Toothpaste to Burkina Faso

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A life's journey, of the main character, Jamaal Kansai, from the age of 22 to 55.

Submitted: October 13, 2016

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Submitted: October 13, 2016

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Jamaal Kansai wakes up to the ringing of his alarm, it’s 7am, He gets up, brushes his teeth, and picks up the Times of India from the table where his brother who was reading it earlier had left it, he scans the situations vacant section for an accountant’s position as he’s been doing for the past 3 months.

 

 Jamaal is from Osmanabad, a small town in Maharashtra, his parents still live there, and Jamaal has been living with his elder brother Pervez, who has a small apartment in Versova in Mumbai.

 

Jamaal came to Mumbai to get a degree in accounting from the University of Mumbai, it’s been 3 months since he graduated and Jamaal has sent out his resume to 18 employers, has been interviewed by 12 and given an offer letter by 7, but has rejected all.

 

The salary of Rs.25, 000 offered wouldn’t cover rent and travel, and Jamaal wants his own apartment, he’s spent the last 3 years and 3 months sleeping on the living room sofa of his brother’s 1 bedroom apartment. Besides, his brother Pervez’s wife is expecting and Jamaal wants to leave before the baby arrives.

 

 At 20, 5ft 7, curly haired, Jamaal dresses comfortably. He likes jeans, cotton shirts and suede shoes. Jamaal looks smart, is a likeable person and speaks well.

 

It’s 7.15 and one ad in the paper may change Jamaal’s life forever, he spots it, a junior accountants position in Burkina Faso* for Eshmaal Gold. The company is into gold mining, the salary advertised is 900 euros plus accommodation; the position is for bachelor males with knowledge of accounting and French. Jamaal sends his résumé and is called for an interview in the 1st week of September. Jamaal is interviewed by the company rep. at The Taj Mahal Hotel.

 

The interview is brief, some accounting questions and a few questions to test his knowledge of French. After the interview he is told “you’re selected, and the visa will arrive in a month, brush up on your French till then”.

 

Jamaal was everything they wanted, a bachelor who knew French, was good at accounts and didn’t mind living in Africa, for Jamaal it was a ticket to paradise, his own accommodation with a bed of his own and more money than he imagined, Jamaal gets up, smiles and shakes the interviewer's hand, and leaves.

 

The Visa and ticket arrive and Jamaal leaves Mumbai on an Ethiopian airline flight on 25th of November 1980, Mumbai to Addis Ababa and then to Ouagadougou, Ouaga for short, the capital of Burkina Faso. There were lot of Indians in Ouaga and Jamaal settles down fast, the job suits him eminently, and being a good-humored man himself he finds his colleagues approachable and friendly.

 

It was a plush office in Ouaga, after all they were mining gold, the mines were 200 kms Southwest of Ouaga in Bagassi.The accommodation was in a newly constructed bldg. within walking distance of the office, a bedroom with an attached bathroom and a balcony. It’s in the balcony that Jamaal spends his leisure hours listening to music and watching the locals play, shop, argue, flirt, get drunk etc.

 

He was sleeping on his own large bed after more than 3 years of sleeping on a sofa and his joy was boundless. He makes his own breakfast on most days, toasted bread and butter or a boiled egg sandwich, lunch is in the company cafeteria and dinner in small restaurants around the house, the local food he likes is Jollof rice served with Chermoula, it reminded him of biryani and kachumber back home. Jamaal loves his job and puts in extra hours whenever required and in November of ‘82 is promoted to chief accountant.

 

He is now entitled to have his own secretary and this is how Afroze comes into his life. Afroze came to Burkina Faso with her parents 10 years ago, when she was only 13, her father Mujeeb is a mining engineer, a graduate from the Indian School of Mines-Dhanbad, and lives near the Eshmaal gold mines in Bagassi, Afroze lives in the company accommodation with her mother, Rabiah.

 

Afroze invites Jamaal to her house one Saturday evening for dinner, it’s a lavish spread of Kebabs, Mutton Biryani, kachumbar and firni, prepared by Afroze’s mother Rabiah.

Rabiah finds Jamaal charming and asks him to drop in on weekends if bored and spend time with them.

 

Soon Jamaal and Afroze start dating and after 2 years of courtship get married in December of ’84. Jamaal then moves out of the company quarters and he and Afroze rent a 2-bedroom plush apartment close to the office. Afroze works as her husband’s secretary till her son Ubaid is born in ’89 after which she is a stay-at-home mom.

 

It’s now 1990 and Jamaal has been working for 10 years in his first and only job, he’s loving the respect and admiration he gets from his colleagues and besides he’s been investing some money in India, those investments have grown substantially. 

 

 Jamaal works assiduously, accounting is in his dna, but when he’s home at 6 he switches off from work, plays with his son Ubaid and sometimes reads to him, and after they’ve put him to bed, he and Afroze share a drink together, watch a movie sometimes, have a quiet dinner and turn in, life is a bit boring but better than it would’ve been in India, this routine goes on forever it seems, Ubaid grows up, goes to the only English school in Burkina Faso and in 2006 finishes his schooling. Jamaal then sends him to Mumbai for his college education. Ubaid takes up business management in a south Mumbai college and finds hostel accommodation, he’s enjoying life in Mumbai, Jamaal is not stingy with his allowance and Ubaid lives it up, pubbing and partying.

 

It’s Ubaids 1st Christmas vacation, and he’s longing to meet his parents, Jamaal gives Afroze and Ubaid a surprise, he’s booked a 14 day Mediterranean Cruise, the 1st port of call is Barcelona,Jamaal sends Ubaid a ticket for Barcelona and the family meets there 3 days before the cruise begins, Jamaal has booked 2 rooms at the Le Meridian and they sail on the 18th on the Royal Caribbean. It’s a lovely holiday and the ship is state-of-the art, the rooms are luxurious with all possible amenities, and to top that the rooms have balconies where all 3 are sipping beer and watching the sunset. It was a memorable holiday for all and the 1st of many, Ubaid finishes his graduation in 2010 and then enrolls for a masters in management at a college in Mumbai and the family keeps meeting for their annual holiday during December, by now they’ve travelled by train all over Europe, 3 cruises including a Baltic sea cruise which was breathtaking, they see Riga, St.Petersberg, Oslo, Gdansk, Copenhagen etc…

 

 It’s now October of 2011 Jamaal has been working for 31 years, an accountant's life is very peaceful he thinks, compared to an engineer's, so many things go wrong at The Mine, but here in the office, everything is like clockwork, smooth and easy, his fortune too has grown gradually, to a substantial $4million and he now wants to get out of Burkina Faso, a place that has been his cocoon for 31 years, the thought of moving to Mumbai took hold of him when the family met in Mumbai last year, he was entering the Taj Mahal hotel after 31 years and the feeling was nostalgic. Though he lived here before, the vibe he now feels is different; it’s different when you have $4 million on you. Jamaal decides he wants to live here. Ubaid too loves Mumbai and wants to settle her.

 

Jamaal puts in his papers a month before Christmas 2011 and moves to Mumbai.

Jamaal is shown a posh penthouse in Juhu for $1million and Ubaid and Afroze approve of it.

Ubaid is now 23 and looking for a job, Jamaal wants to set up a business for him. Ubaid is not as smart as his father but Jamaal knows, that, that, doesn’t matter in a corrupt country like India, where favors can be bought. Jamal sets up Ouaga Impex Pvt. Ltd and takes membership in the prestigious Jubilee Club in Juhu, to spend his evenings there.

 

He subscribes to all the Indian newspapers and keeps himself abreast with all the happenings in town, at 53 he begins living the CEO life, starts jogging at 6am, a grapefruit for breakfast, a poached chicken breast for lunch, a game of tennis in the evening from 6-7, spends some time in the spa, showers, changes and then heads for the library bar. 

 

The library bar of the Jubilee club has an old world charm about it, the entire length of the library bar is lined with books, on close inspection one realizes it’s a cleverly made wall-paper with a 3 dimensional feel,it’s where members come to enjoy the evening and savor their single-malt. Jamaal walks in and looks for a place, most of the over-sized leather covered arm-chairs are taken, he looks around and spots an empty chair, walks to it and takes it. The man across introduces himself “I’m Manilal Seth- are you new here” Jamaal smiles and says "yes” and gives him his Ouaga exports card. Manilal orders his single malt “get me a Dalmore on the rocks” he tells the waiter,“What do you export”? Haven’t started, says Jamaal, “but I will be exporting stuff like drill bits, welding electrodes, circuit breakers and other items which companies in Africa source from India”. Manilal tells him a little secret "the margins on those items are small-not more than 10%. There’s big money here in India in government contracts, see all these people, they’re all regulars and they all bid for contracts, one small contract a year is good enough, a big one may see you through for 10 years.” Manilal tells him.

 

The people Jamaal meets at the bar at the Jubilee Club are all wealthy businessmen still doing business in their 70’s. He wants those contracts as badly as his friends at his club.

 

In Sept. 2015 India announces aid to Africa to the tune of $22million, part of this aid was to Burkina Faso and part of that was in the form of toothpaste, note-books, school bags etc. for primary school children, to be distributed free by a local NGO.

This is good news for Jamaal and he knows he’ll certainly get a piece of the action. Jamaal calls up his pals in Ouaga and is given some interesting facts, locals don’t brush their teeth with toothpaste, they use a twig called miswak. The toothpaste that the NGO distributes to the kids is thrown away.

 

A tender appears in the Times of India on the 18th of December 2015 the tender was for 50 lakh toothpaste tubes @Rs.4 a tube, FOB Burkina Faso. Jamaal gets into action, makes several trips to Delhi, gets the tender documents, fills them with the help of friends at The Jubilee Club, a few more trips to Delhi and his friends introduce him to the movers and shakers in charge in Delhi.

 

The kickbacks are huge but Jamaal knows he wants to do it, he works out the math backwards, Rs1.50 for a single tube of toothpaste i.e. Rs1,50,00,000 for 50,00,000 tubes. Ten percent of the bid amount i.e. Rs.40, 00,000 as kick back, shipping one container from the JLPT port to the port of Tema(Ghana) and then by road to Ouaga-well within 10,00,000.

He’s looking at a clean profit of Rs2, 00,00,000 and he may get the contract year after year, Ubaid will be on velvet for the rest of his life he tells himself.

 

Jamaal is now scanning the web for toothpaste manufacturers near Mumbai, he’s looking for the lesser-known cheaper brands, the popular brands are over Rs.10 a tube. Jamaal wants to source a tube at Re1.50, he finds 3 toothpaste manufacturers in Maharashtra, he can’t reveal too much to them, anything white and gooey in a tube will do, so he visits all 3 toothpaste factories and finally decides on The Jalgaon Toothpaste Factory-JTF, Jamaal can’t believe his luck when he’s told they have 50,00,000 unsold tubes of JALWA™ expiring in 6 months. He knows he can clinch this at his price, offers JTF 1.50 per tube inclusive of fresh expiry date stickers and transport to a warehouse in JNPT- (the port in Navi Mumbai.)

 

5 million toothpaste tubes arrive by road on the 20th of Jan 2016 to the warehouse of Goreya Logistics in the JNPT container yard and on the 22nd of Jan they are on their way to the port of Tema in Ghana (and then by road to Ouaga). Jamaal is at the port to oversee the loading of his first consignment and is happy that it has all come to fruition.

 

On the 23rd Jamaal is on a morning flight to Delhi, but this flight is different, he doesn’t have the same apprehension he had on his earlier trips, he’ll be meeting friends now, in fact one of them will come and pick him up at the Indira Gandhi airport and he’ll have the pleasure of riding in a vehicle with a siren and a beacon and reach south Delhi in minutes.

 

The 4 crores get transferred to Ouaga Impex’s account after a week, Ubaid sees the bank statement and is in a frenzy, he comes up with all kinds of weird ideas on how to spend the money but Jamaal will have none of it, he wants to see the endless zeros in his bank statement for a while longer-oooh…the sweet taste of money. After paying his taxes and investing the rest in Ubaid’s name he indulges himself and gets a Jaguar for 49 lakhs.

It’s been a long journey for Jamaal; from sleeping on the sofa to reclining in the plush rear seat of his new JAG.


 

*Burkina Faso is a landlocked country in the northwest part of Africa; it shares its border with Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and The Ivory Coast. It’s capital is Ouagadougou and is often shortened to Ouaga.

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 


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