How many people do you know? No, don’t go for a number or anything. I’m not looking for a statistic. The way to do it isn’t running a fast rewind of your whole life, setting up a mathematical counter for every humane interaction, etc.
It’s looking for the people who stay with you. Who’re in the room with you as we speak. Who tell you what to do, how to say it and what to think.
Let me tell you about the people I know.
I never really knew his name. My mother might have mentioned it when she told me his story. He lived in Lucknow and loved this girl. She had a retarded sister. Then her parents died and she had to get her sister married to someone who could take care of her.
So she asked this man she loved to marry her sister. He said no but she insisted. He relented. They got married then. She couldn’t live with the fact and killed herself.
Mr. Agnihotri taught me Hindi straight through middle school. He drew accents at forty five degree angles, looked for parables for them in nature and stressed their enunciation as next to godliness. He was born rich but let go of everything, refusing to take part in the bitter legal battle that ensued after his relatives got greedy. He started off as a radio announcer for the BBC but left because it was too much of a journey to the radio station. He started teaching in our school then. He had a profound interest in dogs and kept close to twelve of them with him. He assembled his own radio, motorcycle and car. He even had a Luftwaffe aircraft built to scale which he hung in his drawing room from the ceiling. Also in the drawing room were pictures of African tribals, people he knew and King Edward the seventh (who he used as an example of financial, aesthetic and moral vice). He knew a large number of languages which he could speak fluently which included Sanskrit, French and Russian. His first wife was Russian but she left him and ran away. His second wife, as he once mentioned in public, wanted to poison him. His son remembers the tea parties he organized for which the who’s who of the city would turn up. He would then introduce his dogs and his son(toddling around in this canine density) in no particular order. He taught in our school for over sixty years. Then, one evening, in the annual middle school function, he took to the stage over a minor outrage, called the principal a eunuch, the librarian a whore and left for his house to get his elephant gun to shoot the vice principal. The next morning the principal announced Mr. Agnihotri’s retirement. We heard later that Jagdish Gandhi, who runs the largest school in the world and has Nobel aspirations came personally to his house to offer him a position. His job profile would include visiting various school branches at his leisure and giving suggestions to improve quality. The emoluments offered were jaw dropping. Mr. Agnihotri asked him to fuck off. He died in a hospital ward talking to the founder of our college, a French bounty hunter (who had also died close to a hundred years earlier) asking him why things were so unfair.
Our principal, Elton De’Souza, spoke in a sophisticated manner which was mistaken as homosexual in the city. He had this old car which he used to go to official functions and survey the school estate. He used to work day and night to make sure the choir sang well. He once caned a boy at the assembly because he was smiling too much. He developed a case of blood cancer and chose to stay on as principal instead of going to get himself treated. He was still there the last time I visited (too sick for an audience). The choir, I hear, keeps getting better and better every year.
Amrendra Uncle, balding and ever so helpful, had a girlfriend, let’s call her P, also balding and ever so helpful. They couldn’t get married for some important reason (which skips my mind right now). He never married and stayed alone all his life. He was found dead in his bathroom where he had slipped into cardiac arrest. Apparently, he had called for help but there was no one there.
Sumeet Agarwal never talked in class, read the short stories I wrote for him and, I was sure, never saw porn.
Sean Fox Holmes , also in school with me, mysteriously appeared out of the grey in Class 11. He played the lead guitar with a special metallic claw he had invented for himself. When I was doing a stage adaptation of Pulp Fiction, he magically resurfaced. I got him on as Lance, the drug dealer but he ended up playing Vince Vega, the lead. He had a girlfriend but was in love with Mia Wallace. After the play bombed and everything fell to bits, he disappeared, never to be seen again.
Playing Jules in Pulp Fiction was Riyazat. The first time I saw him, he was being reprimanded by someone inconsequential for wearing anti-anti-wrinkle trousers. He explained that the Presswala’s wife had run away and he was doing his level best to empathise with the poor man. I’ve been in love with him since.
The other person I love is Ankita. She sings me songs and plays the guitar very well. The more time I spend with her, the more beautiful she gets
Patrick Bateman met me when I was reading American Psycho. He was a black hole that sucked in everything you were and replaced it with his bleak nothingness. His diet included whisky, cigarettes and sex. He told me the only way to survive was to do things his way. He can convince you of anything.
He tried to get me to kill a girl I knew once. He’s not very pleasant company and I avoid him whenever I can.
I had a dream this afternoon. I was in this old house I’m in in all my dreams. It has high ceilings, antique furniture and all my books. Elton was around, putting on his dinner jacked and telling me I should go hide somewhere. Amrendra Uncle was walking out in his suit, taking a dog he never had out for a walk to the lawns. It was then that I knew it was a dream – Amrendra Uncle was dead and he couldn’t be walking around with a fictitious dog, much less take the dog out for a walk. It was then that I forced my eyes open to an empty bedroom. They were all there, the people I know.