The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                              TWENTY

 

  

     

    All along, as I sat listening to Badri on Sunday, a part of my mind was trying to figure out what was happening to my life. What was the relationship between Baddy and Badri?  Was Badri a real person?  Was Baddy real and Badri imaginary?  Or were they both characters, just as I was, in a different sense, a

character, another scrap of text?  My mind was awhirl with doubt and confusion.  Baddy and Badri? Well--I decided to make a brave attempt--for starters, their names both began with "B."  Then I thought, how silly of me.  I was, indeed, being reduced to a bunch of nerves.

    I decided to backtrack a bit and review what I knew for certain, what I had to go on:  first, Baddy was a character, someone I had made up to account for and do things I could not myself.  Badrinath Dhanda was a real person, of solid substance, with a past, a present, and a future.  He had a verifiable history, complete with dates and antecedents.

    But what about the emanation, the materialization of the essence of Baddy which I could swear I had experienced.  Was it a hallucination?  Or a mystical experience? To compound my state of uncertainty was the strange fact that Baddy had totally disappeared after this materialization.  He hadn't written a line, a word, or a sentence.  He hadn't induced one of those moods in me.  But, to be fair, it was only a few days since the emanation had occurred--three to be precise.  Badri had come into my life on Friday.  Today was Sunday.  So much had happened in three days that I felt I was in a different world altogether, as if I had commenced a new life, a life in which Baddy had no part.

    What struck me as particularly significant was that Baddy's disappearance had coincided with Badri's arrival.  So if the emanation was nonsense, then the pieces were fitting in all right.  Badri was in reality what Baddy was trying to be in the imagination.  Badri had actually lived a very rich, diverse, and interesting life, full of poetry, sorrow, and adventure, which Baddy was merely trying to conjure up for his unwritten novel.

    So, if the emanation never took place, then Badri was actually replacing Baddy.  I was at last moving out from imagination to reality, getting over my creative schizophrenia, outgrowing my doppelganger.  Badri was the quintessential story teller.  With him around, I didn't really need Baddy.  I could do away with the troublesome rascal.

    I began to visualize a life without Baddy, without inner turmoil and conflict.  A life whole, sane, and fulfilling like that of other people.  A life of balance, fulness, and

creativity.  With some professional satisfaction and lots of personal happiness.  A life with Neha and our son--I was sure it would be a son.  A life of simplicity and grace.  A beautiful world in which I would at last love Neha perfectly, in which bells would tinkle each time we made love.

    I had had such fantasies before.  Who, after all, wants to be marked out from the ordinary?  Who wants to feel lonely and alienated from the rest of his fellows?  Who wants even genius at the price of insanity?   Who wants to bear the mark of Cain on his brow?  I was afraid over the years that I was finally breaking up.  Sometimes I thought that I needed to see a doctor, perhaps, a shrink who would cure me of my dual personality.

    But Badri's arrival had changed everything.  With him I was able to experience life without actually having to live it.  His experiences were infinitely more fascinating and absorbing than mine.  I could listen to him and enjoy his stories without being him.  Actually, I wouldn't have minded being him--without the pain and suffering, though.  And that was impossible, I knew.

    On the other hand, there was an air of menace about Badri. He wasn't like Baddy, who though difficult, I could control eventually.  Badri was a real person who, in fact, seemed to be getting an upper hand over me.  It was he who was calling the shots, dragging me inch by tempting inch into a world of danger and uncertainty.  A world which was as unfamiliar to me as the jungles of Congo or the streets of Bronx.  I always loved this world through the books that I'd read, but stepping into it

myself was another matter.  I was scared.  Suppose something dreadful happened?  I would never be the same again.

    The unpleasant parts of Badri's life stuck to my mind like thorns.  I kept returning to his relationship with Minoo with fascination and horror.  There was the excitement of breaking a taboo here.  Nothing short of incest was going on.  The seductions were arousing and disgusting at the same time.  I felt horror and pity, sorrow and titillation.  Worse was his Uncle's sodomy.  I could never imagine how he might have done it.  A large penis asssaulting the anus of a fifteen year old boy!  Even with vaseline or cold cream, it was bound to be painful beyond anything I'd experienced.  Then why did people do it to each other?  Why was sex so tied up with pain?

    It was not just Badri's being violated by his perverted Uncle that I found myself going back to again and again, but the whole idea of being fucked in the back by another man, which was intriguing.  It was like the ultimate fantasy of having a womb-substitute, of being like a woman.  Surely, it would do something to one's psyche and self-image.  You'd have to be someone so disgusted with the norms of society that you'd wish to violate them in a fundamental way, by overturning the whole reproductive process.  You'd want to take revenge against a totally screwed up social system, against the family, against matrimony, against sex itself.

    Perhaps, there was a bit of a homosexual in all of us, lurking beneath the veneer of respectability.  And the very act of being fucked must do something to a man, I mean alter his vital, emotional, and spiritual make-up.  Like making the Kundalini rise.  After all, several antinominal cults, as I had read, used dildos for anal penetration of both men and women. Is that why gays were so talented, so creative? 

    Ok, so Badri was for real.  But what about Baddy?  What about the emanation?  I couldn't completely dismiss them either.  I couldn't figure this puzzle out.  Both Badri and Baddy refused to go away.  When with the former, I forgot about the latter.  Or rather, the latter forgot about me.  But was he gone forever? What was the guarantee that he wouldn't surface one day, wreaking havoc on my life?

    I regarded Badri as he sat across from me.  How fine his features were.  Long fingers, perfectly manicured.  Shapely hands.  Sensitive lips.  Intelligent eyes.  He didn't look like a businessman to me anymore, but more like a poet, a painter, or a clothes designer.

    What was I doing here sitting with him, sipping a nimboo-pani, eating the food that he paid for, and listening to an extraordinary adventure story?  I thought of Neha.  Poor thing.  She must have become quite bloated and big now, carrying our son inside her.  She was about seven months gone. Women did have such a hard time. How unfair that was.  My heart suffused with pity and sympathy, I started a letter to her in my mind:

 

"Dearest:

 

    Don't be surprised.  I am sitting here in Room no. 1001 of Lambada Hotel.  Yes, it's that five star place.  No, of course, I'm not staying.  But this guy I'm with is. Ok?  Have you got that straightened out in your Reserve Bank, practical manner?     So, I'm here with this man--his name is Badrinath Dhanda. He's a sort of businessman from Bombay.  He wants me to help him write a, er... film script.  No, hold it, don't blow your top. Listen to me.  Well, he's got these brilliant ideas which he'd like me to help him flesh out.  No, I have nothing to lose.  He's even agreed to pay me for the help...

    No, I don't know a lot about him.  I don't know why he's in Hyderabad.

    How did he find me out?  Well, my student at the Lambada Bookshop told him about me.

    It sounds shady?  Drop it?

    No, wait, let me explain.  Since I was fifteen I've had this fantasy that I was really two people.  The other guy was Baddy. He had a pretty exciting life in contrast to mine.  Well, Baddy was to be the writer.  I was merely his amanuensis--that is, a kind of scribe.

    Now I'll tell something really incredible.  Baddy became a real person, like a ghost coming to life before my eyes.  I mean he sort of stepped out of myself and became a person in flesh and blood... And then, this guy, Badri...

    It would never work.  It was too damn farout for Neha.  I found myself tearing my proposed letter into tiny imaginary bits and throwing them out of Badri's tenth floor window, so that they floated down like little, ghostly wisps of dreams in the dark night.

    I thought about Badri again, about how uncertain and unsettling an influence he was on my life.  Badri's own story wasn't complete, let alone the story we were supposed to start. But my life was getting complicated in unexpected ways.  On Sunday night, I reached home very late.  It was close to three a.m., in fact.  I had trouble sleeping after that.  When I finally got to sleep it was nearly five in the morning.  I must have spent one and a half hours tossing in bed because when I

dozed off, I heard the morning azaan from the neighbourhood mosque.

    Naturally, I also woke up late.  Apparently, the servant had rung my bell several times at seven or seven thirty, but I had slept through it.  It was like having a blackout.  I was late for my classes.  The University was about twenty minutes away and it was already nine-thirty when I got up.  My class was at ten.  I hurriedly put on some clothes.  There was no point trying to catch a bus.  I got a auto instead and sped to the Arts College building where my M.A. class was waiting for me.

    "Sorry class, I am late," I said rushing into the room.

    "Sir, you look...kind of tired.  Are you Ok?" Sunita, one of the brighter students who usually sat in the front row, asked.

    "Er... I had a late night."

    Somebody at the back laughed.

    "Oh... it's not what you think."

    More titters.  I looked up to see that half the class was empty.

    "Where's everybody?"

    "Oh Sir, they went went off for coffee when you didn't show up until ten fifteen."

    I knew they'd never come back once they went off like this.

    So here was another blown class.  I spent the whole day like a zombie.  In the afternoon I was dozing off on my desk when Swaminathan, our Head of Department walked in.

    "Oh, hullo Rahul.  Sorry to disturb you."

    "Not at all, Sir.  My apologies.  I was...you know..." I was searching for words to explain.

    "No, no need to explain.  You look very tired.  Is it Neha's absence that's bothering you?  Is she all right, by the way?"

    "Yes, Sir, thank you.  I spoke to her on...on Saturday ... no Sunday morning.  She's fine.  I, I..."

    "Are you Ok?  You look a sight."

    "Well, Sir, as a matter of fact I am not very well.  I am tired.  You know..."  I was amazed to find myself on the verge of lying.

    "Do you have the flu?"

    "Yes, that's it.  A touch of fever.  Sir, could I take the next few days off?  I mean could I go on casual leave for three or four days?"

    "Sure.  Go ahead.  If you're not well, I'd recommend medical leave.  Put in an application on my desk before you leave, ok?"

    "Thanks a lot, Sir.  I'll make up for my portions by taking some extra classes later."

    "Sure.  Will do," he said, turning to go.

    "Sir?"

    "Yes?"

    "I'm sorry, but did you have anything you wanted me to do?"

    "Oh, yes, I was forgetting why I came in.  I wanted to ask you if it was you I saw in a white Mercedes the day before yesterday, oh, about 7:15 or so in the evening? My wife and I were returning from our usual stroll down the tank bund when I thought I spotted you."

    "No, Sir.  What would I be doing in a Mercedes?"

    "That's what I thought.  Ha, ha."

    The old man left.  I was stunned with myself.  Something was happening to me.  I had fibbed twice.  First to get four days of casual leave.  And then again about being in the Mercedes.  How easy it was to lie and how well people seemed to take it.  It was almost as if they preferred lies to truth.  If you lied, it brought a smile on their faces.  If you told the truth they looked offended.

    It was a strange world.

    I went home in the afternoon after putting in an application for medical leave.  Later, I would have to provide a fake Doctor's certificate, but I wasn't worrying about that now.  Soon after I reached home, a neighbour from across the corridor came over.  She was Mrs. Reddy, our local busybody and do-gooder.  Her

husband owned a transport company.  She had plenty of money, less brains, but ample spare time to mind other people's business.

    "Brother, may I come in."

    "Yes, Mrs. Reddy, do come in.  How are you?"

    "I yam fine by the grace of Almighty.  But, Brother, what's matter with you?  This morning, servant came, but you not answer. Why?  You're not well?"

    "Acutally,  I am... I mean..." I found myself fumbling for words.

    Mrs Reddy continued undaunted, "Mr. Reddy was saying to me, why you not go and call the poor Professor for fudd.  His wife is away, in family way.  So I yam asking you to come.  Any day."

    "Thank you."  I knew that this was only a prelude for the probing to come.

    "How yis Neha, brother?"

    "Oh, she's fine.  I spoke to her on Saturday."

    "Her weight is good, no?"

    "Yes, Mrs. Reddy."

    "Well, Brother, why yar you coming home so lately these days?"

    She was more direct than I had expected.  I decided to be equally direct.

    "You know, my friend, Mr. Seetharaman, Manager at Vazir Sultan, is very sick."

    "I yam sorry.  What is happening to him?"

    "Heart attack."

    "Aiyiyiyo!  Heart trouble is worst.  My husband had bypass two years back.  In foreign country, of course."

    "Yes, yes."

    "Mr. Seetharaman.  Where he yis admitted?"

    "Apollo Hospital."

    "He sends his car to pick you up, no?"

    "That's right."

    "Sorry to trouble, brother.  I pray Almighty for Mr. Raman's speedy recovery.  By the way, is he Tamilian?"

    "Yes."

    The lady finally left.  Again, I had found myself lying, making up a totally ridiculous story to keep her from prying into my affairs.  I was sure Badri would approve.

    There were also a couple of letters for me.  One was from the publisher in Bombay, to whom I'd sent Baddy's ms. of poems.  A small classified ad. had appeared in the Times of India soliciting original manuscripts by Indians in English.  The cutting had been sent to me by Neha herself.  Without hoping for much, I'd sent the poems.  A month later I received a routine letter of acknowledgement saying that the ms. was being evaluated by a reader.  Then came the acceptance letter, which I shall never forget.  I had torn open the envelope with an uncontainable excitement.  It simply said that the reader had thought highly of Baddy's work; consequently, the publisher hoped to bring the ms. out within four months.  Then, about two weeks back, the proofs had come, not too long before the emanation.  Now here was

another letter acknowledging the receipt of the corrected proofs.

     Just to take my mind off this joyous sequence, I looked at the other letter.  It was from Neha:

 

Dearest:

    You know I hate to write letters, but I thought I should put a few words down on this inland because you might be worried about me.

    I am fine.  Our baby is fine.  He moves!  I can feel him.

    I wish you were with me.

    Aai-Baba are fine.  Lekha came here to see me with her husband.  It's good to have a doctor in the family.  She takes my blood pressure and pulse.  She says the most difficult phase is behind me.  But I still have to be careful because of my sensitive uterous.  The seventh month is critical.

    I really miss you.

    Are you eating properly?  You must look after yourself.  God knows why I worry about you.

    Tell Mummy and Dada [my parents] about my progress when you

write to them next.

    Write back soon.

 

    Your loving,

 

              Neha.

 

I wrote back immediately:

 

My dearest wifey and baby:

    I miss you terribly.  And baby.  Here are some hugs from me to the both of you.  Don't worry about me at all.  I'm perfectly fine.  Actually, I'm thriving.  (Even without you!) I'm cooking everything on my own.  I never eat out. I've actually put on some weight.  Happy?

    My work is also going on fine.  My book of poems is almost ready for publication.  The proofs came in a couple of weeks back and I have sent them back.  I'm really excited about this book.

    I've been a really good boy in your absence, keeping regular hours, eating properly, sleeping properly.

    I wish I could be with you because I love you.

 

    Your hubbly-bubbly,

 

              Rahul.

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape