Books: The Silver Castle — Chapter 22 |
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Chapter 22

NO, MIRANDA DID NOT throw Sanjay out because of Mumtas. She threw him out because of something else. “I could have stood the way you’re making a fool of yourself with this floozy,” said Miranda, looking, he thought, sad rather than angry. Well, that was a relief. Anger was never nice. He thought it best to hang his head while he tried to figure out what she was going to accuse him of If she could stand the business with Mumtas, what was it she couldn’t stand? Had he left a piece of scorched silver paper in his room? Had they realised how many cans of Sprite were disappearing from the refrigerator? It was while he was asking himself this question that he belatedly recognised what was depicted by one of the photographs displayed in the open book.

“I suppose I should be grateful that you at least had the decency not to bring her here.”

Sanjay, who had forborne not out of decency but expediency, took the opportunity to nod.

“Eloquent as usual. I could even forgive this. This is you, isn’t it? Screwing in some toilet in Falkland Street? Screwing some disease-ridden tart with a bucket of shit standing in the corner? That is you, isn’t it? The same young man I allowed to touch me?”

“She was not a tart.”

“Yes, I dare say it was a great romance. Look, it probably was. I can see she might have been pretty. And I am certain she was deprived. I am certain you both were, God help me. But I am not bringing our friendship to an end because of this.”

Sanjay could not begin to guess what else there might be. Unless Pratiba had talked. Yes, that must be it. Well, he could soon talk her out of being jealous of Pratiba. And nothing had ever really happened.

“What I can’t bear is that you sold your body to perverted men. You did that and never told me.”

So that was all. He could not see why she was making a fuss about that. It was long ago and it had nothing to do with her.

“Do you know where I have been in these last few days? I have been in London. Having my blood tested. By some miracle it turns out that I am all right. God knows whether you are. You will have to find out by yourself. But if I had gone to a doctor here the gossips really would have had something to go on. This is the world’s biggest small town. Why do you think I brought you out here on the terrace? Because no one must ever blow about this. No one. Do you understand? That much you owe me. Even Pratiba must never know. They must think it is about that birdbrain Mumtas. Or about this disgusting book.”

“Who told you?”

“About the men? Gupta. Who else? It is his idea of pleasure, to tell someone news as unpleasant as that.”

“He is lying.”

“He is not lying. You are. You lied to me from the beginning. May heaven forgive me, I thought I was moulding you. I even had dreams of sending you to school. And you were already formed, all along. Formed into a pervert and a liar and a cheat.”

“You’re beautiful when you’re angry.” Sanjay tried this with a wry smile, but to no avail.

“Yes, well. That will be enough of that. I have put some money in your suitcase. One of the cars will take you back to the city.”

“Goodbye,” said Sanjay. He had realised that there was no use fighting. He might have fought if he had really cared. But this episode was over.

“Goodbye. I blame myself for all this, you know. We were both dreaming, but I had no excuse. Can you carry all that stuff?”

Sanjay said that it was no problem. As he bent over to pick up his bags, he could feel the edge of his money-belt against his lower chest. In the money-belt was his gold piece. As long as he had that, his luck would hold. Nothing else mattered and nothing else was certain.

“And for God’s sake, see a doctor,” was the last thing he heard from her. He heard it as a whisper. Clearly no one else was meant to hear. She seemed unusually self-effacing on this issue. He couldn’t imagine why. He had never been sick, except for the usual things that everyone got, and that were all over after a few weeks of pain.

He took all his gear back to his room in the slum but he knew he could never live there again. He could never bring Mumtas to a place like this. He would have to find somewhere decent, even if it meant getting into debt. Aziz would advance him some money against his future earnings. For now, he had a certain amount of money in the bank. Next day, taking only some of his best belongings in a small canvas bag, he drew out more than half the money and used it to pay cash in advance for a whole week in a room at the Tajma. He had hoped to be asked for only a deposit but as a man without documents he was not surprised to be asked for a full half of the amount, a sum which effectively emptied his money-belt. The balance, he was told, could be paid at the end, along with his extras. His room, although the smallest available, was still magnificent, with its own TV, a separate bathroom full of towels, and a refrigerator crammed with beers and soft drinks stacked in rows and layers. He rolled one of the chill bottles of Limca against his forehead. The nervous strain of checking in had brought him close to sweating and the air-conditioning took time to cool him down. He can a bath, using all the green gel in the sachet. He imagined Mumtas in the bath with him, her breasts suavely drenched with suds like that girl’s in the Debonair anniversary issue’s free fold-out calendar. He imagined Mumtas on the bed, making love with him the way she danced, frenziedly creating a succession of spaces into which he hurried to fit himself with thrusts of his hips and lungings of his chest, chasing her pout with his panting mouth. Imagine doing all that while being actually inside her! And it was going to happen. It had to happen now. Heroically declining to ease the pressure in his groin, saving it for the actual moment, he dressed with great care, taking out of its flat box a Charagh Din long-sleeved shirt he had never worn. The shirt was so luxuriantly packed that the pins had globular heads. There was always one more pin. Finally, after he had checked himself out against the full-length mirror, he went down to the foyer, out through the sobbing glass door, and instructed one of the turbaned giants to call him an A/C car so that he could arrive at the studio in style if not on time. He had seen guests of the hotel do these things and all he had to do was copy them. It was that easy. It was all so simple.

But once again there was nothing simple about Mumtas. She was not in that afternoon’s scenes because she was already busy on an overlapping film, so he never even saw her. The next day she was there but did not want to go dancing in the night because she was going to a fashion show at the Hilton. Sanjay would quite like to have gone to that but was not asked. The next night she wanted to go dancing. She danced like a tigress in heat, but when Sanjay suggested, shouting in the thunderous dark, that she might like to come back to the Tajma for a drink, she said perhaps tomorrow. This would have been a crushing disappointment if she had not accompanied the postponement with a double nipple-thrust to his chest and a multiple stroking of his swollen member with her mom pubis, whose shape was so clearly detectable through her clinging miniskirt, and flagrant in her tight white panties when the miniskirt whipped up around her vibrating waist. There was also the encouragement provided by her way of communicating through the noise. She inserted her pursed lips into his ear and piped what she had to say like a musician. The word ‘tomorrow’ echoed wetly because she had licked his car drum first. For a moment Sanjay forgot his hotel bill, ticking like the meter of an enormous, fatal taxi. This was the apex of his life. He felt as if he were about to burst from pent-up potential. He particularly felt like this below the waist, where his entire genital apparatus conveyed the impression that it had been carved from hardwood by a master craftsman and lovingly polished over a period of years.

On the afternoon of the next day Sanjay had to do a complicated fight scene. The great Rajiv, scarred veteran of many a fracas, had been brought in specially to supervise it.

“You have come a long way in a hurry,” said Rajiv in an aside.

“I had a great teacher.”

“Cut the flattery and watch out for Vikram when I’m not around. He doesn’t like you. You know the way this one works?”

“I spin from the first punch, stiffen up at the second punch, fall back straight so my behind pivots on the wall, and then go over.”

“And keep going over. It’s only a few feet down but you want to hit the mattress on your front, not on your head. Your habit of landing on your head used to worry me a great deal. It was a miracle I never had to fill out any forms for you.”

“Maybe today.”

“Tomorrow. When Vikram’s in charge. Let him fill out the forms. Is it true about you and Mumtas? I’ve got a bet going and I have to know.”

“Yes, it’s true. Almost true. True soon.”

“Maybe for once you are not lying. Don’t land on your head. OK, let’s rehearse the camera.”

Mumtas, flanked by her manager and surrounded by her entourage, was watching when Sanjay and the other heavies were defeated in battle. Sanjay was distracted by her fond regard. The second punch, instead of fanning his jaw, actually clipped it. His behind hit the top of the wall at an angle that threw him skewed into his loop. He didn’t land on his head, but if he had not got his arms out early he would have had to kiss the mattress before embracing it. Rajiv helped him up.

“You aren’t concentrating. Stop thinking about that delicious pussy or you’ll never live to get it.” But the slightly dazed Sanjay was looking across to see if Mumtas seemed suitably concerned. Yes, she did. It was going to be all right. Comforted, he did the real one perfectly. Mumtas applauded and blew him a kiss. It flew into his face like a hot bird.

It was in the night that things got out of hand. Once again he was close beside her as her small army forced its way through the photographers and spectators on the brilliant pavement outside The Tiger Hunt. In a scoop-necked white top, tight jeans and white cowboy boots, she actually held on to his arm as she pirouetted and posed, aiming a pout at every lens. Inside the club she danced as if during all previous evenings she had been under doctor’s orders to convalesce. As usual she went to the toilet every twenty minutes. This time she appointed Sanjay guardian of the toilet door. The corridor, though jammed with impatient women, was incomparably more peaceful than the dance floor, so he chose that setting to remind her of her promise to come back with him to the Tajma for a quiet drink. She said she would. In the course of time she did. Unfortunately her manager and half a dozen other people came with her. It took two cars to get them there. Sanjay’s room was already jammed before Aziz invited himself over with a friend. Sanjay had to call room service for a second bottle of champagne. The refrigerator was soon emptied of its bottles of beer. Mumtas turned the television set to MTV. She wanted to dance. Dancing made her want to go to the toilet. She started a separate party in the bathroom. Sanjay had to order a third bottle of champagne. Dimly aware of what could be done to a hotel bill by the phenomenon known as extras, he was rather hoping that Mumtas’s manager would offer to pay for all this, but the manager gave no sign of feeling generous. Instead he looked rather strict. Eventually, very late, everybody went. Everybody included Mumtas. Sanjay was alone. He couldn’t believe it.

He couldn’t, but he should have. Mumtas had caused Sanjay to lose his wits. This was a serious deprivation. All his life, a naturally cool head had been his only sure defence against peril. He could afford to forgo it only for a while, and not a very long while either. His infatuation might have been an amusing foible if he had commanded greater resources. He didn’t, so he was playing against a stacked deck. There was nothing remarkable about what happened on the set next day. In the context of the Indian film industry it was an all too typical event. Vikram was in charge of the stunt. If Rajiv had been on duty, instead of busy on another film, he might have coached Sanjay more effectively, but there is no telling. Later on, some people associated with the production spread the rumour that Vikram had been out to get Sanjay. Later still, when Mumtas’s manager left his wife, kidnapped his own children and the whole thing became a colossal scandal, informed insiders persuasively argued that he had put Vikram up to it so as to get a young rival out of the picture. Like most conspiracy theories, these had the merit of fitting the facts, but the drawback of turning a plausible accident into an elaborate plan, in a country where elaborate plans are the very kind most likely to come unstuck and least likely to remain secret long enough to be put into effect. The truth was that Sanjay, at the precise moment when he should have been thinking exclusively of his work, was thinking of something else. He had to jump through a big window to escape Mumtas’s bodyguards, who had arrived to rescue her from her bonds. Mumtas, the bonds and the bodyguards would be present next day. For now nothing mattered except Sanjay and the big window. He couldn’t complain about lack of attention to detail. Rarely for a locally made film, a toffee glass window had been provided, which could be jumped through in relative safety. Sanjay rehearsed a couple of times with the window frame empty. He ran up the ramp and hurtled through the frame. The camera would see him burst through the glass, fall six feet, and hit the ground running.

“When we do the real one,” said the director, “give it plenty of expression. Cruel and defiant, as if you are doing something dangerous but don’t care about the consequences, because of the anger in your soul. Lots of that. We’ll be close on you and then zoom out in slow motion with the exploding glass.” It was a tricky shot for the camera operator. He needed the rehearsals. For Sanjay one rehearsal should have been enough. He ought to have been ready when the toffee glass was put into the frame. As things turned out, however, he got the take so badly wrong that it could not be used.

“What’s wrong with you?” asked the director, right there in front of everyone. “You had no expression on your face at all. We are on your face before we zoom out. You are supposed to look cruel and defiant. You looked as if you were opening a set of curtains.”

“There is no more toffee glass,” Vikram told the director. “That was all we had.”

“We will have to go with real glass,” said the director. He turned back to Sanjay. “You have done this through real glass?”

“Yes,” said Sanjay, telling the lie of his life. “I have done it.” What else could he say? How would Mumtas react if she heard that he had said no? He was her daredevil, her champion, her knight in shining armour. The director nodded and walked away, leaving Vikram in charge of the preparations. Vikram, to do him credit, tried to tell Sanjay to keep his arms up so that his padded sleeves would make the first break. Sanjay tried to take in the advice. But by the time the window was ready for another real one, Sanjay was distracted again. Too much talk about the cost of the toffee glass had set him thinking about the cost of his hotel room. It wasn’t so much the remaining half of the basic charge. It was those extras. He was worried about those long phone calls she had made from the bathroom extension. Standing waving her glass of champagne while she piped and squeaked, she might have been talking to anywhere in the world. He thought about the way Mumtas drank champagne as if it were water to wash down pills, and that set him thinking about her mouth. Thinking about the way her mouth opened set him thinking about the way her legs divided, that clearly defined opulence. He wondered if she, like Miranda, became so wet with her own cream that she dripped. These are not things to be thinking and wondering when you are about to jump through real glass.

On the word ‘Action!’ Sanjay ran up the shallow ramp towards the big window. For real glass he had been provided with flesh-coloured gloves to supplement the padding under his sleeves and his trouser legs. He had checked the window pane and judged it sufficiently thin to be easily shattered. When he hit the glass, however, he didn’t get his arms right. He had them up and to the side of his face so that the camera could see his expression, but he didn’t have them far enough forward. His face was already badly cut before he fell. The glass proving much tougher than he had estimated, it slowed him down. His back foot caught on the bottom rail of the frame. He pitched forward at too great an angle to land on his feet. A big piece of glass had landed on its edge in precisely the right position to slice through the padding on his right forearm and do fearful damage from his elbow all the way to his armpit. Worse than all this, his head hit the corner of a wooden rostrum with such force that the indentation in his temple could be plainly seen when they turned him over, even though his slashed face was already awash with blood.

The shot of Sanjay exploding through the glass turned out reasonably well. The director and the producer wanted to keep it in the film, so the script editor was instructed to write Sanjay out at that point. More or less the same thing happened in real life. While Vikram got on with the long job of filling in all the forms, Sanjay, weak from loss of blood, was checked into a private ward in case some gossip writer tried to reach him. They did their best at the hospital, even though Sanjay did not rank as a very important man. His chance of ever being one of those had just ended. Nevertheless there is no reason to blame the prentice ministrations of a newly qualified anaesthetist. Sanjay’s concussion was enough to work the cruel trick. When he regained consciousness, he did not regain his full intelligence. His once fine wits were dulled. Perhaps it was a blessing. His face had been sewn up but there was a limit to what could be done. When, after a long time, he was finally shown a mirror, he would have found himself a terrible thing to see had he still possessed his famed acuteness. As things were, he could only wonder. He found it hard to pay attention. When Rajiv came to visit him, Sanjay recognised him but couldn’t think of anything to say. Miranda, though she was still angry with him, would have paid him a visit if she had known, but she was on holiday in Goa, with Pratiba as confidante and lady-in-waiting. Neither of them heard about Sanjay’s accident until much later. But even if they had turned up, it is doubtful whether he would have had much to talk about. A doctor bent over his bed and told him, among other puzzling things, that his blood had been tested and found to be all right. Sanjay remembered that someone had told him to sec a doctor. Well, now he had seen a doctor. It was a man in a white coat, blurry at the edges. When other memories came, they came slowly. It was only on the day he was due to leave that he remembered he should have a money-belt. Some kind of residual panic made him search frantically for it when he was handed his clothes, which the film company had kindly sent over from the dressing shed. For Sanjay as he was now, a frantic movement was slow, but it was still troubled. There was still some money in the belt, along with the key to his padlock More importantly, his gold piece was still in its secret compartment. Verifying the fact was particularly awkward because he had only one workable hand to hunt with, and it was his bad hand. The people at the hospital, speaking slowly and emphatically, had told him that he must come back one day and have the stitches taken out of his face. They had also told him that his right arm would never work again. It was folded across his body and had no sensation in it below the shoulder. The hand was bent inwards at the wrist and the fingers were half folded shut. If he had not had help to get dressed it would have taken him half the day.

Not being quite certain where he was coming from, and with fogged memories of where he was going to, Sanjay was a long time getting back to the slum. He found it so difficult to unlock his padlock with one hand that at one point he gave up and wept. He wept very easily now. Eventually an old woman helped him by holding the padlock. It was probably a good thing that he forgot all about the Tajma, where his bill reached a fabulous figure before they wrote it off: in the course of time the manager had to answer to the board of directors for overseas phone calls totalling more than a thousand US dollars. With enough cash left to pay his rent until the monsoon was over, Sanjay lay on his bed for weeks, going out only to buy simple food. If he had bought some film magazines, he would have noticed that the gossip columns printed the pictures of him with Mumtas, wondered where he had disappeared to, and then forgot him. But he didn’t buy them. It didn’t occur to him. He knew that his bank book was the source of more money but he couldn’t remember how to use it. He could only remember that he had to go to the bank and write something. At the bank they looked at his face and didn’t believe that he was who he said he was. They said he had stolen the book. He had to run away. The stitches in his face badly needed to come out. Luckily a kind man passing in the street said he was a doctor. The doctor opened his little bag, took something out of it, and relieved Sanjay of his festering stitches right there on the pavement. A small crowd gathered to watch. The doctor also dabbed on some liquid, which stung. There was no charge. Sanjay was still left with the problem of his bank book. He remembered where Ajay lived and went to call on him. Ajay was not there, or anywhere else. Eventually a common acquaintance revealed that Ajay had caught a very bad disease and would probably not be coming back. Sanjay could not find Sunil either. Some of the boys at the toilet said he had gone on a nip. Fearing that his friend might be avoiding him because of his face, Sanjay checked up on the story by hanging around outside the Palace cinema. He had guessed correctly that there was no fear of his being recognised. Sunil never appeared. Dilip did. Sanjay remembered that Dilip was no longer his friend. Something bad had happened once. But the memory of their friendship was earlier, deep set and more intense. So he asked Dilip to help him with his bank book. Dilip pronounced himself delighted to cooperate. “Was she worth it?” asked Dilip strangely. He answered his own question. “Doesn’t look like it.” At the bank Dilip arranged everything. All Sanjay had to do was sign. With his bad hand he did it awkwardly, but apparently it was enough. Then Dilip gave him some money. By the time Sanjay had realised that there was much less money than there ought to be, Dilip was gone.

When Sanjay could no longer pay the rent for his slum room, he was obliged to leave. He left behind his magazines and his dictionary. He could no longer concentrate on all that. His fragmentary mirror he left where it was on the wall: since his face had come to reflect it, instead of the other way about, he no longer liked to look into it. He took only his suitcase, clumsily packed with his remaining clothes. In the course of weeks, one item at a time, he had to sell them or barter them away. The suitcase was nearly empty when he at last reached the road where he was born. His memories were deep so he had no trouble finding his house. His father was gone. His mother was still there but very sick. All the possible breadwinners were missing. The family had split up, in the modern fashion. There was no one left but the halt and the lame. Sanjay, with the help of one of his sisters, broke up the suitcase and incorporated the pieces into the roof of the house.