He arrived in the morning, sober, bathed, chewing Rajnigandha-Tulsi.
“Not this way. I’ll meet your friends.”
“Look, it’s not –”
“Either you take me or you leave.”
“I’m not going to work today. I’m going with you.”
He stood at the door, speechless, while I pretended to be busy.
“Tum samajhti nahi hai, pagli.”
Yes, the foolish girl did not understand. She didn’t want to. “Hum ko nahi samajhna hai,” I said sternly.
“Okay,” he said meekly, and then he told me the rules. “There, you are not to do what you do with me here.”
“What is that?”
“The place where we’re going, the people there see me as a leader. I’m respected there. I have an image to maintain. And you have to give me some money.”
The place was a dam resort on the Subarnarekha some thirty kilometres outside town. His friends, I saw, were from the working class. There was Samir’s friend from school, a transporter who was a Karmakar; and four Adivasis who worked for the transporter. We were later joined by a few students from a local engineering college – all Samir’s friends and fans from the gym – and two of our juniors from the medical college. Only the transporter called Samir by his name, everyone else called him “boss”.
I wondered what Samir was trying to do. Laying the field for a possible political career he so often boasted to me about? And what kind of respect was it if it came from a bunch of friends and yes-men? Everything about him was so mindboggling.
The juniors were surprised to see me. They couldn’t believe I had come with Samir because I was seen as posh, reserved, and – well – delicate.
“Aap yahaan?” they asked. “With Samir boss?”
I couldn’t explain my presence.
“Yes, boss wanted to see this dam,” Samir said, though they didn’t seem entirely convinced.
Alcohol saved the day. After they started drinking, my presence was no longer an issue. I didn’t drink; I wanted to stay in my senses, to observe, to take notes. They talked about the transport business, big money, women, other men’s wives, the whores of Jamshedpur. Samir and the transporter were the most boisterous of all, flaunting their political reach, their contacts with the police top brass. I was treated with respect because I was Samir’s guest. I was given the best chair to sit on; a separate plate to have the chicken chakhna from while they attacked the common platter; sealed Bisleri bottles while they drank from jugs. What am I doing here? I wondered about my place in that unlikely company, my situation, the pains I was taking to be with Samir.
Drunk, Samir was his usual boisterous self. “Haraamkhor! I eat zinda maans!”
Sunil wasn’t like this. There was a silent humility to Sunil, a determination to reach his goal without needing to talk about it or flaunting his contacts. Samir was the opposite. I had heard him answering evasively to phone calls from his family. His family perhaps knew what all he was up to. Drinking, spending himself. How did they take to all that?
I wanted to know all about Samir. Now that I had met his friends, I wanted to meet his family. If only getting him to take me to see his family were easy. Getting to his friends had taken me two days of tantrums and a decent sum of money.
I had heard Samir mumble in his sleep, an insecure soul inside a cocky body, living in the present, planning his survival second by second. He abused people in his dreams. Which people were these; I couldn’t understand their names. Maadarchod, bhenchod, gaandu...He spoke such words in his dreams. Samir never slept peacefully. Sometimes he slept with his eyes open; sometimes he turned to one side, his body held up on his elbow; sometimes on all fours after I rimmed him; sometimes with me sitting on top of him, pumping while he just snored.
I stuck to Samir’s instructions and kept my hands off him among his friends. But when we sat down to dinner at a dhaba after drinks, all of them made Samir and I sit separately on one side of the table while they sat on the other side. Samir brought his chair close to mine. Smoking a Navy Cut, he placed his arm around me and squeezed my shoulder. I wondered if others were watching. Yes, they were, but they were busy with their backslapping and laughs. I removed his hand from my shoulder, putting on a straight face. Someone was playing a Sadri folk tune on a mobile phone.
Iskool kay tame pay, aana gori dame pay
Fair girl, bunk your school and meet me at the dam
Samir raised his bodybuilder’s arms and waved them above his head. He knew I loved watching him dance.
“What is that, boss?” one of our juniors asked.
“I am trying to do the chhau.” He grinned. “A very famous dance they perform in Saraikela district. I’m doing it for boss.” He put his arm around me again.
“Looks like Salman’s dance to me,” the junior quipped.
“Arrey, why not?” Samir said animatedly. “I’m Salman. That Tere Naam is the story of my life.”
I. This was the seventieth time I was hearing Samir announce that the story of the film paralleled that of his life. I made a face.
“And here is my Katrina,” he whispered into my ear and kissed it. “I hope you are not bored.”
“No.” I shook my head.
“How are you feeling?”
“You like my friends?”
“Yeah, but they’re not dangerous at all.”
“You’ve seen nothing.” He grinned. “That’s why I was avoiding bringing you here.”
“I’d have come anyway.”
“Because I love to meet people.”
“Yeah?” he smiled.
He lowered his head and kissed my neck. Later, when I went to wash my hands, he chivalrously accompanied me to the bathroom and kissed me on my cheek. I couldn’t tell if anyone noticed or not. Actually, I didn’t care. I needed Samir, I had him, he was kissing me in full view of his friends. What else did I need?
“Boss,” Samir told me one night, “I want to do something with my life. I want to become a good man.”
“You will,” I ran my fingers through his hair, one of those rare occasions when I could do it, since he was in that contemplative mood, so vulnerable, so unlike Samir, the Samir the world saw.
“I am a very bad man. I don’t like myself.”
“No, you’re not bad. I wouldn’t have liked you then.”
He sat up on his elbow and touched my face. Then he lay down. I placed my head on his chest. He took my Nokia and clicked a picture of us together. Then he undressed and I began massaging him. “Jaan, will you keep on massaging me like this?” he asked.
“Marry me,” I said, “and I’ll live with you.”
“Only if you were really a woman,” he said tenderly, as if he meant it.
At about midnight, as usual, his mobile rang. He grabbed his trousers and, covering his crotch, rushed off into to a corner.
“Moti!” he slurred into the phone, trying to sound sober. “Had your dinner, darling?”
I covered myself with the blanket and watched him fumble with his clothes, as if the girl he was talking to would jump out of the phone and catch him red-handed.
“Not slept yet? Why, love?...Waiting for my call?...Sorry, jaan, very sorry...I was busy...Had your medicines?...Go to sleep, you have work in the morning...I’ll come to you soon, very soon.”
Excerpted with permission from My Father’s Garden, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, Speaking Tiger.
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