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‘Give me a calculator’

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By Savitri Narayanan
“What happened to Tushar Stores?” thought Mrs Sinha as she chopped the onions. They were just down the street and usually very prompt. One could place an order over phone or WhatsAap and, within an hour, things would be delivered at home. ‘What happened today?’ she thought as she set the dining table.

It was their ‘meet and chat’ day and Mrs Sinha wanted to make it special. After their retirement, a few old friends had started to meet once in a while to catch up. Soon after completing the morning chores, they would get together to enjoy an hour or two of leisurely eating and chatting. Pav bhaji was an all time favourite and its mouth-watering aroma wafted to the living room.

But where was the pav? The shopping list was shared long ago, even before breakfast and the store was just down the road! Why the delay? Where was the pav?

Just then the doorbell rang. ‘Hope it’s Mahinder,’ she thought as she went to open the door.

“Your order, madam,” said the stranger who stood there with a carton of groceries beside him.
“Come in, let me check,” she said signaling him to take a seat.

She had ordered the provisions for the month so it took some time to cross-check the items with the bill.
“Take back these three items,” she said putting aside the biscuit packets, toothpaste and soap. “That’s not what I asked for!”
The boy stood there looking rather lost, as if waiting for instructions.
“Are you new? Where’s Mahinder?” she asked. Slightly stooping, with a shade of a moustache, he looked older than Mahinder but not as smart.
“C’mon, calculate and tell me how much I owe you,” she added.

His eyes shifted from the returned packets to the bill. He thought for a while and said, “Auntiji, please give me a calculator!”
“Calculator? For this?” she turned slightly impatient, “Just do it here on the bill; here take a pencil!”
The boy looked around as if searching for something.

“Auntiji, please may I use your phone?” he asked.
He took a few minutes to use her phone as a calculator and come to a figure. He counted the money and put it in his pocket.
“Beta, I am surprised,” she said scribbling behind the bill, “Add these three figures and the sum you deduct from the total amount here! Why do you need a calculator for this? Didn’t you learn this in your school?”
“Auntiji, I studied only till fourth standard,” he said, “Then I went to help in Pitaji’s shop where we all used the calculator. But you do addition and subtraction just with a pencil…”
“What do you do in the shop? Especially when many customers come?”
“We are four of us and we all have our calculators,” he said, “But you don’t need it!”

There was an eagerness, a sense of hope and innocence about him. Mrs Sinha said, “You seem to be doing well! You are earning your living too because you have learned to use a calculator. But if you are serious, if you want to really understand basic Mathematics, I will help you! May be for a week come here for an hour, that’s all! If you are serious that’s all you need!”
There was a spring in his steps when he returned to the shop.