Guns and Mangoes
About 20 miles from my hometown, Lucknow, India, there’s a place called Malihabad. It is known for its mango orchards. My uncle owned a several acres and grew mangoes for a living. During the high season, he made sure his fruit was safe: he carried shotguns and rifles to protect his livelihood from people who like to steal.
I have visited their orchards several times during my time in India. Every time I went to see him, he would offer me freshly plucked mangoes. Sitting on a string cot in the middle of an orchard, eating delicious fruit out of the metal bucket, I always found it unnerving to see a pistol lying around. Curious to know what it feels to hold a gun in my hand, every once in a while I asked him if I could take a look at it. He would reluctantly let me play with it for a while, but not without taking out the bullets.
In India it is very difficult to buy firearms and extremely uncommon for people to own them, and my experience with guns was limited to holding my uncle’s pistol in my hands for a few minutes.
Once in my home in South Bend, Indiana, I had to call a plumber to fix my leaking tap. The plumber had several pockets on his pants and his waist belt had different sizes of leather bags. All of them had a different kind of tool. As he bent down to reach the tap, I noticed something on his waist that didn’t belong to a plumber’s toolbox. I asked him what it was.
He snapped it out of his belt and said, “Oh, it’s a gun.” Surprised to a see a pistol in his hand, I took a few steps back. He went back to fixing the tap, nonchalantly.
I asked him why he was carrying a gun. He said, “To protect myself from the crazy people out there, y’know.”
I didn’t say anything. He fixed my leaking tap in the next few minutes and said, “The other day I was ridin’ my scooter and when I stopped at the light this guy started walkin’ towards me. There was no one else at the intersection and he kept comin’ at me. When he got too close, I grabbed my gun to let him know that I was armed.”
“What do you think he was coming for?” I asked.
“To take my scooter away from me…I know people who do that.”
“Did he stop when he saw you were armed?”
“Oh, yeah…he sure did. If I didn’t have my gun on me, I could’ve easily lost my scooter.”
I was interested in his story, so I asked him if he was married. He said, “Got two kids—a daughter and a son. Daughter’s married and stays at home of two little children. My son’s in prison right now, but he’ll be out soon. I love ‘em both.”
I listened to him talk. I was a little surprised by how comfortable he was volunteering information.
“What did your son do to be in jail?”
“Ah, he got into a fight with his friend and then accidentlly shot him.”
“That’s not good.”
“No, it’s not, but I always tell people if you got a gun and get into a scuffle be sure to pull the trigger first. The one who fires first, wins the fight, y’know what I’m sayin’,” he said with a grin.
The plumber was no more than five feet and six inches in height and had a small frame. His skin was red, probably from working out in the sun. His job was done at my apartment, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave. He talked about guns, fights and killing people, but for some reason he didn’t scare me. He was personable.
I asked him more questions.
“What do you think about the government talking about banning the firearms?”
“They can’t take away our rights. They’re talkin’ about banning assault firearms. They think it’s only the semi-automatic guns that are assault firearms, but I can assault a person with this,” he said, pulling out his gun. They can’t ban every firearm.”
I looked at him, but didn’t say anything.
“I don’t feel safe without my gun. I have it on me at all times,” he said. He gave me a friendly smile and said, “Alright, I gotta go and take care of some more taps. Nice talkin’ to ya.”
“Thanks, and it was nice talking to you, too,” I said and closed the door.
I sat down and took a deep breath and thought about the conversation with the plumber. It brought to mind the first time ever I held a gun while eating mangoes in my uncle’s orchard.
Deepak Singh is a freelance journalist, radio producer, and a writer. He lives in South Bend, Indiana. Follow him here @deepakwriter