When my brother and I began primary school in Calcutta, we made trips with my father to Aligarh once a year to watch and learn the efficient operations of his Thunder Locks. By now, it was too late to relocate the manufacturing of the locks closer to our home in Calcutta because the brand had become synonymous with the reputation of Aligarh. If the locks did not originate from “Lock City,” then customers felt insecure about making a purchase.

My father’s lock factory shared the grounds of our Aligarh home, operating in a small complex adjacent to a tropical garden that doubly served as the yard to our living quarters. Whether winter or summer, the garden boasted budding flowers and ample shade from a widespread blanket of branches unfolding from the fast-growing Neem tree that swayed sixty feet overhead. The scurry of chipmunks resounded against a white brick partition frosted with leafy vines and scattered columns of terra cotta. A bright stucco wall with antique wooden shutters encased our living quarters, and a large courtyard added light and stillness to the home.

Clients entered the garden through a narrow metal door that opened to a back alley, empty save for a passing rickshaw or a pig dragging udders heavy with milk. Clients joined my father around his large wooden desk outfitted with a few metal chairs and a framed picture of Ganesh, the beloved elephant god of success. Business had a laid back ambiance as both my father and his client sat in silence mixed with slow negotiations, neither player hurried to move onto pending tasks. Each nursed a small cup of hot tea mixed richly with sugar, milk, and a hint of ginger. When my father stood to attend to another affair, the client remained sitting in quiet and restful contemplation, enjoying life and enjoying India. Business was not a stressful to-do item on a long, tiresome list; it functioned as another of life’s social affairs, just as healthy for the soul as an evening with the family, a visit to the local shrine, or a meal with a friend.

When a client occupied my father’s office, it afforded me the time to scurry off and play cricket at the nearby school with my childhood friends Bunty, Vivek, and Guddu. If we grew tired, we scrounged what little allowance we had and watched a movie at the cinema or bought a treat from the city’s famous sweet shop. When I felt particularly ambitious, my friend Guddu and I would run to the nearby Ashram where the head priest, Baba Ji, taught us yoga, meditation, and the art of bow and arrow. Because I was young, I was confined to the simpler activities, while Baba Ji taught his older students to walk on fire and shoot arrows towards targets wearing blindfolds.

My father spent any remaining hours in Aligarh teaching my brother and me about locks in the expectation that we would take over the business, just as he had done for his father. I assisted him by carrying finished locks to the courtyard for packaging. In a block of dry, dark storage rooms, hundreds of finished locks sat ready for sale in paper-thin pink, orange, green, and blue boxes. Appropriately, at the end of each business day, we firmly latched the storage rooms and residential quarters with Thunder Locks.

Patrons heralded my father for his honesty and hard work, which over time strengthened and prospered his business. Through the years, we continued to live in Calcutta, but Dad traveled to Aligarh once a month to oversee production and sales even though he had three managers supervising the factory.

      “Why do you employ three managers?” I once asked him curiously.

“If I keep one, he is going to sell me out, and I won’t even know it. If I keep two, they will probably compromise with each other and sell me out. If I keep three, between the three, somebody will probably have a fight and I will hear about it, and this will enable me to manage the business well,” he explained.

My father continued to pay three managers over the years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.