The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                              SEVENTEEN

 


It was evening by the time we reached the Lambada. We went straight up to Badri's room on the tenth floor. Badri said he wanted to shower. I sat on the sofa and watched a video film. When he emerged, he asked me if I too wanted to wash. It wasn't a bad idea, but I didn't have a spare set of clothes. "No problem," he said, "put on the same clothes again. You'll find fresh towels inside."
This was the life, I thought, as I sank into the luxury of the bathtub. I used the hotel shampoo and soap. The water was wonderful and seemed to wash away my tiredness. I got out, dried myself, first rubbing my body with the hard side of the towel and then with the soft. How wonderful it felt to have a modicum of luxury. Before dressing I helped myself to Badri's Yardley talcum his English Leather Cologne.
When I emerged, I was feeling great. Badri had already got himself a beer and some snacks. There was also a chilled nimbu-pani waiting for me.
"I must hand it to you, Badri. You certainly know how to live. But tell me, how did you get to make so much money? What I've heard so far doesn't tell me that."
"Sir, let me assure you that there's nothing easier than making money in this benighted country. The whole bloody place is being ripped off every second. Do you know what I mean?--Beheti Ganga hai. Koi bhi hath dho le. It's a running river; anybody can wash their hands in it.
"I mean everything here is for sale. It's only where you position yourself that counts. Are you outside the transaction, like all those poor suckers out there, those millions and millions of our countrymen and women, who live on the edge of subsistence? Or are you a part of the deal? I like to make sure that I am somewhere in the picture when the action is on."
"But what exactly do you do?" I ventured.
"Well, it's very simple really. Let's say you want 250 tons of marble."
"Marble?"
"Just assume it. Imagine you're building a big hotel and you need it."
"Ok."
"Now, somewhere on the face of this earth there's a someone who's got 250 tons of marble which he wants to sell."
"Yes?"
"My job is to get them both in touch with each other."
"So you're a middleman."
"That's right," he said, straightening himself up. "I'm a dalal, a broker, a pimp. It's a very lucrative job. The key to this profession is to understand that everyone has their price. The only question is are you willing to pay it?"
We were silent for a while as I digested the import of Badri's words. It seemed like such a bewildering way of life to me. How was one supposed to find clients? How would one find the right supplier? What if people didn't pay?"
Badri said, as if reading my thoughts, "Look, there's a way to handle all of this. I'll explain the gist of it in a roundabout manner. Do you have any enemies?"
"Huh?"
"Anybody who's been an inconvenience to you, who's raped your sister or stolen your money?"
"No, no, not at all. Why do you ask?"
"Well if you did have an enemy, would you know how much it would cost to get rid of him?" Badri moved his forefinger across his throat.
"Rid of him? You mean get him killed?"
"That's right," Badri said. "If you come with me to Kukatpally or Charminar, right here in Hyderabad, I could introduce you to some people who'll kill a man for you for Rs. 10,000. They're very crude types, though. The sophisticated killer is much, much more expensive. Bombay is the place for such contract or `supari' killings. There the price goes up with the importance of the person you want eliminated. A professional hit job can cost anywhere from one lakh to one crore. It's
cheaper, of course, to get somebody roughed up, to break a couple of of their ribs to scare them a bit, you know."
I felt numb. "Have you," I stammered, "ever done anything like that?"
"Kabhi kabhi. It's good for your reputation, once in a while. Otherwise people walk all over you."
I walked up to the window. I felt I needed to move my body a bit to shake off the vice-like grip of Badri's words.
"Ah, Sir. I see that you're disturbed. You know there are a lot of people out there who, if they got a chance, would kick you in you balls, shove you into a ditch, and run away with your money and your wife. These people only understand the language of violence."
"But how did you actually get into all this?" I asked a little confused. "What happened to the B.Com course and the work in a restaurant?"
"Well, I had to drop out in my second year."
"What happened?"
"I'll tell you. Girl trouble. Her name was Firdaus and she was in the same college.
"She was really a fun-loving girl, gregarious and vivacious, but badly repressed at home. She was also cunning, kind of sly, you know. Her father was one of those people who bruise their foreheads praying five times a day. He was also a cruel, hard man."
"For Firdaus college was a temporary escape. She was already engaged to be married. So for this one year, she went wild. There was always this hyper quality to her, as if she were living on the brink.
"Since she was a year junior to me, she used the pretext of asking for my notes to get to know me. When I reflect over our meeting I am always struck by how manipulative and dissembling she was from the very start."
"But," I interrupted, "how could you have been so careless? You knew she was a Muslim and you a Hindu. You knew the relationship had no chance at all."
"It was the very impossibility of our situation which made the relationship inevitable. Don't you know that if you're a loser you seek out other losers with amazing accuracy?"
"You know, initially she told me that she was having problems at home and needed to talk to someone. She couldn't trust anyone but me. She said she was being locked up, beaten, and starved into marrying a cousin of hers whom she hated. She said the man was twice her age and already had a wife."
"And you believed her?"
"You would have too. Here's a girl in a burqa who comes head lowered to college. Who doesn't as much as lift her gaze let alone talk to anyone. When someone looks into your eyes pleadingly and tells you that you are the only one they can trust, what can you do? Especially if you're all alone in the world too."

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape