The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                        Sixteen

                                                                     

 

    When we left, the Madam asked me, "Khoob baten kar lein?" Did you have a nice conversation?  "Haan, ji bhar ke" I replied: yes, to my heart's content.  Somehow, no body laughed.  Badri and the boy with him were looking pretty sad too.  As we went out, Badri offered the Madam another hundred rupees, which she accepted with a pretence of flirtatious gratitude.

    By the time we reached the hotel, it was 4:00 a.m.  Suddenly, I thought that it was ironic how this was considered the most auspicious hour for meditation.  However, I felt more sullied that I had ever felt in my life.  Badri went in to shower.  I followed suit after him.  He smoked and I helped myself to the fruit in the basket.  By the time I went to sleep it was close to five in the morning.

 

    I had a troubled sleep.  I woke up at nine, had some breakfast and went to sleep again.  I was too tired to notice what Badri was doing.  In what remained of the morning, I had an apocalyptic dream about all the men and women who had passed through all the brothels of the world, since the beginning of civilization.  In the dim chambers, I hear a low moan or pain, a wail of pain, which rose to be louder and louder, echoing from the dark walls.  There was much lamentation and the gnashing of teeth; here were processions of souls, crying out to be saved.  I saw their twisted, deformed shapes, writing in pain.  There was a foul smell there, of rotting flesh.  From the corners, women once beautiful and alluring, the toast of three continents, sung about in poetry and song, gaped with sightless hollows and grinning teeth.  There were mothers and sisters here, daughters, cousins, nieces, and aunts or common folk and of the rich and powerful. Among the vermin infested carcesses, were Prime Ministers and Potentates, ministers and bureaucrats, landlords and industrail magnates. Their souls were hideous and their hands were stained

with the blook of innocents.  Yet, their lusts had not been stilled; they thrashed about in agony and desire, begging for peace and forgiveness.  In that chamber of horrors, everyone was united in sin. Trapped here were people who went for a night but never returned: they had found their own sisters and daughters there, born to older prostitutes years ago, and abandoned to grow up to the same profession as their mothers.  Suddenly, a raid was announced.  People were fleeing helter-skelter.  I was caught by the squad. I screamed, "But I didn't do anything; I only came here to talk."  All the prostitutes, pimps, clients, and policemen joined in the uncontraollable mirth that resulted from my disclaimer.

 

    That evening and through all of Sunday, Badri and I had our last story session together.  We had finished mapping out the action of our film right up to the Interval.  I told Badri that I was going to be busy every day of the coming week.  I had already taken as much leave as I could.  I also mentioned Neha's pregnancy and my having to go to Pune during Diwali.

    Badri assured me that we could  meet later in the week, after I had finished with my work.  "Take you time, Sir, I'll wait here for you."

    "But, in any case, I want your address in Bombay.  Tell me, how do I get in touch with you once you go back?"

    So, he gave me instructions on how to get in touch with him there.  He had no regular address, he said, but I should leave a message for him care of Mr. Sanjay Chawla, Assistant Manager, Centaur Hotel at Juhu.  He usually received phone or fax messages there.  He said he had a permanent suite booked at the Centaur.

He also told me that I should try to get our script registered. This, apparently, would not be difficult.  All I had to do was to go to the Cine Writer's Association at Ranjit Studios, Dadar, become a member, and get our story registered.  Then we would look for a producer who could buy the project.

    On Sunday night, I returned to the apartment, dropped off by Badri's chauffeur-driven Contessa.  There were lots of letters for me, including two from Neha.  I had again missed our Saturday night phone conversation, again.  How could I tell her that I had spent my time in a brothel in the old city?  The apartment, though, was reasonably clean, thanks to Mrs. Reddy.  She had opened it for the servant every day.  But it didn't seem like my house at all, so remote and unfamiliar everything seemed, so stark and uncomfortable, compared with Badri's luxury hotel room. It will take getting used to home, I thought.

    I went to bed early that night, around 10:30. I slept like a log right through till about 7:30 in the morning.  Then I got dressed and was sitting down to breakfast when the servant came. I felt a great sense of relief. Not much afterwards, Mrs. Reddy also came to visit.  Yes, I concluded, the world was still normal and sane.  Only I had gone mad, but I was about to fix that.

     During the week, I attended to all my pending work.  I also made up for the classes I had missed.  By Thursday, I had everything under control again, though things had seemed almost impossible when I returned home from Badri's hotel on the previous Sunday.  Then, on Friday, I talked to the HOD and got my

early November plans to go to Pune approved.  Actually, though, I also intended to go to Bombay instead, to finish our script and to get it registered and to be with Badri once again.

    I also met Raghavan and told him why I had to fib to the HOD about being sick.  "Then what were you up to, old boy?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.  I had to make up a story quickly.  "It was my old aunt, you know the one who lives in Kachiguda?"  Of course, I had no such aunt, though I did have relatives in Kachiguda.  Raghavan had to nod knowingly so as not to appear ignorant. "Well what about her?" he asked.  "Well, she had to be taken to Tirupati--she thinks she is dying.  Imagine, she told me it was her last wish.  There was no way I could avoid doing that, you know."  Ragavan was himself a Tirupati freak.  He looked at me with great admiration.  "I didn't know you too were a devotee.  How did you manage to hide it from me all these years?"  I looked at him with a thoroughly devout expression,

"One doesn't talk about such things, you know."  He nodded, even more impressed.  He began to quote some Sanskrit shlokas which indicated that the real devotee doesn't let on to anyone how devoted he is.

    I also began a letterto Neha, later that day.

 

"Dearest wifey:

    Sorry to have kept you waiting for my letters.  Actually, I wanted to talk to you instead of writing.  I have been so busy with my teaching, grading, and other chores.  I have got the Head's permission to visit you this Diwali.  Hope this makes you happy.  But I can only come over for a day or two.  I wanted to telephone you this Saturday, as I mentioned earlier, but the phone was out of order.  You must have heard the phone ring, and wondered why nobody picked it up.  That happens often when the phone isn't working."

    I continued lying in that vein, feeling pretty disgusted with myself in the process.  I wasn't satisfied with the letter.  I neiter finished it nor mailed it.  It lay on my table all through Saturday, pointing an accusing finger at me.  Later in the evening, Neha telephoned.  The conversation was far from satisfactory.

Neha:  "Hullo?  Yes, Rahul this is Neha.  Where have you been?"

Me:  "Hello Neha.  I've written to you..."

Neha:  "When?"

Me:  "Well, today, as a matter of fact..."

Neha:  "Where have you been?"

Me:  "Huh?"

Neha:  "Don't act innocent.  I know you've been spending lots of time outside the house.  Don't lie to me about the phone being out of order and all that."

Me:  "How are you?"

Neha:  "Don't change the topic.  Where have you been this past week."

Me:  "Well, if you must know, I was with Badri."

Neha:  "Who?"

Me:  "You know, the guy I told you about last Sunday."

Neha:  "That was the Sunday before last Sunday."

Me:  "Well, yes."

Neha:  "I asked you clearly who he was in my letter.  Why didn't you reply."

Me:  "Unh.  Actually, I have written to you today..."

Neha:  "No.  Tell me who he is what does he want from you?"

Me:  "Your father must be biting his nails about his phone bill..."

Neha:  "Rahul!  Tell me this instant.  Understand?"

    I couldn't evade Neha's investigations any longer.  So I told  her as briefly as possible about Badri and our story.  There was a shocked silence, then Neha exploded.

"Listen honey, I told you to stay away from him.  That idea of writing a movie script was scatter-brained and you know it.  Do you have even the faintest sense of how much making a movie costs these days?"

"No," but my heart sank.  I dreaded what she would say next. "It costs over one crore of rupees!" "Oh!" "Where the hell do you think you can come up with finance like that.  Even if you sell ten generations of your whole family, you'd fail." I kept quiet.  She continued in a more even tone. "Listen darling, what's the most important thing for us now?"

Me:  "Our baby, of course."

Neha:  "Then how can you go chasing some foolish scheme at this stage?"

Me:  "But you don't understand, I... we.. are only planning the thing..."

Neha:  "Rahul, please, please try to understand.  I don't like any of this one bit.  I cannot and do not wish to say anything more on the subject.  I have to go now..."

Me:  "No, no.  Don't hang up.  Please.  How are you?  How is my son?"

Neha:  "I'm sorry I can't talk much more.  Please don't worry about me.  I am all right.  Our baby is fine.  Take care of yourself, ok?  I can't be telling you this over and over again. Understand?"

Me:  "Neha?"

Neha:  "Yes?"

Me:  "Well, nothing.  Bye."

Neha:  "Bye."

    I kept the phone down with a sense of despair flooding into me.  I tore up the ealier letter I had started to Neha.  How was I to explain to her what Badri and I had been doing?  We might never make our movie, but it had been so much fun spending the week with him.  We had not only planned out half the story of the

film, but I had crossed the boundary line to another world.  I had been drunk, lost my virginity a second time--however odd that might sound--and very nearly made love to a man.  Neha would faint if I even began to tell her about all this.

     I picked up the telephone and called Lambada Hotel.  This was the only thing to do.  I had to talk to Badri to figure out what to do next. 

"Hello, Lambada Hotel..." "Yes, can you connect me to Mr. Badri Dhanda?" "Just a moment, Sir." I head the Lambada Hotel recorded jingle.  After a longish pause,

the Receptionist came on again. "Sir, I am sorry, but Mr. Dhanda is no longer our guest." "Huh?" "Sir, he is no longer with us at the Lambada." "You mean he checked out?"  "That's right."  The woman was beginning to sound a bit bored. "I see... Can you please tell me when he checked out?" "Just a moment, Sir...?  Yes, it was at noon last Monday, Sir." "Hello... do you have any idea where he went?" "I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't know.  I wasn't even on duty on that day." "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she replied not without some sarcasm.

 

    I put the phone down.  Badri had left Hyderabad the very next day after I came back home last Sunday.

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape