Saturday, November 17, 2012

Exclusive! Excerpt from Mistakes Like Love And Sex


Miraculously, several things happened the very next day. One of my brokers called and said a new place had just opened up on the market, and though it was in Santacruz West, not Bandra as I had wanted, it was in my budget. He asked if I wanted to take a look. When I went and saw the apartment, I knew instantly I wanted it. It was a small one-bedroom apartment with off-white paint peeling off the walls but a decent bathroom and marble kitchen in an old building that overlooked a large lawn. The location—slightly away from the main road, but close enough for easy access—was perfect. I decided to sign the lease right then.
I finally had a roof over my head.
Later that day, Aditi went through her phone directory and found the number of a close friend of hers who used to work as a producer but knew the entire media industry and could help me connect to some people. It was a great idea. The more people I met, the better idea I would get of the types of jobs out there for an art enthusiast.
His name was Scunjay Panjwani. The ‘c’ was silent; he was not. Scunjay was in his late forties, tall and trim with a warm smile and a cloudy head. We met in his office—a dark dungeon with black walls, a black marble desk, a grey executive’s chair for him, and a matched pair of smaller chairs in a different shade of grey for visitors. He spoke nineteen to a dozen and ended each sentence with ‘I don’t speak too much.’ When I asked him how he knew Aditi, he told me his entire life history, detailing all his achievements. And when I nodded in appreciation he would say, ‘That’s nothing. That was like doing it with my left hand.’ After hearing descriptions of the many things he had accomplished ‘with his left hand’, I began to wonder if he was actually left handed!
He had a tiny Sony Vaio on which messages popped up every now and then, much to his annoyance. He said to me, ‘I don’t know how to shut this down. I can’t see this bloody screen!’
I nodded sympathetically and asked, ‘Are you planning to change it?’
He shook his head vigorously and said, ‘Oh no! I just bought it. I think it’s very sleek.’ Then he snapped his fingers and bellowed, ‘RT!’ Instantly, a little man—short, with hair that was slathered with some strange-smelling oil, wearing dark horn-rimmed glasses, a checkered full-sleeve shirt, trousers, and shiny shoes—entered and tapped on some keys on the Vaio’s keypad and hurriedly walked away. This silent, swift, eighties debonair man, as I later learnt, was Rakesh Thanki, a Gujarati who relished dhoklas and was always in deep trouble with either his boss or his wife. One of whom would leave him soon enough. And since he didn’t seem too concerned about his marriage, it wasn’t hard to guess which.
‘So what can I do for you?’ Scunjay asked after his hour-long dissertation on about himself.
I took a deep breath. I thought I would start by introducing myself since he hadn’t asked a single question about me and didn’t have a clue why I was there. ‘Well, I am an art teacher. I was living in Barcelona the last two years. I…’
Scunjay interrupted. ‘You were living where?’
‘Where is this? Near Pune?’
‘It’s in Europe, sir…not many people have heard of it,’ I said stammering a bit to make it easier for him.
‘Aah. No wonder. Is it close to Switzerland? Most of our Hindi films are shot there.’ He snapped his fingers and bellowed, ‘RT! Look up Barcelona for me.’ RT entered, Googled it on Scunjay’s Vaio and left. Scunjay waved his hand as if to indicate not to bother with this tiny five-foot man coming in and going out so noiselessly, ‘I’ll read about it later, you carry on.’
Since I quickly realized his attention span was as short as a buzzing bee in a valley of flowers, I told him I had taught art history at the university in Barcelona, and was wondering if he knew of some job opportunity for me in Mumbai. He closed his eyes for about a minute with his elbow resting on the desk and his fingers covering half his face pondering deeply to what I hoped was a job opportunity for me but could might as well have been how to tick RT off. Just then a woman knocked and entered his office, bearing a box of `kaju barfis.’ At first he declined meagerly but then he took five pieces and wolfed them down. She offered them to me but I politely refused.
He then looked at me and spoke about Barcelona. ‘I don’t go to these places where they don’t speak English,’ Punjwani said with raised eyebrows and all seriousness. ‘Too tough to understand what to order. What if they give me some dead animal to eat that I haven’t heard of?’ He asked with a shocked expression. “You know I’m a vegetarian on Tuesday. I only eat fish.”
Before he embarked on another story about himself, I quickly butted in, ‘I know seven languages, sir. That why it’s easy for me to understand them.’
He suddenly sat up and stared at me with what I thought was respect, but would later realize was just food poisoning. He closed his eyes and held his head in his hands once again.
I asked him gently, ‘What is it, sir? Are you unwell?’
He shook his head slowly and pointed to the ceiling. I didn’t know what to look at. So I asked, ‘Ceiling?’
He sighed and said, ‘Top lighting.’
I waited for further explanation.
Still holding his head in his hands, Punjwani said, ‘Top lighting gives me a headache. I don’t know why they don’t keep lamps in this goddamn room! RT!’ The moment RT entered, he hollered at him, ‘Tell them to keep lamps in this room and get rid of these above type of lights. Bloody fools!’
I didn’t know what to say so I just cleared my throat, smiled and nodded.
‘Can you speak Russian?’ he asked me unexpectedly.
I nodded, ‘Yes.’
Scunjay leapt out of his chair and shouted, ‘RT!’ and the tiny man was inside the cabin a second later as if he had been waiting right outside.
‘RT, I think I’ve found our answer,’ Scunjay said as he sat back down, completely ignoring me. ‘She can help us with Bela.’
‘Bela?’ I asked, unsure if he was actually offering me a job.
‘Bela Bandhan. She’s half Russian and half Kashmiri. But she knows no Hindi. And she’s the next top actress of Bollywood,’ Rakesh explained, while his employer stood by, looking as if he was going to faint.
‘It’s all settled then. RT, take care of it,’ Scunjay said feebly, clutching his head once again.
I began to get worried. Was this man having a heart attack? ‘Sir,’ I asked with concern, ‘are you feeling okay?’
His eyes closed against the glare from the ‘top light’, he nodded and said meekly, ‘It’s the kaju barfi. Tell her, RT.’
RT leaned towards me and whispered, ‘They make him sleepy.’
‘Sleepy? As in drowsy?’ I asked incredulously. I had never seen that happen with a man. But RT nodded in all seriousness and led me away. But hadn’t he taken the sweets himself? And if he knew this was the effect why would he do it to himself? RT answered with straight face as if he had read my thoughts, “Kaju barfis are his weakness.” The last image I had of Scunjay Punjwani was his head down on a table muttering away how people were determined to poison him.
Once outside Punjwani’s office, Rakesh explained what the ‘job’ for me was. He said that they had been searching for a translator for Bela who could travel with her and translate her scripts from Hindi to Russian so she could understand them and help her learn Hindi so she could learn her lines. I would be paid handsomely for my tuition, translation, and would be given extra if I were travelling out of Mumbai with her since I would have to be with her all the time. By the time shooting ended on her current film, they wanted her to know Hindi fluently. So far they had shot only one schedule which was some ten days of shooting in Mumbai and they weren’t planning to use most of the shots. Therefore, I would have plenty of time before the film released to have her speak Hindi without an accent. Rakesh added that not only would I be with her for the entire length of this movie, but, if need be, future films as well. And with my talents and the industry importing these foreign ‘actresses’ who neither spoke nor understood Hindi, I would be a permanent employee with them.
I was thrilled. I could finally visit my parents, now that I’d sorted out my life. Perhaps even do up my apartment and invite them over for a short visit. The only problem was that it took me very far away from art, which was my core skill and passion. But it would bring a host of new experiences. God doesn't give you everything you want, but he does give you exactly what you need at the right time.
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raka said...

i think you once tweeted the last line....."God doesn't give you everything........"nice excerpt.planning to get your book soon enough......

Madhuri Banerjee said...

Thanks Raka.
Hope you've got it by now. Do let me know what you thought of it :)

Nadeem said...

Hi Madhuri,
Liked your first book a lot.
I've been travelling a lot this month and not able to get the book from shop. Can you help me website, where i can order online. Thanks

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