Hidden behind a jumbo glass of Lassi, (a yogurt drink popular in Pakistan and India), Ustad (a teacher or a master) Bilgrami was sitting buried in deep thoughts in the cafeteria of my friend Minocher’s Writer’s Club. He greeted me cheerlessly and waved me to sit next to him. Obviously, something was weighing heavily on his mind. I ordered coffee and he took out from his pocket a small stone wrapped in a tissue.
“What do you think it is?” he asked.
“Looks like a precious stone, a diamond worth an enormous sum of money.” I replied.
“Ha!” he exclaimed. “Your knowledge of most things is limited. Can’t you see that this is a cheap imitation?”
“I don’t care what it is as I am not at all interested in gems and stones. My talents lie in creative writing and advertising.”
“Ha, ha!” he laughed shortly. “Eighty per cent of the advertising you are exposed to is forgotten within twenty-four hours, so they say. All of the ads created by you in the past fall under this category.”
He was getting harsh and was once again harping on his favorite subject of belittling me. I think the waiter who was filling my cup also heard his comments about me, as I could detect a slight movement of his Hitler-like moustache mocking me. I wouldn’t have taken this from any one else, but Ustad Bilgrami was an exception. He had earned a life-long respect from all of us who were his students decades ago, when he was our sports coach in college. Besides his official duties, he helped us solve our personal problems in a jiffy and guided the naïve youths towards the path of success. No problem was insoluble for him. Even today in his eighties, his only passion is to help people in distress.
“Okay, now let me know what ails you? Can I be of any help?” I asked.
“What bothers me is that how can a person whom you trust stoop so low in his pursuit of material things? Faiza, a daughter of a departed friend, a genuine social worker, inherited a rare piece of diamond worth millions of rupees from her father. She wanted to evaluate the exact price, hence trusted her uncle Haji Arbab, a famous jeweler, to find out its worth. This guy duped her, substituted the real thing with a cheap stone. I have been racking my brains on how to restore the diamond to her.”
“Didn’t you eat enough fish and drank sufficient quantity of lassi,” I asked, as I was sure that the only reason why this eighty-four year old Ustad was still mentally alert and physically agile was because of his fondness of these foods.
He looked at me sternly for a moment and said, “I have an appointment with this Haji Arbab this afternoon at his shop on Tariq Road, and I want you to accompany me. You will pose as a diamond expert from USA, eager to buy rare stones.”
“Me! A diamond expert?” I gasped.
“Do not get concerned. I will teach you the basics. All you have to say when he shows you the diamond is that it is a fake.”
Haji Arbab’s air-conditioned jewelers shop was brightly lit and glittered with all sorts of jewels in the showcases. He had a swarthy complexion and a swollen face with black and white beard. He had put on a white shalwar-kameez (a loose long shirt and baggy trousers) with a black waistcoat, and looked with piercing eyes through gold-rimmed spectacles. As soon as he had dealt with a lady customer, he invited us to his inner chamber where I suppose he kept rare, valuable pieces.
“What can I show you, sir?” he asked me, ignoring the extended hand of Ustad Bilgrami.
“I am interested in buying a few precious stones...” I could not finish, as Ustad broke in, “This guy Rafiq is a fellow of the Gemological Institute of America, on tour of various countries to buy rare diamonds for the Institute. Can you show something really wonderful?”
He took out a small velvet case from a drawer and opened it. It contained a diamond that looked very similar to the one Ustad had shown me earlier. I picked it out and acted on the instructions of Ustad. Putting a magnifying loupe, I carefully inspected the diamond. This was something real. Even to a layman like me it looked brilliant and magnificent. Still looking at it, I said, “The 4 Cs — cut, clarity, carat and color — seem to be perfect, but wait, I see a very little speck of brown at the bottom that disturbs its clarity. My God, this is a fake!”
“What!” yelled Haji and Ustad at the same time. Ustad jumped up, grabbed the diamond and the magnifying loupe from my hand and almost danced around quickly. Looking at the diamond, he said, “I am afraid, this gemological expert is right. This is an imitation, which you wanted to sell as a genuine one. Bad, too bad! Do you know how your reputation will be blurred? This expert will submit a report to the Institute saying that a certain jeweler in Karachi by the name of Haji Arbab tried to dupe him. The report will be translated in seventeen languages and sent to all the diamond capitals in the world. Come on, Rafiq, let’s get out of here.” Saying so, he caught my hand and we were out of the shop, leaving Haji Arbab open-mouthed and in a daze.
Back at the hotel in my room, Ustad put the stone on a table and asked, “What do you see?”
“Didn’t you show this to me before?”
“Not this one. This one is what you saw at the Haji’s shop. It is genuine, the one that Faiza inherited and according to my estimate worth at least three million rupees. A Princess cut diamond, very well cut. It internally reflects light from one mirror-like facet to another and reflects it through the top of the stone, resulting in a display of brilliance and fire. Do you know how many cuts are there? Round, Princess, Oval, Pear, Marquise…”
Enough!” I cut him short. “Did you actually switch the diamonds? And when did you do that?
“As soon as you announced that it was a fake and I grabbed it from you. Didn’t you see me dance around?”
“But didn’t Arbab see you do that?
“Quickness of the hand deceives the eye. Now I’ll restore it to its original owner.”
Rafiq Ebrahim is a freelance writer and novelist. He has written three novels: Glowing Embers, Advertising, and The Other Side. The latest – Beyond the Crumbling Heights (Colors in the life of a Pakistani slum boy) — was published in USA in 2009 and is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and google.com/books. He has written for Potluck before.