I’m striking a lighter note this week with this story, which was inspired by my quick trip to Mumbai earlier in the week. It is monsoon season there at the moment and I’ve no idea how the population manages to carry on with normal business under the deluge. It is certainly atmospheric.
I offer my apologies for any (and there must surely be some) religious inaccuracies in the text. I hope they don’t distract too much. They are certainly not intended to offend.
As always, comments gratefully received. More fabulous story-tellers can be located at #fridayflash on twitter and at fridayflash.org.
A Monsoon Magnate
Raj peered gloomily out from underneath the tarpaulin.
‘This bloody monsoon,’ he said, ‘how is a man supposed to make a living with the heavens emptying themselves for weeks at a time?’
Jay laid a hand on Raj’s arm.
‘You worry too much, friend,’ he said, stepping back as one of the few taxis brave enough to chance their luck in the downpour sped past, forcing a high tide of fetid street water over the pavement.
‘Of course I worry; we’re not going to make our fortunes gawping at the rain like a pair of hijras, scared our mascara might run.’
‘There’s an idea.’
‘We could become hijras. How about it Raj?’ Jay grabbed a piece of cloth and wrapped it round Raj’s head. ‘I can just see you: a pretty sari, some gold jewellery, red lipstick. All you have to do is dance; they always pay well.’
‘Very funny, Jay. No thanks. Besides, we’re the wrong caste; and don’t they have to cut their thingies off?’
‘I thought they just pushed them up inside for a while.’
Raj looked at his friend and shook his head.
‘It’s no good. I have to find something.’
‘Well, whatever it is, make sure it has a USP.’
‘What’s one of those?’
‘A Unique Selling Point.’
‘Is this some rubbish you’ve picked up at that evening class? Why you waste your rupees on that when you could be at the movies, I don’t know.’
‘So you’re not interested?’
Raj looked at the rain again.
‘Go on then; I’m all ears.’
‘Successful entrepreneurs always make sure their product stands out from those of their rivals.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Well,’ said Jay, ‘I’ll try and explain it.’ He thought for a moment. ‘We’re Hindus, right?’
‘Yes, thank goodness.’
‘Exactly,’ said Jay, ‘and what is it about our religion that we like so much.’
‘Every religion has festivals, Raj, but ours gives us a second chance. And a third; probably a fourth, fifth and sixth too. It’s the Karma which makes it different. You’re always saying that you want to come back as a dolphin aren’t you?’
‘Yes. But I still don’t get it.’
Jay pushed his hands through his hair.
‘I’ll try and make this easier for you,’ he said. ‘Why do you always go to the same ice cream stand?’
‘Because they have the most flavours to choose from.’
Jay slapped Raj on the back.
‘There you go! That’s a Unique Selling Point.’
‘Ah!’ Raj suddenly felt inspired. Was this what they called a eureka moment?
It was several wet days before Jay saw his friend again. When he finally found him, Raj was standing behind a table he’d set up under cover on the pavement; it was loaded with new umbrellas.
‘What’s all this?’
Raj smiled broadly.
‘Thanks to you Jay, I’m in business.’
‘And why would I buy one of your umbrellas when I can get the identical item across the road?’ Jay looked at the price marked on the soggy piece of card. ‘And for less money?’
‘You’re forgetting my USP!’
Jay raised his eyebrows.
Raj pointed to the sign fixed to the tarpaulin roof.
“Stay safe from lightning with Raj’s rubber umbrellas!”
‘Umbrellas can’t be made of rubber.’
‘The handles can. Look!’
Jay picked up one of the umbrellas and examined it.
‘It’s just rubber tubing pushed over the handles.’
‘How do you know it works?’
‘Isn’t that a bit dishonest?’
‘If it makes me money, who cares?’
Jay sighed. He hadn’t taken the class on business ethics yet, but he felt sure that Raj’s venture would come under “How not to do business”.
‘How many have you sold?’
‘Four. But it’s early days. You don’t think Bill Gates made his first million by lunchtime, do you?’
No, thought Jay, but at least he was selling something that worked.
The two friends waited patiently throughout the morning, and despite dropping his price a couple of times, Raj only sold three more umbrellas.
‘I’m hungry,’ he announced at lunchtime.
‘Why don’t you get yourself an ice cream?’ said Jay, ‘I’ll keep an eye on your stall.’
Raj looked up at the sky.
‘But it’s pouring.’
‘Hmm, what you really need is an umbrella!’
Raj pushed Jay out of the way and grabbed a bright green one from his display.
‘Very funny clever clogs. I’ll be back in a minute.’
Sheltered under his green canopy, Raj started out across the road. The lightning which struck the metal tip of his umbrella killed him instantly, melting the rubber tubing into his singed palm.
After what felt like seconds, but could equally have been an eternity, Raj opened his eyes.
‘Oh,’ he said quietly, ‘it’s you.’
‘Indeed it is,’ said Vishnu, ‘who were you expecting?’
‘What happens to me now?’ said Raj, nervously eyeing the god’s four arms.
Vishnu peered over the edge of his lotus flower.
‘You’re going back down there.’
Raj heaved a sigh of relief.
‘Thank you, Lord Vishnu.’
‘You don’t know what you’re going back as yet.’
‘Please, Lord Vishnu,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean to be dishonest.’
‘Too late,’ said the deity, flicking through his natural history encyclopaedia, ‘yes, this will do. And it’s the right weather for it.’
‘Dolphin?’ said Raj hopefully.
Vishnu slammed the book shut.
‘No,’ he said, ‘toad.’
Raj began to cry.
‘I don’t know why you’re so surprised,’ said Vishnu, ‘it’s Karma. My USP. Remember?’
© flyingscribbler 2011