My friend, who lives on the 21st floor, sounded angry when he called me this morning to invite me for breakfast at his apartment after his tennis lessons from John McEnroe at the Bombay Gymkhana. “I will pick you up on the way home from the club,” he said.
“Thanks, I will wait on the footpath near K Rustam’s,” I said.
I sat in his leather-upholstered Jaguar with a Bang and Olufsen stereo playing songs from Amitabh Bachchan’s masterpiece, Deewar, in which a boy grows up polishing people’s shoes on Mumbai’s streets, fighting all odds, and after a series of twists and turns in the plot, becomes a millionaire.
“Nice car,” I said, feeling the soft leather.
“It is 100% Indian product, made by Tata,” he said proudly. “We Indians are now a major economic power, and then this film comes, which shows our city in such a poor light,” he said, as we reached his skyscraper. As we entered the lift, the liftman gave us warm towels to wipe our faces.
“I am going to invite you on Saturday with my VIP friends to plan the campaign to get Slumdog Millionaire banned in India. This is a very important campaign to recapture national pride, and you will be my special guest,” he told me, as we entered his apartment, with a large painting—a cartoon personally drawn for him by Bal Thackeray.
“You will naturally sit at the main table, next to Mr Raj Thackeray. But if you prefer, I can have you seated next to Mr Pramod Mutalik, too, who has agreed to come from Mangalore to help us out. I will, of course, send my helicopter to collect him,” he said as he liberally applied French strawberry conserve on fluffy croissants from the cake shop at the Taj. “Try some; now the Taj bakery is open again. For two months I had to get my croissants flown in from Paris. These Pakistanis don’t know the amount of hardship we Bombay people have had to face because of this terrorist attack. My friend Simi is right, we should simply bomb them.”
“It does not matter where I sit, as long as I can help improve Mumbai’s image,” I said, as I chewed my burun-maska (buttered bun), dipping it in my cutting chai, which he had specially ordered from the Irani restaurant at Colaba.
“You will have your personal PDA (personal digital assistant) on which you will be given four options for the question we are discussing, and if you want, you can go 50:50, and you can even phone a friend,” he said. “You can take the PDA home later, as my gift,” he said.
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” I said.
“The film is a gross distortion of reality—you will think making a million is as easy as answering 10 questions. What happens in our films if you get all questions right? You run like Dharmendra and touch your mother Nirupa Roy’s feet, and say: “Ma, main exam mein first aaya (Mom, I’ve stood first in my exams),” and she will take you to your father’s photograph and say: “Kash, tere pitaji yeh din dekh sakte (I wish your father were here).” That is real India,” he added.
“Quite so,” I replied.
“I have already spoken to my good friend Chidambaram, and he has allowed us to have a satellite hook-up with my old friend Ramalinga Raju, who is unfortunately in a jail in Hyderabad. Mr Raju will tell us how hard it is to make money,” he added.
“Naturally,” I agreed.
“But he has cases pending, so we are not to ask him any silly questions,” he cautioned me.
“I’ll be careful,” I said.
“There are four ways of fighting this film. The options are, (a) to let Mr Thackeray run a campaign against Dev Patel, because the film has given a job to an outsider, (b) to let Mr Mutalik throw stones at the theatre because Frieda Pinto acts as a Hindu girl who is going out with a Muslim boy, (c) to send Mr Amitabh Bachchan to New York and direct a film called Hutatma Chowk to Harlem, which will show how blacks in America get no opportunities, and (d) to get all residents of Cuffe Parade and Malabar Hill to take a morcha (rally) to the British deputy high commission, because the film compares us millionaires to slumdogs, and violates our human rights. I asked Teesta Setalvad to help, but she is very busy,” he added.
“Excellent,” I replied, “I will definitely come,” I said, as I left.
I went home in a BEST bus. At home, the wife was unhappy.
“See what happens after you invite your friend Raj Thackeray,” she said. “Now our dog wants his name changed.”
“Why, what is the problem with your name? It doesn’t come from Karachi or Lahore,” I told my dog, whose name is Bolshoi the Boxer.
“I have a new name now,” he said. “It is slumdog.”
With apologies to my friend, the late Behram Contractor, or Busybee, whose gentle sting his countless fans, myself included, sorely miss.
Salil Tripathi is a writer based in London. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org