August 08, 2018

Prakash – Light, And Enlightenment

If there’s a definition for a hole-in-the-wall business then you need look no further than Mumbai footpaths. 

While it’s not exactly a hole in the wall where a hand reaches out through an opening in the wall fronting a room at the back, Prakash Light House comes pretty close to it, in more ways than one.

Prakash Light House functions from a footpath some way off Mohammed Ali Road in Mumbai. A small cupboard space knocked back into the building's facade holds drawers and open shelves stacked with boxes of armatures for electrical motors, electrician tools, meters and plug points affixed to cupboard doors that open out onto the street and close behind it.

The armatures stacked in the shelf were a veritable advertisement for various armature brands – DCA, DCK, Electro Power, HID, Topline, Hongyu, Dewalt, and Hitachi among others. If you need any further evidence of the extent of Chinese penetration into Indian manufacturing space, you'll find them on this shelf.    

A short platform, not more than four feet long and barely a foot and half wide, enough to work on electrical motors sent in for repairs, juts out on the footpath. The owner sits facing the shelves, his back to the street, while he works on straightening out electrical appliances.

To a corner of this platform or work-bench, facing the street, sat a seemingly contented cat, keeping the busy owner company. It was an unlikely pair from the looks of it.

If I were to hazard a guess, I’d imagine the cat having driven a fair bargain with the owner to provide him company, rather eyes on the street while he has his back turned to it, in return for a ledge off the crowded footpath. In time I’m sure it came to share his meals as well.

Everything about this small setup seemed perfect, right down to the name of the shop – Prakash Light House.

“Prakash” is Sanskrit for “Light” and is a given name in India to males. Used metaphorically, “Prakash” (Light) is used to indicate ‘enlightenment’, rather ‘source’ of enlightenment.

If ever the shop needed additional emphasis as to the nature of business conducted within, Prakash Light House more than sufficed.

It’s not uncommon to name shops after the owner. If the shop owner sitting at his work bench was Prakash himself then whoever named him after ‘Light’ was prescient to know what awaited the child in the future.

Curious, I asked after the cat’s name and a man sitting on the other end of the workbench, likely the owner of the adjacent footpath-shop, replied, “Kaloo”.

“Kaloo,” I repeated to ensure I’d heard it right because the cat was not black to be called “Kaloo”.

“Actually, its name is Kalidas,” he clarified, implying it’s easier to short-name it to ‘Kaloo’.

“Kalidas as in named after ‘Kalidas’ the famous poet?" I responded.

Both smiled.

“Yes” came the answer, “named after the poet Kalidas.”

I smiled at the thought of Kalidasa, the legendary Sanskrit poet and dramatist from 4th-5th Cent. B.C., living on in the soul of a seemingly bored Mumbai cat who couldn't be bothered to fish for food if it could inveigle lodging and boarding from the owner, passing contented purring as poetry.

But who knows. Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction.

And so the last piece fell into place.

‘Prakash’ as ‘Light’ (read shop), and ‘Prakash’ as ‘Enlightenment’ (read ‘The Poet Cat’) covered both bases, and it took a cat to do it.

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