Something happened that night. The cell in the police station was empty. Even the station was empty, except for two or three people dozing in the corner. As his cheek continued to twitch, and a constant humming pervading his ears, and the mosquitoes biting his skin, Sangram stood there on the corner of the cell, his back to the walls, and he realized, he wasn’t scared anymore. He remembered Rajesh tell him a long time ago, “When you are on a sinking ship, it’s wise to know where the sharks are.” He was already in the midst of the sharks. Now, all he could do was to fight back.
The next morning Pyare bailed him out.
“How was it?”
“The police station? It’s not a real jail, is it? And they did not file a complaint or anything, did they?”
“You won’t believe what a few currency notes can do.”
“Where did you get the money? Not Rustambhai?”
“Don’t worry, the old man doesn’t know. Bapu called Rosy and Rosy called me. They did not beat you up or anything, right.”
What was happening was worse. Sangram did not like this sense of helplessness of his existence. He did not want to live his life in fear. Not anymore.
On the way, he made Pyare buy two bottles of Old Monk and they went to his room straight. He needed to straighten out a few things.
“Who are you?” he asked Pyare, point blank and menacing. “Why are you so nice to me?” He understood Rosy’s affection for him. They had become friends. But, Pyare was a difficult man to trust, despite the fact that he was only person who’d make Sangram feel strong and hopeful.
“You want an answer, right,” Pyare said, and Sangram nodded. “Very well. First, let me finish the drinks.”
As Pyare took a long swig from the bottle, Sangram looked the man in front of him. There was something very peculiar about the man. He did not fit in the surrounding the way the others did. He was more incongruous to the surrounding than even Sangram himself was, the thin, fair teenager who did not know how to swear and how to smoke, and how to speak in an obnoxious mix of Hindi and Marathi.
“I’m late already,” Pyare said and made himself comfortable on the bed. “I need to go and make it up to the DCP.” After Rosy left, Sangram had cleaned the room. He had got a new bedspread.
“You are not going anywhere till you tell me.”
“Tell you what? You are not my father to ask me questions. Even that DCP Pathak dares not ask me question. You know who I am?”
“That’s what I am asking,” Sangram said, still serious. Pyare laughed his maniac laughter.
“You, Sangram, grow up now,” he said when the laughter had stopped. “You cannot presume everybody to be like your runaway lover, right.”
“He wasn’t my lover. It was just an incident and I have forgotten all about it.”
No, you haven’t, and you shouldn’t. This must be a lesson for you to be cautious. Which you are. Which is good. But, mere bhai, you need people to survive, right. You need friends. And to keep those friends, you must make enemies. You cannot spend all your life in a shell, especially when you are at the love station.”
Pyare would never utter the name of the hotel. The place was always a love station for him.
“What you want me to do?” Sangram asked.
“I don’t want you to do anything. You told me that you’ll decide what you want to do. All I want is for you to do something. Anything.”
“I’m a hotel bellboy.”
“You did not run away from home to be a hotel bellboy. This is not what you are.”
Sangram did not know what to say. He agreed with Pyare. This was not what he was. He was supposed to be something else. Now, he couldn’t even think of those days.
“I’m scared,” he mumbled, as he finished the peg. Pyare had already finished half of the content of the bottle.
Pyare laughed again. “That’s why I like you, right. You are simple and direct. You have potential.”
Potential for what? Sangram did not want to ask.
“See, I am ready to help you, whatever help you want. You want to go home. You want to join a college, which I think you should do. You want to kills somebody. Whatever. Just tell me.”
Sangram did not want to tell him that he had stopped reading since the day Nikhil had disappeared. It was his punishment.
“But first, you will need to know the world beyond the limits of this love station,” Pyare continued.
Sangram could not agree more. First and foremost he would need to learn to deal with those mama-log.
“But you did not answer my question?” Sangram returned to his moot point.
“What was the question?”
“Who are you? And why are you so nice to me?”
“Stop being so suspicious, right. I am nice to you because I need a place to drink.”
Sangram glared at him. He meant business.
Pyare finished his drink and looked at the door. The corridor was empty. They could hear the noise of the street outside.
“See,” Pyare said, and suddenly did not sound like a drunk. “I don’t want tell you lies. There are certain things I cannot tell you. There are things I cannot even tell myself. All I can say is I may not be a good guy, but I’m not your enemy.”
“I know that…”
“Right. The fact is in a very strange way you remind me of myself. That’s the reason I want to help you.” Pyare stopped and gave him a smile. Sangram tried to guess how old this man must be. He couldn’t. But he would surely be older than his father.
“All I can tell you is that I am not from here, like yourself, and Pyare is not my real name, like yourself. What I do? Now, that’s the real question. What I do? Just say that I help people do their business, and I get a commission. That’s what I am trying with you. You get into a business and I will get a commission. You don’t believe it? Fair enough. There was a time I used to do something else. That was before I came to Bombay. Yes, I came here when Bombay was Bombay, not Mumbai, and it was the best job I could find,” Pyare stopped and checked the bottle. It was empty. He got up from the bed and smoothed his crumpled shirt, and collected his bag. Sangram could not even imagine what the bag contained. “Got to go now. I have a business to run.”
“But you did not tell me why are you helping me,” Sangram persisted.
“Come here.” Sangram left the bed and stood in front of Pyare. He felt dizzy. He did not sleep a wink last night. The tall, thin man wrapped his long hands around him in an embrace. It was the first time someone had embraced him like this; even Nikhil did not hug him like that. Sangram could hear the sound of Pyare’s palpitating heart.
“I’m an old man, and you are just a child. You have nothing that can profit me.” He stopped, took a deep breath and tightened the embrace, as if he’d like to insert the whole of Sangram inside this thin frame. “My father was a teacher,” Pyare continued, slowly, haltingly, this time he really sounded drunk. “He taught me a great many things, all of which I have forgotten. There’s just one thing I remember. He said, the greatest thing you can do with your life is to give somebody the experiences that you have earned, so that your misfortunes become someone else’s fortune. So that your experiences continues to live long after you are gone. That was the reason my father became was teacher, and was a teacher till the last day of his life. And, Sangram, you are the person through whom I am going to earn my immortality. Am I helping you? No. I am helping myself.”
He broke the embrace. Sangram was dazed.
“Look at you!” Pyare said. “This is the reason. You are so bloody innocent. Of all the people I have met in my long life, you are the only one who is still innocent.” Pyare placed his right palm on Sangram’s throbbing heart. “That’s why.”
He tuned to leave. “Now, go to sleep. You look tired. I’ll see you in the night, and we are going out. You are going to meet an important man.”
And, in the middle of the day, in the sweltering heat, with the sun blazing outside, amomg the noise honk of the chaotic city, Sangram, drunk and happy, went to sleep without even trying to, for the first time since his arrival in Mumbai.
[Excerpt from 'Hotel Sunshine', a novel I am working on.]