We went down to Shahenshah, one of the speciality restaurants in the hotel, which specialized in Muglhai and Hyderabadi cuisine. Badri was a good host. In fact, he seemed to know the captains and some of the waiters by their first names.
Badri ordered a small bottle of Golconda wine for himself. I had a glass of fresh watermelon juice. To begin with, we had some paneer tikkas and potato chips. For the main course, I asked for an all vegetarian meal of shahi paneer, bagare baingan, pineapple raita, romali rotis and some nans. Badri ordered tandoori chicken, mutton do pyaza, and cauliflower with rotis and nan.
I was really looking forward to the food, especially because I hadn't had a really good meal since Neha left. But, unfortunately, this was one meal I couldn't enjoy. The food was great, the service excellent, and the evening memorable. But I never got to relish the food.
Throughout the meal, we were served by a waiter whom Badri addressed as Saleem. Saleem was young man of about twenty, strong and well-built, with shapely, round buttocks, and rippling forearms. He was extremely polite in the Hyderabadi manner. Whenever Badri looked up, he materialized by our table; "Ji huzoor--yes Sir?" he would enquire politely. Whatever Badri said, he would reply, "Ji accha" or "behtar, janaab--of course, Sir, very good, Sir."
Badri spoke to him quite affectionately. "He comes from a nawab's family," Badri said. "They've fallen on hard times. The youngest son of the youngest son of the younest son of a nawab. Lots of children in the house and genteel poverty. Do you get the picture?"
"How do you know all this?"
"Well, I dare say I know Saleem rather well. If you know what I mean." Badri paused and looked at me intently. Then he said softly, almost to himself, nibbling at his tandoori chicken, "I like boys like him."
I was surprised, but not shocked.
Badri wasn't the typical gay, I could see. He was very sophisticated and low-key. There was that feminine touch to everything he did including the way he walked, but nobody could have shouted "gandu, gandu" when they saw him on the street. I looked at him with renewed interest.
"Isn't he beautiful," he said about Saleem. "This is one thing I like about Hyderabad. Muslim culture is much more used to friendship between men than we Hindus are."
"Yes," I found myself admitting, "there is something about such friendships which is missing in heterosexual love. It's so hard to get along with a woman, sometimes."
This time Badri looked at me with interest.
I continued, "So tell me, don't you like women."
"It's not that. But it's true that I prefer boys."
"Women are so pretentious. Bahut nakhre karte hain. They will never tell you what they want. They are one thing but show as if they're something else. They are often confused. They're saying one thing with their mouths and another thing with their eyes. Then, they have a problem with casual sex. They can't be frank about their desires. Moreover, they always seek commitment--or the illusion of commitment--neither of which I cannot provide. With men it's clearer. We play less games."
"But there must be something that made you discover you are gay," I ventured.
"Well, Sir, I didn't intend to discuss my sex life with you. Of what interest can it be?"
He paused. I remained silent. Then he seemed to reconsider his stand.
"But on the other hand, my story won't make complete sense to you unless I tell you about this aspect of my life too.
"It's not difficult to find that you're gay. Especially, if you're a street child in Bombay. One day you wake up finding someone's prick in your mouth. And if that's the only kind of love you get, well you take it.
"But that's not how it happened to me.
"You see, while I was growing up, I was being abused by both my Uncle and by his daughter."
"You mean Meena?"
That was a stupid kind of clarification to ask for, but I had to say something to cover up my embarrassment, to pretend that I could cope with his startling revelation.
"Yes," Badri replied evenly, not reaching out to me at all, not offering to soften the impact of his statement in any way.
"But I thought she was a kind of surrogate mother to you," I persisted blindly, trying to show my clinical concern with the motivation of the characters in his story, with the plausibility of its events. I had realized that his suffering gave him power while my innocence made me vulnerable.
"That she was," Badri continued, answering my question. "She was very kind. She fed me. Gave me things, including money. She was always there for me. If I got a beating from my Uncle or Aunt, she would be waiting for me at night. Holding me close to her, soothing me, wiping my tears.
"But, in her own way, she was torturing me, ruining any chance of my growing up to be a normal boy. She was quite ugly, you know, big boned, with heavy, flat features, so her marriage was getting delayed.
"She first began to play with me when she gave me baths or dressed me. She had made me her baby and there was little I could do about it. At first, it seemed quite innocent, even nice to be fondled. She would make me sleep next to her, draw my head to her bosom. Sometimes, she would make me suckle her or put my
hand into her salwar.
"But when I became twelve or thirteen, she became bolder. She used to masturbate me and made me do the same to her. She was quite imaginative. I learned everything there's to know about a woman's body from her. All this was pretty amazing considering how little privacy we had in that small, cramped house. In fact, I never saw her without her clothes even once.
"Much later, when I saw a completely naked woman for the first time, I thought it was an ugly sight--lumpy, misshapen, and obscene. How much of her needs to be removed, how much has to be hidden, covered up, how much painted, how much bleached, plucked, waxed. It's really oppressive. I have never ceased to be
repelled by the sight of a completely naked woman. I can take them in parts, but never whole.
"Anyway, there's something so convenient about the Indian extended family which allows for all sorts of perversities under the guise of some legitimate relationship or the other. A `sister,' for instance can enjoy more intimacy with a younger brother than a wife can with her husband. So Meeno had plenty of opportunities. You must have heard of that phrase, din me sister, raat me bistar. After all, she had practically raised me since she was fourteen.
"There was one thing which she wanted me to do to her which I never could. I couldn't fuck her. I tried to explain that to her. She said, `It's very innocent. Just sleep on top of me, that's all.' But I was fifteen. I knew what getting laid was all about. After all, my uncle was fucking me at this time. Woh meri gaand mar raha tha."
By now, I must confess, I was thoroughly startled-- scandalized--I should say. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in my entire range of experience had prepared me for this encounter. I had, no doubt, read about a lot of this sort of thing in books and magazines, but had never met anyone to whom it had actually happened. This was true, so obviously real, and yet I couldn't stomach it. Was my entire intellectual training faulty?
It was hard to eat when being told all this. The wonderful food seemed to have lost its flavour. The words that Badri used in Hindi sounded so primitive and brutal--"chut," "gand," "lund," "chod"; perhaps, their English counterparts are no less so, only repeated use has somewhat blunted the beastliness of "fuck,"
"cunt," "cock," and "bugger."
Badri noticed my discomfiture and apologized. "I am spoiling your meal. Please forgive me. Perhaps, we should have talked about all this some other time."
"No, no," I tried to protest, "I'm a student of literature. I've read about all this. American fiction is full of sodomy, incest, and so on. I'm not squeamish. I can handle it."
"But that's only in books, Professor. Have you met anyone to whom it has happened in real life?" he said, almost mockingly. "Can you imagine what it is to be sodomised by your own maternal uncle when you're thirteen, fourteen, fifteen?"
I didn't really want to know more, but he persisted. "It all started with a Saturday night ritual of the enema. The enamel tub would be brought out with great fanfare. And to it was connected the small rubber tube with the nozzle at the other end. Then the hot water poured into the tub. I would be asked to bend, the nozzle inserted into me, and then the tap opened.
"The enema can be quite an enjoyable thing, though."
Badri smiled, calmly picking another bone clean.
"But," he said deliberately, "it's another thing to have a fat cock ramming into your tender, virginal asshole."
"Badri, please stop it. I don't want to hear anymore."
"Thought you weren't squeamish," he said. "Sorry, once again, for spoiling your meal. But you must remember that the whole alimentary canal, from mouth to asshole, is one long tube. What is meat, soon becomes shit. Meat is shit in inverse form. The Yogis will agree with this. We're all of us made of shit. Including your good Chitpavan Brahmin self."
I was silent. I didn't know what to say. Badri had always been so polite, always a kind of supplicant. In this relationship I had started with being the more powerful one; he courted me, he needed my assistance. But now, suddenly, the tables seemed to be turned on me. He was in control. I was completely in his grasp, under his thumb. It was the force of his narrative that had captured me. His story held me spell-bound. I didn't want to listen, but I couldn't help myself.
"Sorry, once again, Sir. But we must get to understand each other, to appreciate how we think. Otherwise, how can we collaborate on our story?"
I had almost forgotten about that. But Badri had already assumed that I had agreed to do it.