For the first time in years, the toy shop has been closed during the week. Business is oh so quiet. The busy throngs outside rush this way and that past the open doorway, but inside the shop the calm is undisturbed. The dust floats in the sunlight streaming in and the toys wait patiently for new owners. Indira has made a decision. Perhaps, just perhaps, a change of routine might alleviate the tedium. She takes Bapuji and Ba to the derasar; it is beautiful, this temple, with white stone columns and a mosaic tile floor, adorned with statues and figurines. There is a library here, where Bapuji used to broaden his mind every morning, its coolness offering respite from the blazing sun. Years ago they would have known many, if not most of the worshippers. During festivals the chatter of the sari-clad women would bounce off the columns, and even at quiet times there would always be somebody to catch up with. But solitude is the reward for outliving your peers, and Bapuji and Ba have had quite enough solitude already. The trio head home, where Bapuji spends the rest of the day muttering (not quite under his breath) about being bored, and being just a little cantankerous.
January is always a slow month, after the pre-Christmas spree, but this year tourism, terrorism and taxes exacerbate the toy shop torpor. Tourists have ventured elsewhere, taking with them their much-needed injection of foreign cash, and the now very possible threat of terrorist attack is discouraging them from wandering back. Much as I hate to discuss the issue of taxes- having just submitted my tax return after considerable grinding of teeth and procrastination- Indira’s rant on the subject provided food for thought. Please feel free to wander off and make a cup of tea, but if you choose to bear with me I promise not to vent for long- reading this blog should not be taxing. The latest government has increased taxes, on everything, it seems: milk, bread, electricity, gas, books, farm chemicals and implements, computers, mobile phones. Toys and books have suddenly become a luxury. They allowed publishers to increase the price of school books by 14% in December, in addition to the 16% VAT rise in September. I can only imagine the collective fury of the lovely parents at my daughter’s school if the same were to happen in the UK; it is a non-uniform school, where children are encouraged to learn in an unrestricted, supportive environment (a sentiment which I approve of, but no uniform– clearly not a policy voted in by parents of little girls who have an indecisive approach to dressing each morning). So how are children expected to learn, if their parents have to choose between food and school books? How will this African country progress if it loses the intellect of all of the children who could not afford school books? I do not have the answer to these questions, and my indignation has nowhere to go. Those of you who went for an Earl Grey, it is safe to return. The rant is over.
*gets off soapbox*