The performance artist (Stories of our lives)

9 min read
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Published:
10 Oct 2017
Duration:
9 min read
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934 words
Segment:
Miscellanous
From the Archive (Jul, 2016): Arjun Rana Magar has picked up many tricks of the trade over the years; sometimes he can tell just by the get up and the mannerisms of an approaching customer the type of meat he or she is going to buy
The Lagankhel vegetable market is full of colourful stalls stocked with a variety of colourful vegetables and fruits. The vendors who man the stalls here are colourful too. But perhaps the most colourful among them is Arjun Rana Magar, a butcher who has been selling primarily chicken here for 22 years.

It’s rather easy to find Arjun’s butcher shop even in this crowded market: just follow his laughter, which rises, every so often, above the general din. When Arjun is dealing with a customer, he ends almost every sentence with a giggle—loud, staccato giggles. He’ll also move his plump hands emphatically, adding force to every word he speaks. He’ll talk to you about anything you are interested in: politics, the economy, the mundane details of the day. Arjun is more of a performer than a butcher. And people swarm around his shop, sometimes just to listen to him talk.

Whenever he takes a customer’s orders, Arjun finds a way to insert a joke  or two into the conversations to do with the particulars of the order, and if the customers are regulars, it’s during the midst of this exchange that he’ll offer them tea from the shop across his shop. “Come on. Have some tea. There's plenty of time. After all, time is just a construct of your mind,” he’ll say.

An energetic man, Arjun bounces around his cramped shop when he starts fulfilling an order. He works at a breakneck pace—flipping the chickens around as if he were juggling bowling pins and chopping meat with his sharp cleaver over an achano, the cleaver’s sharp edges just inches away from his fingers. “I have cut my thumb in the process before,” he says, and after a small, dramatic pause, he adds, “Twice!”

I HAVE A CAR. I HAVE A HOUSE. MY CHILDREN AND WIFE ARE HAPPY. LIFE’S ALL RIGHT

Arjun stands behind the glass display case of his shop every day from 6:30 in the morning to 8:30 at night. For the larger part of the day, he remains upright in that cramped space--with a red weighing scale on one side, an achano on the other, a gas cylinder at the back and other miscellaneous tools and utensils scattered around him. The air here is filled with a pungent mix of all manner of smells, and the lights are usually dim. And yet there he is, every day, beaming in the midst of all this chaos, entertaining around 70 to 80 customers per day: he sells over 200 kgs of meat.

Things are going well, he says. He is content with how his life, of 42 years, has gone so far, “I have a car. I have a house. My children and wife are happy. Life’s all right,” he says.

That’s an honest appraisal of where he is--in contrast to where he has come from. After moving to Kathmandu when he was 11 from Sarlahi, Janakpur, he undertook many jobs. He worked as a housekeeper, a waiter, a cleaner and he also took on many other jobs that paid menial wages. At 20, when he was offered a job as a butcher, he said, “Why not?” And it is this whynot attitude that has apparently kept him buoyant and on course. Along the way, he says, he has gained some valuable insights. “Take the risks. Or the risks will take you,” he says. “But once you take the risk, you have to commit to it.”

Arjun has picked up many tricks of the trade over the years; sometimes he can tell just by the get up and the mannerisms of an approaching customer the type of meat he or she is going to buy
He has been committed to his job from the get go. After accepting the job, he immediately undertook some training at the Nepal Sausage Factory in Gongabu. He learned how to work the different cuts of meat, how to ensure quick, painless deaths for the animals he’d have to kill, and he picked up a host of other requisite skills.

“It’s not just about the skills and the hygiene of the place, though. How you deal with a person plays a really big role in your sales, and in life, generally,” he says. Arjun has picked up many tricks of the trade over the years; he can tell just by the get up and the mannerisms of an approaching customer the type of meat he or she is going to buy. “All sorts of customers visit my shop. And I always try to size them up before dealing with them. The VIP kind of people will buy boneless meat, particularly the breast. Most of them do not prefer skin, but skin doesn't bother the other customers,” he says.

As we are talking, a grumpy tax collector approaches the shop, and in a harsh tone, asks for the money Arjun owes the national treasury. But by the time the money is handed over, Arjun’s cheerful tone has left a small smile on the tax collector’s face.