The Reality Show
The Reality Show
Even today, after ten years, when they sit down to their evening cup of tea, occasionally they talk about the eerie episode.
"I would never have believed it had we not been on the scene ourselves," says Arpita.
"Nor would I," Ketan says.
The dance was atavistic. Jarawa tribe would have been pleasantly surprised to find their kin in the Capital. It was a roadshow of the overfed barrel-shaped women and men whose heads stuck out from their torsos, and paunches spilled all over. The men dressed in expensive suits, bursting at the seams, were flailing their arms and legs in all directions and the women draped in designer Masaba, Hermes or Satya Paul saris were wiggling their expansive bottoms energetically. In mid-July, it was stiflingly hot and muggy. The dancers' faces glistened and rivulets of sweat wormed along their spines. But their ardour for the dance remained unabated as video cameras constantly hovered over them like loving dragonflies.
In fact, every part of the mammoth baraat was covered by several video cameras. One moved backwards, focusing only on the groom and the mare. Another kept track of the groom's parents and uncles in pink pagris (headgear). Yet another recorded for posterity the route the baraat took by panning on the sign-boards of shops and road signages. Two video-men frantically flitted around covering the periphery and on the alert for any unexpected, sudden movement by any guest.
Ketan said to his wife, "If you can find me one slim or normal-sized man or woman, I'll buy you a Murshidabad silk."
"O.K. Satya Paul."
For Arpita, it would be a precious win as Ketan bought her a good sari only on special occasions, like her birthday or their wedding anniversary. Ketan was the 'poor' son of a wealthy family and was considered an idiot by his father to not get into the flourishing family businesses of exporting antiques to the U.S., Real Estate, and electronics manufacture. He had instead chosen to become a teacher in the university and married Arpita, his college soul-mate, who had brought no dowry. They had moved to the university flats partly because of his differences with his father. And also because he felt choked to breathe the toxic air at home, where his two uncles and father frequently got together to wine and dine and think up devious business strategies to make millions -- most of it in black which was laundered through shell companies.
"Only sixty lakhs after a year's wait?" bawled Ketan's father, Kamta Prasad, into the phone.
"Sir, it was because of the unexpected slump and it seemed their price would slide further. So, I thought I should book the profits."
"Last time, too, you gave me some such shit despite assuring I would make one crore at least. Anyway, which company are you now suggesting?"
"'Home in the Sky,' Sir. They are offering land on the Moon. I can guarantee their share prices would skyrocket in a couple of years.
"Okay. Put in thirty lakhs and send me the rest in cash."
Investments in shares was a side business for the Minochas.
Arpita set about the job diligently. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. Then her gaze lingered on a lady, who had taken a break from dancing, and was standing with her husband.
"Hey, I have won. There she is."
"I didn't say comparatively slim," Ketan smiled.
She pulled a long face. "This is cheating."
"You ask anyone."
"One of the bandwallas or the light-carrying men."
She raised her hands and said, "I give up."
From nowhere, a video-wielder had jumped in front of them and captured her in that pose.
"Good," said Ketan.
"What's good about losing?"
"My cousin will be happy."
Arpita looked at him puzzled.
"The video footage will show you dancing. We are sharing his joy!"
She mock-pummeled Ketan's arm.
At the weekly meetings, the middle brother was whispering into the phone instructions to his Liaison man.
"Manage permission for the thirteenth floor somehow. I have already sold the flats on it against advances."
He had been given approval for a twelve-floor multistoried building.
"I must have all clearances from authorities at all costs and soon. Do you get it? Soak your contacts with liquid cash. No limits. Is that clear?"
Then turning to Kamta Prasad he said, "This project is worth fifty crores. But we have to complete it in one year. After that, the economy is going to bust – I know through my sources in Finance Ministry. Then buyers would vanish and the prices would crash."
"You sure your man will be able to manage? A lot is at stake."
"For this man, nothing is impossible!" Bhaisaab.
"Hmm, good," said Ketan's father, churning the ice in his glass reflectively.
"How much profit?" the taciturn youngest brother asked, taking a sip of Scotch. He was a quiet performer and was doing very well in the electronics business.
"At least twenty crores. It can be more if I could arrange to siphon-off materials from an ongoing government construction project. They would be dirt cheap."
Suddenly, there was a drizzle of currency notes, because the Bandmaster started peppy tunes like Beedi Jalai Ke Jigar Se Piya, or Bolo tara Ta, Ra, Ra. The dancers turned into livewire. Some of the young men pulled in their girlfriends or distant cousins. While dancing they looked into their eyes romantically and touched and hugged them freely – functions such as these licenses the young to have fun.
The drizzle then turned into a downpour. The overwhelmed preening parents and uncles would pull out a fistful of high denomination notes, touch them to their children's heads and hurl them into the air. They came fluttering down, some of them landing near the electric-lamp carriers and bandwallas who leaned left or right and pocketed them. The Bandmaster could not interrupt playing his clarinet and felt irritated as he could not get his share.
"You should have listened to your father. You've been daft to not get into the business."
"Et tu brute" Ketan sighed.
"Yes. Here I'm straining every nerve to wangle a Satya Paul, and I see money floating down like insect-wings on a rainy day."
"Would you want to be a mobile spindle like the other ladies? You know how their parents find them husbands?"
She looked at him questioningly.
"The girls take a TLCC crash course and shed fifteen to twenty kilos in a few months."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Before long, they make up more than their loss and look like their mothers. In a year or two, a kid arrives. And then the husband feels tied to his wife, whatever her shape or size. "
"Hmm. Very knowledgeable!"
He added, 'But sometimes, the marriage collapses into a divorce. Or the husband looks for another woman to carry on with."
All of a sudden there was a spurt of soft explosions, followed by dull thuds. Before anyone could know what was happening, bedlam broke loose on the road. Instead of the band playing, there was shrillness of splintering glass. The road was paved with currency notes. The light carriers had thrown down their lamps and jostled with each other. The bandwallas joined the melee. They started shoving, pushing, and hitting each other in their eagerness to stuff their pockets. Many got injured and two of them died from touching electric livewire connected to one of the generators.
The guests felt light and happy at first, but the next moment were confused and alarmed. Many men's stomachs had burst open, scattering around wads of currency notes. After the painless split, the stomachs had healed, leaving only a thin line that became their undoing.
In no time, the police arrived and rounded up everyone. The poor had disappeared with the booty they had managed. A couple of constables also seized the opportunity to slip a wad or two into their pockets. The whole baraat was bundled into five police vans and whisked away to the police station.
Senior Income Tax officials also materialized at the police station pronto. A male group of policemen examined men and the female police team scrutinized women. The culpability was determined by the scars on the stomach. The income tax officials registered cases against many. Ketan, Arpita, and the ladies were let off.