Mini was a little girl, who was unusually fond of conversations. She had a makeshift mind that moved between various topics within her scope. Although she was young, she could start a conversation with people double or even triple her age.
Eventually she became friends with Rahamat, an Afghani money lender, whom she fondly called Kabuliwala. It was a delight to watch the two banter. Rahamat, was a tall, bearded man, who carried a sack on his shoulders while Mini was a tiny little girl who would chatter all the way. Initially Mini, was afraid of interacting with him, because she believed that Rahamat abducted little children in his sack. But Rahamat, because of his obvious fondness for the little girl, broke the ice, by presenting some raisins and apricots from his bag.
Mini came from an aristocratic Bengali family and Rahamat was just an ordinary fruit peddler from Kabul yet it seemed like they were close chums. The two friends had a few stock phrases and jokes which were repeated in their conversations. For example, the moment she saw Rahamat, she would ask with a hearty laugh, ‘Kabuliwala, O Kabuliwala, what is in your sack?’ Adding an unnecessary nasal tone to the word, Rahamat would roar, ‘Hanti.’ The essence of the joke was that the man had an elephant in his sack. Not that the joke was very witty, but it caused the two friends to double up in laughter, and the sight of that innocent joy between a little girl and a grown man on autumn mornings used to move Mini’s father deeply.
However Mini’s mother wasn’t too pleased with the growing friendship between Rahamat and her daughter and often nagged Mini’s father to keep an eye on him. One fine day, her worries came true; when Rahamat was arrested on charges of stabbing a man because the man had denied the debt he owed Rahamat, in the heat of the argument.
Rahamat was in the midst of hurling abuse in an obscene language at the dishonest man when Mini came running out of the house, shouting, ‘Kabuliwala, O Kabuliwala.’ In a flash, Rahamat’s face was filled with expressions of happiness. Innocently Mini asked him, ‘Will you be going to your in-laws’ house?’ ‘That’s exactly where I am going,’ Rahamat replied with a laugh. When he noticed that Mini did not find the answer quite amusing, he pointed to his hands and added in his heavily accented, broken Bengali, ‘I would have beaten up the in-law. But what can I do, my hands are tied up.’ Charged with grievous injury, Rahamat was sent to jail for several years. That was the last time that Mini saw him and quite child-likely forgot all about him as she grew up.
Several years passed. Mini’s wedding match had been fixed. On the day of the wedding, her father was busy looking at the wedding accounts when a man appeared before him, he had no bag, nor the long hair, nor the same vigour that he used to have. But he smiled, and Mini’s father knew it was Rahamat.
Mini’s father knew what he had come for. But he refused to allow him to meet Mini as he thought that it would be bad omen. Disappointed he put his hand inside his big loose robe, and brought out a small and dirty piece of paper. With great care he unfolded this, and smoothed it out with both hands on my table. It bore the impression of a little band. Not a photograph. Not a drawing. The impression of an ink-smeared hand laid flat on the paper. This touch of his own little daughter had been always on his heart, as he had come year after year to Calcutta, to sell his wares in the streets.
Tears came to Mini’s father’s eyes. He forgot that he was a poor Kabuli fruit-seller, while he was nothing more than he. He also was a father. That impression of the hand of his little daughter in her distant mountain home reminded him of his own little Mini.
When Rahamat saw Mini after all these years, he staggered. He could not revive their old friendship. At last he smiled and said: “Little one, are you going to your father-in-law’s house?” But Mini now understood the meaning of the word “father-in-law,” and she could not reply to him as of old. She flushed up at the question, and stood before him with her bride-like face turned down.
Mini’s father deeply touched by what had just happened gave Rahamat, enough
money to go back and see his own daughter in Afghanistan. Having done this, he had to cut down on some of the marriage festivity costs, but to him the wedding feast was all the brighter for the thought that in a distant land a long-lost father met again with his only child.