Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Janki and Mansoor (Chapter 3)

(Suryakant Tripathi)

I was telling you about Janki and Mansoor story. They call it my greatest hit. As if a case is a song. Maybe it is.

Ever heard the songs in local dialect that are popular among truck drivers from Uttar Pradesh? Each word is laden with so many bastard connotations that it is highly unlikely that you would have heard them. Unlikely, if you are the suave, city bred person you portray yourself to be. The tunes are worth a hum. Singing is bearable. But lyrics. Ah! Those lyrics! In the early nineties, when Gurgaon was an actual village, I used to be posted at the Border. By border I mean, Delhi Gurgaon border. Liquor used to be cheap at the border. Allowing people to go about their business has always been my policy, especially if I profit from it. I think I am a regular capitalist. In any case, those dhaba owners cut the chicken as easily as they cut the cop from a post of value, so better let them fry what they wish, and why not chomp on a free leg piece if I can.

Why am I telling you about the UP truck driver's favorites? Patience, you! Every story has its side-stories, without which an Indian story is going to be incomplete. Advice: Next time, pay attention. You must go and ransack a truck driver's collection of music. You will then understand why Altaf Raja, Ataullah Khan, Ila Arun and all the remixes as well as Himesh sell.

My first conversation with Mr. Agrawal was about a song we overheard from a truck. The saali (sister-in-law) sings to her jeeja (brother-in-law), "You have tasted my sister's, when will you taste mine", and after a pause comes the word "kheer" (rice & milk pudding). The chorus had a highly sensual sighing as the backdrop, the voice was nasal, and music was bummer, but lyrics made up for other shortcomings. Mr. Agrawal announced, "Saali! What a song!" I was in my uniform, and I guess Mr. Agrawal just had to know anyone in police and power to keep his books right. I smiled, and he beamed back, "Sit, sit. I'm Agrawal contractor. This truck is carrying cement to my site. Hey Raju! Get order from Sahib."

I was quite hungry and I was powerless in this situation. I'll tell you why I cut the chase and accepted the dinner. I could have said, "I have eaten." He would have said, "How can I ask you to sit and watch me eat alone. At least try the kheer." Now he hasn't asked me to pay for it, he just wants to order it. If I order it, and I need to pay for it, I don't want it, for I can't spend on food at restaurants, my meager salary cannot allow it. If I order it, and he wants to pay for it, he will have won half battle already for if I have eaten already, I can argue only so much about it. A newly made acquaintance has right to pay for the other, so I cannot call it bribery. It is a complex problem, so why go and scratch my head. "Get me a plate of Tandoori chicken, special onion salad, kadai paneer, raita and butter naan."

Agrawal was going to make it big was apparent to me in the very first meeting. The cement truck was loaded with ten extra sacks; he was saving not only on the taxes, but had obtained these for half price from the seller, who had no account of their existence in his purchase and selling history. My dinner was a long time investment Agrawal was making, and we both understood the concept of profit sharing. This was a couple of years before Manmohan Singh ushered his salvos against the license raj, and back then, it was people like Agrawal who greased the slow moving gears and motors of bureaucracy and could get any job done.

Agrawal was a stocky man of forty-five or so. He maintained a thick mustache and wore a red tilak on his forehead. Every sinner has his favorite God, the one he wishes to bribe with prayers, apologies, compensation and regular attention. Agrawal was a very religious man, and hence he worked with the blessings of late Chandraswamy as well as other political sadhus. After the dinner, Agrawal mentioned that he was holding a Satyanarayan Pooja at his house, and as a Brahmin, I could grace the occasion with my presence. You may say that I was walking into a trap by agreeing to the invitation, and I knew it quite well that Agrawal was setting me up. But I couldn't prove it, could I? If he gave 10,000 rupees to every Brahmin he fed on a Pooja, a religious rite, he gave maybe ten times the normal "gift" but that was religiously correct or acceptable. As it turned out, the seven Brahmins included a Junior Engineer in Delhi Housing Board Colony, two clerks from the office of Town Planning, one from Vigilance office, two clerks from the office of District Commissioner and me. We all agreed that Agrawal was a wise man with great future.

(To be continued.....)

Other chapters found here


parikrama said...

Hit hein.. Super Hit, your serialized story i.e.

I haven't read Part 1 & 2, straightaway read 3 and I must say I am now impressed enough to go back and read the other two.

ROTFL @ Kheer song..

Keep them coming.

Vivek Sharma विवेक शर्मा said...


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Vivek Sharma comments: on 12 Sep 07 13:50:00 PM
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Thanks Pradeep,

Janki and Mansoor is a practice piece. It will be my first serialized novel. I plan to write novels for print, and I realize that I need to hone my skills as a writer before than can be done.

So feel free to drop any critique, and I will be grateful.

Hopefully I will write this novel for few months to come, and keep it entertaining enough for readers.
pradeep24s comments: on 12 Sep 07 13:02:00 PM
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i think u r gonna make one one novel out of it

Proma said...

I should have known the truck songs were coming ;).

Very apt writing for the story. Readers that are non-Indians, will have to get used to this kind of writing. But they will, I am sure, be able get into the skin of the characters. The humor is fantastic. Comes in at regular intervals, stated as it is, without an attempt to either hide, or overstress it.

By the way, is this sentence structure allowed ?
"If I order it, and I need to pay for it, I don't want it, for I can't spend on food at restaurants, my meager salary cannot allow it."

Just wondering.

Vivek Sharma विवेक शर्मा said...

Thanks IW/Parikrama,

I will ensure Suryakant Tripathi flourishes as a memorable character. The "kheer" song is quite a mild version of songs that actually exist.

A serialized story must have its share of comedy:)

Vivek Sharma विवेक शर्मा said...


The sentence in the first draft was:)

If I order it, and I need to pay for it, I don't want it, for I can't spend on food at restaurants, my meager salary cannot allow it; but if I order it, and he wants to pay for it, he will have won half battle already for if I have eaten already, I can argue only so much about it.

Is that sentence allowed? Allowed by English diction? If I were in grade school, I could lose points for the strange construction. Does our thought process work out a conclusion in the way I present it? Maybe it does. Is the sentence somewhat difficult to read? Of course. Why must I have a sentence that a reader must stop and read twice? Precisely because by forcing a second read, I wish to make the reader stop and look at the thought process more carefully. Perhaps he would see the logic is tainted, or funny. But if you really ask me, and if my opinion matters, for it may or may not in larger context of things, and I am not even an English major, I think the sentences like that one, or this one, are allowed as constructs, but not good in prose, for it is hard to see what is being said.

As far as writing for non-Americans , the context should make the references clear. If it doesn't, they must go and make the kind of effort they make for Gogol, Tolstoy, Victor Hugo or Pasternak. But then you will say, I am not in their league, and I will agree. I guess I will try to keep story complete in itself. I cannot be as descriptive as Vikram Seth, and I don't want to be as cryptic as Salman Rushdie.

Why am I writing an essay here?

The next episode is cooking nicely. I had to remind myself that I was responding to Chapter 3, for I am immersed in thinking about Chapter 4.