|He owned the thousand-bed, five-star hotel in Bangkok we were staying in. The rent for each room was sixty dollars a day and when you multiplied this by one thousand and then by thirty to get the monthly receipts and again by ten to convert into rupees the figure became mind-boggling.|
And this was not the only piece of property he had. They said he owned a chain of hamburger restaurants and a financing company called Midland Merchant Finance and an insurance company called Thai Prasit Insurance and what not. It was nice to hear of a Punjabi owning so much wealth in his own name in a country not originally his own.
“What is he actually worth?” I asked another Punjabi who was giving me a lift in his big, air-conditioned car. “Fifty crores? Seventy crores?”
“There is no counting,” he answered in the manner of a mystic.
One evening I was sitting in the hotel lobby with a VIP from Punjab, when this man actually made his appearance, the real Simon Pure. He had come to meet the VIP.
“Shall we have some tea?” he asked after some time.
We welcomed the idea. In fact, I was aching to see the kind of tea served to this millionaire, a hundred times over.
For the sake of propriety, we moved to that part of the lobby where eatables were served. The more formal, the better, I thought.
He made a sound in Thai. A beautiful waitress came and stood near him without any trace of self-consciousness. He gave her instructions in Thai.
He spoke Punjabi with ease. I was thrilled to know that he was from Sheikhupura town, the district headquarters of my village in Pakistan. He had to spend the first five years of his life there when his mother was stranded on a visit during the World War. His other home in Thailand was made inaccessible, by the Japanese. But his father gathered his family together at the end of the war.
“What part of the town did you live in?” I asked.
“In the old town”, he said. I knew this was the poorer part.
He was too young then, to have registered an impression. It was not possible, therefore, to talk to him about Sheikhupura. But it would be interesting to meet his father. He told me he was dead.
“Could I meet your mother?” I asked.
She had passed away too. At 42 he was the oldest in the family.
Two waitresses appeared with the tea things. They sat down near the low table to put things on it one by one. Was it to save the master the embarrassment of having to see all of their bare legs? The long dress is designed in such a way that there is no escape. He was an orthodox Namdhari Sikh.
We were now ready to taste the snacks. I discovered that there were only two items. Fried peanuts and potato wafers!
The Namdhari did not eat any preparation in which egg, meat or liquor had been used.
Mercifully, the peanuts appeared to have been imported from the Punjab. These tasted better than the Thai peanuts one ate in the bazaar.
HJ – 172, Housing Board Colony
Ferozepur Road, Ludhiana