As a photographer one observes, and a slice of that observation become a frame and when one presses the shutter, that, becomes the picture for everyone to see.
How about giving a voice to those observations, so after 36 years of hanging a camera around my neck, I’ve started writing to give my observations a voice.
Jamaal Kansai wakes up to the ringing of his alarm,
it’s 7am, He gets up, brushes his teeth, and picks up the Times of India from
the table where his brother who was reading it earlier had left it, he scans
the situations vacant section for an accountant’s position as he’s been doing
for the past 3 months.
from Osmanabad, a small town in Maharashtra, his parents still live there, and
Jamaal has been living with his elder brother Pervez, who has a small apartment
in Versova in Mumbai.
Jamaal came to Mumbai to get a degree in accounting
from the University of Mumbai, it’s been 3 months since he graduated and Jamaal
has sent out his resume to 18 employers, has been interviewed by 12 and given
an offer letter by 7, but has rejected all.
The salary of Rs.25, 000 offered wouldn’t cover
rent and travel, and Jamaal wants his own apartment, he’s spent the last 3
years and 3 months sleeping on the living room sofa of his brother’s 1 bedroom
apartment. Besides, his brother Pervez’s wife is expecting and Jamaal wants to
leave before the baby arrives.
5ft 7, curly haired, Jamaal dresses comfortably. He likes jeans, cotton shirts and
suede shoes. Jamaal looks smart, is a likeable person and speaks well.
and one ad in the paper may change Jamaal’s life forever, he spots it, a junior
accountants position in Burkina Faso* for Eshmaal Gold. The company is into gold
mining, the salary advertised is 900 euros plus accommodation; the position is
for bachelor males with knowledge of accounting and French. Jamaal sends his résumé
and is called for an interview in the 1st week of September. Jamaal is
interviewed by the company rep. at The Taj Mahal Hotel.
interview is brief, some accounting questions and a few questions to test his
knowledge of French. After the interview he is told “you’re selected, and the
visa will arrive in a month, brush up on your French till then”.
was everything they wanted, a bachelor who knew French, was good at accounts
and didn’t mind living in Africa, for Jamaal it was a ticket to paradise, his
own accommodation with a bed of his own and more money than he imagined, Jamaal
gets up, smiles and shakes the interviewer's hand, and leaves.
and ticket arrive and Jamaal leaves Mumbai on an Ethiopian airline flight on 25th
of November 1980, Mumbai to Addis Ababa and then to Ouagadougou, Ouaga for
short, the capital of Burkina Faso. There were lot of Indians in Ouaga and Jamaal
settles down fast, the job suits him eminently, and being a good-humored man
himself he finds his colleagues approachable and friendly.
It was a
plush office in Ouaga, after all they were mining gold, the mines were 200 kms Southwest
of Ouaga in Bagassi. The accommodation was
in a newly constructed bldg. within walking distance of the office, a bedroom
with an attached bathroom and a balcony. It’s in the balcony that Jamaal spends
his leisure hours listening to music and watching the locals play, shop, argue,
flirt, get drunk etc.
sleeping on his own large bed after more than 3 years of sleeping on a sofa
and his joy was boundless. He makes his own breakfast on most days, toasted bread and butter
or a boiled egg sandwich, lunch is in the company cafeteria and dinner in small
restaurants around the house, the local food he likes is Jollof rice served
with Chermoula, it reminded him of biryani and kachumber back home. Jamaal loves
his job and puts in extra hours whenever required and in November of ‘82 is
promoted to chief accountant.
He is now entitled to have his own secretary and this is how Afroze comes into his
life. Afroze came to Burkina Faso with her parents 10 years ago, when she was
only 13, her father Mujeeb is a mining engineer, a graduate from the Indian
School of Mines-Dhanbad, and lives near the Eshmaal gold mines in Bagassi,
Afroze lives in the company accommodation with her mother, Rabiah.
invites Jamaal to her house one Saturday evening for dinner, it’s a lavish
spread of Kebabs, Mutton Biryani, kachumbar and firni, prepared by Afroze’s
finds Jamaal charming and asks him to drop in on weekends if bored and spend
time with them.
Jamaal and Afroze start dating and after 2 years of courtship get married in
December of ’84. Jamaal then moves out of the company quarters and he and Afroze
rent a 2-bedroom plush apartment close to the office. Afroze works as her
husband’s secretary till her son Ubaid is born in ’89 after which she is a
1990 and Jamaal has been working for 10 years in his first and only job, he’s
loving the respect and admiration he gets from his colleagues and besides he’s
been investing some money in India, those investments have grown substantially.
Jamaal works assiduously, accounting is in his
dna, but when he’s home at 6 he switches off from work, plays with his son
Ubaid and sometimes reads to him, and after they’ve put him to bed, he and
Afroze share a drink together, watch a movie sometimes, have a quiet dinner and
turn in, life is a bit boring but better than it would’ve been in India, this
routine goes on forever it seems, Ubaid grows up, goes to the only English
school in Burkina Faso and in 2006 finishes his schooling. Jamaal then sends
him to Mumbai for his college education. Ubaid takes up business management in
a south Mumbai college and finds hostel accommodation, he’s enjoying life in
Mumbai, Jamaal is not stingy with his allowance and Ubaid lives it up, pubbing
Ubaids 1st Christmas vacation, and he’s longing to meet his parents,
Jamaal gives Afroze and Ubaid a surprise, he’s booked a 14 day Mediterranean Cruise, the 1st port of call is Barcelona,Jamaal sends Ubaid a ticket for Barcelona and
the family meets there 3 days before the cruise begins, Jamaal has booked 2
rooms at the Le Meridian and they sail on the 18th on the Royal Caribbean. It’s a lovely holiday and the ship is state-of-the art, the rooms are luxurious with all possible amenities, and to top that the rooms have balconies
where all 3 are sipping beer and watching the sunset. It was a memorable
holiday for all and the 1st of many, Ubaid finishes his graduation
in 2010 and then enrolls for a masters in management at a college in Mumbai and
the family keeps meeting for their annual holiday during December, by now
they’ve travelled by train all over Europe, 3 cruises including a Baltic sea
cruise which was breathtaking, they see Riga, St.Petersberg, Oslo, Gdansk,
It’s now October of 2011 Jamaal has been
working for 31 years, an accountant's life is very peaceful he thinks, compared
to an engineer's, so many things go wrong at The Mine, but here in the office,
everything is like clockwork, smooth and easy, his fortune too has grown gradually, to a substantial $4million and he now wants to get out of Burkina Faso, a place that has been
his cocoon for 31 years, the thought of moving to Mumbai took hold of him when
the family met in Mumbai last year, he was entering the Taj Mahal hotel after
31 years and the feeling was nostalgic. Though he lived here before, the vibe
he now feels is different; it’s different when you have $4 million on you. Jamaal
decides he wants to live here. Ubaid too loves Mumbai and wants to settle her.
Jamaal puts in his papers a month before Christmas 2011 and moves to Mumbai.
shown a posh penthouse in Juhu for $1million and Ubaid and Afroze approve of
now 23 and looking for a job, Jamaal wants to set up a business for him. Ubaid
is not as smart as his father but Jamaal knows, that, that, doesn’t matter in a
corrupt country like India, where favors can be bought. Jamal sets up Ouaga
Impex Pvt. Ltd and takes membership in the prestigious Jubilee Club in Juhu, to spend his evenings there.
subscribes to all the Indian newspapers and keeps himself abreast with all the
happenings in town, at 53 he begins living the CEO life, starts jogging at 6am,
a grapefruit for breakfast, a poached chicken breast for lunch, a game of tennis
in the evening from 6-7, spends some time in the spa, showers, changes and then
heads for the library bar.
The library bar of the Jubilee club has an old world
charm about it, the entire length of the library bar is lined with books, on
close inspection one realizes it’s a cleverly made wall-paper with a 3
dimensional feel, it’s where members
come to enjoy the evening and savor their single-malt. Jamaal walks in and
looks for a place, most of the over-sized leather covered arm-chairs are taken,
he looks around and spots an empty chair, walks to it and takes it. The man
across introduces himself “I’m Manilal Seth- are you new here” Jamaal smiles
and says "yes” and gives him his Ouaga exports card. Manilal orders his single
malt “get me a Dalmore on the rocks” he tells the waiter,“What do you export”? Haven’t started, says
Jamaal, “but I will be exporting stuff like drill bits, welding electrodes, circuit breakers and
other items which companies in Africa source from India”. Manilal tells him a
little secret "the margins on those items are small-not more than 10%. There’s
big money here in India in government contracts, see all these people, they’re
all regulars and they all bid for contracts, one small contract a year is good
enough, a big one may see you through for 10 years.” Manilal tells him.
people Jamaal meets at the bar at the Jubilee Club are all wealthy businessmen
still doing business in their 70’s. He wants those contracts as badly as his
friends at his club.
2015 India announces aid to Africa to the tune of $22million, part of this aid
was to Burkina Faso and part of that was in the form of toothpaste, note-books,
school bags etc. for primary school children, to be distributed free by a local
good news for Jamaal and he knows he’ll certainly get a piece of the action. Jamaal
calls up his pals in Ouaga and is given some interesting facts, locals don’t
brush their teeth with toothpaste, they use a twig called miswak. The
toothpaste that the NGO distributes to the kids is thrown away.
appears in the Times of India on the 18th of December 2015 the tender
was for 50 lakh toothpaste tubes @Rs.4 a tube, FOB Burkina Faso.
Jamaal gets into action, makes several trips to Delhi, gets the tender
documents, fills them with the help of friends at The Jubilee Club, a few more
trips to Delhi and his friends introduce him to the movers and shakers in charge
kickbacks are huge but Jamaal knows he wants to do it, he works out the math
backwards, Rs1.50 for a single tube of toothpaste i.e. Rs1,50,00,000 for 50,00,000 tubes. Ten percent of the
bid amount i.e. Rs.40, 00,000 as kick back, shipping one container from the
JLPT port to the port of Tema(Ghana) and then by road to Ouaga-well within
looking at a clean profit of Rs2, 00,00,000 and he may get the contract year
after year, Ubaid will be on velvet for the rest of his life he tells himself.
now scanning the web for toothpaste manufacturers near Mumbai, he’s looking for
the lesser-known cheaper brands, the popular brands are over Rs.10 a tube. Jamaal
wants to source a tube at Re1.50, he finds 3 toothpaste manufacturers in
Maharashtra, he can’t reveal too much to them, anything white and gooey in a
tube will do, so he visits all 3 toothpaste factories and finally decides on
The Jalgaon Toothpaste Factory-JTF, Jamaal can’t believe his luck when he’s
told they have 50,00,000 unsold tubes of JALWA™ expiring in 6 months. He knows
he can clinch this at his price, offers JTF 1.50 per tube inclusive of fresh
expiry date stickers and transport to a warehouse in JNPT- (the port in Navi
toothpaste tubes arrive by road on the 20th of Jan 2016 to the
warehouse of Goreya Logistics in the JNPT container yard and on the 22nd
of Jan they are on their way to the port of Tema in Ghana (and then by road to
Ouaga). Jamaal is at the port to oversee the loading of his first consignment
and is happy that it has all come to fruition.
On the 23rd
Jamaal is on a morning flight to Delhi, but this flight is different, he
doesn’t have the same apprehension he had on his earlier trips, he’ll be
meeting friends now, in fact one of them will come and pick him up at the
Indira Gandhi airport and he’ll have the pleasure of riding in a vehicle with a
siren and a beacon and reach south Delhi in minutes.
crores get transferred to Ouaga Impex’s account after a week, Ubaid sees the
bank statement and is in a frenzy, he comes up with all kinds of weird ideas on
how to spend the money but Jamaal will have none of it, he wants to see the endless
zeros in his bank statement for a while longer-oooh…the sweet taste of money.
After paying his taxes and investing the rest in Ubaid’s name he indulges
himself and gets a Jaguar for 49 lakhs.
a long journey for Jamaal; from sleeping on the sofa to reclining in the plush
rear seat of his new JAG.
*Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in the northwest part of Africa; it shares its border with Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and The Ivory Coast. It’s capital is Ouagadougou and is often shortened to Ouaga.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.