fuzzy boundary where the holiness of Ganga and tranquillity of Yamuna met the spirituality of Saraswati; a confluence of sanctity, and treasure. A fairly big piece of magnet dangled from his fishing line which was neatly looped in his right hand. For a few moments he just stood there, the piece of magnet swaying back and forth, like a pendulum, while his mind wandered off to distant thoughts. He looked at his small boat carefully tied to the wooden platform and found his battered slipper neatly placed near the front end of the boat. A thought crossed his mind but he dismissed it because he had much more important matters to attend to.
He placed the fishing line at the platform and threw the magnet towards the holy confluence of rivers. This was the place where he would find countless coins; not because of the sheer quantity but as a result of his inability to keep a valid count after twenty. So he usually counted to twenty and dropped the idea after that. Once the line stopped shifting and he was satisfied that the piece of magnet was patiently resting at the river bed awaiting further instructions, he started pulling the fishing line slowly, gathering the excess of it at his feet, and felt the gradually increasing weight of the magnet as more and more coins stuck to it. Hundreds of pilgrims visited this holy site each day and paid their homage to the river goddess in the form of coins, coconuts and flowers. He wasn’t concerned with the coconut and flowers so he never paid any attention to them. Besides, the coconut department was allotted to the apprentices of the priests who carried out all the important invocations.
He pulled the magnet piece out of water, removed and collected all the coins in a small satchel attached to his shorts and threw the magnet towards a different spot. He carried out this routine daily, seven to eight times or until the light faded. When his satchel grew heavy and he was convinced there were no more coins in his area, he got on his boat, untied it from the bamboo making up the platform and started rowing towards the bank. It would take him thirty to forty minutes to reach the bank and another 30 minutes to reach the market. He hoped to make it home before dinner time so he didn’t miss his favourite piece of the fish, its head.
The boy reached a footwear shop in the nearby market, the only one he knew, and placed his satchel brimming with coins at the counter of the shop and demanded,
“I need slippers for my little sister.”
“What?” the vendor was surprised at the audacity of this little boy. “What did you say?”
“I need slippers for my little sister. She is three years old.”
“And you’ve brought all these coins to buy a pair of slippers?”
“Yes. That’s all I have.”
“Do you think I am roadside beggar who would accept all these coins?”
“No. But I only have coins.”
The vendor looked frustratingly at the little kid and was thinking about shooing him away when he felt the weight of the satchel placed over the counter. It seemed fairly heavy and he wondered how much money it actually contained. His eyes fell on the little boy and then towards his feet.
“I don’t have slippers for a three year old. But you could use a pair yourself, don’t you think?”
The boy looked at his feet, thought for a moment and then replied, “No. I need slippers for my sister. She hurt herself while walking barefoot.”
The idea of parting with the satchel made the vendor look around his shop and his eyes fell on a used pair of slippers, a little too big for a three year old.
“Look boy, since you are so sincere I think I can help you. I have a pair of slippers that might fulfil your need. You won’t find a deal sweeter than this in any shop. Moreover, no vendor would accept such a tiny sum and that too in coins,” the vendor told the boy, showing him the used pair of slippers.
The boy didn’t know any footwear shop other than this. He looked at the slippers, his only option, which looked a tad big for a three year old. He kept gazing at the slippers deep in thought.
“Come on boy, I don’t have all day”
“I will take them,” announced the boy.
The vendor quickly placed the satchel full of money in one his cupboards, packed the pair of slippers in newspaper and handed it to the boy.
“You should be thankful. You couldn’t have got a deal sweeter than this anywhere else. I am in a good mood today. You’re lucky.”
The boy thanked the vendor, and then the river goddess who had showered their blessings on him. He ran towards his home; the thought of his sister’s smiling face when he would present the slippers to her put a big smile across his face. That evening he felt proud, and happy. And this happiness was quite different from the one that he usually experienced with the first bunch of coins in his hand; this was more meaningful, in contrast to the coins.