Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mumbai freeze-frame: Judgment's Recoil

12. Judgment’s Recoil

It was the repetitive announcement on the P.A. system of an anonymous airport that woke him up today. The stubborn refusal of the nightmare to leave his consciousness even after he had completely woken up, worked slowly to drive him to what he could very well tell was approaching madness but he was unwilling to admit defeat just yet. And you really couldn’t blame him.

Finally his life had come full circle; the court case on the inheritance was settled and he had walked out through those ancient teak wood double doors of the Bandra Civil Court on that momentous day last month with most of the insurance money and all the assorted Provident Fund remittances, grievance pay and assorted interest accumulations. His dear dead Papa had judiciously paid a very high premium over the better part of fifteen years to the redoubtable L.I.C. as well. And so Rakesh’s net worth suddenly went from twenty-four rupees, twenty paise at the neighbourhood ATM that he visited each morning only to leave in despair, to more money than he should have ever had a right to. You really couldn’t blame him that he chose to deny that this was precisely the time the nightmares had begun.

This time Rakesh had dreamt of a plane ride on a rickety turbo prop… He had the first seat – number A-1, right up there with no one ahead of him and all the space in the world to stretch his legs and the airhostess came up to him, bent down low and asked him in the hottest voice Rakesh had ever heard, whether he would like some tea. And then she was blown away into the sky, instantaneously, through the emergency exit door on the left of his seat that had appeared all of a sudden out of nowhere. The newspaper report images, in a spiral transition like in the old movies of the fifties, had screamed out the facts – a picture of her in uniform, of her pilot-boyfriend crying, and her parents at their little circular dinner table drowning their sorrows in port wine. And then the P.A. announcements began in the anonymous terminal that he had reached without ever knowing how.

Sitting down to a sandwich and coffee at Just Around The Corner wherein he still had not been able to overcome his self-conscious pangs of incertitude, the denial was now dying a reluctant death. Rita was sitting across him at the table trying her best to look as if she was totally disinterested in the goings-on at the far table - a desi girl with dreadlocks and her white boyfriend were desperately testing the acceptable boundaries of a very public display of affection.

She looked at Rakesh eventually and said, ‘I had a nightmare last night, you know… it was very bad. There I was doing my thing, you know, serving customers like I do everyday of my working life and this drunk son of a bitch kept asking me for more whisky. I came over to his seat finally when I had had enough, you know, and asked him politely if he would like some tea and then the floor gave way suddenly, you know, and I was blown away through the emergency exit right behind me… I woke up then screaming, you know… It was really scary.’

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