Krish shifted gears smoothly, and the car lurched forward in one seamless motion. He let out a sigh then, before moving the joystick forward, and switched the radio on. As the hard beat of the Afro bongo banged throughout the car interior, the Baleno coursed out over the smooth stretch of tarmac that Mumbaikars (Bombayites?
He wondered, idly, for a split second) called The Queen’s Necklace.I stood out there at the tip of Nariman Point. Nothing ahead, but clear blue-grey sea. It had rained last night. The city was still wet. The roads glistened as if newly boiled tar had been poured on them. The archer on the Air India building was poised to leap clear of some invisible barrier, and I could almost see the target of his arrow. He was shining in a red neon glow that I so wished I could have. The water buoys below my feet were locked into place, and yet there was an immense sense of instability. There was an immense sense of satisfaction from that.
This is my city.
A great vicarious pleasure that you get only when you’re standing here on the edge. There were voices drifting down, but the glorious sea wind muffled them all. I turned back, and saw my friends standing farther away closer to the shore, jeans rolled up, slightly tipsy, and someone laughed, I don’t remember who, someone called out and told me to be careful, and I waved back. This is my life. Chapter closed, a chapter ready to start. I need my reading glasses. I need so much more than just that.
Nariman Point is a man-made spectacle of tall buildings, centaurs etched in neon, great big three-headed dumb-bells that hold back the tide and teenagers drunk with lust. I’ve drunk from the same broth, and I’ve licked my lips at the sensation. It’s been a grand life.
There was something engaging about watching families ‘at work’, Krish thought, as the Baleno zoomed past the makeshift balustrade of Marine Drive. This single stretch of road attracted you from miles away, you came unbidden to its call, and you sat and ran and frolicked under the great big trees that lined the pavement. There was sea and there was wind, and yet, there was your family, and that was the most important thing of all.Faster than the speed of light…
Krish was the kind of man who seized life by the horns and wondered where on earth the matador was - and if he wasn’t going to show up, Krish might as well take his place and kill the bloody thing. It was something unmediated, something that happened, and he took his role in life without question. There was no room for any questions. Not now, not when he argued with the parking attendant in front of the Hilton Towers, who always demanded more money than he was wont to get.
Krish could react, as well. He could roll his window down, and yell at the poor bugger till he turned red and tearful, and took the meager change that was flung in his direction. I’m not a monster, he argued, when his friends teased him, I’m just a man who has worked hard and wants to keep everything he’s got. It’s about knowing what your worth is, he would say, and he chuckled at the line now, as the signal approached, a merciful green overhead, and he gunned the engine. The car shot forward, and he thought about the neon Sagittarius again.The view from this window amazes me to no end, and yet I was oblivious to all that, with her sitting across me. Whenever she smiled, I wondered why. Whenever she didn’t, I wondered again. I know I was acting maudlin, not the way men in my position are meant to, but that didn’t really help. I extended my hand and covered hers with mine, on the table. The Hilton is a wonderful place to make love to, I thought. And I wondered if love was also on her mind.
I wanted desperately for her to fall in love with me, and I looked for any telltale signs. When her mobile phone rang, and she switched it off, after a cursory glance at the number. Or the way she scanned the menu when the waiter held it for her, and then looked back up at me as if seeking direction for what she should eat.
So I held her hand and told her that she was the most beautiful woman on the face of the earth that night, and for a second, as she believed me, she truly was. I laughed at my silliness and even more at her naiveté, but it was a fling, a casual affair that dictated the comings and goings of the world. I smiled proudly that night, like a man supremely in control, yet I kept on wondering whether the waiter was the real one in charge. I was a puppet, a chief puppet for all my machinations, and he, the great white shape swathed in a great white apron who served and bobbed and curtsied and said ‘Very good, sir’, and ‘Excellent choice, madam’, he was the one who pulled all the strings. Sly bastard. I slipped him a five-hundred rupee note afterwards, when we left the restaurant. I told him to send up a bottle of champagne up to my room in an hour’s time, and he nodded, without a single flick of emotion, tongue, nose, eye or ear that showed me he knew me.
Signboards screamed for attention, streetlamps like steady two-second milestones, as the Baleno wound its way over the tarmac. His ears drummed to the beat from the radio. A part of him tried to listen to the words, and gave up, and then resumed the attempt again. There were ideas forming in his head, but the car stopped him from giving into those thoughts. It acted like a security blanket, a barrier to the thoughts he may have had. The only thing that remained were these – memories that flashed at the breath neck speed he was driving, and a libido that seemed to surge every time the car growled beneath him.
He grinned. He could do not much else. The streetlamps that lined their way through the center of Maine Drive were too blindening, and there was only a gut instinct that prevented him from dying. It had always been that way. And he knew another name for that instinct.I longed to see what else they could give me. I longed to see what else I could give them. A simple give-and-take relationship, I was told, and so we called a general meeting. Fancy term for a bunch of college kids to hang out at Jazz by the Bay. Gary Lawyer was singing, and from time to time, I was craning my head back to see the man. His eyes were closed, and his lips moved in a trance. I wanted to sing like that. But I was drunk, and drunk people want to do so many things. I had wanted to walk here all the way from Andheri, and had certainly not done that. The walk from Churchgate had sufficed. The meeting started, and the questions began.
What was I looking for? Had I ever been anything other than a man on the prowl for them? Did I love anyone? Did I believe in love?
(That irritating woman had a nasal voice, and I could not stand it, as she drawled, on and on and on.)
What about lust? Was I truly insatiable? Did I think I could have any woman I wanted?
(That irritating woman with the nasal voice had a nice set of legs, and a good set of boobs to match, and I kept on looking at her. I may have smiled.)
Was I thinking of something?
Would I force myself on a woman who did not want me? (Was she giving me a hint? I smiled some more at her.)
The questions were meaningless, and everyone laughed at the end of it. Gary came over to our table and shook hands when we told him we were fans. It was funny, watching the women giggle like school girls in front of him, and then, after he had left, to collapse on their boyfriend’s laps. They would probably shag them tonight, thinking of Gary lawyer. I looked over the irritating woman with the nasal voice and the heaving bosom, and announced that I was going to the loo.
The good thing about this place is that it’s got an amazing blue lighting inside that’s so frikkin’ dark and sexy. And it’s full. Perennially. So, I was pretty clear, that as she snaked her way through the dark blue crowd towards the men’s loo, they wouldn’t be able to trace her path. And I was waiting for her, just inside the door, when she came in. I grabbed her and pushed her against the wall, and started kissing her hungrily. The only guy in there gave me a thumbs-up, which I ignored, and left. I took her into one of the stalls, and when we came out, the rest of the gang were into the fifth round of beers.They were not interested in the answers to the questions they had asked me, and I never bothered to reply.
Krish smiled at the words of the song, and he yelled them out to himself. Seconds were all it took, for the car to zoom out from beneath the Marine Lines flyover, and the Baleno swerved to the right, to avoid hitting a Zen that careened down from it. The driver, a fat Punjabi with a headful of turban, screamed an obscenity that never made it through the thick windows of the Baleno, and Krish calmly showed him his middle finger in response.
It was an orchestra that he knew well. Soon, Thackers would come up ahead, and he would pull down the car a notch, coax her/ it into settling for a pace that would give the rest of these mother-****ers a measure of peace, but it was still some way ahead. There was Bachelors, and Barista, and as he sped past them, the yawning mouth of Chowpatty started forming to his left. He pressed his foot down on the accelerator. Jennifer Lopez jived to Get Right
on the radio.Green chilly ice cream from Bachelors’. The shot that it gives you. It drives your breath out of your nostrils, and the back of your throat surges in something much wilder than what a piece of menthol will do for you. It takes time to get used to it. It takes a few seconds to let it overwhelm you. But the trick is never to lose control. The trick is to let your taste buds tingle for a few seconds and then inhale deeply, master the flavour and the cool texture leaves you hungry for more. The second spoonful is so much easier, so much tastier, and yet it’s never enough. The scoop of ice cream in your cup finishes too fast, all too soon, and you’re left gazing at the empty cup with a touch of accusation.‘Drama King!’ he said, and I grinned at him.
‘God, you can make a masala film out of the silliest things!’ she said, in tandem, and I ginned again.
‘I can’t help it. That’s how I think of it. It’s quite sexy!’
‘Ass!’ in unison.
I could think of other things. She was having some strawberries with cream, delicious and frothy. He stuck to tried and tested vanilla. I nudged him, and told him that he would have to do better than that. He was shy, and laughed it off. So I never pressed him, because he was my friend. He’d been through it all with me. I would let him be. I would leave her alone. But you could see that she needed me.
She needed Ethiopian coffee at Barista, steamed just right, whirling brown qawwah, a flavour that decided it would do nothing else but intoxicate you. She had changed since that stormy night at the Hilton, we both had. I wondered what it was she wanted now, but I think I knew. It was something insatiable, and there could hardly be a single word for it. There were subtle nuances to it that I could not catch, no matter how hard I tried.
I needed to drive. She needed to drive me crazy.
The end. Fiction that never exists. Songs that tell you lies. A road that tantalizes you with its length and curves at the last moment.
The Baleno shot out through the wide curve of Marine Drive like the armed Centaur on the Air India building, and Krish guided her/ it left towards Malabar Hill. He cut the gas, and the car groaned softly to herself in protest, as Krish wheeled her in, after the other cars that stood their chance to alight the hill. A huge hoarding changed colours and shapes overhead, and he laughed to himself at the pun on the billboard. The drive wound itself down, and a sigh escaped his lips, even as Jennifer Lopez reached the crescendo of her song on the radio.
This was the end, he thought, as the car snaked upwards at a tamed pace, and he could see the long trail of streetlamps that glowed in the dark far off into the sea, the Queen’s Necklace they called it, and many other names that reminded them of how much they coveted it and wanted t own it, but now as the Baleno climbed up, he could only think that the sight of majesty somehow killed it, this was the end. The dissipation of lust.
There were organs playing in the crowd, she remembered. It was an idea she had had, coming here alone, on a night that should have been empty but wasn't. There were people milling around, more than she had ever imagined, expected or wanted, glasses in hand, glittering under the strobe lights, skin flashing and teeth glinting in an exercise she had come to adore. When they started playing the organs from somewhere in the middle of the hard crash-boom-bang of the techno-beat, she thought she had died and gone to heaven.
He touched her without being asked to, without being spoken to, and that amused her. When he leaned over and winked at her, his grey-green eyes creasing conspiratorialy, (were his eyelids tanned too?), and his lips moved back, to expose his grin, laughing, ravenous, questioning, she could not deny the thrill that coursed through her.
It wouldn't help to deny anything. Least of all now, when she was alone with him, all in the world, and nothing else really mattered.
So, she smiled back and touched his shoulders, though the fabric of his crisp cotton shirt and wondered whether he worked out, and she threw her head back in laughter, allowing him to tease her ear lobes. It really wouldn't matter if there were people around her, looking at her with longing, shock, trepidation and jealousy: she would have done it all anyway. The bartender looked over at them impassively, imperviously, refilled her blackcurrant shot, and tossed him a Bacardi. He sipped at it, and she loved the way his lips made love to the rim of his glass, taking their time, touching and feeling the cold wet silica-concentrate.
She moved her manicured hand down the front of his chest, had a flash of insight, extrasensory perhaps, of him, emerging from the shower, dripping, the towel wrapped loosely around his waist, but her vision was interrupted, as he leaned over and kissed her lips.
It was brutal, and this was what heaven should feel like, she told herself. The organs had receded somewhere far into the background, they simply did not matter, and this was the all
, the now and the ever-after that she had sought. She had been selfish then, not wanting to share the sensation with anyone else, and so she had come alone, and even now as his brutally hard and demandng lips wanted eveything she had from her, she realised this was the only way it could have happened. Heaven was not to be shared so lightly, and hell was even more expensive. She was in no mood to be a philanthropist.
But it was about passion, she knew, and so she broke the kiss a few seconds later, when the bongo drums flared up in staccato bursts: she clasped his hand, pulling him away onto the dance floor with her. She hadn't come all this way for a drink and a kiss. If that was all she had sought, it would have been so much easier and safer to call up any of the men she had known, slept with, had affairs with, loved
. But this was the unknown element, a creature she never wanted to tame for an indiscernable future she had no interest in. This was living for the present, something that demanded Latin letters carved out in stone if she could have lived in Greco-Roman days, but for now, a smile in bed would suffice.
That, and the memory of bongo drums, beating in her ear.
I keep on wondering what drove me to her and never can find the right answer. It happened, suffice to say, it happened: that's all there is to it. Did she signal, smile, beckon, in any small, singular way that would have made me go to her? I don't recall, no
. But I did go. And I touched her, laughed, let her touch me, in a way that I shudder to think about now.
I'm not shy. I'm not provocative. I'm not abashed. I'm not aghast. I'm not tender. I'm not brutal. I'm not persuasive. I'm not barren. I'm not cruel. I'm not a giver. I'm not a toy. I'm not God. I'm not forgiving. I'm not a stranger. I'm not the man who knocks on your door in the dead of night, and disappears when you get up to let him in.
Good or bad never makes sense to me. You are what you are, I am what you see, I ask you what I want, and I give you if you want me to. I take my fee. Call me a terrorist, call me an instrument, call me a gigolo, and I will probably agree. The funny thing was, that night, she called me none of these. It was a night without labels, and I found it strange. Unnerving, even.
Perhaps, she should have remembered something more about the dance, she thought. But all of it seemed so trivial on hindsight. Apart from the organs in the very beginning and the thrashing bongos that had pulled her onto the floor, the rest was a blur she didn't think was very important. Yes, of course, they had danced, yes, of course they had kissed again, many times, swaying together sinuously, and she had remembered that silly childhood fear she once had of becoming pregant if a boy danced too close (or was it too far?) from her, but she had smiled in the beatific glow that the certainty of misconceptions give you when you're older and wiser, and she had pushed it all behind her.
Perhaps, then, it was just the sex she had wanted. But if it was the sex, and just the sex, it didn't explain a lot of things. The brutality, for instance. When she made him be brutal against her, egged him on to hold her hard and swallow her whole, made him hit, claw and maul her, it was difficult to understand why none of it made sense to her. She knew it was not what he had wanted, and it was not what she wanted either, but somehow, the key was in the brutality. Somehow, it had been needed: an iota of wisdom she could not do without.
Then there was the action. She had been focussed on everything he did, every little piece of sexual activity she goaded him on to. There was no romanticising it on her part, though she sensed that he was in fact trying to. But she could have none of that, and made the act completely centred upon the things he was doing to her, the way she was responding. There was so little to the brain, so much in just those organs that deflated, engorged and surged in a coarseness that she somehow identified with so much this night.
If it was about the sex, the brain would have kicked into gear, but she made sure, it never did.
There had been hurried trips, one after the other, to his washroom, and then they had faced each other, and exchanged a chaste kiss on the cheek.
"This was good."
O, yes -
"I'm so glad I saw you at the bar."
I know. I wouldn't have wanted to miss you either.
"This was fun."
O, yes -
"I'd love to meet up with you again, soon."
"Can I call you, some time?"
Why not? Yes -
"I don't have your number, though. Could you... ?"
Of course. Here, take it down -
"I'll call you."
Well, goodbye, for now.
"Yes, goodbye. For now."
"I'll call you."
Do I have my bag?
"It's late. Would you like to spend the night here?"
Perhaps, I should have remembered something more about the sex. But all of it seems so trivial on hindsight. I tried to get a grip of what she wanted from me, and then realised that she did not want what I wanted to give her. She needed to know something desperately, and I tried to understand what it was. I'm not sure I still do. She wasn't like the others, the ones who need to know they have a man with them who will be with
them. She wanted to know that the man had her
, that he would leave if she so commanded and pounce on her like a maritime bandit if she so desired. And yes, she desired
. She was all about desire.
I tell myself that it's not true, that I'm not in love with this strange waif who dropped into my life one fine night and I saunter over to her. How can this be love? There is no tenderness, no anguish, no tiny little darts of melancholy. What there is, is a sweeping generalisation, a void, as it were, and the only thing I can think of was the dance. She danced like a bat out of hell.
I tried to hold her at first. I tried to guide her, pull her close to me, kiss her again and again, and though she allowed me to touch her and kiss her, prise her lips open with my tongue, there was nothing else. Her eyes were closed in the grim knowledge of a child who has seen the destruction of the world, her eyes were open and darting with all the epiphany of a prophet who has seen heaven unleashed, and there was no taming her. I was hers, she let me know, if I was to be anything at all.
Her hair thrashed, and I laughed, and sweated under the bright gaze of the hundred and one strobe lights. She begged me to dance with her, touched my thigh as she did so, so I did what she asked, because I wanted what she had to give. Too late, I realised, there was not much she had with her. So I danced some more, swung with her, prayed with her, and wondered how on earth I would get her in bed with me that night.
So how could that be love?
"That was good."
"You dance really well."
Thank you. You're not bad either.
"I was just following your moves."
"I haven't seen you here before, have I?"
This is my first time, yes.
"Can I fetch you something?"
"What'll you have?"
"Let me - "
They don't have it here.
"Would you like to - ?"
"My place is not very far - "