The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                   Thirteen

                                                                               MANPASAND 

 

       

 

    Tara, Vilas and Osman are sitting together in Tara's office. Vilas has just finished narrating his version of their encounter with Harish Kumar's office staff.

Osman:  "I tell you, those workers will rebel one day.  The man seems to be a tyrant."

    Tara has been listening intently:  "I wouldn't be able to live with someone so authoritarian and unpopular.  You know how well I treat my workers.  Moreover," smiling as she picturizes the scene, "I don't want to be the target of a morcha."

    In her imagination, workers pelt her bungalow with stones, shouting slogans, "Harish Kumar, hai, hai," "Harish Kumar, murdabad,"  "Harish Kumar ki tanashahi nahin chalegi, nahin chalegi," "Inquilab Zindabad,"  and so on.  Harish Kumar crouches with fright, yells for Tara to take cover.

    End fantasy.  Tara shuts H.K.'s file with a gesture implying finality.

 

    The next day.  Tara reads out from the file of short-listed applicant no. 2:  "This is Mr. Suhas Sengupta, advertising executive from Multimedia Associates, Calcutta.  He's coming to Bombay today and wants to see us tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at the executive lounge of his hotel.  He's put up in suite no. 302." Closes the letter, looks up.

    Osman smiles wickedly:  "11:00 a.m. tomorrow or..." Vilas:  "11:00 p.m. tonight?"

    The three look at each other and smile conspiratorially.

 

    Vilas and Osman enter the premises of a famous five star hotel in South Bombay on their absurd scooter.  They get weird looks from other the security staff at the entrance and from the other drivers in the parking lot.  Unfazed, they walk in.  After a quick look around the lobby, they take the lift up, and mosey down the corridor leading to Suhas Sengupta's suite.  They approach the door and wait, wondering how to make their entrance.

    From the service lift, they see a waiter with a trolley of drinks and food walking towards them.

    Osman and the waiter recognize one another; they laugh and embrace and make small talk.

Osman:  "Where are you going?"

Waiter:  "To the `party' in suite 302."

Vilas:  "Good, we'll go together.  We are also supposed to see him."

Waiter:  "But, huzoor, the `party' is not alone; there's (lowers his voice) someone else with him."

    Osman and Vilas exchange knowing looks.  Vilas winks at Osman.  Osman puts his arm around the waiter, slips him a 100 rupee note and draws him away.  Waiter, nervous, keeps looking back as Vilas takes over the trolley.

    Vilas knocks on the door which has a "Do not disturb" tag. When asked, "Who's it?" answers "Room service."  The voice from inside says, "Leave the trolley outside please."

    Vilas says, "Yes, Sir," and moves to the side.  After a pause, the door clicks open.  A hand half sticks out, reaching for the trolley.  Vilas pushes the trolley aside, then before the man can shut the door, quickly steps in.

    The tall, clean shaven, ad. man, slick to his very bones, stares at him with obvious annoyance. Man:  "Room service?" Vilas:  "Room service has gone, Sir.  He left the trolley outside and left."

Man:  "Who the hell are you?"

Vilas, taking out Suhas's letter:  "Mr. Suhas Sengupta of Multimedia Associates, Calcutta?"

Suhas:  "Yes, yes.  What do you want?"

Vilas:  "Sir, I have an appointment with you for 11 o'clock....O! 11:00 a.m.--but I'm sorry I thought it was 11:00 p.m."

    Sengupta dumbstruck.  Vilas, unconcerned, pushes him aside and half-enters the room.  Inside, a pretty woman in a revealing dress lies stretched on the bed, smoking a cigarette. Vilas:  "Sir, it looks like Mrs. Sengupta is also with you..." Suhas:  "Yes-s-s, yes.  Mrs. Sengupta..."  Laughs awkwardly. "...good joke, Mr.? What did you say your name was?"

Vilas, disregarding his question: "Sir, given your taste in these matters," points to the person inside, "I don't think you'd quite Sengupta, fumbling some more:  "I mean she's my relative..." Camera cuts to her again to stress the unlikelihood of such a proposition, "I mean she's my...she's my secretary, no she's my friend, no she's a model...."

    Vilas turns round and walks to the lift:  "Good night, Mr Sengupta."

 

    At the breakfast table the next day, Vilas and Osman reporting to Tara:  "Mr. Sengupta and his wife, sister, secretary, friend, and model with him when we dropped in on him last night....'

Tara:  "Oh?  All of them?"

Vilas:  "The trouble was that all these were one person..."     They all laugh.

    Tara:  "Now to the next candidate.  Ye hain Mr. Hiralal Motichand, diamond merchant from Paris."  Shows the slide with the profile.  Hiralal is one of those handsome and sophisticated types.

    Vilas and Osman:  "This one looks promising.  Yes.  We hope he will be ok, not like the previous two." Tara nods:  "Let's invite him over for an interview at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, ok?"

 

    Next evening, around 5:30 p.m., Tara is excitedly preparing for the arrival of Mr. Hiralal.  She's not yet ready, though. Dressed in an ordinary sari, an apron on top, she looks almost like a maid.  She's dusting, cleaning, and generally getting things in order personally for the guest's arrival.

Vilas:  "We'll be back by 6:00 p.m.  We want to check if we can find out anything about Mr. Hiralal before he gets here."

Osman:  "But, Madam, you better get ready soon...."

Vilas:  "Yes, you look a sight."

Tara:  "Don't you worry about me.  I take just ten minutes to get dressed, not hours and hours like other women--or men."

    Vilas and Osman look at one another, smile, and leave.

    Tara continues with the busywork, humming to herself.

    Suddenly, the door bell rings.  Tara opens the door to Mr. Hiralal Motichand.  He is wearing a dark close-necked Nehru jacket and matching trousers.  He has a rose in his button hole and smells of Aramis. Hiralal: "Excuse me, is Ms. Singh's at home?"  Hands Tara a card, "I believe she is expecting me, though I am a bit early."

Tara:  "Yes, yes please come in."

Hiralal:  "So the memsahib is not at home?"

    Tara says nothing.  Hiralal has mistaken her for a servant. Hiralal: "Actually it's my fault.  I was supposed to come at 6:30.  But I didn't want to be delayed and make a poor impression on our very first meeting.  So I started early.  I have heard horror stories of Bombay's traffic."

Tara, playing along: "It's ok. Madam will be here within half an hour.  Please do sit down."

    She brings him a cup of tea and remains standing.

    Hiralal looks at her carefully for the first time:  "I must compliment your Madam's taste.  You are indeed very beautiful yourself, you know.  If the maid is so pretty, the mistress must be even prettier."  Pause, then resumes, "Please, why don't you join me for tea.  As you said, your mistress is not likely to be back for another hour."

Tara:  "But, Sir, we don't do such things in India.  Servants aren't supposed to talk to guests.  If memsahib found out, I'd be fired."

Hiralal:  "I don't know much about your customs here; I live in Paris.  There, servants, especially trusted ones, are treated differently.  Of course there are formal occasions when familiarity is frowned upon, but otherwise, I could easily have glass of wine with my manservant.

Tara says nothing, but continues standing.

Hiralal:  "Tell me, isn't there anyone else at home?  What about Ms. Singh's father?

Tara:  "Bade sarkar is away at the family farm at Dahanu."

Hiralal:  "So, am I supposed to read a magazine or something until your Madam comes?  No, no, tell me instead, where did you learn to speak such good English?"

Tara, a bit taken aback:  "I, I studied in a good convent school. After high school I had to drop out because of family problems. I then did an evening course in housekeeping and was hired by Ms Singh after I had graduated."

Hiralal:  "Come, come now.  Just a cup of tea with me will not harm you.  The moment we hear a car come up, you can retreat." Tara:  "But there are other servants in the house.  If they saw me talking to you, it will look quite improper.  Don't you understand?"

Hiralal:  "You're already talking to me and have been for ten minutes.  Now sit down."

    Tara pretends to protest, but allows herself to be coaxed into having tea with Hiralal.  She sits nervously at the edge of the sofa, fingering her ring.

    Suddenly, he notices the diamond ring which Tara was trying to hide by turning it inwards. Instinctively, he looks at it appraisingly and with great surprise says:  "My, my this is a genuine De Beers 20 carat!  Must have cost a fortune. How did you get it?"

    Tara decides that the act is over.  She retorts derisively: "Not by having tea with a diamond merchant."

    Just then a roar of a motor-scooter can be heard outside.  At this point Vilas and Osman make their entrance:  "Boss, you're still not ready.  Mr. Hiralal should be arriving shortly."  Then Vilas sees Hiralal and says, "But it looks like you have met already.  Mr. Hiralal, may I present to you Ms Tara Singh, the most eligible and beautiful woman in Bombay--even though she's in a maid's dress at the moment."

    Hiralal gasps.

    Tara gets up, removes her apron:  "Yes, I played the maid's part, but I'm afraid your act too is over.  "Au revoir or, rather, goodbye."

                         

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape