My uncle, that is my father’s brother, was a tight fisted person. Frugal and very thrifty. His miserly nature never failed to raise a laugh in our family.
I lived two houses away from him and was often the victim of his hawk eyes especially when I came back from a vegetables or fruits shopping trip.
If he saw me walking by carrying a shopping bag, he would stop me. He would look through all my purchases and ask me how much I paid for each item.
He would gasp at some of the stuff I had bought and chide me.
“How much did you pay for this? Thirty Rupees per kilo? But four shops away in the other store I bought them for twenty five rupees only, just two days ago” he would inform me proudly as if he had clinched a big business deal.
I would reply exasperatedly,”Uncle, the prices must have gone up since then.”
There is this funny incident about my uncle which my husband never lets me forget.
Once my husband and I wanted to go to a holy shrine in a different town far away from where we were residing. We planned to have a religious ceremony for my toddler son there. As was the custom, we invited my mother, father, my siblings and their families, this uncle and his wife to accompany us.
My husband booked a van and we travelled the 300 km in great bonhomie. We chatted. We sang old film songs. We played games. We had a great time.
On the highway, we saw a man selling tender coconuts under a tree. Before we could tell the driver to slow down we had passed him.
My father said, “we will find many such hawkers along the way. Let us stop by the next man and buy the coconuts.”
The driver was instructed to stop the van when we saw another man selling coconuts on the roadside. Eventually after a few kilometres drive, we spied another seller , slowed down and stopped beside him. All of us got out to stretch our legs.
My uncle started bargaining with the vendor.
“How much is a coconut?”
“Ten Rupees sir.”
“Ten rupees? They are so small too. Even in my big city they cost less. You are trying to cheat us.”
“No sir. Everywhere it is the same price.”
My uncle started haggling with him. But the man would not budge from his price and my uncle would not let us buy even one.
“All of you get back into the van. Let us go back to the last fellow we saw some minutes ago.The coconuts he was selling seemed bigger.”
Even though we all protested, my uncle was adamant.
By now my son and my sister’s daughters were clamoring for tender coconut water. My husband was annoyed.“Uncle, we saw the previous seller many miles ago. We have to drive all the way back.”
It was not to be. When uncle had made up his mind, we had no other go but to comply.
We all trooped back into the van.
The driver was disgruntled. “Sir, let us proceed. It is not good to take U-turns on a highway like this.”
“Go, Go. Don’t argue. Just do as we say.”
Cursing and muttering under his breath, the driver made a U-turn on the highway while I called on my family deity to whose shrine we were going. “Please God. Bring us all to your portals safely.”
The children started crying with disappointment. My mom was put off. “I so badly wanted to quench my thirst.”
His wife, resigned to his behavior just said, “God, why did you make this man so stingy.”
My husband was annoyed with my uncle.
“Does your uncle know that I am paying for this trip. I would have paid for the coconuts. It is not as if the money was going to come out of his pockets.” He muttered into my ears, even as I tried to stifle a laugh and placate everyone.
We drove back the way we had come and after five miles we saw the previous seller.
The price he quoted was just one rupee less. Before my uncle could butt in, my husband took the situation in hand and in a jiffy the coconuts were slit open and we started enjoying the refreshing drink.
My uncle would not be satisfied, “ What is this son? If we had bargained, we could have bought it even for eight rupees each”
When it was time to pay, he started to argue with the poor villager whose only livelihood probably was selling a few coconuts on the national highway.
“See we have bought fifteen coconuts. You have to give us a discount.”
The man started pleading.
“Sir, Sir. You are my only customer today. I can’t afford to give a discount.”
My uncle started an argument, “All you guys mouth the same dialogue. You have to give us a discount.”
My husband somehow diffused the situation or we would have stood there for another good ten minutes quarreling with the villager.
As we were driving back, my husband calculated in his mind how much we had saved by paying one rupee less on the coconuts.
He whispered to me, “the amount we have spent on the petrol, driving five miles up and five miles down is more than how much we have saved on the coconuts.”
I hushed my husband, in case my uncle heard him, even though the same thought was running through my mind too.
Anyway, we reached our destination and everything proceeded well by God’s grace.
But even to this day, we laugh when we think of my uncle and how we had taken a long detour just for a few coconuts.
At one of his daughter’s betrothal functions he had ‘booked’ a music troop (Nadhasvaram Goshti) . The music troop arrived much after the ceremonies were over.
When we asked my irate aunt what happened, she beat upon her head and said in harassed tone, ” may be, your stingy uncle did not give them any travel allowances (auto fare) and they walked all the way down to the venue”
Which for all we know, could have been true.
Later this uncle built houses for his three daughters. Every time we passed down that way, my husband would point to it and recite,
“This is the house that Uncle Jack built.”
But he would always end the rhyme by saying, “with the money he saved by buying coconuts for one rupee less.”
Image courtesy_ Iqbal, Annalise Batista, 200degrees and OpenClipart-vectors from Pixabay