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Outside an automobile sputtered to silence. I looked out and saw Bharati trying to lock the door of a white Ambassador. She was in a white churidar-pajama-and-kurta dress, its border silvered with zari'work. She wore a silver bindi on her forehead and brown kolhapuris with silver pompoms on her feet.
"You look ravishing," I told her as she struggled with the lock and blushed.
"It's so difficult to lock these contraptions," Bharati bemoaned.
"Allow me lady I'm good at unlocking."
'The mysteries of the heart.'
The Magic Lady walked with me inside the house as demure as Cin'derella.
"You must be really surprised to see me on a Sunday morning? Aren't you?"
"Yes I am."
The Magic Lady turned corridors of air fragrant by her presence. Her intricate female chemistry acting upon an ordinary Dioressence transformed it into a mind-opening perfume of chypre and floral scent. It was good that the waif from Warangal did not leave her jasmine blossoms this morning.
"What are you thinking Amol? You wouldn't ask a lady to be seat'ed?"
"Oh yes. No. Sorry...."
She then laughed like the tinkling of Japanese wind-bells.
"I was thinking what to offer you, tea or coffee? Ah, sit here at the dining table by the window. You'll get a view of our forest reserve, that's what I call this wooded landscape that you can see from here, from the window. Maybe you can see a black buck or squirrels near that tree yonder."
Her laughter tinkled once more. There was an effortless eurhythmics in her existence.
"Who said you were a quiet, withdrawn young man of noble mien secretly masterminding a coup in Haiti. Your grandiose speech sounded more like my Uncle's," said Bharati.
"I earn my bread-and-butter by my voice. But who was saying this?"
"So very kind of her."
It was late morning. A touch of silver and freshness persisted between the bottle green of the shrubbery. This was the brief silence before a horde of visitors would vanquish the idyllic languor of this bucolic paradise. Bharati was intoxicating me with the witchery of her laughter. Outside instead of the blackbucks and antelopes only domestic fowls trotted in the backyard picking worms. I wish such moments were etched on stone in Brahmi script and left for posterity as a representation of consummate togetherness. King Asoka could have done that with all the chiseling he did in his lifetime. But all we are left with is the paltry memory, which remembers and deconstructs itself, fabricating a meaning on white paper or the Internet through a string of hermetically-sealed words reaching out into the hermeneutics of the universe.
Bharati was doodling with a ballpoint pen on the newspaper.
"Here is tea, my Magic Lady."
"Oh nothing. Just joking."
"You know who's the Magic Lady?"
"My aunt, my uncle's wife. She went mad."
"Why, because she did magic?"
"No because my uncle did mega-magic."
"What do you mean?"
"Which woman will remain in her senses with reptiles and insects and insane people howling around her? All this tantric stuff, eating lizards, snakes, monkeys and all the hanky panky that goes on. She started with light drinks, graduated to hard drinks and ended with arrack, the local toddy."
I shook my head in disbelief. A house sparrow caught the wire grill and gained entry into the house. It then flew over the dining table out of the doorway. The water in the faucet trickled over the stainless steel plate quietly.
Bharati suddenly got up and said: 'Amol, I must leave now. What will people think?'
"No, no stay a bit longer. Have another cup of tea. I'm making it.'
'No Amol I must leave. I'll come next week, I promise.'
When I met Mega the next day he was wearing a sleazy blue dress with a funny green cap on his head.
'I've destroyed five people but I'll make both of you happy.'
'But sir, why did you destroy five people?'
'Oh that ' that was in Hong Kong. Trade rivalry. Nothing else. Tantric is a powerful thing.'
' Yes, you would like to know what happens if you use it to harm others. Aymol I know your mind very well.'
'Wait and see, wait and see. Peter tells me you don't have your own conveyance. Is that true?'
'Yes,' I said somewhat embarrassed. 'I was thinking of buying a motorcycle but I guess it will take time.'
'Oh forget about a motorcycle. Take the Toyota, that white one that Sindhu sends to the airport occasionally.'
'But sir, this is.'
'I won't listen to any nonsense from you. Take it. It's yours. Ha, ha, ha. Yours.'
There was an embarrassing bit of silence, which I filled by repeating the same question I had asked a few minutes ago.
'Why did you destroy five people?'
Oh that ' .Do you have a driving license?'
'Ask Sindhu to get you one tomorrow. Even without that you may drive. Megaswamy's car, no one touches it. But why take the risk, eh why?'
But I couldn't find out why he destroyed five people. Perhaps sooner or later he would reveal the mystery of his trade rivalry. But then why did it bother me.
A week passed and Bharati's absence intensified my yearning. However I was not willing to admit this to myself. One day, she came unannounced. She was looking prettier than ever.
'You still studying?" I inquired.
"Cut that out. Let me tell you something interesting."
"My Uncle wants to send you and me to Hong Kong next week with Sindhu to clear his consignment since we two are the most educated of the lot. I overheard."
"It sounds crazy."
"Eating lizards is crazy, dining on monkey flesh is crazy, and being friends with Mega Boss is crazy and loving you....'
"Loving me?" I asked overwhelmed.
"What do you do for your breakfast and lunch?"
'I have to do most of the work now. The maid left last week.'
'She was jealous of you. Kutty comes to cook. Sometimes he makes lemon rice and curd, sometimes chappatis and egg curry and occasionally sambhar vada. He should be in any moment. Comes at quarter to twelve," I said looking at the arm of the clock which said 11 a.m.
"Today I'll cook for you. Fish curry and rice. But then you'll have to get the fish."
"That's no problem."
"For a bachelor your place is pretty clean. I saw something horrible on my way to your home."
'Just beside the main gate, in the thicket. A dead blackbuck! Its head was twisted at an odd angle. It was touching the backbone.'
'It could be a snake.'
'What do you mean?'
'I mean a snake could have bitten it, a cobra perhaps or a krait. There are many snakes on the campus. Don't think about it. Okay?'
'If you say so,' said Bharati smiling.
"What is this consignment Mega wants to retrieve?"
"Few questions you ask the better."
The phone rang and Mega wanted us within an hour. He knew Bha'rati was here.
It was past two when we reached Mega's mansion. Mega was waiting for us, pacing on the balcony.
"Ah there you are. Come in my boy; come in Bharati. Do sit down. Peter drinks jaldi. Yes so both have to go to Hong Kong. Meet this chap called Mehrab Singh, clear the lizard parcel and return with Sindhu. Rest he'll handle."
"Oh yes, I clean forgot. Your friend, Aymol, your friend! He's with us in Hong Kong. Here take this golden lizard. You'll ex'change this with another golden lizard, its replica with Mehrab. Okay?"
"When do we have to go?"
"Tonight. Now both of you go and pack an overnight suitcase. You're traveling as husband and wife for convenience. Do you mind?"
I looked at Bharati and Bharati looked at me and we both smiled at each other.
"I guess we don't," I said.
"That's my boy Aymol. When a lizard drops his tail what hap'pens."
"Well it wriggles."
"You are a fool. It runs away. Then it grows another. The lizard is a master of disguises and always renews itself."
Go, go, go, something told me. A weak heart never kissed a pig.
"You want to know something?" asked Mega.
"Yes is it safe?
'Mega's emissaries are always safe. Go without fear.'
With that Mega rushed to the loo.
'What happened to him? Is he unwell?' I inquired of Bharati.
'Loosies, you fool. He'll be okay by the time we are back. This is not the first time he's had an upset stomach.'
Right from the airport a black Honda shadowed us. Then Sindhu joined us. He was armed and so were the two Chinese bodyguards with him.
'Don't worry. We'll handle this,' said Sindhu with an air of self-assurance.
Bharati said something to the Chinese in Cantonese and they laughed. I was surprised.
'How do you know Cantonese?'
'I was born in Hong Kong. I studied here.'
'You never told me.'
'You never asked me. Well, there must be a few secrets to add spice to life. Don't you think so,' she said laughing.
I was still tense.
'Relax Amol. It's okay,' said Bharati.
At the hotel she said' 'I guess you know the lizard consignment has nothing to do with lizards. It is to do with'
'Shut up,' said Sindhu, 'and mind your business.'
Upon return we couldn't meet Mega for he was taken seriously ill.
'Food poisoning,' said Bharati.
Something he's eaten.'
'Or made to eat.'
'What do you mean?'
'Peter might have mixed something in his food.'
'Peter? But Peter is his man.'
'Who knows? Maybe he has eaten something.'
After a week we could meet Mega. I could make out that Mega was ill but happy. His face looked drained but he looked younger.
'What happened boss,' I asked.
'Food poisoning. It really leaves you dead. Somebody is trying to kill me. They don't know who they're taking on.'
He took a vial of green liquid and sighed in relief. Mega's tantric tinctures trembled at the edge of the terrible. Crocodile excreta, elephant shit, bird's milk and obviously snake poison employed in the abortion of the intellect, slaughter of the emotion, the unhappiness of others left their own negative marks on his consciousness. But it was also used for rejuvenation, bringing people together and creating a better world for us to live. This also left its positive marks on the body.
'I'm growing weak. I'm growing old, losing my virility. Even magic takes a long time to come,' lamented Mega one day.
His eyes looked bleary, which I believe was because of an increased sedentary life, lethargy and lassitude.
Muttu Raja told me something different: 'If you use tantric vidya on others in this fashion this is what will happen. He's losing his powers. See how he'll die. You just wait and see.'
'But Mega looks younger.'
'He's losing weight therefore he looks younger. With weight he's losing vitality, the vital fluids of life and above all his energy. He can't control the universe anymore. Te-he-he-he,' said Muttu Raja and swallowed a draught of arrack.
Of late he'd been drinking after six in his shop, in the small antechamber behind the food rack.
'Take a swig, at least one. Take it. Don't feel shy. This is the lull period. It'll pick up any moment.'
I don't know why I was getting angry with Muttu Raja. I did not feel like talking to him. He was getting on my nerves. It had never happened before. Here was Mega suffering, perhaps from some serious ailment, and Muttu Raja was making fun of him.
'I think Muttu I must leave.'
'Why? You're angry because I said something about Mega,' said Muttu Raja looking suddenly scared.
'You don't know what you've just done. I can destroy you within minutes if I want to. I've destroyed five men in Hong Kong,' I lied.
'Oh shit, oh shit Amol. I didn't know that. I must have said something ' please forgive me. Small Adyar shopkeeper that I am! I always say things that I don't mean to when I'm drunk.
You're my friend aren't you? So you can forgive me if you can,' said Muttu Raja pleading with tears in his eyes.
I wasn't sure whether his repentance was prompted by inebriation or born out of a genuine change of heart. Surprisingly I had no pity for him.
Muttu Raja patted me on the shoulder and tried to be friendly.
'Come on Amol. How's your friend Bharati? I'm thinking of presenting you with five air-conditioners on your wedding.'
I smiled. Muttu Raja thought I was placated. But I was in no mood for this bonhomie, which was rudely cut short by the arrival of an old lady who demanded a coat brush with hard bristles. I used the distraction to make good my escape.
In due course Mega recovered and presented me with a golden lizard at dinner in his house with Bharati in attendance. He looked benign and somewhat younger. I got this impression because he had lost some weight around his chin. The angry vein on his nose was no longer angry. In fact it was nearly gone.
'You know Aymol. The dark cloud over my head has passed and I feel resurrected. And guess why, because of both of you. You are my fortune, because you are good people at heart,' said Megaswamy.
'Thanks,' I said.
'Thank you for the compliment, uncle,' said Bharati.
' I can't tell you more but your Hong Kong visit brought me luck. From now on I will spend more time for the welfare of the downtrodden, for the education of the poor. I was destined to do this through you. I was destined to bring the future into the present and you are destined to send the glorious present into the past. Atitanagatam svarupto'styadhva-bhedad dharamanam. I am going to open a hospital in Adyar and guess what will be the name that I have chosen for the hospital?'
Lizard King Hospital,' said Bharati.
'No, my dear! I want to call it Amol Bharati Hospital, the hospital of inestimable value that is well maintained. Do I have your permission?'
I realized that this was the first time he had called my name correctly.
'Yes you do,' both of us said in unison.
'And both of you will be the directors of the hospital. I will be its patron. And let your friend Muttu Raja open a drug store at the entrance and restore our health and his wealth. Ha, ha, ha! '
The golden lizard lay on the table and Megaswamy's smiling face was reflected in its lambent smooth surface.