Excerpt from Chapter 8
Mrignayani ran down the dimly lit street, hotly pursued by four burly men. She stumbled over a stone and fell. The men surrounded her, laughing loudly, as she clutched her dupatta to her heaving bosom.
‘Ha, ha, ha,’ the villain leered, revealing a mouthful of golden teeth. ‘Which one of your two-two lovers has drunk so much of his mother’s milk that he can dare to save you from the biggest…’
The men whirled around as Rahul Kapoor scaled over a fence on a white horse and – all the lights on the set went off.
‘What the fuck is going on?’ Mrignayani demanded shrilly. ‘This is the third time the generator has conked out tonight. What kind of shooting is this? Where’s the production manager?’
I sighed and closed the continuity book. It would take half an hour for them to repair the generator. If we were lucky.
‘Tea break,’ Jumbo announced.
The last two times the lights had gone off, I’d been bumped into by four assorted men, so I retreated into a nearby patch of trees. Real trees, that’d had nothing to do with the art direction department. I found a log to sit on and flexed my feet, feeling glad for the rest. The way things were going, the shooting seemed set to go on till morning.
All the other assistant directors cribbed about the night shoots, but I preferred them. I said that it was because we didn’t have to stand in the sun all day long. But the real reason was that the work distracted me from the temptation of calling up Karan.
It was two weeks since I had seen him with Deepti and I hadn’t called him since then. What was the badge that Saira’s boyfriend had got from Narcotics Anonymous after he had stopped using drugs for two weeks? ‘Clean and Serene for 14 Days’. I hadn’t been serene, but yes, I had been able to keep myself from making blank calls to Karan for the last fourteen nights. Even if he called me up now and called me over, I wouldn’t go. I hoped that I wouldn’t go. But what if he really…
Rahul Kapoor took my hand in his and sat down by my side.
‘What…’ I jerked my hand away but he held on.
‘Hey, hey, relax. I’m just reading your hand.’ He shone a torch on my palm and looked at it contemplatively. ‘Good strong life line,’ he told me. ‘You’ll live to be ninety-seven.’
It was so Hindi-filmi romantic, I couldn’t help smiling. Midnight, the two of us sitting on a log. Beneath mango trees that rustled in the breeze. And him reading my hand. With a torch!
As it is, Rahul Kapoor’s ideas about wooing definitely were inspired by Hindi films. He’d sing love songs to me. And dance to them. He’d get me boxes of candy and flowers. With my sweet tooth, I didn’t mind the chocolates, but I did admonish him when he plucked flowers from the set and presented them to me – it took us a lot of effort to tend to those plants.
‘You’ll have two boys and… one girl. Yes.’
Did that include the baby I hadn’t had?
‘What about work?’ I said, trying to distract myself.
‘Your career will really take off when you’re about twenty-seven,’ he informed me. ‘But you won’t be making a great deal of money till you’re… thirty-one.’
I looked at him compassionately. He was trying his best to charm me, but his style was hampered a little by the fact that he was wearing a bright pink chiffon shirt with purple silk pants. Sometimes I felt so old, I wished for his sake that he were trying these lines on someone else.
‘And when will I get married?’ I asked him tiredly.
‘In about… uh, how old are you?’
‘Twenty-two,’ I said. I wasn’t really lying – I was just two months away from my twenty-second birthday.
‘I’m twenty,’ he said brightly. ‘Doesn’t matter, I don’t care about such things. How do they make a difference, huh? Na umraki seema ho, na janam ka ho bandhan… So you will get married when you are…’ He bent my hand and pressed the skin so that the lines became more prominent. ‘When you are twenty-six years and seven months old.’
‘How many days?’ I asked dryly.
‘Seven days. Hmm now, let’s see, nice long fingers. You’re an artist.’
‘Strong will power,’ he said, pressing my thumb back. ‘But a bit stubborn. OK, now curl your hand into a tight fist. Right, ya, tighter. Now, relax.’
He tried to open my fist. I resisted.
‘Hey, I said relax.’
I shrugged and slowly let him open my hand till his palm was lying flat on mine.
‘You didn’t let me open your hand in the beginning, and even when you did, you opened it very slowly – that shows that you don’t trust easily,’ he said. ‘You’re too closed as a person. Open up, you’ll enjoy life more.’
I took my hand back from him and lit a cigarette.
‘Do you know what “trust me” means in Polish?’ I asked.
He shook his head.
He laughed. I smiled.
‘So, when a guy says “trust me”,’ I said to him, ‘a warning bell rings in my head.’
He made a face. ‘Why are you so hard, so defensive?’
‘Have to be, living in Bombay, alone.’
He was silent for a while, but only for a while.
‘But what about love? Don’t you believe in love?’
‘Men give love in order to get sex. Women give sex in order to get love.’ I’d read that somewhere, or maybe Saira had told me.
‘Baap re, you’re very unromantic.’
‘You know something, all those stupid, stupid fairy tales and love songs which we’ve been hearing right from the time when we were, like, toddlers – they are what fuck us up. Life’s not a bloody Mills and Boon romance. Not by far. Happily ever after never happens.’
‘It does, too. I’ve even got a white horse. I’ll take you on it and ride into the sunset….’
‘Bah!’ I said, taking the torch from his hand. I would have got up and walked off, but my feet were hurting too much. I propped up my continuity book between us and turned the torch to face it, so that we were lit by a more even, diffused light.
‘What’s your favourite fairy tale?’ I said, trying to change the subject.
‘Sleeping Beauty,’ he said. And grinned. ‘What about yours?’
‘Dhruv Tara. Do you know it?’
He shook his head.
‘Do you know who Dhruv Tara is?’
He shook his head again.
I made a face and looked up at the sky.
‘Hey, it’s not so bad,’ he said.
I pointed to the North Star.
‘Between those branches, there, that’s Dhruv Tara.’
‘Oh. I never knew,’ he said.
‘Ya, ya, angrez da puttar.’
‘So, what’s his story?’
‘Well, it’s a bit longish-types. You won’t get bored?’
‘Zyada bhav mat kha. Bol,’ he said. Then, more softly, ‘No, I won’t get bored.’
‘Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a king who had two wives,’ I began. ‘The one he liked, his aavadti, his favourite queen, stayed with him in the palace. And the naavadti – how does one say it – the one who was, yes, out of favour, she stayed in a hut in the forest, with her son, Dhruv. One day, when Dhruv was seven years old, he told his mother that he wanted to go to the palace and meet his father. She was reluctant, but he insisted, so she dressed him up in the best clothes he had, and sent him off.
‘Dhruv went to the palace and his father was very happy to see him. He made Dhruv sit on his lap and gave him sweets to eat. But when the king’s favourite queen and her children came along, she made Dhruv get off his father’s lap so that her children could sit there.
‘Dhruv went back home to his mother, crying bitterly. She told him that the only one who could get him his rightful place was Bhagwan Vishnu. So Dhruv went deep into the forest and meditated for many years. He didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t even drink any water. The gods were moved by this small child’s tapasya, and Bhagwan Vishnu appeared in front of Dhruv to ask him what he wanted. Dhruv said that he wanted a place from where nobody could ever move him. That’s how he became Dhruv Tara – the North Star.
‘Everything else moves – the earth moves, the sun moves, even the stars move, but Dhruv Tara remains constant, unchanging. Nobody can ever move him from his place.’
‘That’s cool,’ Rahul said, ‘but he must be getting lonely up there. Nobody to talk to, nobody to flirt with, nobody to love.’
‘Flirting! That’s all you can think of,’ I said, irritated, and got up.
Excerpt from Chapter 8