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Weighing blessings

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

Shopkeepers, among them grain sellers specially, are often accused of cheating by giving short weight.

Nadir Shah’s 1739 massacre in Delhi followed a dispute between Persian soldiers and a dealer selling pigeon feed (some say also birds). Earlier in the 14th century Alauddin Khilji had fixed prices of all edible items and punished with a heavy hand those who violated the order.

Sher Shah Suri was equally stern two centuries later. Many years ago one lived in Devnagar, mainly inhabited then by Reghars, who kept a very stern eye on their women, with daily evening beatings of some for allegedly staring at neighbours or passers-by.

One of them came up the stairs of this scribe’s house, quite drunk and abusive. He had just slapped his wife, accusing her of exchanging glances with the neighbour (me), when the poor girl was actually trying to cheer up the crying child in his arms.

In such an ambience there were aggressive grocers , no doubt in the area market, who tried to hoodwink customers. But there was an exception: a bulky silver-haired dealer of a Fair Price shop.

Before putting each weighed quantity of wheat in the customer’s bag, he would religiously intone, “Barkat ji”, meaning blessing on you. No wonder he came to be known as “Barkatji”.

The man must be dead now but one still remembers him for another thing too. Once in the wheat there were too many “suris” (grain bugs). A customer with a big tilak on his forehead remarked that such grain should be sold to meat eaters alone.

Barkatji retorted, “Only things which should be eaten are eaten, not everything.” It was a very pragmatic reply from one, who himself was a strict vegetarian. Where do you find such shopkeepers now?