CHAPTER 8: AN OLD FRIEND
The plane lands at Bombay Airport. Saket notices Shriram Abhyankar as they proceed to gather their luggage. He is in a completely new attire. He greets Saket with a “Vande Mataram”. He carries some suitcases as Saket introduces him to Mythili. He interrupts Saket and introduces himself as Ramakrishna Pandey, clearly assuming anonymity. Saket introduces Mythili to Pandey as his wife. Pandey is amazed and disappointed at Saket’s “mellowing down”. He is not happy with Saket putting his past behind him. He almost asks why Saket had dome so but restrains himself to asking when he had married. As Saket mentions that it has just been two months, Pandey greets Mythili as a formality and the three walk towards the car. Pandey asks her if she would like to join the hunting party with the Maharaja the next day. She turns down the offer reporting that she is a vegetarian (again the meekness of Mythili is evident). After a vernacular joke about vegetarianism and Hinduism, they get in to the car specially sent for Saket by the Maharaja.
Mythili asks how people can kill animals as both the men justify it. She asks if it would be right if the animals decide to start killing people for which Saket replies that first the animals have to learn to hold a gun. She offers an alternate argument about a wolf that carries off a human kid. She asks would that be correct. Pandey replies that the moral correctness depends on whether you are the human or the wolf as he changes his dark glasses for a transparent one. He has changed back to Abhyankar from Pandey. Clearly, there is a parallel struck between the ongoing argument and the Hindu-Muslim clash. The men are of the opinion that the hunting, which began during their first meeting in Calcutta, will be clear to Gandhians, such as Mythili herself, only if they stand in the victim’s boots. They leave the station.
The next day at the Maharaja’s hunting grounds, Abhyankar asks if Saket likes Deer meat or Rabbit meat for which Saket replies that he is a vegetarian and hunting is just a passion. The Maharaja is surprised and asks Saket
“Only passion, no hunger eh? Just the need to kill.”
suggesting Saket’s political leanings have become stronger than personal revenge. The Maharaja is impressed and thinks he is the kind of man for their job. They leave the estate after a group photograph. The photograph again, as in the party at Karachi, fades to grayscale indicating that the stories behind them will be never revealed by Saket to his family.
Their car arrives at a closed railway crossing and the car stops. Abhyankar asks if he should go have the gates opened to which the Maharaja replies:
“l said all the doors now are closed for Rajas like me. So what is the use of opening only this door?”
The point made here refers to Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel’s efforts to banish kingship in India and integrate all the princely states to form a Pan-Indian political rule. The kings are truly out of place in the Indian governmental system.
The Maharaja asks Abhyankar to call the man selling Papad to which Abhyankar says that Papad is a poor man’s food. The king again makes a wisecrack that Maharajas will have to learn to eat Papad in Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel’s rule! The vendor comes to the car as Saket watches somewhere else. The Maharaja buys the whole lot of Papads and pays the vendor a handsome amount. He condescends on the vendor and says that he will be grateful that he prospered because of a fading king and wonders if the vendor could count that sum of money. The vendor is quick to reply that counting loads of money is what he did in Karachi before the riots there. It is only now that Saket notes that the vendor is none but his old friend Lalwani. He is shocked and delighted at the same time. He had never imagined that Lalwani, who was one of the richest businessmen in Karachi, would be selling Papad for meager amounts of money.
Saket introduces him to the Maharaja as an industrialist when Lalwani stops him. Saket learns that Lalwani has lost his office, shop and his family during the riots. He has lost his elder kid in a refugee camp due to Cholera while the small one was lost in a crowd. Lalwani adds that Saket will not understand his plight since he is a South India to which Saket tells the ugly truth about Aparna. Lalwani is the representative symbol of Hindus in Pakistan. Saket’s apprehensions had become true. The Hindus in Pakistan are unsafe, thanks to Gandhi. He takes Lalwani along with him to his place.
It is Vijayadashami. Lalwani is drunk to his heart’s content. Mythili offers him a sweet that he drops down. As he tries to pick it up to eat, Saket grabs it and throws it away. Lalwani is disappointed and says that bygones are bygones indicating his escape from the past. Just then, Abhyankar offers him what it seems to be alcohol I a cup and asks him to drink. Upon his hesitation and Mythili’s efforts to stop Saket, Abhyankar urges Saket to drink it after he tells him it is just Soma (The drink of the gods), the drink that comes along with the festival. Saket drinks it up as Mythili seems a tad disappointed. They all go to the event of burning the mammoth idol of Ravana by Rama. This is headed by the Maharaja himself. There is a huge crowd at the place. The maharaja starts the proceedings as the large 10-headed figure starts burning. People start the loud chants of “Victory to Sri Ram” and celebrate.
It would be ideal now to introduce the biggest allegory that runs in the film and intensifies from this point onwards. The whole film is laid on the structure of the Hindu epic Ramayana. Saket is the Rama figure of the story. “Saket” takes up the meaning of “Ayodhya” also. Thus Saket is a representation of the Ayodhya Rama in the film. Saket has lost his wife Aparna in the riots in a similar fashion to the original Rama who loses Sita to Ravana. Ironically, in contrast to the ideal traits of the epic hero, out hero Saket Ram is an imperfect Rama – A Rama that drinks Soma, a Rama who has remarried after his wife’s death and a Rama who has been unable to rescue his wife. Also “Mythili” is another name for Sita – our Rama’s second Sita. Lalwani is the Guha figure of the story whom Saket brings home irrespective of his present social position, similar to Rama declaring that Guha is his brother even though he was born in a lower caste. The references will increase and will be pointed out at relevant places.
This Vijayadashami is about to change it all. The Soma has got onto Saket’s head. He feels his masculinity as he watches the Ravana idol burn. He feels as if he has regained his masculinity and twists his moustache, now definitely representing his manhood. He looks at Mythili, her inviting lips. He approaches her for the first time sensually. As he tries to touch her, her image transforms into the blind little girl he had seen in Calcutta. He is shocked and moves back just to trip on one of the people he killed. He is haunted by the unexpected hallucinations. He realizes that it is the drink that had brought about the momentary masculinity, that is now gone. As the idol of the demonic Ravana burns, Saket realizes that he has to first slay his inner demons before he can go about slaying his Ravana – Mahatma Gandhi, the man responsible for his wife’s disappearance.
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