Soundtrack: My Sharona by The Knack
“Your face has melted away and all you’re worried about is losing your job?” Jamshi Narimanpointwalla said with her wholesome, fulsome face shaking in what in the television light could have been mistaken for anger.
“Well, it’s not as if I’m in pain. But it’s pretty much goodbye to going to the clinic. Imagine facing a patient and saying ‘How are you today, Mr Saxena. Let me now take a look at your cornea even though I don’t have any corneas any more,” said Inder in deep defence.
Jamshi had got off the auto and as she got out of the lift on the second floor of Inder’s block of flats, she thought she saw the man whom she had been introduced some months ago and she vaguely remembered as Amar Singh briskly go down the stairs taking probably three steps at a time.
She had entered Inder’s flat and within a few seconds faced his cadaverous face. As a girl she remembered asking her mother after Uncle Mortarjee’s death what would happen to him on the Tower of Silence. She was smart enough to know that there were vultures involved and vultures were not picky meat-eaters. “He will go to heaven, Jamshi.”
“But the vultures? They’ll eat him first, no?”
Her mother had rolled her eyes — none of which were lazy eyes like one of Jamshi’s — and said something on the lines of the birds carrying Uncle Mortarjee to heaven. But that didn’t stop Jamshi from imagining how her mother’s eldest brother’s body would be picked on, eyes first as if toffied apple from an icecream bowl and then stripped bone clean.
Over the evening at Inder’s, she cleared the piles of half-opened meat products strewn across the room (“Where did all these sausages and salami and bacon come from?” she asked herself.) And suddenly as she was dumping all the packets, some still unopened into the overflowing dustbin in the kitchen, she was awash with a maternal feeling. This, she thought, was what the ongoing debate about the women’s reservation bill in Parliament was all about: the freedom to play mummy-ji to the men.
Even as she was thinking of the sweating-but-never-complaining Nargis in Mother India, a movie she had never seen or intended to see despite the crackling Freudian frisson of the main actress playing the mother of the man whom she’d become the wife of in real life, Jamshi told Inder that she thought that his face could be reconstructed with potato skin.
“Now that’s just a daft idea, Jamshi. I’m doomed. I’ll be one of those beggars at the crossing of Lodhi Road. I don’t think skin grafting will make any sense to this face,” he said pointing one of his scabby fingers with the phalanges showing at his melted face. “I think you better leave. This could be highly contagious.”
The thought had crossed Jamshi’s mind. But she, being a pragmatic Parsi, thought that a flesh-eating virus, if controlled, could help her get rid of much of the extra weight that she had wanted to get rid of for so long but couldn’t.
“I read it in Cosmopolitan. A special variety of genetically modified potato…”
“No, not Bt. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh apparently told my boss’ boss’ boss over a Green Automobile Expo in Ladakh that everyone’s going on and on about Bt brinjal, but the Ct potato has already quietly entered the market. And the Ct potato has regenerative properties that…”
And Jamshi went on, allowing Inder to take his mind away, not from the horrible tragedy that had befallen his face, but from all the numbing noise being made in the name of World Women’s Day. Instead he let out a loud internal whoop on finally confirming the rumours he had heard (from where? from whom? considering that he had met no one in the early morning let alone seen the proceedings live from Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre) about Kathryn Bigelow busting James Cameron’s ass by trouncing him the Best Director and Best Film Oscars sweepstakes.
Inder was, like the most of humanity he knew, a fervent yet quiet supporter of the mainstream. His idea of a film being good or even great was simple: it had to be successful. So Sholay was the greatest Hindi movie made — although now he was updating that slot with 3 Idiots, Michael Jackson was the greatest musician of all times, and Avatar, well, quite clearly the finest motion picture in history. And yet, and yet, something inside him made him root for Kathyrn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker.
No, it wasn’t him supporting the gender-underdog. Strangely for a man of the northern climes, he was inoculated against the view that women needed protection or special treatment to walk about this world. His Jat mother, especially keen with fixing television sets and the antennae on rooftops, gave him no inkling throughout his formative years that women may need to feel special. They were equal. Not more equal, but equal, with variations like men and fish.
It was something else. Unknown to him, the seats reserved for cognition and value-formations in his brain had also changed after his veritable feast of contraband, imported meat from Thailand. It had made him aware — without making him aware that he was aware of a change coming over him — that things like originality, difference, going against the grain were of great value, greater than confirmation of a mass feeling, or tapping into as many people’s tastes as possible. From the rushes he had seen of The Hurt Locker and of Avatar, he realised that he liked Bigelow’s creation more than that of James Cameron.
So when Jamshi, genuinely changing the subject while whipping out her pair of dark glasses and putting it back in her bag again realising that Inder had no nose any more to perch the pair on, said, “I can’t stand that patronising thing! Why can’t these political parties just have more women as members and office bearers who can make their way up on their own steam to Parliament and beyond instead of having things like reservations, fathers, husbands — dead or alive?” Inder looked at her as if for the first time.
Only a day before, he would have translated the joy he felt at looking at this large, beautiful, spunky woman by saying those lines from Titanic: “I’m the king of the world!” (completed with arms a-stretch). But now all he said was, “Jamshi, will you be my partner in crime?”
Next week: High tea with the Haitian