All his grown-up years, Ravan had eaten his heart, liver and every other vital organ out hankering and yearning for Ms Pieta Coutinho, but had remained persona non grata in the Coutinho household. Now the prize had dropped into his lap of its own accord and he had no idea what to do with it.

For instance, how, when and where was he supposed to meet her? Granted that ninety-nine per cent of Bombay’s teenagers and younger generation had the same problem but that didn’t make life any easier for him. Besides ninety-nine per cent of Bombay did not have to contend with one Edward Coutinho, a.k.a. Eddie, brother of the aforesaid Pieta nor with the mother of the two siblings.

The garden on the hill in Mazgaon was not a place worth considering since half the tenants of the CWD Chawls congregated there. The only time the place was empty was during the monsoons when all it took to be soaked to the marrow was fifteen seconds, and another five and three-quarters of a minute to be afloat.

That narrowed the possibilities for Ravan and Pieta to mostly the coastline of the city and a few gardens in south Bombay. If you could take the day off work, there was the stretch from Nariman Point to the Mafatlal Swimming Pool where you could sit from 11 a.m. to 4.59 p.m. on the parapet next to the sea or, if you were venturesome, step out on to the concrete tetrapods and let the sun turn you to toast and then char you to black carbon.

After 5 p.m., the geriatrics and exercise freaks took over the broad walkway and the parapet was packed with a penguin-density of couples: college-going teenagers; young graduates, postgraduates and other hopefuls looking for jobs and setting out to conquer the world; clerks, professionals and executives in their early and middle thirties.

It did not matter whether they were unmarried, married or divorced, almost all of them faced the sinking sun and waited for darkness to start groping and necking. It was the same at Chowpati beach, the two gardens on Malabar Hill, Worli Seaface, the sands at Shivaji Park and Bandra Seaface and Naaz Café where Pieta had dropped a bombshell and told Ravan he was no longer going to be single.

‘This must be the ninetieth time in two months that we’re sitting in this cafe? All the waiters know us and make snide comments about us. It’s as if we’ve made Naaz our second home. Maybe our first home. Can’t we ever be on our own without being surrounded by others?’ There was a note of desperation in Pieta’s voice that Ravan hadn’t heard before. This was when Ravan was still an extra and driving a taxi or vice versa and the two of them had been together for just over two months.

Ravan would have parted with his non-existent kingdom, run a numbers racket or sold his soul to the devil just so long as he was given possession of a room; one room, no more, never mind how narrow or dark, but furnished with two chairs, that’s all. Why was he lying to himself? A room, two chairs, a bed and a mattress with a clean pillow-case and a clean sheet, please. But that too would not do. If they got access to a place, he did not want it to be a furtive assignation.

‘How about going to a movie? A morning show on Sunday or a matinée?’

‘Haven’t we seen enough reruns and butchered morning shows? All the couples in the theatre know that nobody’s interested in the film and are there to do what you and I want to, except that that too leaves us so dissatisfied.’

Ravan’s vocation, circumstances and future had changed dramatically since the ‘extra’ days and yet that hadn’t made any difference to his and Pieta’s predicament.

As a matter of fact, he felt he had been much better off when he’d been a taxi driver. The taxi was their refuge, their safe haven, their private chamber. Pieta and he could drive anywhere they wanted so long as it was within the city and the owner of the fleet didn’t suspect that he had been playing hookey. But one had to be careful for other reasons as well. Whatever transpired in the backseat of a moving taxi was nobody’s business, but if the taxi was idling and the driver attempting to have silent converse with his lady friend, a crowd would gather within seconds and the police would be locking you up for indecent behaviour, unless of course some monetary compensation was made for outraging the policeman’s modesty.

Ravan had moved up in life and the taxi had gone and so had the fleeting moments of intimacy. In spite of the Bollywood bigwigs thronging to meet Eddie and him, Ravan was still not making money but the good news was that Pieta too had risen in life. She was now the second-in-command of the computer department in her organisation. They could once in a while afford to go to Matheran for a weekend. For his birthday, Pieta had hired a car and the two of them had driven down the Konkan coast and spent a night and a day at Ganapati Pule, the tiny seaside resort that not too many people had heard of.

Ravan knew damn well that the crux of the problem was the other half of the partnership which was responsible for the music, choreography and fight direction in their first film, Hulla Gulla: Eddie Coutinho.

They were the closest of friends now but how could Ravan forget that they had started out as mortal enemies. He had been responsible at the ripe old age of one, never mind how inadvertently, for the death of Eddie’s father. Some memories, it would seem, never fade. From his reading of the Bible some years ago when he was on the verge of converting to Roman Catholicism with the express purpose of wooing Pieta, Ravan was well aware that the apocalypse was round the corner, sooner rather than at some hypothetical date in the future. If he was certain about anything in life, it was that Eddie would go ballistic if he so much as suspected that there was something going on between Ravan and his sister.

No, he wouldn’t go ballistic. He would do what the Spanish peasant had done in a movie Eddie and he had seen recently at the international film festival. He couldn’t remember the name of the film but the English translation went something like The Inheritance. The story centred around two families for both of whom the inheritance was not wealth, family heirlooms or industrial empires. Quite the contrary, the protagonists were dirt poor. Their only wealth, the only two things they treasured, was the honour of the family and vengeance. It was the only purpose for which they lived. And just as surely, it would be the reason they would die, prematurely. No one remembered what exactly the bone of contention had been. In truth, they couldn’t even say for sure whether there had indeed been a cause or a grievance to start off with.

Ravan re-ran the last sequence of the film in front of his eyes now. Three generations of day labourers – grandfather, son and grandson – bent over saffron plants in fields that stretch all the way to the horizon. It is laborious back-breaking work, just three strands of saffron per flower. Behind them the grandson’s wife is walking with a slow heavy tread, a wicker basket that holds lunch for the three men in her hand. The grandfather looks up. There’s a man wearing a straw hat with a huge brim shading his face, whistling tunelessly as he heads for a dip in the rivulet that runs alongside the field.

The man waves out to the grandfather and the patriarch waves back as he bends down again to collect the saffron. The grandson’s wife calls out as a shadow falls across the old man and he looks up. The man with the straw hat has raised his scythe. The old man closes his eyes as the blade lops off his head. It’s the turn of the son now. And then of the grandson who is none other than Ravan. Ravan keels over, crushing the basket of saffron flowers under him. He sees the pregnant Pieta running as fast as she can but the gentle curve of the steel is at her throat and out the other end.

Ravan doesn’t mind dying at Eddie’s hands. He has known since he was a child that Eddie must kill him but he can’t bear the thought of Eddie murdering his sister because she’s taken up with his friend.

Excerpted with permission from Ravan and Eddie Rest in Peace, Kiran Nagarkar, HarperCollins India.