The Narrator

  

                                                                        Three

 

 

    Hurriedly, I switched on the light.  There, sitting across me was a real human being, a man in his early thirties. He regarded me with what I thought was an essential self-assurance, now mingled with a trace of anxiety and nervousness.  I saw that he was opening his mouth, trying to say something.

 

    I think he sensed my agitation.

    "I am very sorry.  Professor Patwardhan?"

    "Yes," I replied, "who are you?"

    "Sir, myself Dhanda, Badrinath Dhanda."

    "Really?!  So?"  I responded, somewhat belligerently.

 

    He looked at me in a confused, pained manner as if he didn't expect such harshness.  He reconsidered his strategy.  He put both his hands forward and clasped my hand before I could resist. His hands were soft and clammy.  I withdrew my hand in a hurry.

 

    "Sir, please spare five minutes of your time.  Please..."

    He sounded really earnest.  By now, I began to feel foolish and confused, having tried to use aggression to hide my surprise. I softened.

    "Whoever you are, you can certainly get five minutes or more of my time, but you must tell me how you got here first."

    "Well, Sir, the door was open.  Your good self was resting. I could not find the doorbell.  I made a noise.  You didn't respond.  I entered.  I didn't want to disturb you.  I sat down. I waited for your awakening..."

    "Oh..." I said.

    The whole phenomenon seemed to have a pedestrian explanation.

 

    "Sir, why do you look so worried?  'Aap beemar to nahin hain'? Are you unwell? You look like--how does the expression go--as if you have seen a ghost?"

    I felt a mixture of amusement and rage. There could be no doubt about it.  The guy was for real.  But surely, his arrival at this time was uncanny and disturbing.

    "No, no, Mr. ... what did you say your name was...?"

    "Dhanda, Badrinath Dhanda..."

    "So, Mr. Dhanda..."

    "Sir, please call me Badri--all my friends call me Badri..."

    "Badri, please do sit down.  Tell me what I can do for you."

    I took a closer look at my unexpected visitor.  He wore imported jeans.  His sneakers were Reeboks.  He had an Omega watch on his left hand. His shirt was open at the neck, showing a gold chain and a fine hair on his chest.  He wore expensive cologne.  There was an effeminate air about him; he had rosy

cheeks, pink lips, long eyelashes, and fine hands, like a painter's.

    Overall, he seemed to be a bit of a puzzle. He might have been a graduate, a B.A.  or a B.Com., but definitely not from a good college.  He couldn't be a professional or a bureaucrat; so most probably he was a businessman, that omnibus category which subsumes all those who become rich by means unknown to us. But again, he was very polite. There was nothing rough or uncouth about him. In fact, he had those typically Punjabi good looks--fair skin, light eyes, dark brown hair.  What is more, he was slim, even delicate; not gross and obese as some rich Punjabis are wont to be.

 

    While I was getting carried away with my Professor Higgins act, trying to figure out who the hell he was, he interrupted quietly, "Sir, allow me to tell you how I found out about you."  

 

He had bought one of my books from the hotel he was staying at.  This was an introductory guide to Indian English fiction that I had written two years back. That it had found its way to the bookstore in the Lambada Hotel was no surprise because the proprietor's son, whom Badri had met, had been a student of mine. And that's how he had got my address.

 

    "My story is long and complicated, Sir," he said, "but I won't take up too much of your time.  You see, from childhood I have this passion to be a writer..."

    Oh no, I thought to myself, not another one...

    "Let me tell you, Sir, that in a sense I am a story-teller. A very talented and creative one, I believe.  Otherwise, why would I have so many tales spinning in my head...?

    Why was he dragging me into all this?

    "You see, I have all these stories, but I don't know how to write them.  Do you see my problem?"

    Of course I saw his goddamn problem; I had lived with it all my bloody life.

    "Sorry, Mr. Dhanda, er, Badri.  I have no idea what you're talking about..."

    "I don't blame you, Sir.  All my friends think I am crazy. They tell me I can never write, never be a successful writer."

    I too looked at him, trying to ascertain if he was totally sane, in the first place.  And if he was, then why couldn't he write down his own stories.  Was he illiterate?

    "Of course, I can read and write," he said quite evenly, guessing my thoughts, "In fact, I spend all my spare time reading... I read 'Jansatta, 'Manohar Kahaniyan', 'Dharmyug', 'India Today', 'The Times of India', Gulshan Nanda, Sidney Sheldon--anything I can get my hands on.  But I am not very good at writing.  So," here he took a deep breath, "I am looking for someone to help me out."

    "What kind of help?" I asked suspiciously.

    "Well..." he hesitated, "I want you to write the stories as I tell them.  Is that possible?"

    This guy was absolutely unbelievable.  He had the audacity to gatecrash on me, expecting me to be his amanuensis, me, PhD, Lecturer in English, Asafia University, and author of a book on the theory and practice of Indian English fiction.

 

    I thought my voice had assumed an icy edge as I said with a perfectly deadpan expression, "Do you want me to be your stenographer?  Like type out your stories as you dictate them?"

 

    He assumed a pained look.  "No, no, Sir," he protested, "mein aisa soch bhi nahin sakta."  I wouldn't dream of doing that to you.  Actually, I want you to be a collaborator, an expert, who'll help me, correct me, guide me."  Then, very quickly, as if he had forgotten an important point, "I will be very happy to offer you some remuneration for, er ... your help ... if you will not misunderstand me, Sir..."

 

    "We can think about that later," I said almost reflexively. But let me tell you that I am a critic and a scholar by training, not a creative writer."

 

    "Not to worry, Sir.  I have enough creativity for, well, the both of us--ha, ha ha.  All I want is for you to help me with the writing."

 

    "If you expect me to write in Hindi, I can't.  I can read, write and understand it, but I do all my professional writing in English."

    "No problem, Sir. I'll narrate the story to you in Hindi and then you write it out in English. Then we'll sit together and translate it back to Hindi."

    It was a totally hare-brained scheme.  I knew it would never work.

    "But, what are you planning to write?  Is it a novel or short stories?"

    "Actually, Sir," he said haltinigly, "I had something else in mind.  Not a short story or a novel. Perhaps that can come later."

    "Then what?"  "I am wanting to write stories for films.  You know what I mean?  Movies.  Cinema.  I want us to write scripts for the Bombay film industry."

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape