Duka

It is the toy shop, and all of its previous guises, that my family’s story revolves around. After Bapuji sailed across the seas aged sixteen he landed, eventually, in the position of shop boy – general errand runner and dogsbody. He worked hard, he claims, but he also remembers the price of mistakes: an earful and a smack around the head. As a much-mellowed grandfather he retains a cheeky sense of humour, so I imagine a certain amount of mischief took place during his teenage years. Several years and a marriage later he rented a duka, a small shop in a village called Yala. Without money to buy stock outright, he collected baskets full of corn from local farmers and clothes from the nearby town, and carefully noted down any sales, racing around each evening to return unsold stock and pay the farmers what they were owed.

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Three years later he moved his little enterprise to Gilgil, following the hope of military money, and when the British Army marched on he, too, moved himself and his growing family to the coast. There was fierce competition, Bapuji remembers. Each duka was a mini general-store, and the only way to stand out, to build a regular clientele, was to appear charming and reliable, the man who had, or could get. Eventually his duka morphed into its current form, the toy shop of my childhood. By then, Bapuji had become a small-businessman, dressed smartly in his high-collared Nehru suits, planning international trips, supporting his family of nine.

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