Sakthivel looked up from his workbench and out down the piece of wood he had spent the morning carefully carving into the shape of an elephant’s head. The little bells at the door had tinkled indicating a customer had entered the shop.
“Hello?” called a voice, gruff, impatient and certainly western as far as the old man could tell. Sakthivel frowned as he stood and brushed wood chippings off his clothes. Westerners were always so…bothersome. On the other hand, they usually paid well – having little idea how to haggle over price – and often bought the more expensive items in his shop; so, overall there was balance and that was just as it should be.
“Coming,” he shouted as he took tentative steps. His old legs didn’t move so quickly any longer when he had been sat in the same position for so long as he had that morning. He moved his way out of the back room which served as his workplace, dining area, washroom and bedroom and passed by a statue on a plinth of a four-armed blue skinned Hindu goddess, into the only other room of his house which served as his shop.
Sakthivel saw a tall, blond-haired young man standing in the middle of the room looking all around at the various instruments hanging from the walls and down from the ceiling. He had a curious look of one who was both fascinated and disgusted by what he saw.
“Namaste,” the old man greeted the stranger, “how I can help you?”
The young man stared at Sakthivel and tutted.
“Am I right to think you’re the only shop selling musical instruments in Darjeeling?”
“Yes. Only one. No other.”
The man tutted again and looked around as though fearing a bad smell might fall on him in this place. Sakthivel simply smiled sweetly and waited patiently.
“You have been recommended by people in the town. I have been told you teach people to play the sitar. Is that right?” he didn’t wait for Sakthivel to answer, “I want a lesson. If I like it then I will buy one of your sitars and take it back with me to the States.”
Sakthivel glanced at the bag strapped to the youth’s back. From the shape of the padding he could tell inside there was a guitar.
“You are musician? No?” he said pointing at the stranger’s back and grinning. The man nodded, “sorry, it no possible to teach you. Need many year; many, many year to learn sitar.”
The man put his hands on the counter between him and this strange little Indian man and leaned forward so that his muscular bulk overshadowed the shopkeeper in what was, he clearly though, an intimidating way.
“You don’t understand,” he told Sakthivel, pointing at the guitar bag on his bag, “I am a professional musician. I am here in Darjeeling on vacation to see the Himalayas and I would like to learn the sitar as I’m in India.”
“No possible,” the old man repeated who wasn’t in the slightest bit intimidated, “it take many, many lessons.”
“Oh..let’s see…about twenty.”
“No, no. Years. Twenty years for lessons.”
A huge guffaw boomed from the young man who shook his head, dismissing Sakthivel’s words.
To continue reading this story please buy the book ‘The Old Man on the Beach and other stories’ available January 2015.
Copyright © 2014 D K Powell