By: Ram Govardhan
Beauty and brains seldom come together; that is, one rarely stumbles on a stunner with extraordinary intellect as opposed to ubiquitous plain looks with average wits. But, of all the deserving girls in town, such rarity befell upon Lekha, and ever since her pubescence, she knew, she could take the world of high fashion by storm. And the day she was no longer a teenager, she knew the sluggish haute couture in Mumbai was waiting for her arrival for a shake up, and she knew the celluloid capital would be a stepping-stone in her inevitable progress towards fashion capitals of the world. And when she landed, she had to deal with seasoned wolves marauding the catwalk surroundings to devour amateurs like her. Blinded by the sanguine self-confidence young blood exudes, she never realised that she could grieve a double whammy of gorgeousness and intelligence, until it was too late.
“Modelling, like modern science, is a cooperative enterprise; you can hardly achieve any degree of eminence all by yourself, even if you are Naomi Campbell,” Jamshed, the effervescent fashion agent, would say. Even as she was fascinated by his words, he swept her off her feet by saying, “Like a precious gemstone, you are smooth, soft and capable of taking high polish.” He didn’t believe in euphemisms, believed in the power of direct, lavish outpouring, “You are many times more gorgeous than sum of your parts.” That was that. She needed nothing more to fall for. Everything he said was too agreeable to believe, magical stuff, and she had a strong hunch that he was hacking into her mind, like all hackers, illicitly. But she was keen to surrender to such impropriety spun out by, what she called, an incredible head on his charming shoulders. “It’s our cosmic destiny to travel together to greater heights,” he said. Take that. Being like-minded was one thing, but being similarly gifted was fantastic, and when two such prodigious folks come together, no human endeavour was big enough to daunt.
Besides looks and sharpness, she liked Jamshed’s taste for violence, beauty and money, in that rational order of his. Like lions, he always kept element of surprise on his side, and, for that reason, in real life, he relished his tastes in reverse order. Only after laying his hands on money and beauty, he goes for the jugular. Last night, at last, the first of his tastes, violence, was on display, in all its gruesome glory. Of course she enjoyed a bit of manly ferociousness, virile rage and delightful slaps, whacks, and spanks but Jamshed too drunk, went too overboard. He manically pummelled her, harming beyond her expectations, and, after guzzling a bottle of water, resumed and thrashed until she fainted. Then he plunged into the bed that caved in. He slept like a kid; limbs spread all over, his head turned diagonally facing northwest.
Her gashes bled all night; that was her penance for counting on a treacherous guy, the second time over. She didn’t trust him an edge just a year ago, but here she was, again, only to rue. She ran her fingers over the bruises, gashes and swellings all night and, at first light, stood before the looking-glass to see; they were deeper, much lengthier than her fingers could measure in the darkness. When a hefty guy like Jamshed batters, you are lucky to be alive, thank your stars. Last night, the savage in him was in his elements. He knocked, slammed onto floor, and kicked her out of bedroom. And dragged her back inside and tried the carnal game. When she refused, he cried, “You are a cunning killjoy…a zombie.” Then he threatened her with a flick-knife, “Just a few slashes and you can’t be a clothes-horse anymore.” Grasping that she was not game for it, hysterically slashing her all over, he heaved to stab; she ducked just in time to escape, he fell down with a thud, lied there unmoved for a while gasping, and then snored away his exertion. Like lions, he slumbered for over twenty hours a day, and like hungry jackals, he could also work those many hours a day when he spots a potential prey: a wide-eyed, wannabe model.
The wounds were painful, yet tolerable, but his words were poisonous enough to kill her. They disturbed her, made her squirm, and they made her throw up. That was that. She must leave him for good, leaving everything that belonged to him and she shouldn’t even carry his memories—good, bad and ugly: none.
But her mind had its own mind, she had no control over it as far as what and how much to remember, it took its own call as far as what and how much to trash, and, of course, it discarded quite a bit on its own, otherwise her hard disk would have crashed much before she turned two.
Now how do you to jettison an over-burdened relationship? You chuck him out of the boat, you delete, unfriend all cyber contacts, go too far away, go untraceable enough, but how do you unclog the memories he had crammed your mind with. The more you try, the more they keep coming at you, and everything seems to remind of him, even clothes.
Jamshed was still snoring aloud, every snort rising in billows. She must get out of here, before he wakes up. There was nothing to think about. There was nothing to pack. She stripped her clothes and stood naked in front of mirror. The underwear and brassiere laughed at her together; he had bought them online last week: ‘My pink darlings,’ he had called them. Her plight was not mitigated even when she turned up in her birthday suit in front of the mirror. It was the turn of her parts of body to laugh. “Didn’t he call us ‘Utopian Apples,’ ‘Honeydew Candies’?” asked breasts and lips in tandem “Didn’t he call us ‘Dreamy Angels’?” asked her eyes? “Didn’t he kiss me here…?” “Didn’t he caress us here…?”
Every part of her body questioned her but, taking advantage of the commotion, she wobbled out, slammed the door behind and crashed onto stairs, steadying her head between her knees. How can she take another night of this? Bearing few more minutes of this wretched sadist was impossible. Like him, when Lekha was angry, or in pain, no one knew what might happen next.
She called Amit Mishra, her newly appointed, twenty-something assistant, “Guess what?” “What?” he asked. “I am in trouble…almost naked; pick me up in ten minutes,” she ordered.
That set him alight. He had visualised her naked body no less than a thousand times since joining. Yet, in the flesh, seeing every bit of her can be nothing but an unmatched visual treat. This was more than hitting a jackpot, or, since she was also his boss, is it a double jackpot? “Or is this a ploy to sleep with me on a Sunday morning? She too might have imagined me in her bed umpteen times. In any case, is there a woman not interested in bedding my debonair looks?” Amit asked himself. He revved up his hatchback, crooning Lionel Richie’s Hello, to turn up at her place in a jiffy.
Lekha was sobbing, on haunches, on the stairs, towelled. His humming stopped on its own at once. She was shivering, in a daze, and too weak to speak. She gesticulated him to shoulder her into the car. He couldn’t fathom such frailty for, just a while ago, she sounded so sure over the phone. He helped her lie on the back seat and slipped a bolster under her head. But her long legs could not be stretched; she folded them sidewards triggering a deep sense of shame for owning such a tiny car that looked an ancient, little wreck. “It is time I exchange this suffocating bin for an airy sedan. When such a belle in my grasp, the one that is called a caaaar might be a perfect deal,” Amit told himself.
She fell into deep sleep by the time he reached his place. Chattri, the Ghurkha, and Amit managed to lug her. The jaded Chattri giggled and felt his head until Amit handed ten bucks. Pocketing the note, walking back, Chattri paused, turned and looked towards Lekha. Amit could appreciate Chattri’s predicament for he hasn’t been to Nepal, where his wife languishes longing for him, for over two years now. The four steps that Chattri took towards the door were the most heavy-footed ones in all of his life in India.
It was still mindboggling that his gorgeous boss was asleep on his bed. He tweaked the towel to cover her with a warm blanket but, even before he could see her, the cuts and clefts, some deep and some shallow, some withered and some blood-spattered, scared him stiff. The density of slashes in her skirt and bodice cried out the savagery she was treated to. The little bump surprised him and, undoubtedly, she looked less skinny than in clothes.
Too tall, too gorgeous to hail from a fashionless town, Lekha grew up in a community that hated sending girls to schools but her father sent her to a convent too far away to reach in a day. Right from adolescence, girls were ‘objects’ to be enjoyed by townsmen, young and old alike. A girl rarely grew into a woman unscathed. Then, if she is striking, men pounced on her, and Lekha’s father too was lecherous, but, like all other upper-caste men, he kept his wives and daughters under lock and key. Lock and key, literally. When Lekha completed her college, returned to the town, there was nothing she could do in terms of her career. Despite her father’s strict ‘lock and key’ fortification, men repeatedly tried but she thwarted advances of every loathsome guy. The day her father talked of her marriage with an aged merchant, horrified Lekha beguiled an old truck driver, yielded to his thirst for a kiss in the cabin and reached Mumbai two days later.
X-ray eyes of agents in Mumbai could see hidden treasures inside Lekha’s lanky frame. One upmarket pimp meticulously stripped rustic traces off rendering her suitable for his high-net-worth clients. “In fact, you are too gorgeous for domestic market,” said the pimp.
“You are a show,” said Jamshed Dinshaw, a fashion agent who was too suave, too persuasive to be patrolling the red-light district. No one half as handsome had flattered her in fewer words. “I can get you to Europe and North America,” he said, “You are indeed an angel worthy of living not around the Atlantic but in a galactic neighbourhood where cherubic virtues are not exploited.”
“Europe would make a sucker of you and trash you. You can be a heroine here, but you would die of heroin in Europe,” countered the pimp.
Mumbai specialised in baptizing any tall, skinny woman into the world of high fashion, and the go-getting city boasted of thousands of bickering fashion agents who waylaid like predators. Lekha was badgered by all sorts of agents and, within weeks, like all amateurs, she burnt her fingers, denting her self-esteem. Jamshed was a flickering hope; he was handsome and graceful enough to stand out of the cunning crowd gunning for her crown.
Before long, he turned intimate enough to claim that there was no better rapper on earth than the great Eminem. Of course, Lekha felt, Jamshed himself rapped well but his claims of a singer were a little suspect, rather, far more suspect. She had to accept his claim of being an expert male theatrical dancer, although it seemed farfetched given his oversized legs. In the end, among the wily agents, he emerged as the most dependable one. For all his histrionics, he was still exceedingly worthy of investing in a business relationship and, touch wood, if it goes beyond, she would love to make him hers for time and for all eternity. “The only thing that matched his acumen was his elegant body,” she told herself.
She adored Jamshed’s passion for purity and elegance, and the way he got his head around the foxy pimps to save her convinced that he could be the one for a long haul to go along, to get around the worldly world, and to take the celestial stairway into the heavens.
Don’t trust Indians…they are the best in the world in keeping the poor, poor,” said Jamshed, “No Indian agent earns an honest penny. I have enough contacts all over Europe.” Within months, he taught her proven series that eventually enable her to saunter the ramps of New York, Paris and Milan. He sent her to Frankfurt and the agent there sent her to Milan. That was that. In for a penny, in for a pound, now there was no looking back. Along with high-fives, the fashion capitals of Europe gifted her downer, grass, hash, pot, horse, the big H, smack, coke, crack, and E. The substances answered homesickness, insomnia, exhaustion, and the excruciating consequences of casting couches. Before long, the substances turned far more indispensable for she had to deal with double-crossing, dejection and hopelessness. Her dream sequence crash-landed, when she opened her eyes in Beatrice Privat a hi-tech brothel in central Zurich. Within weeks, Lekha was abandoned for she was not hot enough to satiate hardcore men.
When alien lands forsake you, you return to your folks even if it they had hoodwinked you. A year later, she came back to Mumbai, and, ultimately she had to come to Jamshed. But he had no use of her. By now he was not only a high-flying designer in town, his agency was handling careers of scores of established models. Nonetheless, looking at her emaciated, dying looks, out of pity, within few months, as her health began showing up, he made her chief of one of his agencies. And shortly thereafter, dumping his Goan partner, Jamshed lured Lekha into a live-in relationship, for a second time. Three months of re-live-in was more than enough for Lekha to escape from his bungalow while he was asleep.
Here she was, asleep on Amit’s bed.
Amit could not make out whether she was sleeping or unconscious. He decided not to wake her up for few more hours. He watched TV until he saw her arms move. She gestured that she was hungry. It was four in the afternoon and he too had nothing until now. He ordered pizzas.
She reluctantly agreed to see a doctor. “The gashes pose no danger; they will disappear in a few days,” said the doctor and went on to give the news that is always ‘good’ to Indians: pregnancy. Few months later, after the Caesarean section, the doctor called Amit in and said, “The baby is fine but the part of the nervous system that controls Lekha’s legs is injured. She may not walk anymore, her legs are paralysed.”
Five years later, at a nursery school, when the principal asked the father’s name of her daughter, while Amit said, “Jamsh…,” Lekha almost shouted, “Amit Sharma.” Pulling her wheelchair closer, Lekha plucked the admission form out of the principal’s hand and asked Amit to sign it. He did.
Ram Govardhan’s first novel, Rough with the Smooth, was longlisted for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize, The Economist-Crossword 2011 Award and published by Leadstart Publishing, Mumbai. His short stories have appeared in Asian Cha, Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, Muse India, Asia Writes, Open Road Review, Cerebration, Spark and several other Asian and African literary journals. He lives, works in Chennai, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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