I like it when people pay attention to my stories. For a living I sell medicines – promote them, to be precise – but my real talent, if you really ask me, lies in storytelling.
Six days a week, I wear a tie brought from the underground Palika bazaar, comb my hair backwards, eat my breakfast of two boiled eggs (except Tuesdays), wash it down with a glass or a cup of tea, depending on my wife’s mood, and then make rounds of clinics and hospitals with my leather bag, telling doctors that the medicines and drugs produced by my pharmaceutical company are God’s gift to mankind.
Some of them are busy treating patients and ask me to come later. But some of them invite me in. They shift uneasily on their chairs while I tell them about new medicines introduced in the market. They quickly take free samples I offer, putting them inside drawers.
“And, what else?” the moment one of them asks me this, I assume my hidden role and regale him with my stories. There are so many anecdotes I know. Like about this neighbour of mine who dropped his wife from the back of his scooter in the midst of a bustling market and drove straight home, only to find his wife missing. It is rumoured that she did not come back for six months, choosing to stay back at her parents’ house. Or about this friend of mine who attended a meditation session and, afterwards, began to suspect that his mother was a monster. Or about this distant relative of mine who committed suicide one wintry afternoon. He was ironing his trousers as he waited for an official pick up. He had ironed one of the legs when he suddenly decided to end his life and did so by hanging himself with a Bombay Dyeing bed sheet.
Sometimes, I invent my own stories. I cook them up. Sometimes, I also offer diagnosis to doctors who know me for long now. Recently, one such young doctor looked sullen when I entered into his room. This doctor is also a writer, or at least he claims to be one. Behind him there hangs a portrait of Ernest Hemingway. Between thick medical encyclopaedias stacked on a shelf he has kept copies of The Old Man and the Sea and A Moveable Feast.
The young man is restless as I can see. I rub my fingers on my striped tie – the two fingers of my right hand between which I hold cigarettes. The fingertips have almost turned yellow and they perpetually smell of cigarette smoke. Adjusting the knot of my tie, I speak to him.
“Doctor sahab, it seems you are stressed out with work. I think you badly need a vacation,” I throw the bait.
He lets out a guttural laugh. He takes out his spectacles and keeps them gently on the table. “Do you really think so?” he asks. And then without waiting for my answer, he continues.
“Actually what I need right now is to be able to spend time with a
like-minded person who is either a painter or a writer. She (There he goes, I think, so he has facing difficulty with his spouse) and I could go somewhere in hills where we could create our own mini workshop. She could do her own thing and so would I and, in the evening, we could go for long walks, drink tea at roadside stalls.”
I see dreams floating in his eyes. Then I know that this is the time.
“Let me tell you a story, Sir, about this man who had this habit of rubbing his fingers over his tie…” And so I begin…