A Novel in Two Books
by N. K. Johel
Who would have believed at the age of thirty-three, I would become a desi? I never would have believed that my being would speak in rhythm.
Dhoom-a Daka Laka Laka!
Dhoom-a Daka Laka Laka!
Dhoom-a Daka Laka Laka!
Now, my hips groove to a bhangra beat. Everything I look at and everything I do is different. I always looked at life and thought I knew what it was. But now, Life emanates inside me and meets Life-Out-There on a different turf.
Dhoom-a Dhoom-a Dhoom Dhoom!
Now, I walk to the beat of a different drum. A dhol.
“What’s a ‘desi’? you ask?
Well, someone told me once, the mazza of a story is in the telling.
Excerpt From Book I:
New York; Chapter 1, ‘The Call’
It was a Sunday in April. Around 10 AM. I was engaged in my regular Sunday morning practice, a meditation that blended Sivasana, contemplative prayer, Vipassana, and some more esoteric forms. That’s when her call came. Deep in my contemplation, I let the call go to my service. Her name was Simryn Gill. She was an emerging Bollywood actress. A starlet. She needed my help. “Nandita Chandra gave me your number. . . .” The name she dropped got my attention, so I returned the call right away. She told me some of her story. Two years ago, during the New York Bollywood Film Festival, Rajesh Sharma, a renowned director and winner of multiple Golden Bhujanga Awards for best adapted screenplays from The Film Writer's Association of India, was found dead in his hotel room, supposedly from a heart attack. Miss Gill was the first person to get into his room after the cleaning staff found him. She observed some interesting non-uniformities before the police arrived. The bed sheets weren't wrinkled at all. “The way things looked, Ms. George, it was as if they wanted us to believe that Mr. Sharma showered, changed into his pajamas, got into the bed and pulled the covers over himself, then he closed his eyes and poof – ‘Sri Maharaj kol vassin chalae gia si...’ He transcended or something” The clincher for me was this, “There were no wet towels in the bathroom.” That detail had either been overlooked or not considered during the first investigation. I asked Ms. Gill if a cleaning woman might have removed the towels. “No no no. . . . The woman was terrified, she didn't touch a thing. ” This was interesting, but I had to wonder. “Why is this case important to you?” The voice over the telephone hesitated. “I won't elaborate over the phone. I'm concerned for my safety.” She asked me to come to Niagra Falls where she’d rented a hotel room. I said I would consider it. I dove into research. Two years ago, during the festival, the swank hotel where Rajesh Sharma was staying was rented exclusively to actors, directors, technicians, publicists, producers, and Indian media. The police report stated that most of the guests on the fifteenth floor, where Sharma's room was located, said they returned to their rooms either late that night or early the next morning after the gala party in the ballroom downstairs. Most said they didn't see anything unusual. Six or seven claimed they saw the director go to bed early. At 10 PM. That many people on exactly the same page? It seemed suspicious. I called Ms. Gill back and she confirmed my doubts. She told me that she'd seen one of the supposed witnesses at the party, and not upstairs at 10 PM. His name was Gary Dhami. But, she added, most things he said were questionable anyway, because he was such a chamcha. I didn't know much Hindi, but I knew that word meant a ‘spoon.’
From Book II, Mumbai:
Chapter 7, ‘Brahman: The Abyss’
Rakhi wakes that morning to the smell of chai. Laila is gently stroking her sweat-covered forehead. She eventually turns, and her swollen eyes look up into Laila's concerned face. “Rakhi? Elanna?” Laila asks tentatively. Rakhi's still shaking. She sniffles. “Laila bahn-ji, Elanna patha ni kitha ha!” Laila frowns. “What do you mean you don't know where she is?” Rakhi puts her arms down and pushes herself up against the sofa, “Raath aukha nangiya si. “Last night was very difficult. . . .” For the last few weeks, Rakhi and I had battled bitterly over the presence of will in the body. That night, her life-force broke forward, overwhelming me with the force of a tsunami. It rose, crashing at everything inside me. I was tossed and battered. I knew Rakhi didn't do it on purpose, it was more like an energy coming through her, adding to the already-confused mix. I cried out to her and tried to help her but we were lost in the darkness and the waves. I didn't know what was coming. But I knew I couldn't do anything to get out of its path. “. . . I could see her fighting and struggling. I called to her. For hours and hours, I heard her fighting. She screamed at me to make it stop. But I couldn't. It just came and took over everything. It was three o'clock in the morning when I felt her go silent.” Rakhi shakes her head at Laila. “I don't know if I feel her anymore. But I don't hear her.” “Man takhi, aackhi, murrhi paiy han, bahanji.” She's tired of crying and cannot cry anymore. Laila wordlessly goes to the kitchen, brings back a glass of water and holds it to Rakhi's mouth. Rakhi drinks with what strength she has left and falls back into darkness. I don’t know how long I was flung around in the dark waves, barely keeping my head above water. I called her name over and over. I did not swim anymore. I was carried in chaos. I shut my mind to it all and thought of nothing. Hoped for nothing and waited for whatever evil came on me now. Waited and wondered if this would be the one that finished me. I almost didn’t hope it did. In fact, I was hoping beyond hope that it would. The images came on me like angry visitation of apparitions, ancient and unforgiving. There was no real sustenance except the lightening that flashed across the sky to reveal the completeness of my destitution. No land. No ships. Just the broken remnants tossed around me. In brief, blinding flashes, I saw pieces of the life I built. My home, my job, my friends. I was too tired to mourn them. I reasoned that I’d lived a good life and decided I would be at peace with that. That would be my company as I lay in this void. So I watched as the light revealed them all and thanked God for them all. But then, it changed. A bolt lit up the stormy skies in waves and I screamed. I could no longer see the pieces of the life I ’d built up. The light became merciless. Around me floated the wholeness of the things that I had not achieved. The things that I had not experienced. Regrets. Dreams unfulfilled. Love not acquired. The things I put off in life. The pictures I’d had in my head during my childhood of the family that I dreamed of. The brothers and sisters I craved. The family holidays and outings I longed to take with my parents. Then the light revealed my mother, chiding me for not being a big girl when I really just wanted her to hold me and tell me I didn’t have to go to boarding school. I was seven years old. Three years later, I greeted the news of my parent’s eventual and civilized divorce with expressionless acceptance. The Cold White Devi was born. Cold cases? No. Stone-cold-dead cases. Who else but a corpse with a fierce will to live could solve them? I was lost in the abyss for an eternity.
From Book II: Mumbai:
Chapter 8, ‘CUT CUT C-U-U-U-U-T-!-!-!’
Lights flash around me again. Red-yellow-green – GO lights!– Sparkling, jewelry-box city lights. Traffic sounds and people talking. “Any idea what it is?” “Nahee. Just the usual cattle call.” “Ah . . . !” I look around and notice I’m in a line up. At the front of the line I see a sign, but someone tall is blocking my view, so I step to the side where I can see it clearly. It reads: Golden-Lion Productions AUDITIONING TODAY: Chorus Dancers Walk-ons Minor Speaking Roles Line Up Here And suddenly–POP!–a camera flash goes off in front of me. I’m blinded. Everything goes dark. Now, I’m squinting into lights again. . . . This time, it’s a ridiculously overlit full Moon shining out at me over the pounding waves of an ocean. Cool air is blowing my hair around. I can hear the whirring of machinery around me. Voices muttering. But inside, I feel a serene kind of quietude. I listen for the cue; the fifth bar at the beginning of a melody. I lift my arms. They feel angelic. My fingers form doves, peacocks, fish. I watch them dance around me. I lunge to the side, step, padding the ground in syncopated rhythms. Tah–tiki-ta Ding-a Tey . . . TAH TAH! I lift my heart up to the night sky and capture its essence. My body manifests movements as dictated by the melodies. The dance is basic. Instinctual. Natural. Easy. I’m flying again. The moon smiles as he watches me dance. I thought I heard the applause of millions in the roaring surf. The stars overhead sparkle. I thought I saw a name somewhere in the nightscape. I look up and gaze into the moon’s full face. I smile back at him. “CUT-CUT-CU-U-U-U-T!” My eyes almost rolled to the back of my head. Now what? I shielded my eyes, again, from the blaring moon, and listened to the sound of approaching footsteps. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. A man in horn-rimmed glasses steps forward into the moonlight. He stares at me for a long time. Then, he shakes his head as if in wonder, and smiles. He turns and begins to yell, quite loudly: “Oh, Sakander Ji, are you awake up there? Oi, what’s wrong with you? Yaar, we have to keep this shot from running over budget, aab I will not get my bonus and my little girl Leela needs braces and my wife is breathing down my neck to buy her a vacation home in Goa. Now PLEASE, just try to keep a spotlight on her!” With that, he stomps out of the circle of light, back out into the darkness. I’m swallowed up again. . . .
Like any film, there has to be credits. Bollywood Storm reads like a movie, so it would be remiss not to include the list of characters. There are the usual, hero/heroine, minor leads, villains, supporting actors, cameos and walk-ons. The romantic interests. It was fun to get acquainted with each and every one of them. Fortunately, in a novel, there is no need to list the camera men, lighting crew, grips, script people, location managers, and so on and so on and so on. And, even though no one ever reads the credits at the movies, there are a lot of characters in Bollywood Storm. I hope this list will help navigate the players....
Rolling The Credits