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By Fred Gupta
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Fred Gupta
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Father's Legacy
Gani was born into the Gupta family at the start of the last quarter of the nineteenth century in a small village called Bhanwar, about ten miles outside of Porbandar, India. Bhanwar was a poor village where most people were concerned about how they would find their next meal, never mind the other challenges of life. His arrival meant that his mother, Khatija, and father, Aboo, who were already struggling to make ends meet, had to provide for three sons rather than two. They welcomed him eagerly nonetheless. Most excited about Gani's birth were his older brothers-Faaris, two years his senior, and Aadi, three years older than Faaris.
In the evenings, while their mother prepared their meager meals and before their father returned from work, the older boys would take to the dusty streets of their small village, seeking adventure, craving excitement, and eagerly exploring. They kept fairly close to their tiny family home to begin with. But as they grew, the brothers became bolder, exploring farther and farther afield: first to the end of their street, then to the next street, and finally to the very borders of their village. At first little Gani could only crawl after them, but as soon as he could walk, he became his adored brothers' constant shadow, following them on their travels around the village.
Once Gani learned to talk, his relationship with Faaris and Aadi gained a new dimension. Able to express his own ideas and share his desires, Gani questioned his brothers endlessly about the world around him, a world that, even at his tender age, held infinite appeal for an inquiring young mind.
As Gani's world grew larger, so did his curiosity about it. He constantly sought new exploits and discoveries, new ideas to experience.
"Soon you will run out of places to explore, little boy," Gani's mother told him when he returned from yet another scout around the village.
Gani, then eight years old, smiled at this, wondering what she meant. Surely their village, the center of his universe, held endless possibilities.
After brooding on the matter for some time, he sought out his brothers, from whom he got all his knowledge of the world. When he asked them what his mother had meant, however, they laughed.
"Our village is not very big, little Gani," Faaris said. "There are only so many places to go, and you've already been to all of them!"
Frowning, Gani thought about this. To his young mind, his village was infinite, and he could not understand how they could say it was small.
"But what happens when the village ends? Where does it go then?" he asked.
His brothers pulled him under the shade of a tree and knelt beside him in the dust. Taking a pointed stick, Aadi drew a map of the village and the fields surrounding it.
"You see? This is our village. Beyond these fields, there are more fields and more villages," said Aadi.
Gani thought about the possibility of more fields, more streets, and more houses, but never having been anywhere else in his life, he found the idea completely alien.
Pointing at the map, Gani asked, "But what is after this field? Where does it go then?"
"We don't know, Gani," Aadi answered. "Mama says that beyond these fields is another town. A bigger town that has a port!"
"A port? What is a port?" Gani asked, instantly excited by the prospect of more places to explore and new adventures awaiting him and his beloved brothers.
"Mama says a port is where big boats come and take things away to more villages over the sea," explained Faaris.
Again, little Gani frowned. He had never seen the sea, and he did not understand the idea of a port at all. To him it sounded as though his brothers were spinning a yarn, as they sometimes did. Any minute he expected them to start laughing at him.
"But where do they take these things, and why do they need to put them in a boat?"
His brothers shrugged. At ten and thirteen, their knowledge of the world was not much greater than Gani's. Aadi and Faaris had never left the secure confines of their village either; they, too, had never seen this port their mother spoke of.
"Da once said that when you stand next to the sea you can look out over the water and not see any other villages. All you see is water, right to where the sky touches it," Aadi told him while Faaris nodded his head.
Gani felt sure his brothers were having some fun at his expense. A place where all you see is water? Right to where the sky touches the sea? That sounded like a tall tale indeed!
"Maybe those places Da told you about are not really there. It sounds to me that they would be very, very far away, wouldn't they?" he asked, watching their faces for the hint of a smile that would give their joke away.
But his brothers remained serious, and Faaris added, "Da said they are there and that they are so far away the people even speak different words from us-words we would not understand."
Gani laughed, convinced that his brothers were joking with him. It was ridiculous. How could people far away speak with different words? Who would have taught them a different language, and how would they have understood their teacher?
Gani considered that even if his brothers were serious, it must be because his Da had been joking with them and they hadn't realized it. He resolved to find out the truth when his Da returned home from work that evening. Yet, as he stood up, wiping the dust from his trousers, his eyes wandered to the trees at the edge of the field. What, exactly, he wondered, did lie beyond those trees? Where did the world end, and more importantly, when would he get to see these fantastic places his brothers had told him about?
As Gani trailed his brothers when they left the shade of the tree, his fascination with his father's tales of vast seas and distant peoples took hold, his thoughts wandering to far-off places. He dreamed of the sea, and he imagined the port and the ships that docked there, waiting to take people and goods away to foreign lands. Little did he know that the imaginative sparks ignited by that idle conversation, which took place under a tree in the dust in the sweltering heat of an Indian afternoon, would one day become reality. In fact, the events leading up to that reality were about to be set in motion, and in just four years, Gani's world would be changed forever.
Chapter TwoA Tragic Turn
Toward noon one day, when Gani was twelve, his uncle, who worked at a factory with Gani's father, came to visit but stayed only a few minutes. Gani's mother left the house with him and stayed away for what seemed to Gani a very long time, returning only when the sun was already low in the western sky. Gani puzzled over the fact that his uncle, who usually came with a friendly word for Gani and his brothers, had seemed to not even notice the boys. Also, a neighbor had been called in to watch them while his mother was out, which seemed strange since Faaris and Aadi were fourteen and seventeen and did not ordinarily need looking after. Even Gani, though not yet an adolescent, would soon be seeking work and contributing to the household. Why, then, his mother's sudden protectiveness?
* * *
"Gani, your Da is dead."
Those were his mother's words to him when she returned home on that terrible day. Three weeks later those words continued to haunt him, sleeping and awake. There had been some kind of accident at work, although his mother was vague about the details and never quite managed to meet Gani's gaze when he asked her about it. His father's death shattered their world-not only had his parents been very much in love, but also the loss of the protective male head of the family had made them all feel vulnerable and afraid. The fact of his father's death was one from which Gani could not escape.
After Aboo's death and the loss of income that was almost as tragic as the personal loss, Gani's mother needed her sons to go out and find work, to bring in money for the house, and to help fill the void that had been created in their lives. In the weeks and months that followed, the already difficult lives of Gani and his family steadily worsened. Friends and family in the village did what they could to help, and their efforts were gratefully received. But it was not enough, as they were also poor and struggling to eke out a livelihood in the tiny village.
Gani and his brothers remembered the neighboring port of Porbandar that they had spoken of years earlier. The port was called the White City because of its white stone construction, and the town was a major maritime trade center. The brothers walked the few miles there each day, sometimes even hitching a ride on the back of a cart passing by. At the side of the vast ocean, they found employment helping local fishermen by setting up their small catches on the market stalls, cleaning their boats, and putting away their equipment. In return for the boys' efforts, the fishermen gave them the unsold remains of their catches to take home to their grateful mother. When their mother cooked the fish, it filled their stomachs, but it was not money and could not buy any of the other things their family so desperately needed.
All the boys knew they needed to find real jobs that paid real money-the question was where. Who would employ three ragamuffin boys, aged seventeen, fourteen, and twelve? Where would they even start to look?
There was a market situated a few hundred yards from the port, which attracted the brothers' attention. Many of the stalls were rundown; yet their owners sold spices, food, clothing, and household items-even shoes and haircuts-and provided a meeting place for people from all the surrounding villages. The boys wandered up and down the narrow alleyways between the stalls, admiring the exotic foods, trinkets, and treasures the vendors had to offer, even though, to the boys, everything for sale there seemed as unattainable as the moon.
Sometimes a kind stall holder, having asked the brothers to help him set up for the day, would want them to return at night to pack away any remaining items. The Gupta boys would appear long before they were needed, with their small parcels of unsold fish under their arms. Never did any of those stall holders have reason to question the boys' willingness to work. The brothers were eager and enthusiastically set about any tasks given to them. Gani worked harder than either of his two brothers, but when his work was done, he would perch on an empty crate or on the dirt street and watch the traders and their customers go about their business.
Gani was both fascinated and excited by the trading. Amazed, he loved to watch a customer attempt to haggle for a better deal and receive a stern rebuff from the trader before countering with another offer. He never tired of watching people barter, listening raptly to their arguments, and soon began to realize that trading involved much more complex processes than merely buying and selling. For instance, one lesson Gani learned from his observations was that if a person spoke with conviction and had the confidence to impose his will on others, he might very well end up, as a customer, with the item he wanted for a very good price, or, as a trader, selling an item for far more than its worth.
All this led Gani to wonder about the possibilities of trading and what it could do for his family, and he began to formulate a plan. One night some weeks later, after the boys and their mother had eaten their supper of fish, Gani took his brothers aside and told them of his plan.
Chapter ThreeGani's Plan
"If we are not just to fill our stomachs each night, we will need to do more than accept the remains that the fishermen might allow us to have at the end of a hard day's work," Gani explained to his brothers.
Faaris and Aadi frowned. They were happy to be working and considered any job they might have to be better than none. Many other people in their village did not even have that, and at least there was food on the table every night for their family.
"What are you talking about, Gani?" Faaris asked.
"Well, I've been watching the traders for some time now, and I think that the idea behind it is simple. You have to convince the customer that he needs the product you are selling. The better you can do that, the higher the price you will get for it, and the more profit you will make."
Aadi laughed and slapped his younger brother on the back. "But, Gani, we have nothing to trade. Unless you can trick a man into buying dust from the street, our stock is running low!"
Faaris joined in Aadi's laughter, but Gani was unperturbed.
His brothers, unlike him, did not spend their days watching the traders; they did not understand the power of the stalls. Each day, between setting up the stalls and helping the fishermen with their catch, his older brothers would head down to the beach with their fishing lines to try to catch some fish themselves. While they were on the beach, Gani was in the thick of the market, watching the traders catch and reel in their own prey-customers who sometimes traded whole goats for completely impractical, though beautiful, things. His brothers did not see the magic the stall holders worked. They cast spells of words on their customers, convincing them that the decorative yet useless trinkets they displayed were worth people's hard-earned money, chickens, or goats.
One day Gani had watched a stall holder bartering with a customer who urgently needed a birthday gift for his aging mother. The trader ended up getting a good profit from the man, later revealing to Gani that the beautiful, delicate necklaces he sold had been made by his daughter. Yet in return for those exquisite trinkets, the desperate customer parted with three chickens, a rooster, and a full pail of milk. Gani imagined the wealth that three chickens, a rooster, and a pail of milk would bring to his family, realizing that with both a rooster and chickens there would be more chickens in time. Those chickens would also produce eggs, and the more chickens that hatched, the more eggs there would be. After a few generations of chickens, he might very well have a whole coop full of hens laying eggs: a valuable commodity indeed!
Gani tried again to explain his idea to his brothers. "You see, if we can find just one item worth trading at the market, we can trade that item for something better, and then trade that item again, and on and on, until we have enough for our own stall."
His brothers were still skeptical, but Gani, who even at the age of twelve recognized that his plan was ambitious, was confident that it would work if he could only find that first item to trade. In the few short months since his father had died, Gani had learned that while hard work was honorable, there was very little profit if you worked for someone else. If he did not find another way to earn a livelihood for himself and his family, they would all be reliant on others their whole lives.
* * *
Gani began to watch the way the market operated even more closely. He noticed what people bought, how much they paid, and how far they haggled with the stall holders. He observed the way the stall holders closed up each day and how much of their product went unsold.
After many weeks of following the comings and goings of the market, Gani was sure he had it all figured out. Perishable goods-fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, and eggs-were always the quickest to sell. In the heat of the day they spoiled easily, so customers at the market were eager to buy while the food was still fresh. As that kind of produce always moved fast, it would be a surefire way to make a profit; yet he would need a regular supply in order to maintain a living. Live animals were the next most popular market commodities. Chickens, without a doubt, were most common, but every once in a while, large livestock animals were traded. Only a few weeks earlier, a cow had been traded for a solid gold ring and two fine goats. Materials like cloth and cotton were popular and in constant demand, as people always needed clothes. Tools, too, such as shovels and rakes, as well as fishing nets and rods and bags of grain for sowing were traded successfully. Fishing and farming were important industries, so there would always be a demand for those items. Of course, functional items seemed to sell most easily, but the biggest profits were made on entirely useless yet beautiful jewelry and trinkets.
Excerpted from The Guptas by Fred Gupta Copyright © 2010 by Fred Gupta. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Gani....................ix
Chapter 1 A Father's Legacy....................1
Chapter 2 A Tragic Turn....................5
Chapter 3 Gani's Plan....................8
Chapter 4 The Early Bird....................15
Chapter 5 Ups and Downs....................24
Chapter 6 Survival at Sea....................32
Chapter 7 An Unwelcoming Arrival....................41
Chapter 8 Vryburg....................51
Chapter 9 Building a Life....................61
Chapter 10 Business Success....................67
Chapter 11 Tragedy Strikes Again....................75
Chapter 12 Starting Over....................84
Chapter 13 A Turning Point....................95
Part 2 Ali....................103
Chapter 14 A New Man of the House....................105
Chapter 15 Settling Down....................109
Part 3 Fam....................113
Chapter 16 A Confusing Childhood....................115
Chapter 17 Potchefstroom....................129
Chapter 18 First Steps into Adulthood....................136
Chapter 19 A New Job....................149
Chapter 20 The Big Move....................161
Chapter 21 Coming into My Own....................165
Chapter 22 Latin and Love....................173
Chapter 23 Fam Rising....................199
About the Author....................213