the-south-asian.com April 2003
Page 2 of 4
'KNOCK AT EVERY ALIEN DOOR'
I stood aside wondering in amazement at this verbal ritual going on between the two. It reminded me of the mating dance of esoteric birds as they preened and strutted toward union. I had simply wanted to buy the opals if I could afford them, but so far they had not been mentioned nor had we looked at any gems. Perhaps this was a necessary prerequisite of any successful trade with Indian merchants. I could only defer to Richard's greater wisdom in these matters.
"Opals, Mukerjee," Richard said, "I'm looking for some good opals. Do you have any?"
Mukerjee hesitated, his look guarded and skeptical, as though he were about to do battle with a respected rival.
"Perhaps a few. Let me look --"
He went behind the counter and took two boxes from beneath it. Placing them on the counter, he carefully fingered the contents and returned one box to its customary place. He then arranged the jewels from the other box in a neat row on the counter, his hands spread out on either side in a kind of hovering embrace.
"Only a few," he said, "but very good. Much better than you will find anywhere else."
I moved in for a closer view and immediately saw the opals I had looked at before. My eye signaled to Richard the jewels of choice, side by side in a perfect match. He picked them up and, one by one, he held them between thumb and forefinger for scrutiny.
"Excellent opals," Mukerjee announced.
Richard continued his examination of the opals, holding them up to catch the light.
"No, Sgt. Perone. Where could you see better opals than these?"
"You are being the shrewd one with me, my friend."
Richard placed the jewels back on the counter and, in a gesture that was a complete surprise to me, he took from his shirt pocket a jeweler's loupe. Placing it against his eye like a protruding monocle, he took up the opals again one by one for a thorough examination. I was amazed at the cool professional air with which he carried this out, for I was not aware he had with him a single tool of the trade. Looking a bit dismayed, Mukerjee was, nevertheless, patient through it all. He withdrew his hands from the counter and crossed his arms, a watchful eye still on his merchandise. Richard took what seemed to me an endless amount of time in his examination of the opals. One after the other, back and forth, he inspected the jewels until I was ready to blurt out my impatience and tell him to forget the whole thing. I restrained myself until, finally, holding one up for further scrutiny, he said: "This one, Mukerjee, is flawed." He put it on the counter alongside his jeweler's loupe.
"That means I couldn't take the pair with one of them flawed."
"Not flawed." Mukerjee's nervous hand waved almost angrily now.
"A perfect pair. No, no, Sgt. Perone. You play the fox with me."
"Look for yourself," Richard said, handing him the jeweler’s loupe. "It's plain to see." Reluctantly Mukerjee took the jeweler's loupe to inspect the opal. After a few seconds he said: "No flaw, Sgt. Perone. I see nothing. Just as I said, a perfect pair of opals."
"I'm sorry, Mukerjee, that we can not do business." Richard picked up his jeweler's loupe and put it in his shirt pocket. He turned from the counter to walk away, a downcast look on his face. Midway to the door, Mukerjee called out. "Sgt. Perone, you would destroy poor Mukerjee." And he blurted out a price, in rupees, half of what he had quoted me when I first priced the opals. But Richard moved to the door, waving a lackadaisical good-bye. At that point I wanted to shout to Richard to tempt fate no further; I would happily pay that price. His hand was already on the door when he turned.
"Good-bye, Mukerjee. I doubt that I will come again. You would cheat your American friend."
Mukerjee shouted another decrease, this time a third of the original price. He came from behind the counter with the opals in his hand. It was then I made up my mind to step forward and offer to buy them if Richard's response was anything but positive. Richard turned from his exit, scratched his head as if in ponderous thought, and held out his hand.
"Let me see them again."
Mukerjee placed the opals in his palm.
"In the name of our friendship, Mukerjee," Richard said, rolling the gems with his finger, "I will take them. Even though they are not what I really want."
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