Should you happen to stop by the Ambika Mill and wish to see the boss, seek out Sundarlal first. His desk is right next to the air-conditioned cabin. Don’t miss him. I specially recommend you to see him. He is a person worth meeting. You will not like his face from a distance. Ink-black complexion, inch deep hollows in both cheeks, yellow teeth, and they fall out as he laughs. Did I say Sundarlal is good looking? I said he was someone worth meeting. Sundarlal works hard in the office, and he has earned the Seth’s confidence. When others leave the office at five thirty, Sundarlal continues to sit with the Provident Fund ledgers. You would like to see the boss. The boss won’t ask you to his cabin instantly. Have to wait outside for a while. There’s a chair to sit on, no sofa. No old magazines to flick through to pass the time. Feel hesitant about striking up a conversation with a stranger, don’t you? Sundarlal has been eyeing you for quite some time. Let your face be a little less stiff, if you look at him, he will tell you about the boss’s moods – whether you should see him or not. If you get bored he will entertain you with gossip about the boss. That’s why I say Do meet Sundarlal when you go to Ambika Mill. To our eyes he is not beautiful. His white cap off, specs down his nose, bending over the ledgers as he works, one gets a full view of his bushy hair. Once Arundhatiben told the boss in no uncertain words, I feel more attracted to Sundarlal’s bushy hair than your porcupine hair.
Sundarlal spent the next seven days in a trance.
It happened about the twentieth of March.
Nights, returning from work, I carry folks up to the station on my scooter. The station is on my way home from the downtown area. At times folks get sentimental, give their addresses, give thanks. At times, they get off and rush to the station without uttering a syllable.
I offered a lift to a man in a striped ash-coloured shirt and trousers standing near Jubilee Garden. He wanted to have a chat, so asked me to stop the scooter in Sayajigunj.
We sat on the steps of a house nearby. Ordered two cups of tea.
People call me Kumar saheb.
Are you headed for Bombay?
Well, I do have Vijay Kumar’s house!
Where do you stay?
If you wish to see me in Baroda I will be at the Vijay Adarsh Lodge, every evening at six. Tonight I leave for Bombay. Have organized an important programme. Rajiv will be there. Vijay Kumar and Rajiv Gandhi … schoolmates in Delhi. He’s given the responsibility to me. I will see Lataji and Ashaji. In fact I’ve just rung Laxmikant and R D.
When do you return?
In two days. For the time being give me five hundred rupees if you have it. I will return it to you when I come back.
I have just fifty.
Will do. See you.
Three days later I went to Vijay Adarsh Lodge at six.
Come, come … So saying he bid me sit on the rope khatla. You came back?
What can I say?
I have to go to Bombay today.
Yes, the programme is fixed to take place in Lalbag. Since Rajiv is to be there, the stage is big enough to take twenty five thousand. Vijay Kumar telephoned and decided it all. If Rajiv comes, all the film stars will definitely come. But Rajiv says that a portion will have to go for charity. I will make a hundred thousand or so.
Well, shall I push off then?
Want to go? What’s the hurry? Let’s go downstairs, have something to eat, and go sit in Jubilee Garden. My train does not leave until eleven.
We had tea – he ate. As soon as he finished eating, he made a quick exit. I paid the bill.
It was about seven when we sat down on a bench in Jubilee Garden.
Taking my hand in his, he said, You won’t believe this … and pressing my fingers asked, Guess how old I am?
He roared with laughter. Got fooled, eh? Am a solid sixty five. I have abstained from sex for the last twenty years. Three or four times my wife became very passionate. I said, bathe waist down in cold water. I am a Shiva bhakta. This mark between my eyes is Shiva’s third eye. It was this eye with which Kamadeva was burnt to ashes. I worship Shiva every night at eleven. Twice he was pleased with me and gave me darshana of his lotus feet.
He dropped my hand and entered the past. In Bombay a Parsi woman was crazy about me. She asked me to conjugate. I explained the story of Bhishma Pitamaha to her, and flatly said no to sex. You see? Meet me after three days. Of course, you have to give me the money for my fare to Bombay.
After a gap of three or four days I went to the lodge. With him there sat a fat young man in a black checked bush shirt, wearing thick glasses.
Kumar saheb said, This is J P Patel. Owner of Shital Fans. Wants to go to Delhi. If he gets the licence his sales will be fifteen crores a year. Wants to make me his sleeping partner. The previous partner siphoned off twelve lakhs. Cheated J P. Now the factory is closed. We have go to Delhi.
When do you go?
We leave today. I told J P that as soon as Khakhar saheb comes we will get fifteen thousand. Vijay Kumar will reach there directly from Bombay. We will meet Rajiv and have Shital factory declared a sick unit. Rajiv is a friend of Vijay Kumar. He knows me too by name.
How come he knows you?
I had told Indiraji, You won’t see 1985. That letter must have gone to Rajiv. Vijay Kumar has been insisting on introducing me to Rajiv. But I told him, Forget it, such things are affairs of the mighty. I’m a small man.
I do not have fifteen thousand. Not now, not in my bank account either.
Get the money from your friends. Once the factory starts working there will be no problem at all.
Sorry, I don’t think I can manage that.
If you give fifteen thousand today all problems can be solved. I had money in Bombay, but out of that I paid twenty five to Lata, twenty five to Laxmikant and fifteen to Asha. If I had not paid them J P’s job would be through by now. As soon as he gets the license, there’s the machinery waiting in Germany all ready to be dispatched. It will be useful for me too to get into a partnership without investing anything.
I stood up in order to get out of the question of giving him fifteen thousand. So, Kumar saheb quickly said, Come, I will go downstairs with you.
Then he turned to J P. Don’t worry. I am there! I will fix your fifteen thousand.
Tea, like the last time, his quick exit and the bill paid, we settled down on a bench in Jubilee Garden. Again, taking my hand in his, he said, this whole month is the month of Shivashankar Bholenath. You know, it was forty years ago that I got married. In those days my intercourse with wife would last for half an hour. Others jump off in five minutes. From my very childhood I have been a Shiva devotee. In the Shravan month I wouldn’t even look at a female. If you don’t trust me, ask your bhabhi. She will tell you that I haven’t touched her in the last twenty years. Well, once or twice I had a tremendous desire. Almost lost my head. Had thoughts of nothing but sex. Then I took cold water baths. Kept pouring water over my head for half hours, kept thinking of Shiva. Twice I have had the vision of Shiva’s lotus feet. Shiva asked me to ask for a boon. I said, Release me from this cycle of births. Shiva said, You will get to live your next life in this very life. Khakhar saheb, do you see this bald head? Just wait till December. There will be dark hair. The body of a twenty five year old. You won’t be able to recognize me. J P will keep waiting there and will cry. Now, no going back to the lodge tonight. Vijay Kumar will reach Delhi on the third. The meeting with Rajiv is on the fifth. Bye, Bye? See me in December. Well, now in my old age I must be of use to other people. Once Lataji’s programme is over, I mean to take everybody with me to London, Paris, Moscow, New York. Khakhar saheb, I will buy your ticket too … See you.
When we left the Garden he was impatient to reach home. I was crossing the road slowly. Jitubhai had already crossed over, weaving his way between the rickshaws with not a worry for himself, then he waited on the other side impatiently. I was halfway to the other side and had just managed to avoid the last cyclist in my way, when he asked, where is the scooter?
I said, Next to Acharya Book Depot. So we will have to go round the circle.
Come, walk a little faster.
He was soon standing near Acharya Book Depot. Immediately he said, which scooter?
The grey one.
There are three here.
Here, this one.
I had to obey the authority in his commanding voice. I ripped out the scooter key from the back pocket of my trousers and started the scooter.
The lane next to the fire brigade station.
Impatience, curiosity and the eagerness to arrive were Jitubhai’s. That’s why he had been commanding me. I too was aware that this relationship was to last no more than half an hour. Both of us would forget each other within a day. There was no joy nor excitement in my mind. There was a weariness, a monotony in the chain of happenings in such relationships.
I knew what kind of a house it would be. A house with a rexine-covered sofa, a mini swing, a ceiling fan, and the walls painted white or grey … Lost in thought, I reached the third floor. He had already climbed a staircase ahead of me. I saw him press the bell of room number 305. I climbed the stairs and stood behind Jitubhai. He too was breathless, The door opened three inches.
The door shut. Two minutes later a bunch of keys was held out by the fingers of a child. She wore bangles on her wrist. Jitubhai took the key.
He unlocked the house right opposite. Inside, an office table, under it a mattress gathered into a roll. Jitubhai switched on the fan. The glass window was shut. The typewriter on the table was covered. Since I wasn’t certain where to sit, I pulled out the chair that was pushed into the space under the table and sat on it. The lower fringe of his shirt touched my mouth. Once in a while it flapped across my face when the wind blew.
Jitubhai, wouldn’t you like to stay here?
I shuddered at the thought of spending the night in that room with no ventilation. I lied, I have to catch the morning bus to Ahmedabad at six.
Go from here.
I have to collect some office papers from home. Besides, I haven’t told my people at home, either.
We both knew that this first encounter was also the last one. Jitubhai took off his cap and shirt and stood close to the chair. For the first time I looked at his face in the stark tube light. An illness years ago had scarred it. The shining head, the sweat-drenched and pockmarked face looked ugly. Moreover, the thin lips made it look cruel too.
A hoarse voice emanated from the tall strong body.
The building gate closes at nine every night, so be quick.
With this he moved the typewriter with a jerk, and sat on the table. Before my eyes now the white vest, the white dhoti and the phallus that sprang from it. I looked up. The pockmarked cheeks had been smiling. Both eyes were shut to a slit, like the eyes of a Chinese.
He said, all well?
I said, let’s skip this today.
Jitubhai asked, why?
Some other time.
You know as well as I do that…
We shall never meet again.
He caught my hand. Involvements, allurement, attraction had disappeared from my heart. I was thinking of paintings. A complete canvas full of the white vest, the white dhoti and the slight transparency that revealed the phallus. I tried to get up from the chair. He took my hand, made me sit and said,
What’s wrong today?
I’m not in the mood.
What happened to your mood. Did I do something?
No, just feeling off.
Come on, for my sake.
I stayed there till nine for the sake of a man I would never meet again in my life.
Khakhar, Bhupen. “Pages from a Diary.” Translated by Ganesh Devy. Bhupen Khakhar. New Delhi: Katha, 2001: 27-37. Dayarina Pana was first published in Gadyaparva No 12, 1990, Baroda. This translation has been reproduced from Katha Prize. Stories, Volume 2.
Thanks to Dr. Harshavadhan Hegde and Anoop Divecha for permissions to use image.