Books: The Silver Castle — Chapter 20 |
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Chapter 20

FROM THE TERRACE of the Gymkhana Club Sanjay looked down at the cricket. Another monsoon had come and gone. The sun was hot but the grass was green. So much grass and only one cricket match! Azad Park, where he had once played in two matches at the same time, was only a mile or so away, but here was a long way from there. This, he had been told, was where the sahibs had once played. The players below were all dressed in white, as if the sahibs had never gone away. Sanjay had only the haziest notion of where they had gone to. The Gymkhana Club was a sufficiently foreign country for him. All the men at the other tables exuded wealth. Some of them were losing it to others as they played cards. It didn’t seem to bother them. The sums mentioned made him feel poor. He was poor. But his new friend had promised to fix that. His new friend was called Aziz. With easy familiarity, Aziz commanded the waiter to bring another round of the club’s special lemonade. In the shade of the veranda, cool in his pale thin clothes and comfortable in his cushioned chair, Sanjay politely sipped the cold bitterness of the special lemonade while he listened to the nattily attired Aziz predict a golden future.

“What we need to do”, said Aziz, “is keep the momentum going. We have to maximise the ...”

Sanjay was pleased to hear that there was some momentum to be kept going. With the long hard plastic swizzle-stick he stirred the ice cubes in his tall glass and looked down again at the cricket while Aziz droned on. So this was real cricket. He had seen something of it on television at various times. Not that he had ever possessed a television set of his own. (Now there was a dream begging to be realised.) He had seen some cricket on a television set in an Arab’s hotel room once. He had seen a few minutes of cricket on Mr Desmond’s television set until he had been caught at it and made to switch channels to something more improving. In Miranda’s apartment, during the nowadays mercifully less frequent afternoons when he was not on call and she was, he had watched television: hours of television. Mostly he watched MTV, which in less than two years had become a big sensation, bigger even than the film magazines. But occasionally he had seen cricket. Here, however, was the actual thing. Now he could see how fantastically good they were. They bowled like the wind and hit the ball for a mile. He could tell by the sound of the bat that the ball was heavy. It fizzed on the grass. He could feel the sting in the hands of the fielders who had to catch it. A real cricket ball was nothing like the ball he had once bowled. There was no connection. He had missed out on the whole event. Look at that grass. It was all green, with no patches of bare earth anywhere. He decided not to become interested in cricket, the same way as he had decided, belatedly but firmly, not to become interested in history and the arts and that stuff Miranda called literature. You had to have the education. He had learned that there were limits to what you could learn by yourself. There were too many words that could not be found in the dictionary. They were the common property of those who had grown up with them, and if you had grown up alone, too bad. It was too late. But the Gymkhana Club: now that was interesting. Such luxury. He always had time for more of that. The way Aziz was talking, there was more of that just around the corner, perhaps even a proper apartment of his own: somewhere where he would feel less cooped up, somewhere where he could watch MTV whenever he wanted to.

He had met Aziz at the cinema. Not the old, huge, packed-out Palace Cinema he used to go to. This was a special small cinema where people in the film industry could watch new films. Breathing cool air, sitting in special soft seats with an ashtray built into the arm-rest, they could watch films that were not even out yet. At the imitation of the director, he had gone to see the film in which he had been Miranda’s bodyguard. Miranda was there too, of course, but they had arrived separately, she coming from the set of her new film and he from his. At the screening he had not been encouraged to sit beside her. She had sat between the director and the producer. It was one of Sanjay’s resentments, the way they never seemed to appear in public together. Everyone had been impressed with the way Sanjay spoke his line. When they were shooting the film he had spoken two lines but in the finished film there was only one.

“Bow when you address the princess, son of a dog.”

On the screen, Miranda had looked at him as if suddenly impressed: a meaningful look full of promise. After the screening she merely congratulated him briefly. She was too busy receiving adulation from the producer, the director and the financier, all of whom had an enthusiastic entourage of their own to add to hers, the most enthusiastic of all. The cries of approval were still in the air when she swept out, giving him barely a smile. Aziz had been much more attentive. He had introduced himself and predicted that Sanjay’s face would soon be making a big impact.

It was true in a way, but it was all so frustratingly gradual. Doing the photographs for the Italian suits took almost a week, and then it was months before the first magazines carrying them appeared on the stands. Sanjay bought three copies of each one. He liked the way he looked in the suit. It punctuated his personality and incarnated his image. But he could not understand why his name had not been used. Nor could he understand why the money was not immediately forthcoming. A21z explained that it was because of deferred payment. Sanjay could not understand the explanation. He had not even been given the suit. Finally Aziz had given him a roll of bills. The sum was certainly enough to tide him over, but it was not a fortune. He could pay the rent on the slum, buy himself some more clothes, and even cat out in a good restaurant if he wanted to, but without Miranda’s hospitality he would not be able to live well. And the hospitality was all she had to offer. She never gave him much money apart from his agreed salary for being a bodyguard. Being so dependent, with so little negotiable reward, no longer suited him. He wanted to — what was Pratiba’s expression? — spread his wings. Some evenings, when Miranda was out working late, he would sit alone at a small table in The Jewel in the Crown, spending a fortune while he tried to look cool and dangerous. People had not come up to him the way they came up to the stars. He had not signed even one menu.

“We can thank Smart Alec,” Aziz droned, “for helping to make your name. But that is just the beginning. What we must do now is to connect the name to the face. The film-going public is beginning to know what your face looks like. The magazine-reading public is beginning to recognise your name. But the two images are like separate fragments which ...”

Sanjay’s name had indeed been cropping up in the gossip columns with gratifying frequency. Often the mentions were awkward because they put Miranda down. They talked about her as if she had taken him on simply as a weapon against the younger actresses, as a way of regaining an equal footing with Mumtas, Mamta, Dimple and the rest. Sanjay, of course, minded this less than she did, but he had learned that when such items were published it was wiser not to allude to them even in a helpful way. She preferred to ignore their existence. Her entourage cooperated by doing its best to ensure that no magazine containing such an item ever reached her. Smart Alec, on the other hand, was always as kind to Miranda as to him. Smart Alec correctly pointed out that it was only a few short years since Miranda had been in the same position as Mumtas, that Miranda had achievement behind her and not just promise ahead, and that Miranda’s beauty in its full bloom of maturity left the upstarts looking like awkward schoolgirls. Sanjay guessed that these items had been written by Pratiba, who knew all there was to know about being an awkward schoolgirl. He could detect Pratiba’s inventiveness in the prose. “You’d better believe it, hoes, that this thing between the divine Miranda and her cool and dangerous sidekick Sanjay Nool is a mutual admiration society. Oh baby, you were never lovelier! But we know it isn’t the old one-two. It’s the praise he gives your art. And your talented pupil is going places, we hear. He ain’t a star yet, but he’ll soon be climbing the feature list the way he used to go up castle walls when he was just a lowly stunt-man. We don’t need a photo of him here because he’s all over page 26. Yes, the hard face in that soft, soft suit is none other than Mr Cool, Sanjay Nool. No wonder the gorgeous Miranda won’t let him sign that new film with Mumtas. He wouldn’t be the lead, but he’d be on the same set with the main threat — and the great lady would wear that the same way she’d wear a cactus bikini. Not that she’s jealous. No way. She just thinks that the chick with the four shiny cheeks can’t act for toffee. So the claws are out and the bars are down, darlings!”

Sanjay could recite the whole item from memory. He had even thought of showing it to Miranda, because it praised her so much. He had been held back by the mentions of Mumtas. On the subject of Mumtas, Miranda invariably lost her sense of humour. Really she was being irrational. Sanjay was regularly cast now in junior roles as one of the hero’s lieutenants or even as a chief gangster. Quite often he had lines. It was inevitable that he would end up working with all the actresses at one time or another. He had already worked with Sridevi, Manua and even Dimple. With Dimple he had exchanged actual dialogue. “You will never hold me,” Dimple had said, struggling in her bonds. “I have ways of holding you that you would not believe,” Sanjay had replied, staring at her thinly-clad breasts where they jutted between the tight ropes. Then the hero had burst in and thrown him out of the window. One film had led to another until the point had arrived when he was working on three of them simultaneously. He never had to go down to the hiring hall anymore. Casting masters came to him, through Aziz. Finally the inevitable occurred and he was offered a small part in the new big musical film starring Mumtas. Naturally he had not been shown the script, but he had been assured that it would have ten songs, twelve murders, and a whole scene for him in which he would defend Mumtas single-handed against the gangsters before dying gloriously. It was a mouthwatering project. Unfortunately Miranda found out about it. It didn’t matter how. What mattered was how she behaved: unreasonably.

“The bitch will try to steal you,” she had said.

“I won’t let her.”

“You won’t even be consulted. She can fuck a fakir. I have heard all about it.”

“It is a good film for my career.”

“It is the worst film in creation. The same as any other film. Tell me what happens. Do you save her from the bandits?”

“I save her from the gangsters.”

“From the gangsters. How very up-to-date. Merchant Ivory, move over.”

Sanjay didn’t understand. Worse than that, he felt misunderstood. It was midnight, they had both come in late, and they were far apart. They were lying in her bed but the space between them was like space.

“Ghita! Get out of that bloody corridor!”

This time there was only the patter of sandals. There was no laughter. They had not made love. She had not even made a gesture. Sanjay said nothing.

“Sometimes those silences of yours sound just plain dumb. Cool, dangerous and dumb, Mr Nool. Nool! You can’t even spell it.”

He was hurt.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. Listen, maybe it would be better if you left me alone now. And while you’re alone, please figure out whether you really want to do this to me. To us. You’ll be doing it to us.”

So she had withdrawn her favours. Perhaps it was a way of making him feel the weight of the key in his pocket. He would certainly have suffered had that been withdrawn too. But she might have been surprised to learn just how indifferent it left him to be denied her bed. Too much resentment had neutralised desire. He had been frustrated for some time by how they never went out. Her idea of a night out was a night in. Once that had been an education: eating with the great star, drinking with the great star, sleeping with the great star. But education was like school in the end. The first time she had read to him from Tagore while they both lay naked, he had been carried away.

Love is taking poison with open eyes ...

He liked himself as a poisoner. A poisoner sounded cool and dangerous. But one Tagore poem was pretty much like another, and the sad truth was that even making love could grow repetitious. She offered him more and more. There was almost nothing she would not do, and no lengths to which he could not drive her abandonment. He could make her shout. He could make her rave. Next day her servants would look at him as if he had descended from the clouds on a staircase of marble. He could make her face change into a weeping wound. But he could not change her into someone else.

It especially annoyed him that he could not change her into someone who would go out dancing. On MTV the young people were dancing all the time. The girls wore jeans and halters with nothing underneath, so that you could see their nipples under the doth, being stroked by it as they hopped and shook. Even the hostesses, Sophiya and Anul, were dressed for desire. One night Mumtas was right there on the screen with them. While she stepped and swayed and shivered, the camera attacked from ten different directions. In the close-ups on her face she looked as if she was coming. He had to hold himself down while he watched. All the magazines had stories about what was going on in the nightclubs. They called it grooving. Occasionally he went to a nightclub and observed. He went to the Nineteen Hundreds, the best one. A girl would recognise him and make him groove. He found he could do it. One night there was a girl he would have liked to take home. But he had no home to go to. He couldn’t take that kind of girl to the slum. There was nothing there except the occasional letter from Mr Rochester. The very occasional letter. One letter in the last six months. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” it had started. “It seems that I am very, very sick. Just when I thought that I could have no more troubles, it turns out that my troubles will soon be over. La peste. There are people who go out on Hampstead Heath every night and never get it. And here am I with my tiny, occasional, pathetically genuine love affair. I have already told Adrian and I thought that I had better tell you. We never did very much, but who knows? I couldn’t bear ...” Sanjay had not bothered to finish reading it. The usual unfathomable rigmarole. Brilliance could add up to boredom. He wanted to hear no more fancy names. Nothing more to leave him out. He was sick of being shone on. He wanted to shine. He wanted to go where the young people went. He wanted to go where they danced. How they had danced at the Nineteen Hundreds! If Miranda had been with him, he would have had all that fun, all those flashing lights, and her starlight. It was cranky of her to miss out on it all. And she was making him miss out on it as well.

“I know you have good reasons for not signing this film,” Aziz was saying. “But you have to look at it careerwise. The worst that can happen is Miranda will throw you out. And if she does, it is a story. It links you and Miranda. It gives you good coverage. And coverage helps the film and the film helps you. Because you will be right up there with Mumtas in the same shot.”

Down there on the lush grass, the batting team needed only four more runs to win. The star batsman, who had already scored a century, was looking around at the fielders while the frustrated fast bowler added to the red streaks around the crotch of his white trousers before turning to start his long run-up.

“And it does not matter that you have delayed so long. It is a good thing. It has only made them more keen. The offer is still open. They have extended it again. You can sign this afternoon. Any time before six o’clock. They have told me.”

Before the ball had finished fizzing to the boundary the hero was already walking in, taking off his gloves. His studied casual walk was better than a swagger. Everyone was clapping. Ariz was clapping too, but he was still talking.

“Sign this film. Think of yourself.”

Sanjay had been thinking of no one else.

“Yes. I’ll sign it.”

It was not a very good office. There were grander offices elsewhere, for the stars. But it was an office. It was not a shed with a corrugated iron roof. And there was a real contract and a real pen, produced from a suit pocket by a man whose horn-rimmed spectacles had been made for him, instead of bought from a stall in the street. Aziz pointed to the right place. Sanjay Nool had been practising his signature for weeks, so he needed only a few seconds to write it down.