Like a stranger, I walked through the crowded city-street leading to the bus stop. Not in any great hurry, I walked slowly, studying the expressions of people who were walking towards me, going in the other direction. Especially the expressions of young people – people who were my age. How exuberant they seemed. As though in a rush to go conquer something to try and keep pace with racing time. As these avatars of confidence walked past in their creaseless trousers, full-sleeved shirts, ties and shoes, swinging their attaché cases, here I was, clad in a single dhoti and rubber slippers. I suddenly felt very small.

The street-hawker, robbing the pedestrians of their footpath, sat by his various piles of garments, trying to ward off the harsh afternoon sun with a handkerchief, shouting for the entire street to hear, “Discount sale, discount sale, very low prices for all items!”

Though my pocket was nearly empty, I paused. What if he had something that might fit the measure of my penury? Right from the day school reopened, the kids had been clamouring for new clothes. Sad that I could not fulfil even the smallest of their wishes, I would affectionately pull them close to me and say, “Achan will soon get a lot of money, and then I’ll buy you everything that you want.”

“When will you get the money, Acha?”


My answer always was, “Tomorrow”.

Though the children had given up hope at some point, I had not. Filled with that hope, when I’d go to Mathukuttychayan’s shop to find out the sales figures of my Priyanka Soap, he would say, “My dear Siva, in this day and age, who wants your local soap? Everyone wants soaps the girls bathing on television use. Why don’t you release an ad on TV?”

“Do you think that I don’t want to? ‘Breathtaking Fragrance. Total Skin Protection. Priyanka Ayurvedic Soap’ – I even have the caption in mind. But all I can do is dream.”

It was the government’s self-employment scheme that had inspired me to take a bank loan and start manufacturing Priyanka Soap. It was all okay in the beginning. People used to be curious enough to buy it. But somewhere along the way, they lost interest. Like Mathukuttychayan says, if we force them to buy it, they get irritated: “Priyanka Soap? We’ve never seen an ad for this anywhere.” I don’t have the money to print a notice, let alone create an advertisement to air on television.

My Priyanka was one of the many indigenous products that were gathering dust in shops without any sale whatsoever. Mathukuttychayan repeated his usual bleat today as well. In spite of that, if he stretched out a hundred-rupee note at the end of it all, it was probably because he sensed how wretched my plight was. That note sat securely in my pocket, the same pocket that also contained the long list of absolute necessities my wife had written down, which were to be bought using the money I would make that day. But none of that would be possible now. Maybe the children can get what they’ve been wanting for long. I became one of the people standing around a pile of clothes. A few of them asked if the stiches would hold. A few of them voiced the fear that the colour might run. Some bargained ruthlessly.

I picked up a couple of pieces and looked at them. They were not bad. I asked what the price was. “One hundred and twenty-five rupees!” I had two children. So I pretended that I did not quite like the pieces and started searching for something else.

“Take it,’s good-quality stuff. If you go to a big shop, you will have to pay at least four hundred rupees for this,” the vendor said, trying to egg me on.

“I’ll take something a bit cheaper.”

“Take the same thing, brother. I’ll give it to you at a lesser price.”

“How much less?”

“Give me fifteen less.”

“No, it’s okay.” I turned away disappointed. I had two children. And I had only hundred rupees in my pocket.

“Do you have something cheaper than this?” I asked and started rummaging once again hopefully.

“Brother, tell me what your budget is.”

“Let’s say fifty rupees...” My voice was feeble.

“Bro, these days it’s hard to get a decent underwear for fifty rupees.”

I hung my head in shame. As I was walking away dejected, he called me from behind.

“Wait, brother. I’ll give you something that will work for you.”

I walked back expectantly.

He opened a cardboard box kept behind him and took out a handful of T-shirts, all of them with blue and white stripes. I liked them – they looked beautiful; and they would fit the children. T-shirts were anyway the in-thing.

So I was convinced that the children would love it.

“These are only fifty a piece?” I asked eagerly.

“It’s hundred. But considering the situation you are in, I’ll give it to you for fifty.”

I warmed up to him.

At least there was one person in the world who understood my predicament.

Excerpted with permission from “The Argentina Jersey” from Marquez, EMS, Gulam and Others, Benyamin, translated from the Malayalam by Swarup BR, HarperCollins India.