Celebration (short story read at Oct Bombay read Meet)
A SHORT STORY by abhigyan jha. copyright oct 2006
This is not a work of narrative non-fiction. Any resemblance to real life actors, characters (especially from Bombay literary circuit) living dead or as yet unborn is completely coincidental and of course unintentional. Ditto for any hurt or heartburn.
HE WAS WAITING FOR THE WOMAN TO SHOW UP.
He prepared himself well whenever he decided to meet her here. She was not his girlfriend and gods forbid she wasn't his wife either. Though he saw the merit in meeting one's wife in a secret rendezvous. Adds spice. He liked spice. As opposed to spice girls. What rubbish we spawned in the dying years of the 20th. He poured himself a sherry as he stopped the thought about spice girls. It is not appropriate to be judgmental. He liked Christ. He was specific about this modern commandment. Who are we to judge? Who is ever going to cast the first stone?
He smiled as the warm sherry hit his having quit smoking a year ago throat. He really liked Christ. Not because he was into religion. god knew that wouldn't do. A modern writer of pretentious prose and hooked on religion? No sir. That simply wouldn't do. He was too cool to be that dumb. Christ himself was cool though. it helped that his publishers in NY were raised Christians. But the truth was he liked Christ independent of any ulterior motives. He loved him for he promised to forgive. God knew one needed forgiveness.
the world had moved past capitalism, communism, nonalignment and such intellectually challenging theorems to a simpler platform. A basic stratagem really. he had to admire the unspoken arrangement his world had arrived at.
Might is right. Only might was no longer to be confused with muscles, machine gun or even intelligence of the mind. The mind was involved but the power it wielded was not derived say from the intelligence that made Edison invent approximately 1000 patents. It was common. It was like the rule of thumb.
Common enough for everyone to feel comfortable with this new currency of power and vote for it eagerly for who didn't fancy outsmarting the rest in a free equal society? There lay the catch. He smiled. Fortunately the catch was there. Imagine the horror of living in a world which was truly equal. It would be unbearable. Almost as unbearable as a world which craved of genius. That would be too much inequality. Brazen. He wouldn't want to feel complexed.
This was where he belonged. The visible relaxed present. Where the explicit and implicit were as different as the dictionary promised. Here he was assured of a higher plane of existence, the cheapest wine he drank was 2 oceans, though seemingly he had no apparent genius that stood him out of the common and in a different era wouldn't have deserved a special treatment.
He was fashionably common yet very very smart. He was the kind of clever man who could sell a 914 page novel to an American publisher for a million dollars which had already been written as a 550 page bestseller by an ex convict only a few years earlier. And so he did.
Being clever is not a 9 to five job. It is 24x7. He was at least as good as the Gujju guy who sold Bombay in narrative nonfiction to an ill informed America and definitely a worthy successor to the lady who sold in celluloid the slumkids and streetfilth in salutation of his native byelanes. They both had maximized the city. And now it was his turn.
His book was out. A 10 city international tour was to begin tomorrow. And he was flying business class. But that wasn't the only reason he was out here at the secret hideout. His sister's new movie was premiering next Friday. He would miss that but there is always a way to make up for lost opportunities. He loved meeting his sister here. She was the only woman who had set foot here. Oh well except the prostitutes. But that was research. Good research. Some of them were so good; he was finally convinced of the fallacy of marriage. What couldn't be bought? Whatever it was, it would have to be boring or dumb or god forbid. Both! He chuckled. Sherry was good for his digestion.
It reminded him of the glib critic who had suggested his magnum opus was hard to digest. It wouldn't have done to have confronted him in a party. Too vile. Instead he had replied, he recalled with pleasure, try some sherry. It's good for digestion.
He wasn't gay. Just clever.
Too few left of his species if you asked his friend. A film-maker who his sister hated, one of their few disagreements, it was healthy to agree to disagree, but he simply loved the guy, if not his films, too kitschy!
This guy released his latest blockbuster as a coming of age film. No the film wasn't about coming of age; it was the maker who had finally come of age in this glittering movie resembling a glorious suiting advertisement of yore. The nation loved it. You had to dig it. The theatres were jammed. But that wasn't the end of it. He sighed, thinking of the masterstroke his friend had performed. His film was invited to the Toronto festival. Now he knew the talent scout of the Toronto film festival. A black man in search of Asian ghetto cinema. He had met him at the screening of a film one of his sister's friends had made. Awful dark, brooding, images with a deliberate attempt to make you think. But that hadn't bothered the black man from Canada. He found racial prejudice in the film! Why do you have a white cast in an Indian film? Why is the film in English? Why is Calcutta so beautiful? Where is the filth? This is too unreal!
Incredulous, he had asked the coming of age sultan of shit, how did you manage him? Your film is too plastic for his likes.
With a majesty he found irresistible, sultan confided: I always fancied sucking black cock. But I wasn't sure. God, he could have been straight!
Then there was the monologue loving modern Muslim novelist and his brother the avant-garde screenwriter, the twin savants of literature from Dongri. If Islamic terrorism didn't work, literary terrorism from these two would ensure civilization would fall, definitely.
Was he being too harsh? Perhaps it was alright to be politically incorrect in the privacy of one's own sherry? Still, he would be fair. You had to give it to them. They were playing by the same rules as him. Okay, they weren't too good with the moves but they were articulate enough to learn. Life was a learning curve.
If you were willing to practice and network, the craft was sure to be perfect someday. He burped with satisfaction, craft is an apt word. For what is achieved without a bit of craft?
Crafty is just another word for clever. Not as benign perhaps but who's to say it wouldn't be the 'in' word in 2029? After all smart wasn't the best adjective back in the 50's! Look how far we can come given the time!
That was one of his favorite lines from a poem he had written during his brief stint with the erstwhile poetry circle. He always used erstwhile for this bunch of esoteric beasts for though they hadn't become extinct like the soviet union they ran the society behind a curtain that had to be made of sterner stuff than ordinary iron. And darker. But more rusty. He took a sip of the sherry to rid him of the bitterness.
How he had loved looking down from the dais at one notorious member of the circle who was present for one of the launch vehicles for his new book.
He had seen the envy and the gloating in the man's eyes. Yes gloating - in his own self worth. The pompous pig gloated in his own failure to find an audience. True he was now published but it was difficult to tell where and who published the two volumes of unreadable gibberish. This man was born a Christian, where did he leave his bible lessons? He was ever ready to cast the first stone. At poetry circle meetings, our man would grab a copy of your poem and finish scribbling vociferous comments beside every line even as you read out the rest with a sinking heart.
But why think of such scum when he had 7 more zeroes in his HSBC account statement than the poor sod who wasn't even a successful journalist?
But he had been lucky! if the confused ex advertising man was not busy reinventing his mythological masterpiece, he would been the one with more zeroes in his bank, justifying the name his much flogged father bestowed on him carelessly.
There were those months when he thought he will never get the commission. After all the publishers wanted the grown up boy from Bombay central to write the definitive plagiarism of the ex-convicts story. With a dose of the Gujju's penchant for real life references. That a gujju can live in New York is the wonder. How can he know the taste of sausage on his Vaishnav tongue? So a man who can't even describe truthfully an American breakfast is now going to write a book about New York!
If only his last book hadn't been such a disappointment. Perhaps he would have had the chance. He had worried repeatedly when his book was due out. Cloaked in fiction his stuff mightn't rake up enough controversy! He had compared his city with the Gujju's and cursed long into the nights...but no point remembering old disappointments. Everyone has their timing. Their chance.
Take his sister for instance, she slept with a hedonistic autobiographical director when barely out of film school and never thought it would pay off so soon. Next month he announced his retirement and anointed her his protégé.
His sister was never late. She had taught him the value of turning up at the right time.
The doorbell rang.
His sister was here. He opened the door. She hadn't forgotten. She held the Dom Perignon poised at his nose. He waved it aside carefully and kissed her on the lips. He had heard once in a five-star men's room that his sister's mouth was too full. The idiot. He sucked on those lips for what seemed like ages.
This wasn't incest as you might know it. Not some ordinary fetish or obsession. The physical expression of it was only demonstrative. It had started in childhood as a way of sharing their deepest secret. They had no talent. Yet they had decided they will make it, 'together'. And tonight they were celebrating their success.
He felt the urgency build up. She pressed back, hard. They hadn't done it for ages. And it was good to find things hadn't changed. Panting, already, they separated. She smiled. He smiled back. Then almost together they exclaimed. Zindagi Rocks.