Love in the time of lakra kakra
I am a bit slow in recognising things like the brands people wear and drive, or a new hairstyle of someone familiar. Or if someone around me has become thinner or fatter. But I more than make up for this lapse in observation with a keen study in human character.
I have read the faces and body language of tens of thousands of human beings who have walked into Sun Flower, my shop in Super’s flower market, for over seven and a half years. I can foretell, in just a glance and with near 100 per cent accuracy, a few things about a prospective customer: Their motivation for buying flowers, the amount of money they are prepared to spend, the value they attach to the gift, and whether or not they are habitual hagglers … but that’s beside the point.
The point is it took me several hours to notice that my 10-year-old daughter, Roshni, who helps me in the afternoons, is all dressed up for the occasion. Valentine’s Day is certainly a big day for business, and it keeps getting bigger every year, but my daughter seems to be celebrating something more joyous than a brisk-sale day. She is wearing her Eid dress, her Eid make-up – which is a dab of ruby-red lipstick rubbed onto lips and cheeks – and a big happy smile as she talks with Pappu and customers, almost at the same time.
She is a very efficient salesperson. She greets customers with a natural smile and impresses them with her knowledge of flowers, plants and fragrances as she shows them around, or wins them over by letting them roam in the isles in peace if they so wish, and is always eager to help. She is a darling of customers and the reason they always return.
Pappu is this balloon boy who is often mistaken for Roshni’s twin brother, because he is always there next to her. He carries a bamboo pole with helium-filled balloons tied to it and walks all over and around Super Market selling them. But at 4 in the afternoon he shows up and sets his pole outside my shop, next to the desk Roshni uses as her packing station. He spends all evenings talking – actually just listening to – Roshni. She saves up the details of all that happened in the last 24 hours for this meeting, and he listens to her attentively, almost in awe, as if she is the fairy telling her own tale.
I don’t remember how and when they became friends. My daughter has been spending time with me at the shop since she was a toddler. She loves to be around flowers and she thinks I am among the smartest fathers for choosing this line of business. She has grown up with Sun Flower, and Pappu became a part of the experience for her, and a part of my work life for me.
I must make it clear that I do not associate Valentine’s Day with decadence, moral issues, cultural values, or Jewish conspiracies. I have always seen it as a florist’s Eid because the stem rose from Abbottabad that sells for 10 rupees in the first week of February fetches 50 or even a 100 at the end of the second. And they sell in volumes KP’s farmers can’t match in production. This is not to say I don’t associate the occasion with love and romance. All I’m saying is, when lovers come to me their minds are occupied, not with matters of the heart, but with those of budgeting.
Except for a very few couples who seem to be having loads of fun without requiring any of the V-Day accessories, the rest need to convert their expression of love into a suitable purchase price for flowers and chocolate. I don’t know about chocolates but with flowers, the paying party is always male. The amount they’ll spend is, in my experience, not a function of love couples have for each other but that of relative prettiness: if the woman is prettier than the man, he will want to spend a fortune on her, and if he is the prettier of the two, she’ll want and urge him to. In both cases his ‘fortune’ may or may not satisfy hers. Every woman knows that she deserves the a la carte bouquet arranged on the florist’s recommendation, which is the most expensive item in my shop. She’ll settle for a per-arranged bunch or a single stem rose though, but not without calculating in her mind the deficit in her perception and his expression of mutual love. So V-Day is about money, not just for sellers, but for buyers and recipients of flowers too.
Today, however, I am seeing Valentine’s Day through my daughter’s eyes and it looks and feels like a festive, colourful and happy occasion, a time to enjoy and have fun without requiring gifts and foods. She is packing a bunch of lilies and laughing at something the customer said. She turns towards Pappu to share the joke with him. He is standing a few feet away and hasn’t made a move to sit next to her and help her with this and that, as he usually does.
I felt the kind of pleasure that comes only from watching your child being happy. I left the counter to my assistant and walked towards her. Pappu’s pole-full of balloons filled a bright background that accentuated the pink satin frock she was wearing. The bright red of the heart-shaped balloons had run on to her cheeks. She is getting to the end of her anecdote and her face is melting with mounting excitement, which with a slight delay, is reflecting in Pappu’s face. She bursts out laughing before finishing the punch line. She enjoys her own jokes and Pappu seems to enjoy her company. If he finds something funny he just smiles a brief but bright and happy smile to encourage her to laugh some more. That’s the only time I’ve ever seen him smiling. And he is smiling now.
‘Why are you standing there beta, aren’t you going to help her with the packing? Or are you too busy with your own business tonight?’ I winked at the boy. Roshni burst out laughing again: ‘He has lakra kakra … hehehe’. Do you know what lakra kakra is? … hehehe’. I didn’t hear her because I was so engrossed in the picture. The picture of my daughter laughing her head off. I felt gratitude for having her, and blessed to see her happy.
‘It’s chicken pox, silly. He thinks if he comes near me I’ll get it too. I told him I can’t get it because I have already been sick during the last summer holidays when we went to stay with khala, and everybody knows you don’t get chicken pox twice, but he doesn’t believe me. Now, you tell him …’
I’ll tell you something instead: give me a nice and tight V-Day hug.
Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.