I had weird dreams that night. I was in a totally unknown place, lying in an unfamiliar bed. I couldn't move my hands or legs. I was sweating with fright. Suddenly very bright lights blinded me with their unbearable glare. There were hooded figures, strange people, who were hovering over me. Then, in a flash I understood that an operation was in progress. These people were doctors, and they were operating on me. But why were they dressed in black cowls? Why did they have large, shining stainless steel knives, instead of surgical instruments? Where were their faces?
I began to scream as somebody held down my head. One of the doctors took out a huge pair of pincers; in the other hand he had a knife. He held my head down with the pincers and began to slice the knife through my forehead. Oh God, I realized suddenly. These doctors had concluded that I was a dangerous psychopath. There were about to do a lobotomy. There was a terrible mistake. Actually, somebody else was guilty. Someone I knew very well. I could see his grinning face. I had known it all along. He had substituted me for him in the operation.
"Please stop!" I screeched to the doctors. "You have the wrong man," I swear. But no one listened. There was blood all over my face, pouring down my nose, over my mouth and chin. In panic, I must have relapsed into a deep sleep.
When I woke up I found that I had an uncomfortable erection and also needed very badly to visit the toilet. My bladder was bursting. I yawned and stretched myself, gradually sitting up, the blanket still covering my pyjamas. Badri was already up, having his coffee and reading the paper. "Good morning, Sir," he said, "did you isleep well?"
"Oh, 'morning, Badri. What time is it?"
"Just after eight-thirty."
I had overslept by two and a half hours. I fumbled for my watch on the side table. It was closer to nine. I began to feel awful. This was the second day in a row when I had overslept. The sun was bright outside; I could see the large vistas of the city in the clear light through the parted curtains of our window.
Badri had ordered my breakfast soon after I'd woken. Now it was waiting for me on the table. There was cereal, toast, orange juice, marmalade, a vegetable cutlet, and of course, a glass of milk.
"Well, Badri," I said, "you haven't still told me what your big break was. How did you make your transition from low life to high life?"
"Sir," Badri replied, "there's very little difference between the two, I tell you. The higher you go the dirtier it gets." He lit a cigarette before proceeding. "Actually, my break came through the only business I knew something about."
"You mean restaurants?"
"That's right. The Rana group from Delhi were opening a new five star hotel in Bombay. I went to the interview. I would have been rejected outright because I didn't have a catering college diploma, but I landed the job."
"Well, old Lahore connections. The Managing Director, who was conducting the interviews, happened to ask me where my family came from. The Ranas are also from Lahore. They always believe in keeping one of two of their own men in every department, just to keep an eye on things. These men have deeper ties with the proprietors and usually have some drawback too, which keeps them tied to their bosses. I was an ideal candidate.
"I joined as Assistant Banquets Manager. But soon I got a hang of the whole business. I kept my eyes and ears open during my tenure at the Rana's. Bahut kuck seekha. I learned how the big wigs operate. I saw how billion rupee deals were struck, how bribes and kickbacks were paid. On the Diwali nights I saw lakhs
going up in the smoke of crackers and fireworks or being gambled away. I saw high class prostitutes, pimps, and wheeler-dealers."
"But how did you yourself get to join the big league?"
"After working with them for the Ranas for about four years, I ventured to go solo. By then I had enough contacts to set up my own business. I was twenty-six.
"I started organizing parties for the nouveau riche. In the beginning I used to charge as little as twenty rupees per head, but soon I hiked my rates up to as much as two hundred rupees. I made a neat pile doing parties."
"Then, I began to get into other businesses. I became a middleman which I explained to you earlier."
Badri paused reflectively. He inhaled deeply on his cigarette.
Then he said slowly, "My really big break came in exchange for keeping my mouth shut. I was witness to something that could have been very damaging to a powerful man. I swore not to spill the beans. In return, I got a very lucrative commision on a deal which had gone down during that particular party. That when I
made my first lakh of rupees."
"What was it that needed hushing up?"
"Was it a murder?"
"I am not sure. Perhaps, it was an accident, perhaps it was a suicide. Either way, it might have been prevented."
"What made you decide to keep quiet?"
"Well, it wasn't just the money. The person in question was all alone in the world, except for an old mother. The erring industrialist agreed to give a large sum of money to the old lady. After thinking over the matter, I decided to let things be. Why drag in the police? Why throw the old woman to the dogs? The industrialist would get away, I knew."
"But what happened actually?"
"Well, a higly-paid call girl died under mysterious circumstances."
"Did you know the woman?"
"Yes," Badri said after a pause.
"And what happened to her?"
"She fell off from the ledge of a client's bedroom window."
"What was she doing on the ledge?"
"I am not sure. I could never figure out. Was she trying to escape? Was he trying to make her do something she didn't want to? Or did she deliberately fling herself down? I was never able to find out.
"But I know that she was drunk and on drugs. There were no lights on and she just fell off. Without a sound. Before any of us could even see where she had fallen, she was dead.
"I was one of the first to reach her twisted and broken body. She had a ghastly smile on her face and was stark naked."
|Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape|