A random “dear diary” post because some days deserve them.
It was an unimpressive Tuesday morning in Mumbai and the traffic between Dadar and Lower Parel was so sluggish that slugs would have hung their heads in shame to have their species associated with it because even on a slow day, a lazy slug moves faster. I wondered if this was punishment for having worn my new earrings which have little red devils hanging from them and then wondered how bored a Christian god would have to be to pay attention to a random heathen’s choice of accessories and ultimately came to the conclusion that he was only likely to do so if heaven too has deadening traffic jams like the one I was in. This is not related to anything. I just wanted to let you all know that I have devil earrings because they really are very cool.
So I finally reached the office and once at my desk, I found a slim brown envelope sitting on it. It was addressed to me and had come by registered mail. The sending address was in Delhi and completely unfamiliar. I opened it to find a thin folded sheet of paper which I unfolded. There was nothing written on it but lying inside it, much like a fillet of fish in a flattened Filet-O-Fish, were two fifty dollar bills. No explanations, no note; just two fifty dollar bills. My first thought: New York, here I come.
Feeling vaguely like a smuggler (remember the hawala days, my fellow Indians?), I folded the paper shut quickly and then started sniffing around to figure out why someone was randomly sending me foreign currency. With as much nonchalance and subtlety as one can display under the circumstances, I took the notes out and held them up to the light. They were real. Upon inspecting the envelope, I finally found one line written at the back in miniscule handwriting – “Send email to acknowledge receipt to (the name of a little magazine in Pakistan for which I’d written a piece about 6 months ago).” If there ever was a sign that relations between the two countries are dodgy, this was it. Either that or my Pakistani magazine publisher is taking adherence to Islamic law a little too seriously (Wikipedia tells me hawala has its origins in “classical Islamic law”).
I suspect sending in the mail random currency from a country that has little to do with either the sender or the receiver’s location isn’t established practice for most publications but I’ve decided I love it. Maybe the next time I write for a foreign publication (if ever), I’ll get Australian dollars. They’re so bright and pretty! Or maybe some Pa’anga (what? You didn’t know that’s the currency in Togo?) because it has an apostrophe in its name.
While there was the temptation to give up work as a result of having chanced upon this princely sum (with the way the Rupee is falling, there’s very little irony in this phrase), I resisted and picked up the phone in an attempt to earn my salary and contact the artist MF Husain for an article whose deadline was looming perilously near. Husain is perhaps one of the most talked about figures in modern and contemporary Indian art. Stories about him shimmer between folklore, absolute lunacy and fact. He painted cinema hoardings to make a living when he came to Mumbai from his hometown of Indore (fact). Once, a rich industrialist paid him Rs 1,00,000 to paint a wall (in socialist India, that was a lot of money; now it’s what some South Bombay couple dish out carelessly for a weekend in Ibiza) and Husain painted one red dot in one corner and left (folklore). He walks barefoot everywhere (absolute lunacy and fact). He has a roaring libido (unverified by self and therefore folklore) which addled his brains and led him to make bizarre films like Gajagamini and Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, which are odes to the beauty of Madhuri Dixit and Tabu (absolute lunacy). There’s been a lot written about him in recent times because he had gone into an exile of sorts after a slew of court cases were lodged against him, accusing him of obscenity because he painted some Hindu goddesses naked (we Hindus don’t do nudity, noooo; we just pray to a phallus and have centuries of nude sculptures). Most of them have him sounding vaguely weepy and a bit like a heartbroken Jane Austen heroine.
What they don’t write is how incredibly young and – alright, I’ll say it – how hot he sounds. The man is 93 years old but his voice doesn’t quiver. This is not a man pining for home or even remotely bothered by these cases, despite what newspaper reports might suggest. He’s lucid, charming, unapologetic and he said I have a beautiful voice. Which is a quote that I’m, unfortunately, not going to be able to use.