Friday, May 09, 2008

The Bollywood Omnibus

More fiction. Nearly five years ago, I wrote a story with a narrative blatantly assembled from the kitschy elements of Bollywood. My purpose, I guess, was to revel in the kitsch, enjoy the exaggerations and generate humor along the way. What you see below are the first few paragraphs of that story. I was never completely happy with it, and have kept it aside all this time, but isn’t a blog the best way to test things out, even if they are embarrassing?


Police Inspector Arjun Sinha, a dashing, curly-haired, mustachioed man with a gently protruding paunch, was a prolific apprehender of underworld dons, criminals, mafia lords and smugglers. He was endowed with special shock-absorber legs that enabled him to land without losing balance on fast-moving trains from tall cliffs; with rocket-propellant thighs that enabled him to make long leaps and ascend ten-story buildings almost instantly; with a sharp vision that allowed him to trace bullet trajectories and thereby dodge staccato bursts of machine-gun fire from his enemies; with special sparring talents that enabled him to tackle ten thugs at the same time – so powerful and gifted was he, and so strong was his commitment to justice that he had, in just a few years as a police officer, been the nemesis of such deadly villains as the bald don Shakaal, the petty smuggler Loin, the evil scientist Dr.Dang, the cult leader Kooka Singh, and, most recently, the despotic and Hitleresque Mogambo.

But the one evil-doer whom Arjun still sought for, whose mere mention made his blood boil with rage and whose extermination for very personal reasons was his only goal, was the dacoit Ganja Singh, who had gained his name from his liking for marijuana and whose notoriety stemmed not only from his merciless raids on the villages in his area but also from his recently burgeoning, globe-wide drug-smuggling ring. Ganja Singh’s foray into the world of drug peddling had not changed his dacoit-like, nomadic ways that he had maintained for nearly thirty years: he still lived in barren, rocky valleys with his gun-toting, sycophantic thugs, and his characteristic rumbling guffaws could be heard for miles, especially during the drugged and delirious celebrations that ensued after successful village raids. His opening gambit to all enemies was: “If you’ve drunk your mother’s milk, come see me eye to eye!” or “My name is Ganja; and I was born at the banks of the river Ganga!” Ganja Singh was famous for his antics in the river: he would hold conferences in it, and suddenly, without warning, would immerse himself completely in water for well in excess of a minute, much to the concern of his loyal ruffians, and would then rise up in dramatic fashion with a loud “Yaaahhh!” as if rejuvenated by this experience. His followers, genuinely thrilled to see the feat, would then culminate the ritual with claps, cheers, lusty whistles and celebratory gunshots.

Ganja Singh’s drug-network thrived on account of his association with some powerful and important men. The most influential of them was Swamiji, the long-haired, bearded Delhi-based saint and Godman, who sported fifty gold and silver rings on his fingers and a thousand rosary beads of various sizes on his chest, and whose hypnotic and charming demeanor attracted many spiritually starved Hollywood beauties, business tycoons and impossibly rich sultans. He was especially invaluable to depraved politicians who sought astrological advice from him on when to campaign for the elections or start a new party or splinter an existing one. In his younger days Swamiji’s interest in numerology had mistakenly inspired him to study mathematics but unable to withstand its dreary formalism and objectivity he had abandoned the pursuit quickly. However, he never missed an opportunity to parade his peripheral knowledge of the subject: his metaphysical thoughts were almost always peppered with number tricks and mathematical constructs. Once, at his plush ashram in Delhi, during the course of a theological discussion with those around him, Swamiji had said:

“The universe is a vector, each infinitesimal moment defined by a realization of one of an infinite set of choices, this one choice chosen by the random rolling of a roulette, and this one choice makes all the others impossible, even if the others had had greater chance of occurring. Who rolls this roulette? If someone does, who rolls this someone who rolls the roulette?”

One of the fifty politicians who took shrine under Swamiji was Karun Yadav, popularly called Neta Bekasoor, as he always professed innocence although there were hundreds of cases against him: of rape, bribery, illegal transactions, and murder. He claimed that his detractors dreaded his incorruptible character, and had therefore employed their party cadres exclusively to plant evidence against him, invent crime after crime to keep him busy in the courts. Bothered by the incriminations, he sought spiritual bliss with the soothing Swamiji, who, after listening to his problems, had looked at the end of his long beard, at faraway stars, galaxies, revolving roulettes, planets, particularly at the aspect of Saturn, and had suggested that Karun Yadav, to gain popularity and prove his innocence to the masses, would somehow need to show his generosity to them before the next elections.

Karun Yadav had mulled over this suggestion and decided to use a fraction of his large cash reserves in his Zurich bank account for the construction of the Karun Yadav Janata Center in his birthplace, the idyllic, picturesque and vista-filled town of Pipalkot. The center was vociferously advertised throughout the nation, with the motto Muft Me Milega (You’ll Get it For Free): it promised a fresh, free loaf of naan to all those who visited it every day; on special festive occasions of the year – such as New Year’s eve and Diwali – and Karun Yadav’s birthday, it promised a paisley-patterned sari with a matching blouse for women, and pajamas and kurtas –100% cotton – for men. The most enduring image of the campaign was the thirty-feet wide and twenty-feet long billboard of the smiling Karun Yadav donning thick black goggles – that he wore perennially, even at night – and dressed in his special starched-white, long-sleeved kurta that almost covered his fingers; whisker-like, graying hair sprang from the edges of his ears, symmetrically, on either side of his woolly astrakhan cap. Next to this endearing portrait was the message: “Come, you’ll get it for free from the only truly innocent politician you’ll see!”


And so the story goes on and on for ten thousand inexorable words. Here's another passage - the last one I'll share in this post, so you don't get too bored - that appears towards the end, just before the climax. It features Ali, Arjun Sinha's twin brother. Ali was separated from Arjun at birth, and while Arjun became a policeman, Ali went to Dubai and became a local gangster and petty thief. Ali, however, has now returned to India to meet Ganja Singh:

Incidentally, it was on the same day that Arjun’s twin brother and Ganja Singh’s new recruit Ali arrived in Pipalkot; he was dressed stylishly in a leather jacket studded with tiny blue and yellow light bulbs that he now and then flicked on and off using a switch in his pocket. He waited, arms akimbo, at the outskirts of the town, next to a dirt trail that disappeared into the jungle, for one of Ganja Singh’s men to take him to the dacoit’s camp. In a short while, he meticulously chose a Marlboro cigarette from its pack, nonchalantly flipped it several meters into the air, expertly intercepted it at the corner of his mouth, lighted it, drew deeply, and looked up at the sky. He was exhilarated after having flirted with two women on his flight from Dubai to Delhi: one, a beautiful Indian air hostess, dressed skillfully in a bright blue sari that allowed him long glances at her beautiful waist; and the other, an Indian passenger, seated next to him, equally beautiful, but dressed instead in a bright red sari, licking the richly colored tops of a maroon lollipop. Later in the flight, after one of his meals, he ordered strawberry and mango for dessert, and imagined the two beauties biting into the luscious fruits with slow sensuousness; he saw himself as a sheik reclining on a plush cushion, surrounded on either side by the two women in see-through veils, in a well-lit tent full of tapestry curtains and the silhouetted humps of resting camels. He also dreamt of a golden bowl overflowing with fruits and of placing purple grapes in the navels of the two moaning beauties and using their bellies as springboards to pop them into his mouth.

Just as his thoughts had been interrupted then by the crackle of the pilot’s voice, announcing their descent into Delhi, so was his pleasant recollection of the flight interrupted now by crows that had chosen the tree next to him to work up a ruckus. He glanced at his expensive Swiss watch that he had pilfered expertly from one of Dubai’s shopping malls, frowned and shook his head in disapproval at the absence of the promised escort to Ganja Singh’s hideout. He resolved to find the place himself, headed along the dirt trail and disappeared into the canopy of trees, fiddling with his switch restlessly, the colored blinking bulbs on his jacket making him look like a strangely illuminated apparition entering the jungle.

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