This hilarious take-off on spy fiction makes it hard to take espionage seriously

Fragments from ‘The Sentimental Spy’, a novel that laughs at all the stereotypes.

“Why are we here, sir?”

“What genre is our story, SS?”

“Family-based-south-Indian-melodramatic-espionage-musical-revenge saga, I’ve been told, sir.”

“Well, let’s consider the ‘espionage’ part. Espionage means spies. And in a spy thriller, when you are introducing the main woman character, what is our contractual obligation?”

“She has to be in minimal clothing. And wet, if possible, sir.”

“Hence the swimming pool, SS.”

SS lowered the newspaper and found all four bearded men staring at him.

He quickly raised it again and laughed out loud like he was enjoying a cartoon. Even though it was the obituary section he was looking at. The men whispered sinisterly among themselves. SS lowered and raised the newspaper twenty times in quick succession in what he thought was a tremendously subtle manner. Two of the men reached for their pockets.

That was all Agent SS 555 of the Indian Secret Service needed to explode into action.

Grabbing a tray full of food from a passing waiter and turning it into a bulletproof, if gravy-filled, shield instantly, SS launched himself into space. As the men pulled out a cigarette pack and a lighter from their respective pockets, SS did an unintentional flip mid-air and, instead of deactivating two enemy agents with simultaneous kicks to the face as he had planned, landed on a plate of chicken biryani and onion raita in the padmasana pose, usually not the best of positions for attack.

It was at this juncture – her strategically foam-covered, naked son standing in a bathtub, an ostensibly naked woman sloshing around at his feet, her head roughly within Biblical distance of his hip area, and a fully clothed waiter with a tray containing a plate of chilli bajjis and a tall glass of chilled badaam kheer – that Sonti Kantham walked into the bathroom.

“My God!” she said. “Are you attempting congress with that woman?”

While Kantham’s words reflected abject incredulity and disappointment on the surface, the genuine student of micro-expressions wouldn’t have missed the tiny undertow of jealousy in them – most likely on account of her own days of such diablerie with a reluctant, now defunct Sonti Parameshwarulu being long over.

“Congress?! How could you, Mother?” SS said. “You do know my loyalties are clearly with the other guys. I am pure.”

Under a glorious gulmohur, completely oblivious to the fresh turd of a Pomeranian with very dubious food habits less than three feet away, Sonti Seenu lay with his head on Chandra Bhanu’s lap.

He was joyously exhausted.

For, just a while ago, for four whole minutes that had taken more than six gruelling days in real time, the young lovers had sung a duet in several exotic locations, in voices that had sounded nothing like their own. They had performed coordinated dance steps – sometimes accompanied by underfed women dressed in large white lace gowns, Bata sneakers and socks – that had taken them in sweltering heat through a beach, a restaurant, a factory that made automotive spares, a temple and a library, with one costume change per location and no concern whatsoever about the flabbergasted general public. That they had blocked an ambulance for fifteen whole minutes because the light hit Chandra Bhanu’s hair in a certain way when she stood in the middle of that particular road, and that the seventy-three-year-old woman being rushed to emergency care had died in it with the words “saniyan puduchavanga” on her lips, was, well, just one of those things.

“What happened?” said SS, semi-consciously, from Bhanu’s lap.

Chandra Bhanu dabbed his head with a wet handkerchief.

“You passed out,” she said.

“Slow motion makes me giddy,” he said.

“No, actually I think you fainted trying to catch me.”

Outside, Dharman and the techie had pressed a few buttons and moved a couple of knobs.

A muddy brown liquid rushed into the airtight vault and soaked its inmates. What the trio did not know was that it was the second most dangerous toxin in the world: the effluent from the neighbouring Udipi Shri Shanta Bhavan.

Jignesh began to sob. SS, now waist-deep in water, continued talking to Sonti Kantham, clamping his phone to his ear with his shoulder in the government-approved method for phone conversations while negotiating a high-speed bike.

“Amma! Thank god!” he said. “Listen carefully, I need your help. I’m in Chairman’s Den...”

“No, you listen to me…” Kantham cut him off. “We have to make immediate arrangements for your sister’s wedding. So get back here immediately.”

“But, Amma!” said SS. “I’m tied up!”

“You are always tied up,” sniffled Sonti Kantham. “You never have time for your family duties at all.”

“But, Mother, I’m really tied up,” SS, now hip-deep in Udipi effluvium, said. “I’m about to drown in human waste, Ma. Can’t we talk of the wedding later? Right now I need you to do me a favour…”

“Tell me,” said the mother. “The excrement that you are sinking into…is it of vegetarians?”

“What difference does it make, Mother?”

“If it isn’t,” said Kantham, “don’t bother coming back.’

Excerpted with permission from The Sentimental Spy, Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, Juggernaut Books.

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli is a humour writer and the author of three books, a play, a novella and several bounced cheques.

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