Taming the Shrimp
By Rafiq Ebrahim
Glen Ellyn, IL
bumped into my old college chum Minocher the other
day at a coffee shop, and to celebrate the reunion
after thirty- three years, we decided to meet next
day and increase the revenue of old Bundu Khan by
having dinner at the place. When I went to pick
him up from his apartment, I found Minoo on a smoking
spree – covered in cigarette smoke. On close
observation, he looked like someone about to sink
in a quicksand. “Well, what’s wrong
with you, Minoo. You look like a withered pumpkin?”
I asked, shaking him by the shoulder. “Look
outside. It’s such a beautiful day; birds
are still chirping.”
“Never liked birds, particularly when they
are chirping. They remind me of my uncle Pest eating
his soup. You ask me what is wrong? Everything.
My world has collapsed. Disaster stares me in the
“Will you be a little more specific?”
“You know Rafiq, I am a writer and my uncle,
a pest, wants to put a full stop on my writing career.”
“Abbreviate his name. Call him Pest. This
morning he called me and ordered me to work at his
fishery as a clerk and smell the stinking fish and
shrimps from nine to five. Unless I do that he has
threatened to stop financing my dream project of
launching a Writer’s Club House. You know,
on his assurance I have rented a place and placed
an order for ten state-of – the- art computers,
furniture and other items. Where am I going to raise
money to pay the suppliers if he stops funding?
Creditors would catch my throat and pluck the tonsils
“A grave situation,” I agreed. I tried
to tax my brains, but no idea other than robbing
a bank came to my mind. I told him so and he grunted.
Suddenly, I remembered Ustad Bilgrami.
“Ustad Bilgrami can help you,” I almost
“Ustad Bilgrami? That college sports coach?
Well, he used to guide and help us come out of bad
situations, but now he must be old, foggy and bed-ridden.
What can he do?”
”You underrate this guy. He is still full
of energy and his charisma is still there, though
he has lost all the hairs on his head. His brain
has as many gray cells as there are in Jeeves’
brain. Maybe because he eats a lot of fish, that
is when he is not gulping glasses of lassi, that
he has retained his super brain-power.”
A glimmer of light shone over Minoo’s face.
“Can we contact him?” he asked anxiously.
“Sure we can,” I said, picking up the
receiver and dialing Ustad’s number. When
he came on line, I blurted out, “Ustad, we
desperately need your help. Can you meet us at the
earliest at a place convenient to you?
”Hey! What’s the problem?”
“It concerns Minocher, my college friend,
the one whose googlies baffled even the best of
“Oh, yes, I remember that boy,” said
Ustad after a moment’s pause. “The fellow
whose sister made you fall for her like a ton of
bricks. Your seventh unsuccessful love affair I
think. But what ails him?”
I marveled, at the same time, cursed his memory,
for he never missed an opportunity to dig into my
past and remind me of one or the other embarrassing
things I did in those days. “ The problem
cannot be discussed on phone. Could we meet somewhere?”
“Can you guys meet me at Dilbahar’s
Lassi Shop at Burns Road in about an hour? Lassi
there is simply delicious. They always put a layer
of butter at the top.”
Ustad Bilgrami was already at the shop, enjoying
his lassi when we arrived there. He hugged Minocher
affectionately and expressed his delight at seeing
him again after more than three decades. “Still
delivering googlies?” he asked.
“ I am a writer now,” said Minoo.
“Writer? How can you survive?”
“That’s besides the point, Ustad,”
I interrupted. “Minoo here is facing a dreadful
situation, and unless something is done for him
he is doomed.”
“Tell me all about it,” said Ustad,
finishing his second glass of lassi.
I explained the whole scenario, while Minoo produced
strange sounds from his throat.
“Your uncle Behram Sohrab Pestonjee, often
called Shrimp King by the Press, needs some Bilgrami
bashing. I shall be too glad to take you out of
the situation and see that you get your checks regularly.
Besides, I have to settle an old score with him.”
We looked at him in surprise. “A long time
ago there was a fish-eating competition. Pestonjee
and I were the finalists. I could take only twenty-two
pieces of fish, while he thrust down his throat
twenty-three pieces and still looked hungry. He
beat me! Can you imagine Sucrat Aristo Bilgrami
being defeated? Now give me a few minutes to think
out a scheme.”
After some fifteen minutes he announced, “
The fact that Minoo is a writer will be of great
help to me to successfully carry out my scheme.
I’ll call Pestonjee and schedule a meeting
with him. I’ll pose as an expert on dried
fish and shrimps, while you will pose as a would-be
importer of his products in USA.”
A couple of days later, we were on our way to Pestonjee
and Sons Fishery near Port Qasim. The nauseating
smell of dried or rotten fish was getting stronger
as we approached his place.
Behram Sohrab Pestonjee was an enormous man if you
overlook the height and concentrate on width. Hairs,
instead of being on his head, were on his eyebrows
and coming out of his ears. He had a pencil-thin
moustache over his thick upper lip and the muscles
of his belly were struggling to knock out buttons
off his shirt. He greeted us with a forced smile
and immediately took us on a tour of his fishery,
showing us the ground where an enormous quantity
of fish were left to dry under the sun, then he
took us to a large room where shrimps were being
graded. There was another room at the back where
low-grade fish was being grinded to obtain medicinally
useful powder. The smell was nauseating but Ustad
appeared as if he was in a rose garden.
Coming back to his office, Ustad discussed some
terms and conditions with Pestonjee and said, “Our
friend Rafiq is interested in importing large quantities
of your products every month, but he will have to
consult his business partners in Chicago before
a decision is taken, but there is something else
of immense importance that I have to discuss with
Pestonjee’s bushy eyebrows twisted into an
“It’s about Minocher, your nephew.”
“Minocher? That good-for-nothing chap, who
just writes and writes and churns out useless stuff?
Where does he come into the picture?”
“He does! I agree he writes a lot of trash,
like for instance last week he wrote an article,
Employers are like Mules, but now he has come up
with a very interesting book to be published soon.
I have read the manuscript. It’s a literary
gem. It is titled Uncle P- Topsy Turvy. In which
he has revealed all the idiotic things this Uncle
P did in the past, like picking up cigarette butts
from the ground and smoking them, stealing chicken
from the neighbor’s yard and putting coarse
blankets with thread like needles underneath the
bed sheets of guests in the house and so on. Now,
you can fairly make out who this Uncle P is.”
The color on Pestonjee’s face seemed to fade
and for the first time I saw him getting fidgety.
“Minocher, writing a book about me! Ungrateful
brat! Anyway, who is going to publish it?”
“Believe me, there are two publishing houses
after him for the manuscript. Minoo intends to give
the rights to the higher bidder.”
Pestonjee made a noise as if he was gargling. “Bilgrami,
for Heaven’s sake, please stop him from doing
that. I don’t want my name to be maligned.”
“I can make him put the manuscript into cold
storage or even burn it only on the condition that
you continue to finance his dream project of establishing
a Writer’s Club House, which will have, besides
a classroom with modern computers for new writers,
a smoking lounge, a cafeteria and a seminar hall.”
Pestonjee thought only for a moment and said, “Yes,
yes. Tell him to see my accountant in the morning
and take his pending check.”
“Wonderful!” exclaimed Bilgrami. “
And don’t make him work at your fishery. The
smell is not at all conducive for creative writing;
it badly offends a sensitive writer like Minoo.”
“Certainly not. I don’t want him here.”
“Very well then. Now just let me read the
minutes of today’s meeting. Rafiq will decide
to import your fish and shrimps after discussing
the matter with his cigar-smoking business partners.
Minocher will get his check in the morning, and
continue to get similar checks till his project
is completed. After that he won’t need any
funds, because he would be minting money.”
Pestonjee nodded reluctantly, wiped the sweat off
his forehead, and then said as an after-thought.
“But how can I be sure that he wouldn’t
publish that book in future?”
“Oh, come Pestonjee. Nobody kills a goose
that lays golden eggs?”
I kept looking open-mouthed at Ustad as we came
out. “Sheer genius! You really are a Ustad.”
At Minocher’s home when we broke the good
news to him, he jumped at least four feet up in
the air, disturbing and scaring away a couple of
birds outside the window.
“Be sure to serve fried fish and lassi in
the cafeteria of your dream project,” said
Ustad to Minocher.
“Anything for you, Ustadjee!” said Minoo,
bowing his head.