There was no way I was going to agree to this preposterous scheme.
"Mr. Dhanda, I mean Badri, I'm not sure I'll be able to help you. I don't even think I'll have the time..."
"Sir, Sir, please listen to me," he said beseechingly, mujhe sirf ek mauka deejiye. Just give me a chance to tell you a little about myself. Then you decide. Your decision will be final. I won't bother you after that." He leant forward in his chair so imploringly that I found myself persuaded to give in." "I have had a strange life, Sir, let me tell you that. I am thirty-two. Today, I have a little bit of money. I can stay in a reasonable amount of comfort. But it wasn't always so. I've had a very rough time these last fifteen or twenty years. But there's this one dream that has been sustaining me through all my hardships. I wanted to do something significant, to write this great story which everyone will watch on the screen..."
"But don't you have anything else to do?" I interrupted.
"No, Sir, this is my only dream. I am single. I have nobody else in the world. I am completely on my my own."
"Don't you have any family at all?"
"No, Sir, I am an orphan. Both my parents are dead."
"I am sorry to hear that."
"It happened a long time back. I was a baby then, just three months old. I don't remember anything about them."
"My parents came from Pakistan. Their's was a typical partition story. My father found himself in Delhi in 1948 with nothing. No degree, no jobs, no references. He met this young bewildered girl who, like him had lost everything. They decided to get married. The girl, my mother, was sixteen or seventeen. She had been repeatedly, er, molested ... un ki izzat loote gayi thi.
"I won't tell you much about the struggle my parents had to go through. Their life at the refugee camps, my father's search for a job, his becoming a lower division clerk at the age of twenty one, his slow but sure rise up the ranks until he became an officer at thirty one. Then at last, my parents were established in independent India."
"But they lacked one thing--they had consulted many doctors, vaids and hakims. All of them found nothing wrong with my mother medically. But somehow, she couldn't conceive. They tried and waited for ten years. Many years earlier someone suggested that they go on a special pilgrimage to the famous shrine at Badrinath
in the Himalayas. But the horrors of the Partition had made my father lost his faith in God. Finally, he decided to go the shrine anyway.
"A few months later my mother was pregnant. When I was born they named me after the deity who had acceded to my parents' wish. And, according to tradition, when I was three months old, my parents revisited the shrine to thank the deity.
"On the way back, we met with an accident. A part of the road had been broken off because of a mudslide. The driver braked suddenly. The car skidded, then rolled off the edge of the road a couple of hundred feet down the hillside. My parents were already dead when the search party found us. The driver was
unconscious, badly hurt. But he survived. I was wrapped up in a blanket, absolutely intact, sound asleep.
Badri paused. I thought he had tears in his eyes. He had made this story so real, as if he had seen it and experienced it himself, not as a child but as an adult. Maybe this was the only patrimony he had and he had grasped it with a desperation and passion that only waifs have for the assorted scraps of information that they can gather about themselves and their past.
Did I believe him? I wasn't completely sure; the natural sceptic in me couldn't be silenced so easily. Yet, what was stranger but more important, I actually wanted to believe him.
To hide my emotions from him, I got up silently, remembering my duty as a host. I brought him a glass of lemonade which he gulped down quickly. Then, he continued his story.
"I was raised by a maternal uncle. He lived in Shahdara, across the Jamuna. Uncle had children of his own and there was the usual favouritism. His eldest daughter, Meena, was about ten years older than me. She became a sort of surrogate mother to me.
"Then something happened. I'll only say this much: it forever severed my ties with my uncle's family. That day, for no fault of mine, I was beaten black and blue. I didn't mind this because I had been abused before. But Mamaji said something about my mother that infuriated me. In my mind I had made idols of my parents, with a devotee's zealousness. I warned Mamaji that if he said anything about my parents, he would never see my face again.
"He laughed: `Abe badmash, maderchod. You beggar, pauper, son of a whore. Where will you go? You'll be here all your life, you little motherfucker, eating up all my hard earned money...'"
If I was a bit startled at Badri's reportage, I didn't show it.
"Well, the inevitable happened. I ran away. I hung around Connaught Place for a couple of days, sleeping under the arches, scavenging and begging for food. Then I took a train to Bombay. I was fifteen then."