He had put fresh bandages on his hands and worn loose and comfortable cotton clothes. He had tucked a large hand towel in his hip pocket. After a brief internal debate, he had chosen to wear a pair of his more expensive shoes. He didn’t know what he was about to step into, so he had opted for safety over frugality. His feet felt hot in them, but he needed to be ready for anything.
This shameful thing that was about to happen was going to happen one way or another. There was no way to avoid it. Bodhi just wanted to get it over with.
The news of Bodhi’s arrest spread with the rapidity and virulence of a dengue epidemic among the dozens of people that were his friends and relatives and the hundreds of people that lived in flats constructed by him. Bad news always travels fast, and in this case the speed was accelerated because his arrest was a public event.
The arrival of the arresting party with flashing lights and blaring horns drew dozens of curious young men to the scene in his neighbourhood. They stopped whatever they were doing. Some were playing carrom. Some were playing teen patti. Several others were going through cleaning rituals – scraping dirt from their toenails or yanking overgrown nose hair or inspecting boogers rolled up between forefinger and thumb.
Their conversations darted from one topic to other – the sexual availability of the women walking by, the political origins of the bandh that had just taken place, Katrina, Kareena, and sundry Khans and Kapoors, and similar topical issues.
Then there were some men who were doing nothing useful at all. All these people – the carrom and teen patti players, the toenail and booger scrapers, and even the idlers – rushed to the gate of Bodhi’s apartment building when the police jeep arrived with flashing lights and blaring horns.
Three of these young men had mobile phones with video cameras. How they managed to possess such expensive objects without any official source of income is a question of some socioeconomic significance, but not one that can be indulged now. What matters is that they had the phones and filmed the arrest from various angles.
These videos were soon acquired by Breaking News, a TV channel of more repute than reliability, for two bottles of Royal Stag and a can of Heineken. They edited the combined material into a montage and overlaid it with a soundtrack of impending disaster. Doom doom doom doom.
The footage showed Bodhi in handcuffs, his face covered by the hand towel he had thoughtfully tucked away in his hip pocket, being bundled into the backseat of a police jeep. Breaking News ran the story all evening, as a five-minute segment every fifteen minutes. Since they had exclusive footage of the arrest, this was their big news of the day. City Promoter Arrested from Luxurious Home, their headline tag announced. Dispute over Heritage Building Leads to Deadly Violence, said the subheading crawl.
By nine in the evening, when the most-watched half- hour of the day was aired, Breaking News had obtained interviews with neighbours who said with one voice that they were very shocked. Bodhi’s father was a pillar of the community, they said, and they had known the boy almost from the day he was born. Very sad, very sad, these were very dark times. But, the neighbours had to admit, the possibility of something like this happening had always existed, because, after all, Bodhi was a promoter, and who didn’t know that promoters were the vilest men in the city.
It’s fair to say that the general populace didn’t expect ethical behaviour from anyone, certainly not from business people whatever be the business, and least of all from people in the real estate business. Public sentiment on this subject was consistent – the whole business was dirty, and any man, like Bodhi, who joined it of his own free will, was a compromised man to begin with.
Bodhi’s arrest led people who knew him to recall the classical sayings – that one cannot swim in the river without getting one’s hair wet; at the same time that one cannot stay in the river without having an amicable relationship with the crocodile; and, above all, that one cannot dance the khemta while being decorously covered by the proverbial ghungta.
One can be a khemta-dancer or a ghungta-wearer, but not both, not simultaneously. Plain-spoken people didn’t care for these oblique proverbs. You work in a landfill, they said, you must be covered with shit.
But for Bodhi specifically, the flesh and blood Bodhi that people knew, this was an unexpected turn of events. Even his outraged clients couldn’t believe that a man like him could do a thing like this, whatever it was that he had done. The fact was they had trusted Bodhi...more or less, and most of the time.
He was an educated man, like they were, and he spoke and behaved as educated men should. He was exactly like them, his clients thought, and while they themselves may not have been pure of heart and intent during every waking minute of their lives, they weren’t criminals either. Sure, they stretched the truth as far as they could on their tax returns, and had shivers of lust when young buttocks shimmered by in ever tighter pants and ever tinier skirts. But who didn’t and who wouldn’t? The world was full of temptations. More and more every day.
But they had never tried to grab what wasn’t rightfully theirs. They knew how to keep their animal instincts in check. They were the moral backbone of society, its solid middle-class. Civilised gentlefolk. Bodhi, they were sure, was exactly like them. How could he have done this?
It was a sleepless night for many in the city.
His clients were worried. Bodhi had built the flats they were living in, and now that his criminal tendencies had been exposed, they began to speculate on how much cement he had replaced with sand and how many bars of steel he had neglected to put in. After midnight, when their neighbourhoods were quiet enough that they could hear the hidden life of their buildings – refrigerators humming, water gurgling through walled-in pipes, cockroaches and geckoes playing hide and seek – numerous people, generally older than average, began to hear their floors creak and walls crackle. Their hearts began to race and they sat up in bed in a cold sweat.
Inside his own flat, Bodhi’s father clutched his side-pillow like a koala on a eucalyptus tree and tried to force himself to sleep. For seven or eight years he had been taking a single shot of self-prescribed Calmpose every night at ten-thirty to make sure that he would be asleep by eleven; but that night the pill failed to do its job.
Baba was a natural worrier. Fast-moving things like buses and trains had always worried him, minibuses in particular, but now even slow-moving things like low pressure systems over the Bay of Bengal and five-day test matches were causing anxiety. These worries, however, were mere distractions; jellyfish on a beach, litter on a footpath. They couldn’t compare to the magnitude of what had just happened.
His son was in jail! Surely because he deserved to be.
Excerpted with permission from The Promoter, Sanjoy Chakravorty, Om Books.
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