”Please sit” he gently tells me. Courteous, polite and neat-looking, I suppose I have no reason to worry about it. Sitting at the back of the car while he drove would be rather disrespectful given that…
As I fasten my seat-belt, we slowly drive out of the parking lot that occupies space in posh suburban Mumbai. This being my first time, I nervously look at him and smile.
“No need to worry, this traffic wont let me speed one bit” he says, in perfect hindi. The car smells of a certain richness that associates itself when you travel in a car which has had its AC turned on almost all the time. Smell of musk, and a faint whiff of car-freshener. I settle down further in my seat. As we get out of the apartments, I ask him “So, aaj ka plan kya hai?”
“Mmm, I have to book tickets first at PVR, then run over to see whether the lady at the boutique finished the garments, medicines that Maaji needs, and some alcohol for the party later at night” he says nonchalantly as he drives around a bend. Noticing my inquisitive stare, he faintly smiles to tell me, “Haan, lot of stuff to do, but it gets like that at every home once a week.”
Our first stop is the movie theatre. Somehow, traveling with him, for the first time, I notice the farce that this lifestyle is built on. It’s not the clothes, or the accessories, it’s the acceptance. The lower-classes accepting that this indeed is the high way of life. That if you can’t or won’t wear the clothes, have the attitude, even money can’t make you classy. You’d just end up garish and gaudy, which surprisingly everyone knows the meaning of. He walks over casually to the line at the ticket counter, “I’ll get it, you needn’t stand in this long line” he says softly. I watch him as he stands in line, patiently. Like this is what he was born for. Taking his hands out of the pocket, he orders two tickets for Epic Movie. Counting the change, he walks over to where I am. I can’t help but ask him, “Do you know what that movie is going to be like?” He doesn’t spend even a second before shrugging and saying he doesn’t bother with such things. But still, I venture gently, you must have some idea na? “Nahi, movie dekh ke hi pata lagega shayad”.
We sit in the car again, and our next stop is supposed to be the chemists. At a traffic light, he gets a call. Pressing the green button ever so tenderly, he answers.
“Yes, yes, I’ll get it”
“…and the clothes too, I wont forget, no.”
“Pentacid and Crocin” he explains as he looks ahead. I try to disguise my amusement, but he catches the vibe I suppose. “Kya? You’re the one who…” he says, a tad accusingly.
“Okay okay, but I needn’t have so many details”
A moment of silence passes.
“So how did you choose this job” he asks me, Hindi again. “Umm, dearth of other options. Plus, every loser seems to be good at it, so I decided, why not?” I answer, in kind. He lets out a soft chuckle. “Aisa hi samjho phir” he accepts. “Is it fulfilling” he asks a minute later, as he turns to me. Inquisitive eyes.
“I don’t know, is yours?”
“I’m doing alright I suppose”
“Looks like it”
Our trip to the boutique behind us as well; we have only one more stop to go to. The liquor store. “Lots of people coming have to keep them busy and happy” he explains again. I get the feeling he expects this rendezvous to be something like the ones he’s heard or seen journalists on TV doing. He obviously thinks I’m not doing a good job. “You’re not writing down anything either” he observes.
He switches on the music system of the car, and I can recognize the voice of Prince, as he sings When Doves Cry. He taps along to the song on the steering wheel, and I smile again. Farce or a trickle-down effect? I always wonder.
As we drive into the complex, with our tickets, clothes, medicines and a handsome bottle of Champagne and a crate of beer in hand, I accompany him to the 4th floor. He rings the bell of the house. A woman dressed in the most impeccable, but somehow pointlessly expensive looking clothes, and expressions, I’ve seen opens the door. I half-expect a “honey-I’m-home” hug and a kiss. But he quietly hands over the goods and then hands in the keys as well. Takes out change from his pocket, from the movie tickets earlier, I suppose. She looks at me curiously, rather rudely actually. Before we venture to explain, a male’s voice calls out from inside “Nandita, tell him to come at 6am tomorrow, I need to get to office early”.
“Suna?” she asks him.
“Haan, 6 baje.”
“Aa jaana time pe, ab ghar jao”.
The door shuts, and the man changes. No longer does he have the casual gait, the attitude of polite tolerance of us pesky “journalist” kinds. Hard to believe he was the same guy who spouted out the names of champagne and beer like he came there everyday. He probably did, but you know what I mean.
Its funny I never smelt it before, but his hair smells like Rin. Might be the sweat.
“Do you enjoy living their life for a while?” I ask timidly, not knowing how he’d take it.
He answers, “I find it nice, but somehow silly in a way. They work to make money and obsess over it so much, so that they can enjoy going out and living their lifestyle. But their heads are so up their own asses, they get someone like me to live and enjoy their lifestyle for them”.
Wishing me a goodnight, he takes leave. Calls on his cell-phone, and tells his wife he’s coming home, and that he got the Crocin that Munna needs.
I don’t know what to make of this interview, this research. I didn’t learn anything decisive. The questions remain as clear as ever, the answers still dodgy. Who lives whose lifestyle? The only thing I get out of this interview, is the smell of sweat-mixed Rin, smell of musk and a whiff of car-freshener.