(A short story based on a true event)
(Names changed to maintain privacy)

The 5-star hotel was just 100 metres from his residence but Mr. Nayar never felt the necessity to visit it ever. He was completely content being desk bound at home reading the vast collection of English books he possessed, and relishing the piquant food that his beautiful wife made for him. He always believed in simple living and carrying profound thoughts.

Mr. Nayar was a voracious reader and an admirer of the English language and culture. Hence in spite of being masterly in his native language Malayalam, he chose to write his first book in English.

The journey wasn’t easy though. He had sent his manuscripts to many top-notch publishers but was invariably rejected. It wasn’t the rejections that bothered him at the age of 80, but those acidic words lingered in his mind. ‘Leave them behind, I would ask my staff to use them as toilet paper,’ the publisher had said after glancing through few initial pages. 

Why would anyone be so harsh? What makes someone so un-empathetic towards another fellow human being? Mr. Nayar couldn’t get answers to these questions even at this ripe age. All that he could do was quit. No more publishers, he had decided until his teenage grandson came up with an idea.

‘Why don’t you publish a couple of chapters on the Internet and see how people react’? He suggested to his grandfather. ‘No harm in trying!’ said Mr. Nayar.

Had the published chapters not gone viral on the internet, Mr. Nayar wouldn’t be getting ready to visit the 5-star hotel for the first time in his life today. Apart from the excitement to meet the publishers who had agreed to publish his book – of course after all the buzz it created on the Internet – he wanted to get an honest reply from the Editor about why he behaved so badly on their first meeting in his office. ‘Toilet paper’!??

Mr. Nayar walked to the hotel, and was kind of embarrassed to be saluted by 6-footer as he opened the door for him. He acknowledged the attention with a swift eye contact, and moved inside to feel the temperature drop abruptly. The air from the A/c’s was pricking cold and he immediately regretted to have worn just a dhoti and kurta for the special occasion.

From a distance he could spot three pairs of eyes looking at him expecting his arrival.

The lady got up first as a sign of respect, and the other two men followed. They made place for Mr. Nayar and offered him the 4th chair at a reserved table.

The next 2 hours were spent on discussing the next course of action – the contract, the revenue sharing, the promotions, the cover design, the preface etc – along with a multi-cuisine sumptuous lunch being served. 

Mr. Nayar verbally agreed to all the decision being taken, and just before signing the contract he put forth his one and only condition. ‘I am a staunch believer of astrology, and I will sign the contract only on the date and time my personal astrologer would approve of, ‘ he said. He promised to courier the contract once he signs it. 

The editor wasn’t happy about Mr. Nayar’s awkward belief in this age-old crap about the planets influencing human decisions, but he had to oblige for he could foresee a fortune publishing this particular book especially after taking couple of wrong business decisions, which has pushed his company to the brim of bankruptcy. The Editor knew that Mr. Nayar, for now was his only saviour but all through the day he made sure that his desperation wasn’t obvious.

After collecting the desert plates, the waiter came with finger bowls and placed them one by one on the table starting with Mr. Nayar. Mr. Nayar put his fingers inside and took the lemon piece out. He squeezed the lemon into the finger bowl, added some salt, and gulped the freshly made lemonade down his throat without any interruption. “That really would give me enough power to walk back home in the hot sun,” confided Mr. Nayar placing the finger bowl back on the table.

The Editor went blank for a while and wasn’t sure about his next move. His instinct guided him to follow suit. He put his fingers into the bowl, took the lemon piece out, squeezed it, added some salt, and gulped it in giving his sub-ordinates a flinty look. The sub-ordinates had no choice but to follow the boss. The waiter brought the cheque and was quite astonished to see all the four finger bowls completely empty. He ignored his curiosity, collected the finger bowls and left with only one question on his head – ‘where did the bloody water go’?

Mr. Nayar got up stretching and loosening up his tired back, rolled the contract in his hand, shook hands with all the three, and before leaving confirmed to send the signed documents in a couple of days.

‘Illiterate bastard! Doesn’t he know the difference between a lemonade and a finger bowl,’ yelled the Editor before calling the waiter to bring a Coke to cleanse his pallet.

Mr. Nayar trudged back home in the hot sun, enjoying every step he took. On the way he spotted a cow digging into a nearby garbage dump. Mr. Nayar moved towards the dump, tore the contract he was carrying, threw it into the garbage as the cow lifted its tail and dropped some steaming hot cow dung. 

‘Did you confront him? Did you ask him about what has been bothering you for so many days?’ asked the curious wife from the kitchen, busy with her daily chores. ‘No, I could not. I didn’t have the courage to be nasty like him. But I took my sweet revenge, or should I say ‘salty’ revenge. Made those motherfuckers ‘gulp’ their pride down their throats.’ Literally!!

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