The Rs 10,000 handshake
Most of my father's relatives had migrated to live in the cities after Partition. Many had to start life almost penniless; having lost everything they owned. A few of my distant relatives still lived in the interiors of Tarn Taran district, in a village, practicing agriculture and leading simple, hardworking lives.
As I was growing up, the occasions to meet were the rare family functions, mostly marriages. My father, a self-made man, after working at tyre makers Goodyear and Bhakra Nangal dam, and in the research and development division of Hindustan National Glass (HNG), had opened his own consultant's firm.
By now, he had built a reputation for himself in the glass and ceramics industry and associated machinery. Having trotted the globe and met many foreign professionals, he had, by the 1970s, acquired a corporate jargon and body language that few proprietors of small business in India could boast of.
As most of his clients were foreign nationals, by the late 1980s, he had modelled his fee after the trend then in the international industry, and now he charged by the hour in dollars. Roughly, it meant that an appointment with him for an hour would cost the client Rs 10,000 in Indian rupees.
Some of our less charitable relatives did not look favourably at what they thought was the snooty attitude of my father to his work. "Hathh milaan day dus hazar rupay, eh ki gal hoyi (Rs 10,000 for a handshake; what attitude is that)?" they would say and discuss it disparagingly and enviously.
I did not know how far his "fame" had spread until my father took me to a family wedding in a Tarn Taran village. We reached our uncle`s place and the menfolk came out to greet us.
They all stood with folded hands, greeting us with loud Sat Sri Akal. We replied to the greetings heartily and my father extended his hand for the customary shake. To our surprise, everyone folded their hands behind their backs resolutely. My father tried again; perhaps, he had not been effusive enough. He bowed a little, called out the greetings and extended his hand yet again. Now nervous visibly, the men looked around at each other, sheepishly, all replying to his greeting but none daring to bring his hand out.
It was then that I realised what the matter was. I stepped onto the threshold, calling everyone inside, and talked about the bride excitedly. That eased the tension and though my father was a little bewildered, it went off pleasantly. When we were to leave, consciously, I hurried my father into the car before he could show off his farewell style, and shut the door, all the while yelling and waving goodbyes.
To this day, whenever my rustic uncles meet me, they greet me warmly, grateful in the belief that I saved each of them Rs 10,000 of their hard earned money that day.