Thursday, 16 April 2015

Bombay Duck Part 2: Archie meets Leela

Chapter III: Bribery, Bombay-Ishtyle

“Hey, idhar ruk-re. Bus!”, said Tony, halting the taxi outside Azad Maidan Police Station.“Panch minute ruk, mein aata hoon!”
“You wait here in taxi”, he said to Henderson, switching to English. “I will give the money and come. Give me the money-packet.”
Henderson reached into his hip pocket, took out a fat envelope and he handed it over. But, just before he had relinquished his hold on it, wisdom dawned. “Wait! How do I know you won't run away with the money?”
“You must believe me!”, cried Tony, tugging the packet on which he had a good grip. “Give me!”
“No!”, cried Henderson in desperation. “I will come with you!”
Tony gave in and let go suddenly. “OK, you come. See what happens. I am not answerable if they put you inside jail”, he said sulkily.
Undeterred, Henderson hurriedly paid the taxi fare and followed Tony into the police station. But the young rogue had had a head start, and he made use of it by running into the Sub-Inspector's cubicle, and saying under his breath, “Gaitonde-saab, that gora wants to give you money himself! I told him no, but he won't listen!”
“Let him come!” said the fat policeman, half-lidded. “Aane do usey.” Just then, Henderson barged in, pushing open the swing doors.
“What! How you come inside without knocking!”, said Inspector, drawing himself up to his full height, and puffing his chest.
“Sorry, but he…”, began the Englishman, flustered.
“What sorry-but-he! You have no manners, bloody Englishman! Get out! GET OUT!”
The Englishman went red. The capillaries stood out on his face till it looked like they would burst. He walked out, and began to walk away, trembling with fear, anger and embarassment. Inside, Tony too was shivering like jelly.
Then the policeman winked. “Go bring him back! Bulao usey!
Tony went and persuaded Henderson to come back. And when Tony was about to push the door open, he held him back, and rapped on the door. “Yes, come in…”, said Gaitonde mellifluously. And as they entered, he stood up and said, “Come, come, come. I was expecting you, Mr Anderson. Your friend Tony is a very good man. Very good friend of mine.”
Henderson wondered at the transformation, speechless. “Please sit down”, continued the cop. “What can I do for you? How can I serve you?”
“I… we… we brought this…”, said the plump Englishman lamely, and reached for the packet in his hip pocket.”
“No, no”, said the policeman nobly. “There is no need for that.”
“What? But you said…”
“No need for that. There is false molestation complaint against you, you fight in court! Why be afraid? Who will believe slum girl who says you touched her? But you must stay in India to fight, no? Sometimes it will take two-three years. Get your visa extended. I will help you. I know somebody in visa office. Be strong! Be brave!”
“Please, take this money, and cancel the complaint. Please let me have my passport and visa back. Please…”, the Englishman pleaded abjectly.
Chee, chee! Who am I to cancel complaint? I am police, I can only cancel if the girl you molested wants to withdraw complaint. Meet her, say sorry to her!” And then the paunchy policeman dropped his voice to a theatrical whisper. “She is poor. Give her money. She will say OK, I will cancel complaint. Simple, no?”
“But where will I find her?” asked Henderson, utterly defeated.
“There I can help you”, said the Inspector generously, and struck a bell on his desk. A constable materialized at the swing door. “Saab ka complaint-wala register lao“.
Five minutes later, the constable put a large open register on the table. Inspector Gaitonde ran his finger down the page, before he found what he was looking for. “Namita”, he muttered, as he copied her address on a little slip of paper, and handed it to Henderson. “Here!”
The Englishman peered at the paper in incomprehension. Nothing was intelligible to him. Then the policeman laughed and snatched the slip, and gave it to Tony. “He doesn't know Marathi. I forgot! You take him there.”
Afterwards, standing outside the police station, Tony sulked. “This wouldn't have happened if you had let me give the money to him. He knows me. I'm his friend!” he chided.
“But why didn't he take it from me?”, Henderson protested.
“Because he thinks you might complain to his higher-ups. Or you may be sent by Anti Corruption Bureau to trap him. Now we have to do everything the hard way. Your fault!”
“Sorry.”
“Now I will go to her house. Give me the money-packet”, said Tony cunningly.
“No! I will go with you! But not today. Tomorrow. Now I have to meet someone else.”
“Who?”
“None of your business!” Henderson sensed that Tony would get a cut out of this bribe, so he didn't have to be polite with him. “Come to my room tomorrow at 11.00 in the morning. Don't be late.”
Main aoonga, maaderchod! Teri band bajaoonga!“, said Tony with a smile, pleasantly.
“And the same to you, Tony!”, said the Englishman through a tight grin. He did not understand a word of Hindi, but he understood nuances.


Chapter IV: Mrs. Mathur

Nobody could accuse Henderson of being disorganised. No matter what, he never lost sight of his doctoral thesis on India's economic boom in the nineties. No matter what, he unfailingly conducted three or four interviews every week -- industrialists, professional managers, investors, stockbrokers, bankers, wholesalers, retailers, consumers… He had the whole thing worked out neatly in his head, and proceeded strictly according to plan: interview, transcribe, draw conclusions, update thesis, email it to his guide back at Harvard, get feedback, plan new interviews to confirm his emerging theories. When he was finished, his thesis would be published as a textbook on the economics of Development in Third World countries. It would be that good. It had to be.

Henderson was totally convinced about the superiority of his reasoning processes. With good reason, perhaps. His academic career had been absolutely brilliant, and his professors at Harvard believed in him almost as much as he believed in himself.

It was only when women fooled with him that his intelligence failed. Every morning, while shaving, he gave himself a good hard look in the mirror and said, “Archibald Henderson, you are a fool in a woman's hands. Grow up, boy!” But he never did.

Today, he was to meet Ajay Mathur, a top stockbroker, and interview him about the medium-to-long term effects of the Ketan Dalal scam on India's financial institutions. He put on his best grey suit; after all, stockbrokers dressed nattily, and it wouldn't do to look underdressed. He briefly surveyed the results in the mirror, gave his almost colourless hair one last little flick, adjusted the rosy-white handkerchief in his breast pocket a millimetre, and gave himself a flambuoyant thumbs-up.

At the lounge of The Taj, he ordered his customary black coffee and waited. The man who presented himself, about ten minutes late, was dressed for tennis. “Tell me Mr Henderson, what would you like to know?” he said, noisily pullling up a chair. And then, without giving him time to respond, added, “Let me introduce my wife, Leela.” Henderson looked up at a middle-aged woman, whose teeshirt had to work very hard to contain her large bust. “How do you do?”, she asked pleasantly, holding out a manicured hand. Henderson took the proffered hand and mentally registered that it was a cool and comfortable hand to hold. “Charmed, I'm sure”, he said, half-rising, before they all settled into their chairs.

“What would you like to know?”, repeated Ajay Mathur.

“Well,”, began Henderson, “as you know, my doctoral thesis is on…”

“Yes, you've told me all that”, said Mathur, not unpleasantly. “Our doubles game will begin at 5.30. We will have to leave in about 40 minutes.” Here, Mrs Mathur smiled apologetically, to make the deadline more palatable. “So ask me your questions, and I'll answer them to the best of my…”

“OK, tell me about your dealings with Ketan Dalal”, said Henderson abruptly.

“What about them?”, shot back Mathur. “You aren't from the CBI, are you?” And then he laughed. “Haha! Only joking! Everything has been throughly investigated, and there's nothing new to reveal.”

There were a few seconds of silence, which told Henderson that he wasn't going say any more on that topic.

“Well, were your losses very heavy? The market lost a good deal of its capitalization, I'm told. And what about industry? The market lost most of its investors, I'm told.” Henderson was struggling to find his footing here. He could sense that there was a lot to be told, and Mathur weren't opening up.

“You've been told a lot of things, Mr Henderson”, said Mrs Mathur, putting a hand on her husband's, to stop him from saying any further. “Some of it is true, but a lot of it isn't. You can't learn very much from a half-hour conversation, can you?”

“That's true…” conceded Henderson.

“Tell me, whom have you met in Bombay so far…”

Henderson referred to his pocket diary, and read her about fifteen names. She smiled indulgently, and at the mention of two names, shot a significant look at her husband. Then she sweetly interrupted him. “OK, Mr Henderson, we understand that you have been speaking to a lot of… well… fairly big names. Frankly, I'm amazed that so many busy people give you so much of their time, but I suppose it's natural.”

“Why is it natural?”, shot back Henderson.

“Well, your being from Harvard and all that…”, said Mrs Mathur.

“And your being white”, added Ajay Mathur.

“And why is that?”, asked Henderson. He sensed that they would be uncomfortable answering that question, and he wanted to get some of his own back by making them uncomfortable.

“Indian mentality…” said Ajay reflectively. “I think people in India automatically respect white-skinned people… Europeans.”

“And what about you? Do you?” He fixed his eyes intently upon their faces. Leela Mathur found herself regarding the grey colouring of his eyes, and quite serviously wondering how it must feel to go through life with grey eyes and lily-white skin. She was wheatish, and spent quite a bit on facials, to make the difference of a shade or two. And she could never stop secretly envying her niece with her greenish eyes and the shapely legs
.
This was getting uncomfortable. So she signalled the end of the interview by standing up and smiling, “Maybe my husband and I should be leaving already. It takes us awhile to get warmed up, you know.”

“But you haven't answered any of my questions”, pleaded Henderson, remaining seated. “About the stock exchange, I mean. If you don't talk to me, I won't have anything to write tonight and all of tomorrow. It will mean a whole weekend wasted! Please give me some time…”, the Englishman practically wailed.

“I'll tell you what, old boy”, said Mathur, trying to sound British with an accent. “Why don't you spend the day with us tomorrow? Come to our house in the morning and have lunch with us. Let's talk about everything you want to know. And we'll go to the club in the evening for a couple of drinks.”

Mrs Mathur stared daggers at her husband, because she had had other plans, but it was lost on the leatherbound stockbroker. Then she smiled elegantly at the Englishman, and said, “You see, Mr Henderson, we really need to know a person before opening ourselves to him. Talking about ones business is very… intimate. Don't you agree?”

“Absolutely, Mrs Mathur! Absolutely!”, exclaimed Henderson effusively. “Call me Archie!”

“Archie”, repeated Leela Mathur softly, giving him her hand with an amused little smile. “Archie. We'll be seeing you tomorrow at 10 a.m.”

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