The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                              NINETEEN

 

  

    We had finished our drinks.  There was nothing left to do but to go down to dinner.

    "We'll go up, instead of down today," Badri said.

    "Up?"

    "To City Heights.  I've made a reservation."

    City Heights, located on the top floor of tall building in the old Three Aces compound was the finest restaurant in town. You had the best view of the city from atop.  We had a very good window seat from which we could see the necklace of lights on the Tank Bund road.

    I decided to have some cream of mushroom soup, followed by Russian salad, missi roti, palak paneer, stuffed ladies finger, Chinese fried rice, and an apple pie.  I was mixing up three cuisines--Indian, Chinese, and American!  Badri didn't seem to mind.  He decided to go in for a large sizzler.

    "I was pretty gullible, I admit," he said, continuing his story.  "But there's another important thing that you've got to understand.  I was in a group of people who were used to cheating others and being cheated themselves.  Sometimes, if the payoffs were good enough, one didn't even mind being exploited.  It was better than being neglected.

    "Firdaus was also very, very sexy.  She was the one who made the first move.  We were sitting behind the bushes on the other side of the cafe, a very secluded spot.  She pulled me down to her and kissed me on my lips.  `Mein tumhari diwani hoon,' she whispered.

    "I was stunned.  It was like a line from the movies. I sat there gaping at her boldness.  I was more afraid for her than for myself.  I didn't dare to touch her.

    "But she drew my hand to her small, firm breasts and said, `Suna tumne?  Mera dil kaise dhadak raha hai?'  Did you hear how my heart is palpitating?

    "That's it.  I was completely besotted with the girl.  She had a mole under her lower lip, big eyes, long eyelashess.  I whispered in her ears, `Tum to sach-much Firdaus ho.'  Truly, you're paradise.

    "She loved these corny filmi dialogues.

    "But," I said, "how come this nineteen year old girl was so experienced, so...I mean forward?"

    "Hey, don't let appearances decieve you," Badri replied.  "Do you think these children don't know about sex?  How can they not when they're all, the whole family of them, living in one or two rooms? Firdaus knew all there was to know, I can assure you."

    "But, anyway, this was the first time I was in love with anyone.  I was being totally carried away.  All the submerged longing in my heart since I had left my Uncle's house, overflowed in torrents.  It was as if God had remembered me, given me a second chance.  Firdaus's love drove me crazy.  I carried her picture in my wallet, dreamt of her, thought of her all the time, even neglected my studies."

    Badri paused.  I sensed that he must have gone very far in love.  I could see it in his eyes.

    "I was increasingly frightened for Firdaus.

  I had been fucked up for so many years, so I didn't care about myself.  I knew our relationship was like a time-bomb, waiting to explode.  Sooner or later, her father would find out. That would be the end.  Mai pagal ho raha tha.  I would make desperate plans.  `Let's get married,' I would say.  `Run away with me.

We'll go to some other city.  We'll start a new life together. I'll look after you, don' worry...'

    "But she would only laugh at my wild plans.  Sarangely, she seemed to be totally unconcerned.  She kept telling me, `Why worry about tomorrow?  Live for today.'  Kal ki mut socho; aaj mauj karo.  But this only bothered me more.  Wasn't I supposed to be saying these lines and not she?     "So, did her father find out?"

    "What happened was totally unforseen.  Suddenly, Firdaus stopped coming to college.  We'd evolved a code for the telephone.  I'd call her up between six and eight in the evening. If the coast was clear she'd say `Adab' in response to my `Hello.' Otherwise, she'd say `Wrong number.'

    "When she suddenly stopped attending classes, I was naturally anxious.  I would call her every evening only to hear her say, `Wrong number' each time.  Finally, I was fed up.  I screamed into the receiver, `Please, Firdaus, listen to me.  Tell me what's the matter.'"

    "Did she reply?"

    "No.  The phone came down with a click each time.

    "I began to imagine that she was in some sort of trouble.  I began to hang around her lane, bunking my classes.  Once, I think she saw me through the window.  Quickly, she dived inside. 

   "I knew it was over.  Yet a part of my mind refused to believe it.  Mai uski mohabbat mein pagal ho gaya tha.  I was crazily in love with her.  I didn't want to pester her in any way, but if anything was being done to her against her will, then I was willing to stake my life to protect her.  I was even willing to become a Muslim in order to marry her."

    "So what happened finally?"

    "She took the offensive.  Accompanied by her father and her fiance, she came to the restaurant where I worked.  It must have been four-thirty or five in the afternoon.  She pointed me out to her father and said, `Abbajan, that's the boy who's harrassing me. He phones up every day even when I don't want to speak to

him.'"

    "I didn't want a scene in the restaurant so I went out with them.  The father began to abuse me.  He said he was a respectable man and that his daughter was his sacred possession that he had to protect. There was also a thug with them, in a checkered nylon shirt and lungi.

    "I looked at Firdaus, but she had her burqa on.  It was terrible.  This disembodied voice coming out of a gunny sack accusing me of molesting her.  Was this the woman whom I loved to madness?

    "`I let her go to college because I don't mind an educated daughter.  But with lafangas like you around, we can't afford to send her anymore, can we?' the father jeered.

     "The thug began to move closer to me.  Firdaus started sobbing.  I said, `Look, this can be solved amicably.  I promise not to trouble you again.  Ok?  Let's call it quits.  I don't know you and you don't know me.'

    "`No,' the father screeched.  You didn't know who I was, but now you'll find out.  You made the mistake of insulting my honour.  You tried to act fresh with my daughter.  I won't forgive you.  Mein tumhara dana pani bandh kar doonga.'  I'll see that you stop eating and drinking in this city.

    "Now he came closer to me and spat on my face.  `You're a two-bit waiter.  How dare you even look at my daughter.  I'll have your balls cut off.'

    "This man was a sadist.  He wanted to trample on someone and he'd chosen me.

    "Fridaus tried to intervene, `Let him go Abba-jan.  It's not worth the trouble.'

    "But the man only laughed as the thug punched me hard across my face."

    "I fell down.  He kicked me a couple of times when I was down.  Through the corner of my eye, I saw the veiled, baggy figure of Firdaus crying as she was dragged away."

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape