The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                     Twenty

 

    My next two days in Bombay went off better than expected. Early morning on Wednesday, I took a fast local from Kurla to VT. The rush had already started and the Thane Special was already full.  But I was at VT before eight-thirty.  I quickly walked to the Computerised Reservation office, grabbed a form, stood in line, filled the form as the line moved forward, and got my ticket on the Indrayani without any trouble.  There were only four of five people ahead of me.

    Next, I went down to the cafe and got myself a vegetable sandwich and a bottle of pistachio milk.  The freedom and conveniences of a metropolis are so elevating I thought, as I set my plate down on the greasy counter.  It was a stand up, self-service cafe.  I was through my breakfast within ten minutes.  I wiped my hands on a paper napkin, pitched my disposable plate, dropped the bottle in the rack, and left.

    I took a ticket to Dadar.  I was going against the rush and had boarded the train at the starting point so I had no trouble getting a seat.  But, amazingly, by Dadar my compartment was crowded.  The Bombay local train system carried over five million commuters everyday.  It was probably the most crowded, dirty, and overused system in the world, but it worked.  You saw people hanging out of windows; pockets were picked every day; a couple of people also died trying to cross the tracks or by falling off from overcrowded compartments.  But the trains were punctual and got you to your destination.

    I crossed the bridge and walked to Ranjit Studios.  I didn't know where the place was, but asked a couple of people on the way.  Once inside the dilapidated premises, it was much easier to locate the office of the Cine Writers' Association.  It was a poky little room on the first floor.  On the way you passed a couple of editing labs.  The outer fringes of show biz were distressingly unglamorous and sobering.

    There was a small crowd of people in the small office of the Cine Writers' Association.  There were two old sofas, with red rexine covers, on which everyone sat.  There were a couple of desks against the wall.  At one, sat an old man who looked like a retired clerk, passing time.  Two people stood in front of him.

The others, I found out, were waiting for the secretary to register their scripts and songs.

    I asked the old clerk what the procedure was to register a script.

"Are you a member?"

"No."

"Then you'll have to become a member first.  You have to fill out these forms and furnish two passport size pictures.  We'll give you an ID card which will enable to vote at the general body meetings."

"But I don't want to vote.  I want my script registered." "Yes.  But you have to become a member first."

    I read the form and found that to become a member you had to furnish samples of your publications.  Luckily, I had brought a copy of my book with me.  I showed it to the clerk, who looked at it intently.

"No problem, Dr. Patwardhan," he said.  "You are a learned professor, you'll have no problems becoming a member."

     Another aspirant, dressed in soiled kurta pyjamas wasn't as lucky.  Apparently, he was a tailor from Bhiwandi who also fancied himself to be a writer.  He told me he wrote in Urdu, had been writing for ten years, but had never been published.  He couldn't become a member and left dejected.

    An onlooker commented, "Poor guy."  He then went out to talk to the man.  I could hear him in on the landing, "Listen, Brother.  Why don't you go over to the office of any Urdu paper and get your stories published?  It shouldn't be that difficult. When you have two publications to your credit, you can become a member."

    I noticed how helpful and friendly everyone seemed to be. What else did down and out dreamers have but hope.  When I looked around I thought, "None of these people will ever make it.  None of them will have their story accepted by a big producer." They looked like such a sorry lot.  I felt bad for them.  Then I remembered that I too was one of them.

    The closest I came to a success story at those uninspiring premises was when I met a portly man, dressed in flashy nylon kurta pyjamas, the next day.  I had filled in the forms, got the passport photos from a shop in Dadar in a few hours (Bombay!), paid the money.  The clerk had promised to get my membership ready the next day because I was from out of town. The next day when I went to register the script, I saw the portly man surrounded half a dozen aspiring writers.

    Apparently, he had just managed to sell one of his songs to a music director for two thousand bucks.  He was talking about legeandry songwriters like Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badaiyuni, Hazrat Jaipuri, Anand Bakshi, Kaifi Azmi, and the like.  They were paid upto fifteen thousand rupees for a song.  If you wrote

five songs for a film, you could make sixty thousand bucks.  Not bad. Everyone listened respectfully.  He had brought a sheaf of his new poems for registration.

    When it was my turn, I handed my script to the Secretary. The clerk had ealier stamped every page of it with the Cine Writers' seal.  Now the secretary proceeded to sign each page of it on the seal.  They charged by the page; the longer the script, the more it cost.  Mine was about forty pages long.  I think I

paid about forty bucks.  The membership was Rs. 250.  The whole thing mustn't have cost me more than three hundred rupees.

    The secretary eyed my computer printout script.  He was impressed.

    "We don't see much of these around.  Most people bring us handwritten or typed pages."

    "Hmm," I replied.

    He flipped through the pages appreciatively.  He reached the end and saw the bold letters, INTERVAL.  I thought he would object:  "Where's the rest of the story?" Instead he said, "It's a good idea to get the first half registered as soon as it's written.  You can sell it on this basis and then write out the story after the interval."

    "I see," I said.  I couldn't tell him that I had no choice. Badri had disappeared before telling me what happened after the interval.

    "Tell me," the secretary persisted, "is it a thriller or a romance or a comedy or a social?"

    "A bit of all," I said enigmatically.

    I couldn't help smiling at the whole exercise. This was the last I thing I was going to do with this script.  The rest would be Badri's responsibility.  I had gone far enough with this farce, and I was glad to be going to Neha the next day.

 

    Friday and Diwali.  I was through with Bombay.  I woke up early and got ready for the Indrayani.  It left VT at six in the morning.  I decided to catch it at Dadar where it stopped for about three minutes.

    On the train I discovered there were losts of people going home to Pune or taking a long weekend out of Bombay.  Everyone seemed to be in a festive spirit.  Children were clapping and singing.  The TCs, too, were to be lenient. Several Bombay-Pune pass holders were travelling without reservations, sitting on

little portable aluminium stools which only the brains of Bombay enterpreneurs could have invented.

    By nine thiry I was in Pune.  Luckily, the Bombay Express from Hyderabad also got in around eight-thirty so I had made perfect time.  No one would be able to tell that I came from Bombay, not Hyderabad.  I headed to a phone booth and called Neha.

    "I'm calling from the station honey, I'll see you soon."

    "So, the train was on time, was it?" she said, every word caressing me.

    "Yes, darling."

    "It's great to hear your voice."

    "Same here."

I paused for a minute.  I could hear her heavy breathing. 

    "And honey..."

    "Yes?" she said huskily and expectantly.

    "Happy Diwali."

    "Happy Diwali."

    I put the phone down, headed for the auto rickshaw stand.  I found an auto, got in and said, "Deccan Gymkhanya la nya"--to Deccan Gymkhana, please.

    It was good to speak Marathi again.

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape