‘Hey man, why are you wondering in such a foggy night?’ It was an old voice, slightly thick and coming out of a toothless mouth.
‘I’m a mega-citizen and I have a fundamental right to wonder anywhere around.But who you are to poke me like this here in Ahmedabad, in Gandhi’s Gujarat?’
It was my pride’s reply. Reply of an awakened Indian. I looked up and found a bespectacled old man, bald and wrapped in a single white cloth of khadi. He was smiling. He had a papaya face.
I stared at his cloth. He tightened it around his body. I realized that I had left my bushshirt in the office.
He continued smiling.
‘I think I know you.’
‘Yes, you very well know me. I am Gandhi. The father of…..’
‘Oh, yes. But how are you here? You should be up there.’
I turned to see the pillar in the centre of the four-road crossing. But Gandhi, the statue was not there.
‘They have unnecessarily placed me there. You’re aware that I hated money and wealth. Still they put me on currency notes , and in this city, they could found only this place called Income-tax square for me! So, sometimes I feel suffocated and comedown to loiter around among the people. Today, I found you.’
‘Gandhiji, er… Gandhi Bapu, you’re lucky. You know what does it cost to have a space like that in this place – now a mega city?’
This reminded me of my landlord. ‘You’ll have to vacate the premises. The apartments are sold. A big mall will come up here.’ He had told me before I had left for office in the afternoon.
The recently pronounced status of megacity was taking its toll.
‘Give me some from that.’ Gandhi asked me looking at the fattened portion of my trousers. He evaded my question.
‘Bapu you?! ‘
‘Why not? The prohibition is relaxed.’
‘Don’t worry. Be happy. See, once we were slaves. Now our country-men areacquiring – multi-billion companies in developed nations too.’
We shared the bottle sip-by-sip.
Sometimes, whiskey wizens you, other times it makes you bold. When you consume it and it’s present in your body and mind, you are wiser. When you have it in your pocket or bag, you are bold. And when you are unemployed, you are wise and bold but never beautiful.
That evening was slightly different than the previous one and I was dreadfully sure that the next evening wouldn’t be like it. This was dull and foggy. It’s very common these days, nights and evenings to be dull, foggy and lustreless in Delhi because there you’ve lot of many top politicians around. I’m told Mumbai is not like that. There will be damp and dust with a flavour of sex. Damp like that of an industrialist and dust of a poor struggling man. The flavour of sex is spread by the bar-girls. A friend of mine recently revealed a secret to me by e-mail.
‘You know why Congress lost in Mumbai elections?’ And while I was listing the reasons cited by all the newspapers and channels, his reply was ‘just because RR Patil, the Home Minister of the State, banned the bars.’
Well, well, well, ‘ though I was not drunk at the moment, I realized it was true. Sex, even its mention at times, has a spark in it. May be a germ (or sperm?) of creativity too. Doesn’t Salman Rushdie have a beautiful Padma? Of course , they are broken up now , but Rushdi says , ‘ I am irresistible ! ‘
Before few hours, my editor had invited me for a drink. Last time he was so liberal, was when he had won his divorce case in a family court. People without wife are noble and more friendly.
‘It is finalised, signed and sealed. That new group is taking over our paper.’ While pouring the first peg he had started.
He looked excited. He was dreaming of a pay hike.
There were rumors of this paper – I worked there, being sold to a new wealthier group. I was hearing about it since last few days. And the deal was struck, it seemed. ‘And Mr. er…..you’ll get a better chance elsewhere!’ This he had spoken at the end when we had finished our last pegs.
He had immediately left for urination. I had started sweating. So I took off my shirt. The office timings – 24.00 hrs. were already over. So the A.C. was off. Outside, the weather – was also changing for the worse.
Laden with alcohol, I started visualising myself again without a job.
‘Saab, it’s too late. Now I have to lock the premises! The watchman had peeped in and told me. I waited for few minutes for the editor to come out of the toilet. In the meanwhile, the watchman came once more. His darting looks made me stand up. He moved away and I left the office. But before that I pocketed the bottle with the little of the liquor left in it. The portion of the trouser flattened a bit.
As I moved few steps, I saw the editor’s car roll by. I waved at the car. I followed it few more steps and was then lost. There was no traffic but a terrific fog all around.
And our sips and my dialogue with Gandhi were on.
Suddenly a woman came running. I was shocked. She was naked. She fell down before me. She made herself into a round something, her hands on her bare bosom and legs bent inwards. Her eyes full of tears, her face crumpled with agony.
‘I’m Bharti. Some people are after me. They’re rapists.’
‘You mean Mother Ind…..?’ I stared a bit at her. She nodded with confusion.
I saw some movement in the old man. He flung his cloth on the lady. She felt relief for a moment.
Suddenly there was honking. Four headlights of cars emerged out of the fog. The woman got up and before I realise anything further she ran away.
Now the cars stopped near me. Some safari-clad people got down. ‘Have you seen the woman? She ran this side.’.
I was stricken with awe and fear.
‘Nay. Go that side.’ Gandhi replied.
‘Nanga Fakir.’ One of the safari-guys remarked and they all left.
I’ve seen a lot many naked women before. This was for the first time that I was seeing a naked man in front of me. I felt very much ashamed. I took out my trousers and banyan. The last of it I remembered was I was helping him put on those cloths.
‘O man, please get up!. Somebody was shaking me. I opened my eyes. I was lying on the roadside – curled up, only in my underwear.
It was morning. A man and his boy were preparing to start their tea-laary. The Global Times daily was lying on the bench near him.
The headlines were shouting. “Big insult to. Gandhi.’
I took the paper and read on. “Taking the advantage of last foggy night, someone has put on a tethered and dirty banyan and pyjama on Gandhi’s statue.’
There was Gandhi’s photo too. He was in banyan and pyjama.
I looked up. Yes, he stood there right in the middle. He was in my banyan and pyjama, with his stick as usual but he was not smiling. Rather, he looked tense.
I stared at him for a while, looked around and smiled in the hope of a better day, if not that day, a day in some distant future.
And the bottle lay empty beside me.