Some Excerpts from the Book:

The Celebrity:

The First Class was very sparsely occupied, just two or three people in all those 20 odd seats. I spotted one face that struck my solar plexus like a ton of bricks. She was wearing Salvar-kameez and had covered a good portion of her head with the Dupatta. She pretended to be engrossed in a book, quite oblivious of the surroundings. The setting sun shone through the window on her side. She was wearing very large sunglasses that covered almost one-third of her face. Very obviously, she valued her privacy very dearly and did not want to be recognized. Even then, it struck me that she seemed very familiar, as if I might have met her some where, some time. But I just could not place a label on that face. I kept walking and came back to my seat.

The sun had set after a while. The lights had been dimmed. Only some soft lights at the aisle were kept on. Some passengers had turned on their reading lights. I stood up and walked toward the First Class cabin once again, wanting to take another look at this mysterious passenger. The reading light illuminated her face partially; it was still buried in the book. Only then slowly, it all came back to me.

She was Archana Roy. Yes, oh my God! It was indeed she. I had watched her on the movie screen so many times...............................................

I heard a gentle knock on the intermediate door. She had seen the news on her TV as well. She was flushed pink and visibly shaken. She was in tears. She pleaded if she could come in, as she was scared and shocked beyond belief. I let her come in. We were both still in the same clothes we had been in all day.

We sat on the bed resting our backs on the pillow and headboard. We were watching the breaking news, clasping our hands with horror in our eyes. I could feel that she wanted to clasp me and hold me close. But I was just too confused and emotionally broken myself to make any kind of physical response to her overtures...........................................

She asked if she could leave the intermediate door open. I readily agreed. As she went into her room she turned and told me over her shoulder to give her a wake up call at 5:30, if she was not already awake.

I could see that her bathroom door was also half-ajar. I could see her full image reflected on the large mirror at the sink. She was probably unaware of that or she might have purposely wanted it that way.

She took her Dupatta and hung it on the peg at the opposite wall. Then she slowly removed the hooks on the back of her Kameez one by one and slowly slid it over her head. Turned around and hung that also on the peg....................................... One by one everything came off and she disrobed completely. Her ivory complexion and smooth skin made her look like Neptune under moonlight.

She pulled out a brush from her handbag, stroked her dark brown hair a few times. She took out an elastic band and bound her hair into a ponytail. Then she splashed her face with cold running water. Rubbed some soap all over to remove the makeup. She rinsed her face finally and covered it with fresh laundered hand towel from the rack. Her clean spotless natural skin without any makeup shone looking even prettier.

Then she pulled out a brown paper package from the handbag and removed a T-shirt. She pulled it over her head and let it fall all the way down to her ankles. It was a top-to-toe large T-shirt with "Welcome to Arkansas" written on the back with a picture of a sunrise behind Ozark Mountains in the front. Obviously this was the piece of article that had started the whole rigmarole that evening. Or should I say it was the cause of our survival today. I heard her switch off the light and get into her bed...........................................

 


 

Sojourn:

As my flight was approaching to land at the New Delhi International Airport, my thoughts were wandering back to my childhood in a sweet little town Udaipur in the state of Rajasthan.................................

We lived in a villa on the banks of the Swaroop Sagar lake, a villa that was the official residence of the Prime Minister of the local Kingdom before the princely monarchies were constitutionally abolished. The villa was several miles away from the main town and Sohan Singh our Chauffeur would drive me to and fro school. While driving back from school, he would let me sit by his side and steer the car, my legs would not reach the pedals on the floor. He would roll down the window on his side and take a few puffs. We had a perfect quid pro quo, I would tell nobody that he took puffs in the car in front of me and he would let me steer the car. Sooner or later my legs started growing and reaching the pedals. I even got my own driver's license. That was a sad day for Sohan Singh, his puffing privileges were severely curtailed then on. In fact if Sohan Singh had his way, I would not have got my license for another few years...................

The school itself was in the middle of a farm. If you looked out of the classroom window you could tell the season by the crop growing around you. Whenever we had a free period, we kids would run and sit by the well. Two blindfolded bulls would go round and round in circles drawing water from the well with a Persian Wheel and spilling it over a mud canal. I would spot a twig and follow it on the flowing water, recalling each of its stopping places with the ports of Marco Polo our teacher had just told us in the geography class. We could run into the fields and pick up fresh carrots or maize (corn?) to be roasted on charcoal, eaten with lime and salt or a stick of sugar cane to be squeezed into fresh juice. I tried so hard to make a mango out of wet mud ball, bake it and paint it for my class project; it would look anything but a mango. We would wait for the bell to ring on the final day of our Annual exam some time in April or May. We would hand over the answer sheets to the teacher and race out of the school like we were prisoners just reprieved by the President. Summer holidays! Oh how we longed for it from September on. Until the results were announced and grades came out, we could pretend as if we were the best students in the whole district and have fun without a care in the world. During the sizzling summer days one could barely head out during the day. Come evening, our retinue of servants would sprinkle water on the terrace and put rows of cots and beds out in the open for the whole family to sleep. With cool breeze blowing from Swaroop Sagar lake my dad would show us all the different planets and galaxies in clear blue skies; or before turning off the lights, he would read from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Dickens, Alexander Dumas or Jane Austen. Then there were the Uncles, Aunts and cousins from both branches of the genealogical tree, not to mention our own nieces and nephews. That was my idea of having 'quality time' with an 'extended family'. ..........................................

Getting into the flow of things, I had a house warming party at my apartment while my landlord was staying with his expectant daughter on the floor below. Instead of just warming the house, I found I had got it to a boiling point. We were doing the shrug/frug to the full blasting sounds from my stereo of 'Let's Forget Domani'. Sure enough Domani never came, instead came my landlord a minute before midnight. His daughter did not believe in induced labor. Would we keep the decibel level down or make arrangements to move elsewhere. In exactly a minute later he pulled the fuse off our mains. I gave it a serious thought and decided to move to a more salubrious neighborhood.

Within walking distance from 'CP', I found a one room rental with a large terrace; in Manhattan it would be called a Penthouse, in simple Delhi lingo it is called Barsati, a room where people run for shelter if it starts raining in the middle of the night while sleeping on the terrace. My landlady was Mrs. Thukral staying on the ground floor. Between her and me there was one more floor having a cute friendly family. Jan was from Cologne and worked as a journalist at West German Embassy, his wife Afsal was from Hyderabad, with a Master's in Social Sciences, taught in a school for the handicapped children, they had a little son Kai and a little girl Laila. This buffer between my landlady and my stereo sound should work out pretty well, I figured. I gave Mrs. Thukral all the deposits and advance rents she wanted and moved in...................


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