“Autonomy in a cone”

Arshid Malik

Just outside our rented apartment in Jammu, a young boy sells ice cream. The presence of his ice cream tricycle is made conspicuous by the fact that it appears on the road side late in the evening and what makes the boy “conspicuous” is his well-behaved disposition towards his clients. This boy greets every customer with a cute smile and, yes of course, never argues over petty change. You hand him a thousand rupee note and ask for a 10 bucks ice cream, he would never ask you to fish for change.

He is a thorough businessman, I would say. Now, we always buy ice cream from him even though there are a couple of more ice cream vendors across the street and as a matter of fact one ice cream parlour, reason being his demeanour. We always talked about the boy as we nibbled at ice cream purchased from his shop and my whole family was surprised over his behaviour. We wondered about his distinct disposition and attempted to take wild guesses about his particular behaviour.

Since this boy, the ice cream vendor did not ever engage in social communication beyond a smile and answering enquires about discount offers and new flavours in a typical “enterprising” tone, one could make out that he had a lot to tell, something which was reflected in his deep, dark eyes whose gaze never met yours. Something was infinitely obscure about this mannered young gentleman but in a good manner.

A few days ago I stepped out to buy some ice cream for my son and went to this particular ice cream vendor. As I was approaching his tricycle-mounted canopy, I noticed that he was pretty engrossed in something. As I drew closer I noticed that he was holding a book in one hand and was writing in a notebook that sat where usually he seats himself, behind the tricycle that is. His back was quite bent as he was scribbling into his notebook.

Even though I did not mean to give him a scare but as I tapped him on the shoulder he almost shrieked. He collected the “objects of his obvious concern” and stashed them into a plastic bag and turned to me with a big smile, and the smile was bigger than ever and perhaps trying to mask the surprise. I asked for some ice cream and while handing him the cash enquired about the books and he immediately lowered his gaze as if ashamed of this “act he had been caught doing”. “Were you studying”, I asked him and he muttered a yes between his clinching teeth. “Do you go to school”, was my next question and the answer, to my great relief, was again affirmative.

I got talking to this young guy and came to know that he had little support at home for his education and since he was interested in studies he had taken up a “small assignment”, as per his statement, that is selling ice cream. “I earn some money here and give some to my family and spend the rest on my education”, he told me. We ended the talk hastily as another customer approached his tricycle canopy and I hurried back home and narrated the whole story to my family. Yes, it was frugality and self obligated education that had sculpted the boy into what he stood to be, upright and punctilious.

Later that evening I started thinking what I could do for this boy. My first reaction was to offer him some monetary help and perhaps some good books. Maybe tuition or some help with his studies followed by an undisclosed scholarship! And after having gone over everything that I could do for this young man, I decided to let him be; let him bask in the glory of his own resourcefulness and diligence. This is what crafts a person into a successful individual, I told myself. And now whenever I pass by this boy’s tricycle canopy or buy ice cream from him, I wish him luck and believe me, my spirits are lifted whenever I look at this boy.

This young ice cream vendor of ours is an unusual epitome of carved success and a surprising abode of energy – which always shows up in his eyes if one manages to get him to look into yours, and I am of the opinion that if all of us were like him we would never be dependent on other people and our governments for “help”. Instead of going around “begging” our governments for jobs, we should catch what is inside all of us – a self replenishing fountain of self-sustenance.

And yes, whenever I purchase a cone or cup of ice cream from this young vendor and eat it, I taste ‘autonomy”between the layers of ice cream.

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