The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                        Nineteen

                                                                     

                                                                                       MANPASAND 

  

 

    To the sound of sinister music, a man walks down the grimy lanes of Nagpada, stronghold of one of Bombay's crime syndicates. The lanes are so narrow that cars have to be parked a block down the road.  The man walking is none other than Bhushan.  He is alone, and evidently nervous.

    The building he approaches is like a fortress.  There are armed thugs guarding it at every point.  Some display their pistols openly.  Even the police will not come here without sufficient provocation or preparation.  Bhushan is frisked, even after he reveals who he is.  He is escorted inside, to a large, well furnished office room.  A man is seated on an imposing chair, his back to the door.  He looks out from the window, at Bombay's murky skyline rising in tiers in front. Bhushan, who is standing before this man, is perspiring.

Bhushan:  "Salaam, Dada."

Dada:  "Hmmmn!"

Bhushan:  "Thank you for sparing me some of your valuable time."

Dada, amused:  "Mr.  Bhushan, we are here to serve you in any way we can.  Please tell me what your problem is."

Bhushan:  "Well, Dada, it is something to do with my garment business..."

Dada, interrupting him:  "Please, Mr. Bhushan, kindly get to the point quickly, ok?"

Bhushan:  "Right, boss.  The problem is that I want to take over Sensation Boutiques. I am willing to pay any sum demanded, but the owner refuses to sell."

Dada:  "What is Sensation Boutiques?"

Bhushan:  "It's a chain of retail outlets for some of India's best designed clothes.  They are planning a big expansion. Earlier, they'd agreed to do it with my finance and partnership, but now...."

Dada:  "They've decided to show you the door."

Bhushan:  "Precisely."

Dada:  "So, now you want to use some crooked means to force them to sell."

Bhushan, squirming, remains silent.

Dada:  "You know how we operate.  What will you give us in return for our...er...help?"

Bhushan:  "I was coming to that.  I will offer you the best possible cover for your `activities.'  With Sensation Boutiques as your front, all your business"--lowers his voice--"in narcotics, for instance, will thrive."

Dada:  "But tell me, why are you so bent on destroying Sensation Boutiques?"

Bhushan:  "Let's just say it's an old score I have to settle."

Dada:  "That's your affair; tell us who the owner is and all about him so that we can work on him."

Bhushan:  "It's not a him, it's a her."

Dada:  "Ah!"

Bhushan: "But the trouble is we don't know where she is at the moment. She seems to have gone away for a vacation to an unknown destination."

    Suddenly and dramatically, the man in the chair spins around, showing quite transparently and starkly that he is indeed Saheb Dada, one of the kingpins of the underworld.  The sinister theme plays again in the background to leave no doubts in anyone's mind that an evil bargain is being forged.

Dada:  "We will have a warm welcome awaiting her when she comes!"

 

    Far away from Bombay, somewhere in South Maharashtra on the Konkan coast.  We see an aerial view of a beautiful lagoon.  A thin strip of sand encloses a shallow, turquoise blue expanse of water.  At the tip of the mainland is a dense cover of coconut palms.  There are hardly any huts or people in sight. The place

seems to be totally secluded and isolated.  

    The sun is about to rise.  In the lagoon, the birds come alive.  After moments of suspense, the glorious and golden orb of the sun slowly lifts itself out of the sea.  A soft breeze plays on the surface of the waters.  We hear slow, romantic music.  Two figures can be seen from a distance, in track suits, jogging down the beach.

    The mood is lyrical, escapist, in complete contrast to the frenzy, congestion, and sinister theme music of Bombay in the previous scene.  Here nature and its rhythms permeate the atmosphere and engulf the characters in a tranquil embrace.

    The two joggers are Tara and Mohini, alone and happy together after Tara's bitter disappointments.

 

    Later, at their simple, but elegant four room cottage, it's breakfast time.  Tara and Mohini are sitting outside, under an umbrella in the garden.  They look suitably fatigued, but glowing from their exercise.

Mohini:  "Didn't I tell you, dear, that this vacation would take your mind off unpleasant thoughts?"

Tara:  "You were absolutely right.  I feel terrific now.  I am beginning to look inside myself for the first time.  I realize how selfish I have been all along, putting my own wishes and desires before everyone else.  Thank you for taking me away from Bombay and from myself."

Mohini: "Darling, you know how fond I am of you.  So quit thanking me.  Ok, let's now decide what we'll do in the evening."

Tara:  "Well, let's go bird watching today.  That's what this place is famous for, isn't it?"

Mohini:  "Yes, good idea."

 

    That evening, Tara and Mohini, in khaki, are making their way up the sand cliff.  Mohini stops and looks at birds through her fancy camera.

    Suddenly, she lets out a little squeal of excitement and then whistles softly.

Tara:  "What have you discovered this time?  A rare bird of some kind?"

Mohini:  "Yes-s-s-s.  You can call it that.  This one is a rare bird all right in a place like this."

Tara, curious:  "Let's see, no.  Before it flies away."

    Mohini looks absorbed and starts adjusting the protruding zoom lens.  In the viewfinder can be seen a very well-built, handsome man, riding in a motor-boat near the sand strip.  He has a beard and dark glasses. He switches off the engine, and slowly coasts towards the shore.  Looking straight ahead at them.

    With a mischievous smile, Mohini hands the camera to Tara, "There, see for yourself if the bird fascinates you."

    Tara takes the camera.  She watches for a minute, then gasps.

Mohini:  "What happened?"

Tara abruptly drops the camera from her hand (its strap is around her neck), grabs Mohini's elbow and says,  "Let's go away from here."  Mohini tags along reluctantly, persisting:  "But, what happened?"

    Tara has seen the man looking at her with a pair of binoculars.

 

    Later that evening, Tara and Mohini are having tea, discussing their near-encouter with the strange, handsome man on the beach.

Mohini:  "Tell me, what did you think?"

Tara:  "About what?"

Mohini:  "Of course about him, about that rare bird that we saw just now.  Isn't he gorgeous?"  How romantic it would be if you found your perfect man here!

Tara, pretends to be peeved:  "There you go, match-making again. I tell you, I am tired of of this search for Mr. Right and let me assure you that men are the last thing on my mind.  Moreover I feel a bit uncomfortable about that man.  The way he was looking at us while we were spying on him."

Mohini:  "Now stop being such a suspicious prig.  But tell me, what are we doing for din-din tonight?"

 

    It's 8:05 p.m., just after closing time, at the Sensation Boutique on Bhulabhai Desai Road.  The big glass doors are alreay shut, but the lights are on as the manager is going through his accounts for the day.  There are very few people on the street.

    A white Ambassador pulls up and parks in front of the shop. Six muscular goondas disembark and swagger towards the shop.  A few frightened onlookers quickly disperse.

    The thugs smash open the front door.  The glass shatters with a huge noise.  Within a minute, all the the other shops down their shutters and put off their lights.  The frightened sales girls cringe at the back and start screaming.  The goons systematically destroy the shop.  They rough up the girls too and depart as coolly as they came.

    The manager and the accountant are lying on the floor. One of them has a broken rib.  The girls cower in the corner; one has a torn blouse, around which she wraps her sari.  In the distance, the wail of a siren can be heard.

     The destroyed sign, "Sensation Boutiques," its neon letters broken and bleeding, hangs pathetically over the once-glamorous exterior of the shop.  The music is the same sinister tune, as big letters flash on the screen announcing:

 

 

                                                                                 INTERVAL

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape