Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Once upon a time in India

Akbar owns a shady belly-dancing night-club. Here revolutionaries and sin-cravers and our own heroes mingle in the dark shadows, and in hushed tones they discuss secret and diabolical machinations.

It is this nightclub where the scene is set. It’s down a side alley in a neighbourhood of sin, and then underground down a flight of stairs to where the noise and music and the scent of kebabs come from. Inside, a voluptuous temptress dances seductively on a raised platform to earthy and sensuous music. Men crowd around the stage and cheer her on. The lighting is all wicks and candles, and the air is smoky dense and hallucinatory with the dark plumes of intoxicating effluvium from the hookahs many of the seated men are smoking hashish in. This is the lawless part of town, and there is that overwhelming scent of danger and transgression everywhere.

A well-dressed man in a pinstriped double-breasted suit walks into the room. He looks around uncertainly. He has been here before, but he comes rarely these days, and looks quite out of place in both dress and demeanour. His presence causes a stir among some of the more hot blooded and less informed mujahedin and gadrs.

Fortunately the proprietor notices his presence immediately, and rushes over, greeting him warmly. Some of the rowdier elements, initially tempted to greet the babu in their own distinct fashion, back away, returning to their cliques and corners.

The well-dressed man is Anthony — a sycophantic British boot-licker by day, ideological revolutionary passing on secret information to the good guys by night. He used to write articles urging constitutional reforms in his younger, university days. He writes less now, because he came to see the peaceful writing classes for the largely effete lazy goodfornothings they are.

While the seductive temptress draws roars of acclaims, the proprietor escorts the brown sahib through a nondescript door. The next room is where the gambling is done. There are tables where men throw dice. And then there are tables where fearsome men with blood-shot eyes glare at each other, in between unending games of cards of course. Other men lie on couches, inhaling noxious fumes and holding whispered conversations. The proprietor discreetly motions to one of the men here. It is the assassin. Noting his two friends, he excuses himself and rises immediately if shakily, embracing the babu warmly.

The assassin is Amar. He survived the massacre at Jallianwalla Bagh, though none of his family did. Since then, vengeance is the only thing that has kept him alive. The British Authority in the city knows of him as a minor member of this revolutionary cell. What they don’t know is his past and the secret that he is also Azad, the scourge of the foreign scum. There is a 50,000-rupee bounty on his head. Of course, no one really knows who they are looking for.

One of the waitresses, scantily-clad, suddenly appears through the door. She rushes over and whispers something to Akbar. Anthony notices the change in the contour of the proprietor’s face. Amar notices it too, and his hand already reaches the pistol hidden under his cassock. But Akbar returns to normalcy quickly. They return to the previous hall, and over to the other end, to the corridor behind the beaded curtains where the kitchens and back rooms are. He leads them through to the end of the corridor, past the kitchen and the storerooms, then left another corridor, and down a set of stairs to a lone door. He unlocks the door, and the three men enter.