Crossing the Mirage – Passing through Youth, Chapter - 4
Continued from “Burden of Freedom”
As if to afford Chandra time for reflection at the threshold, the train was held up at Kalyan for long. And to his irritation, Ashok found out it was owing to some technical snag. Thus, the train could reach Dadar only towards the evening. By then, Chandra was physically fatigued and mentally worn out. When the cab they hired halted in a by-lane in Sion, the weary friends uttered a sigh of relief. But as luck would have it, as they went up to Rashid’s room, a Godrej padlock greeted them. Nevertheless, Ashok thought the key to Rashid’s whereabouts would lie in the addas that they were wont to frequent. Securing their luggage with the housekeeper, they went in search of Rashid but not finding him anywhere there, Ashok thought better of it.
“It’s like we’re on a wild goose chase now,” said Ashok, characteristically throwing up his arms in the air. “Let’s go back and wait for him.”
“What if he’s out of town?” said Chandra as they sauntered their way back to Rashid’s place.
“If so, wouldn't have the housekeeper told us?” said Ashok assuredly. “Don’t worry; you won’t be left in the lurch.”
“Oh, I’m relieved,” said Chandra, taking Ashok’s hand. “Wonder why I don’t feel tired! What's there in Bombay’s air?”
“Well, its Vitamin M,” said Ashok patting Chandra’s back, “and that helps keep mind and body hale and healthy? Boy, Bombay is a goldmine that lets even the poor to exploit it. Wonder if there is another place like this anywhere else.”
“Whatever it is,” said Chandra, “I think Hyderabad is an over-grown village in comparison.”
Not finding Rashid even on their return, they waited for him impatiently. When he didn’t turn up even by seven, Ashok felt it was time he left, for his mother might have become anxious by then.
“I’ll leave a note for him,” said Ashok.. “I’m sure he'll help you, at least for the night.”
“I know it’s not fair to expect more from you” said Chandra. “But, what if…?”
“Don’t worry,” said Ashok, “he won't let you down.”
“It’s all right,” said Ashok penning a missive.
“I won’t forget this day all my life,” said Chandra taking the note from Ashok.
“Why make much of it,” said Ashok holding Chandra’s hand.
“If only you are in my shoes,” said Chandra, “you would understand what your gesture means to me.”
“Thank you,” said Ashok warmly, “my mother says good wishes do help. I wish you all the best in Bombay.”
“Thank you, I'll never forget you, may God bless you,” said Chandra with moist eyes.
“Who knows, we may meet again,” said Ashok. “Don't they say its a small world.”
Having waved off Ashok, Chandra resumed his wait for Rashid.
“Wonder how he got that worldly outlook,” Chandra thought about Ashok, as he waited for Rashid, ‘at such a young age at that! Maybe, it’s the upbringing in Bombay. But for him, I would’ve remained clueless about it all. So far, so good, now it all depends on Rashid.’
When Rashid came, past ten, Chandra was half-dead by then. While Rashid was going through Ashok’s missive, Chandra scanned the nuances of his facial features. Reading between the lines of the imagined frown on Rashid’s forehead, Chandra felt he failed to impress. Thus, as Rashid extended his hand in the end, Chandra grabbed that, as would the sinking a straw.
“What a coincidence!” said Rashid prognostically, “I rented this place to share it with a friend. But that bugger ditched me and you’re here like a bolt from the blue. Now understand how welcome you are.”
“Oh, I’m really lucky,” said Chandra, with apparent relief.
“Looks like I'm only half-lucky,” said Rashid feeling lost.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“I was all set to start a petty business here,” said Rashid dejectedly. “Now I’m back to square one.”
“What a coincidence,” exclaimed Chandra. “I’ve come here just for that.”
“Oh, it’s capital!”
“I’ve enough of it for both of us,” said Chandra clasping Rashid’s hands.
“Inshah Allah,” said Rashid and insensibly bent on his knees in prayer, and rising, he embraced Chandra thrice over, as if he was out to guard the deal from both the sides.
“So it’s on?” said Chandra, as he extricated himself from Rashid’s embrace as though to pay obeisance to his face.
When he spread his holdall, Chandra couldn’t hold himself any longer. Thanking his stars and recalling Ashok’s helping hand, he hit the pillow in relief. But with the exciting turn of events, an overwhelmed Rashid stayed awake for long. Attributing it all to the will of Allah, he, at last, succumbed to the need of nature.
Rashid, as Chandra would learn later, was the progeny of a petty mason in Alleppy. He was the eldest of his father’s five children from his begum. Of course, his father, rather habitually, sired four more from the second biwi. Barely fourteen, he dropped out of school to lend his earning hand to his abbu. That was to make both ends meet for the unwieldy dozen living in the outskirts of the town. Starting as a cleaner in a motel nearby the highway, he climbed the ladder of ‘labor of drudgery’ with an uncanny ease. Before he turned twenty, he could help his father set up a dhaba of their own. But with a couple of his siblings coming to assist his father, he ventured into retailing of assorted goods. Blessed by nature with enterprise and steeled by poverty to persevere, he found his moorings in the nitty-gritty of petty trade.
But then, realizing that his home soil was too limited to nourish his growing plant-of-ambition, two years back, he moved over to Bombay to become someone-in-the-street. Though he came to sniff the commercial scent of the metropolis-of-opportunities, soon enough, the lack of any capital confined him to life’s square one. However, he saw that while Bombay’s rich ruled the business world from the mansions, the pavements nursed the ambitions of the poor. Well, they tended to help the enterprising to make it good in double quick time.
When he saw his path to riches through the pavement, he prowled the sprawling metropolis to locate a foothold on a business-layak one. And in the suburb of Sion, he did discover, what he thought was a vantage point. Soon enough, he made the square his own by selling hosiery by the day and sleeping there by the night. As his perseverance paid off, he soon started to eke out an income enough to sustain his dreams all the while envisioning the horizons to which hosiery might take him.
Sex, realized Rashid, sold in more ways than one, and in lingerie he saw the ladder of his success. Well, but it was the position that fetched a price for the maal, be it a sexy stuff or the fleshy kind. And selling lingerie on a pavement amounts to streetwalking for soliciting, and to the same affect, isn't it? Well, it has to be a mall to lend class to the maal. But, in Bombay, as he could see, there was a via media in the kiosk, which had an aura of its own to entice the classes when it came to the phoren maal. Thinking that he zeroed in on the USP for success, he searched for access to the recess of the charmed wares.
When he broached the topic with Ashok, in whose father’s garment factory he once worked as a salesman, the latter thought it was an idea. Ashok contended that the homespun hosiery was devoid of design to impart class to attract the classes. Thanks to the Nehruvian legacy of the socialistic pattern of growth, the society was bred on ‘equality of inequality’ and the bazaar became bereft of quality. All those imposts on imports meant to protect the swadeshi stuff gave cause for the callous industrial culture. All this induced mediocrity in the market and that deprived goodies of quality to the doomed citizens of our socialist state. However, in time, as human proclivity tends to gravitate towards the good things of life, market forces opened up smuggled routes to provide the alluring to the affording.
Soon enough, Rashid found the ropes to the supply lines to the designer lingerie. But, to get started, he needed a kiosk on the vaunted pavements near Flora Fountain. At length, his wanting led him to Abdul, the maalik of a kiosk at a vantage junction. As Abdul had developed visions of greener pastures in the sands of Arabia, he set his heart on a visa to Mecca. Sensing the opportunity in the making, Rashid laid seize on Abdul’s kiosk. What with the deal struck, thanks to his friend’s last-minute slip, Rashid got stuck.
Thus for the fortuitous turn Chandra’s coming gave his life, Rashid was never tired of recounting how he filled the void to get the business started.
With the change of inventory, what with the zooming sales, the spirits of the desperate duo soared. While the sense of achievement infused confidence in them both, the exposure to the alluring trade helped Chandra cross the threshold of inhibitions. Besides, the crowd behavior in Bombay helped him as well. It was as if the ethos of the place shaped the mood of its people. In the grow-rich climes of Bombay, it was as if its men and women both wore blinkers for material focus. Thus, with their mind on the moolah, Bombay’s maidens seemed to have their eye on their suitors’ bank balances. It seemed an irony to him that young girls should turn a blind eye to the proclivities of boys that buttress their sexuality. Oh, how the dames, while denying themselves the small pleasures of life, deprived the males the same of it!
Thus, to his utter relief, Chandra saw there was no premium on the looks that he lacked in the make-believe world of Bombay. And that enabled him to overcome his obsession about his ugliness. But the pain of rejection that became part of his subconscious came to the fore whenever he delved into his past. Besides, the news from home always put a damper. His sister’s letters carried the full load of his father’s hurt and his mother’s pain for what he had done. Whatever, as he had no heart to go back to them, he preferred to stomach the pain of guilt.
Finding Chandra morose at times, once Rashid proposed a trip to a brothel for release. But, having all along lived on a diet of rejection, Chandra wouldn’t envisage the welcome in the red-light. However, as Rashid made him privy to the practices of paid sex, he finally got inclined to venture. Overcoming his self-doubts, in Rashid’s company, Chandra headed towards Kamathipura.
“Your wife would adore you,” said the girl he had sex with.
“Why so?” asked Chandra tentatively.
“You’ve the means to madden women,” she tapped him meaningfully.
“Thank you,” he hugged her, “you’re the first to compliment me.”
“I bet,” she said, winking at him, “I won’t be the last.”
“I’ll cherish your praise all my life.”
“I too won’t forget your fury in a hurry,” she said, squeezing him that made him groan.
As the madam called time, they stepped out of the cubicle in time.
Finding Rashid waiting for him in the lounge, Chandra felt vindicated. On their way back home, however, his self-doubts resurfaced.
‘Maybe, it’s a ruse to make men come back to her,’ he thought. ‘Anyway, what a thrill it is having a woman!’
While his sullen sexuality got a booster dose from her, his entrenched sense of rejection spoiled his rejoice. So, as a way out of his dilemma, he opted for a second opinion.
“You’re the prescription for woman’s nymphomania,” said the girl in awe.
As the third one was eloquent too, in time, he came to frequent brothels more for deriving pleasure than to prove his prowess. Thus, while his conviction about his virility gave hope for the future, fate, however, contrived a weird course to chart his time with women.
Continued to “Respite by Death”