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A Delhi story
Fiction : Delhi, satire
Monday, April 11, 2005 03:37 GMT

You go into the guy's attic. He's shown you the rest of the house: he's proud of what he's done in life. A Sonata each for him and his wife and a little Skoda for his daughter. (Soon to be shown. The daughter, that is.) This enormous house in GK1 which you can't argue with; no one can say: "This guy hasn't made it. This guy's tried but he hasn't got there." No: this pile got rooms beyond rooms and additions and features brought from everywhere on the planet, and a kidney-shaped swimming pool and, above all, Pillars. So he's shown you everything - the Danish bathrooms and the inlaid floor and the pool room, and it's been a long day of sun and cocktails and celebrity tales: you're a little dazed and the other guests are a little Over with the tour - and finally you all arrive in the attic. Gleaming floors and gold trim and powdery hidden lighting. And the whole marble tennis court size of it full of Ganesh statues. Like: one hundred. All identical: eight foot high, crammed in, trunks life size, no space to move for bronze arms and pudgy crossed feet. It's certainly a sight but the guy is not elucidating. Someone asks, you know, Why - er - so many? The statues, that is. Why you need - so many?

The guy been waiting for this. The story is better on the end of a question. So he tells it. Goes like this.

Seems he was driving back from Agra with the family stops in this craft warehouse. You know: roadside place, middle of nowhere, dusty patch in front where cars draw up with a couple shrivelled champa trees and a stand sells paranthas with a few red plastic chairs all around. But the craft place is the real draw: vast place with road signs every mile along the highway. Our man walks in, Mont Blanc in the shirt pocket, little touch makes people understand. The door closes on the hot sun and eyes take a bit of time to adjust. His wife and daughter behind, looking politely at coffee tables and lamps. He looks for more manly things, wiping his damp neck with a generous handkerchief. There's a statue of Ganesh, big one, his kind of scale. "How much?" he says with accustomed nonchalance.

The guy is evasive, embarassed - as if for Him. "You can't afford it," he says eventually. "It's very expensive. We have smaller ones."

What can you say?

Our man is astonished. Outrage. Fury. Apoplexy. Rage too big to find an outlet.

Mont Blanc quivers a bit: in front of his wife he is spoken to like that! In front of his Daughter, for whom daddy is and always must be infinite! There is an outburst, and a thwack on the sweaty behind of the balding head of the ageing manager of this roadside emporium. Vulgarities are shouted, shining pressed linen is distressed, and sunglasses (Versace, JFK duty free) are brandished. Feet, even, are stamped, and the manager's lapel firmly held while eyes look into eyes. And as glare dominates whimper, the volume gradually decreases as our man finds his focus, his purpose, his victory over the situation.

"How many do you have? Where do you keep them?" he says menacingly. "I want you to pack every last one for me. Too expensive? I'll show you too expensive, you - "

And there are more vulgarities.

The warehouse is extensive. There are one hundred and thirteen other statues identical to the one he has seen. Our man will not depart until he has personally supervised the wrapping of each one. The process is lengthy - even when extra men are brought to help (and the roadside tea stall and paan stall stand temporarily unmanned). Wife flutters between anger and pride and rumbling stomach and all the reasons she has to be back in Delhi - Now. Daughter begins by making a stand - you can't do this, drop it, OK I'm leaving, I'll take a taxi - but the father wants everyone to be his witness, and she sits and sends text messages of shame and humiliation to her friends. Finally the deed is done, and one hundred and fourteen startled gods are lugged into the daylight and stood, teetering in the back of six churning, revving trucks. The Visa card is brandished, lightly, but with clear vindictive triumph. The amount is absurd, far more than the cost of the glinting Sonata into whose air conditioning he now victoriously retreats; but Principles, my darlings, are Principles.

He is cock-a-hoop on the highway. "Never speak like that to me again, he won't. I fucked him proper. Yes - no my dear that is the only word to describe the situation. He was fucked. Did you see his face? A man fucked." He bangs the steering wheel with the exaltation of it all. "Too expensive, he says. Too expensive. He has no idea. Fucked." All the way to the Qutub Minar, passing the trucks on the way, slow with their burden of bronze divinities, and all the way to the appropriately named Greater Kailash (Part 1), leafy and peaceful, and still insensible to its imminent influx of fresh gods.

Of the manager of the craft emporium, and his opinion of these occurrences, we have, of course, no idea. We cannot know if he has changed his ways - if this shocking set of events has dissuaded him from speaking to his customers in this rude and disrespectful way.