The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                   Four

 

    We had thought that we would be able to get through our first story session for Manpasand in an hour.  Actually, it took much longer.  We'd ordered a working dinner around nine.  Sandwiches, coffee, (a glass of milk for me), nothing very substantial.  So I found that I was hungry again.

    "But should we eat now, at this hour?  It's past midnight."

    "Let's get one thing straight.  Do we exist for time or does time exist for us?"

    Another one of those memorable Badri lines.

    "Oh well," I said.

    So we and went down to the coffee shop.

    The lobby was deserted.  There was a surly looking guy at the Reception who gave us a baleful look as we walked to the coffee shop.  We found the door shut.  There was nobody in sight.

    We walked to the Reception.

    "Excuse me, please," Badri said coolly.

    "Yes," the man frowned.

    "Why are the doors to the coffee shop closed?"

    "Well...it's after midnight, Sir."

    "The coffee shop is supposed to be open twenty-four hours."

    "I'm sorry, Sir."  The man looked confused and unhappy.

    "Connect me to the Manager, please."

    "Sir, he must be sleeping."

    "Yes.  That's the idea."

    When the receptionist hesitated, Badri picked up the telephone and said, "Here, dial."  Badri smiled at him, "Now." The man dialed.  The phone rang for a long time before somebody picked it up.

    "Hello?  Mr. Manager, I'm sorry to bother you, but there's a fire in my room, 1001. The reception has called the Fire Department.  Can you come down immediately?"

    The receptionist began to stare at Badri.  He looked truly frightened.  I tried to look cool but was scared myself.

    A few minutes later the Manager panted into the lobby.  His shirt wasn't tucked in properly. He was rather surprised to see only the three of us at the lobby and everthing as quiet as usual.

    "What seems to be the problem, Sir?"

    "Well, we aren't getting any fucking service at your fucking twenty-four hour coffee shop," Badri said viciously.  

    "I am sorry, Sir.  Please bear with us.  One of our night waiters has reported sick.  Our clients are rarely down at this time, so...but I'll see what I can do.  Let me assure you that if necessary I'll serve you personally."

    "Thank you," Badri said.

    "And now, Sir, what about the fire in your room?"

    "There's no fire," Badri responded casually.

    "You mean that was a joke?"

    "Not at all.  If you hadn't come down, there would have been one."

    The Manager wasn't amused, but what could he do?

    I was the silent witness to the whole drama. thought I should say something.  I addressed myself to the Manager, "Well, if you two have finished, I'd like something to eat. We're famished, you know."

    "Yes, of course, Sir," the man replied tonelessly.

    So the coffee shop was lit up just for us.  There were two waiters at our disposal. Afterwards, every day, we were asked after we had dined, "Would you be needing anything later on, Sir?"

    It was later than two in the morning when we slept.  After our repast, we walked out of the hotel for a stroll.  Badri took me to a pan shop which was open until 3:00 a.m.  I had a sweet pan, while he ordered one with zarda in it.

    The night was cool.  The air was clean.  The stars twinkled faintly in the sky.  The moon was high up, already waning.  There was no one on the street.  If I was tired, I didn't feel it. Somehow, the adrenalin was still flowing.  Both Badri and I were silent as we walked back up the steep incline of the driveway to

the Lambada.  The hotel loomed above us, its squat, square facade almost completely dark, except for the incandescent sign on the top glowing in bright red.  My whole past seemed very remote from me at this moment.  If someone had mentioned Neha now, I would have said, "Who?"

    Badri was smoking and chewing his pan at the same time.  He seemed so complete and perfect by himself, that I almost envied him.  I was looking for some gesture of friendship or affirmation from him, I guess.  Something which said, perhaps, that he cared for me as a human being, not just someone who might help him

write a movie script.

    Badri's aloofness came not simply from a possible lack of caring.  It had more to do with his own loneliness and isolation He seemed to know that he was different from most others and had reconciled himself to this after a lot of pain.  And once he had accepted that, he had become a complete person, someone who knew

what he wanted, knew how to get it, enjoyed it while he had it, and didn't have regrets afterwards.  He could feel pleasure without guilt.

    His capacity and appetite for experience was so vast as to be enviable.  He didn't owe anybody anything nor was he dependent on anyone either physically or emotionally.  I couldn't but help feeling a slow respect and admiration growing in my heart for this man. Just then, his voice interrupted my reverie.

    "You know, I was right about you."

    I smiled, but couldn't help feeling uneasy again.  It disturbed be to think that I was part of a bigger design and that I was being read and manipulated by Badri.

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape