The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                Two

                                                                                      

 

    "If you're flat on the footpath, being beaten black and blue, what would you do?" Badri asked.     "I don't know.  I've never been in that position.  I guess I'd try to cover my face or something?"

    "No, no.  You should lie as still as possible.  Nobody enjoys giving pain to a person who doesn't feel it."

    Badri paused, lit a cigarette, dragged on it reflectively.

    "Tell me," he said, "what would you be thinking of if you were lying on a footpath, beaten to pulp, and about to pass out?"

    "Well, I suppose I would be cursing my assailants like hell," I replied.

    "Right.  You also want to curse the world, to kill the bastards for what they've done to you.  You want revenge. I bloody well swore to myself that I would never be kicked around by anyone ever again.  I decided that from now on--if at all--I'd be the one doing the kicking."

    "So, did you succeed in your resolve?"

    "Well, not immediately.  In fact, what happened soon afterwards was even worse.  I lost my job in the restaurant. Then I was thrown out of my kholi.  Firdaus's father had Resham Khan, a small-time gangster, threaten the landlord.

    "So within two days I was jobless and homeless, out on the streets again. I had very few friends, most of them young and unemployed like me.  I had no money, no resources, no references, nothing. Besides, Resham Khan had left a message for me.  `Tell the bastard that if see him anywhere, he'll be a dead man.'  Even

if they didn't kill me, they'd certainly break a couple of bones. I knew how these things worked."

    "So what did you do?"

    "I spent about a month on the run.  I was constantly on the move.  I'd take a local train to Churchgate in the morning and roam about the city the whole day. I would sit at the edge of the pier at Nariman Point and watch the sea all day."

    "But where did you sleep?"

    "Ah, that's another story.  I slept in trains.  I got into a of the last train just before it entered the shed, and then slept through until 4:30 A.M. when the locomotive was started again."

    "It must have been pretty difficult."

    "That's an understatement. I wasn't getting enough sleep.  I wasn't eating properly. I looked a sight.  Things were beginning to get out of control.  Bahut bure din dekhe."

    "So what did you do?"

    "I went to the Shiv Sena."

    "What?"

    "Well, actually, a friend of mine suggested that I contact somebody in the Sena so that some sort of truce could be affected between Resham Khan and me.  After that, at least I could be left in peace.

    "He introduced me to a Shiv Sena corporator.  Unki bahut pahunch hoti hai.  These people have lots of influence, you know. The corporator, I won't tell you his name because he's a very big man today, said, `Look son, you don't mess with anyone's daughter, least of all the daughter of someone who belongs to another religion.  You could start a communal riot.  Why don't you understand a rule as basic as this?'

    "I explained the whole situation.  I told him how I had never pursued Firdous, let alone molested her.  He said, `Well, call up Mansoor Mia.  Apologize to him. Tell him to lay off.  Also threaten him that if he doesn't things will be bad for him.'

    "I did exactly that.  Mansoor Mia understood that something more complicated than he'd expected was going on.  But he was blinded by his own power and arrogance.  He said, `Abbey chhokre, who do you think you're dealing with?  I had sworn to make you leave Bombay, and I'll carry out my word.  If you're still here,

then your dead body will be floating down Bandra creek one of these days."

    "What happened then?"

    "During Ganesh Chathurthi that year, Mansoor Mia's shop was burned."

    "My God!"

    "But what's most amazing is that he sent me a note through a messenger saying he was very sorry to have troubled me, that he would never again do so."

    "What about the corporator?"

    "Well, he pretended that he didn't even know what had happened to Mansoor Mia's shop.  When I thanked him for his protection, he said, `What for?'  I went away feeling uneasy.

This wasn't the way the system worked.  There had to be a price for the protection."

    "Was there?"

    "Well, it must have been very indirect.  You recall that I was out of a job.  Through the corporator's help I got a job in a courier company.  I had to deliver packages to all sorts of places, both in Bombay and outside, like Surat, Umbergaon, Bharuch, and so on."

    "The corporator said, `Work here for a couple of months until you find something better, Ok? Well, you know how it is in Bombay.  You're standing at a street corner.  A man comes to you running and panting.  He drops a package in your hand and says deliver it to an address right across the road.  `Take that there

and you'll make a thousand bucks.'

    "Just then the cops come and arrest the man.  You watch in the shadows, the packet in your hand.  Then you go and You deliver the package.  You get an envelope full of money.  No questions asked."

    "So you don't know what you were carrying or delivering?"

     "I had some idea, yes.  But I wasn't sure.  It was better that way. Then I left.  I got a big break.  Before I went away, I met the corporator again.  `Shabash,' he said.  I knew I'd paid him back."

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape