A commotion in the drawing room wakes me up from reading. I had just arrived and was trying to settle myself, and the best way to settle down in a new place is to read something that helps you dissolve time-space disparities that often we feel after a few hours of journey. But reading could be a funny business too. A chronic reader in toilet, once found himself devoid of any reading material as he checked into a small hotel in a remote area, finally plucked out an instruction pamphlet of dos and don’ts from the door and took it to the washroom to read his heart’s or bowel’s content. Unlike that reader of lore, I am always equipped with books wherever I go, if not two at least one.
At the door there is this friend (in fact, my friend’s friend who has become a friend in due course of my previous stay here) who speaks only in high pitch amply iced and cherry-ed with the choicest expletives in Hindi. This adrenaline driven young man is so happy to see me back in Delhi and he wants me instantly out there in the drawing room for a couple of his friends have come to spend some time at home. My friend’s house houses a lot of interesting works of art both contemporary and modern, besides having designer furniture and antique wares. Even if he is away the day to day affairs of this house run smoothly as there are efficient boys who take care of things. But fortunately or unfortunately, this house is open to my friend’s friends any time in a day. Hence, my friend’s friend has now brought two of his friends for a couple of drinks. He has a minimum demand; it is New Year and I should sit with them for a drink.
I am horrified by the proposition. I am extremely uncomfortable in the company of strangers. To top it if the strangers or friends talk in high volume I cannot just stand them. But now, his persuasive powers are stronger than my weak efforts of resistance. Suddenly an idea strikes me. I tell him that I want to go to the washroom and would join him in a while. Then comes his question: Didn’t you take bath today? Is it necessary to take bath in this cold? I smile at him and run my palm over my belly. He understands and I retreat to the washroom with the book, thinking what to do next. I look for an escape route but the only let out in the washroom is fitted with an exhaust fan. I sit there for sometime thinking various ways of escaping from this friend and his friend. However, finally I emerge from the toilet, take a deep breath and go out to the drawing room and greet his friends.
(A work by Sukesan Kanka- For representational purpose only)
One is a sardarji and another is a cut sardarji (who does not wear a turban). First look tells me that they are property dealers and my intuition turns out to be right. Now my friend struggles to introduce me to them. Meet Mr.Johny sir. He is a PhD from London (I look for another opening to escape but take that qualification like a mild abuse and wait). He is an art promoter. He makes value of the artist. Iske haath laga to...bhen****t gold nikalega (if he touches-an artist- he will turn gold). I instantly feel like touching myself so that I could turn myself into gold. I know that my friend is making his position clear. He tells his friends indirectly, see man, I mix up with people. Sardarjis coax me to drink. I resist. It is New Year, please. For friendship’s shake (excuse me, are we friends yet?). Finally, I pour a small drink and with water that whiskey looks like gin- that light. It tastes like hemlock.
Soon the conversation turns to art and market. My friend points at one painting of a young artist on the wall and asks his friends to guess the price. They do some guess work and obviously it goes wrong. My friend tells them the actual prize (around four lakhs rupees) and both of them say ‘bhen***t’ in chorus. That is the way they exclaim. Enthused by the surprise and shock that he could cause on his friends he comes back with renewed force. Showing a two by two and half Husain drawing on the wall at the other end of the hall, he asks, how much, guess. The answer comes quickly from the friends. Ded lakh. One and half lakh rupees. My friend laughs to his heart content. His friends, as he expected, have gone by commonsense. If the other work, bigger than Husain’s could fetch four lakhs then a smaller work should fetch minimum of one and a half lakh. My friend laughs a vicious laugh. He declares then with an expansive gesture in such a voice that the Christie’s representative in Mumbai could hear that: Thirty five lakhs. His friends’ jaws fall. ‘Bhen***t’ thirty five lakhs!! Yes, it could go a crore in an auction, exactly the way we hike up price of property in the market, my friend says. Now his friends understand it.
‘Bhen***t’, shall we also put in money here? They ask. Obviously, you can my friend says dismissively. I look at him. This man who has heard a few tips from here and there from my friend about is now behaving as if he was a real art dealer, that too in my friend’s absence. Soon, the conversation goes in various directions and like real property dealers, his friends conjure up the works of art they have seen in their friends’ collections. Strange names and strange anecdotes regarding art and antiques come up. A few diamonds, emeralds, sapphires and gems also make brief appearance and vanish. Then it goes to the architectural wonders in Dubai and peters out into the price of a call girl in an international market. I sit and listen in silence with a smile that only a person with piles in his rear can paste on his face during a high level meeting. Then I get up to go. But charged with rupees dreams and my possible role in making it real, they coax me to sit and drink. I refuse. One drink enemy, two drinks friend, says one of them. Means, if I leave after one drink, the friendship is not consolidated. I like making enemies out of friends. But I do not want to make enemies of out strangers. They can do more harm than friends turned to foes. Then I become Jesus Christ. I use the strange alchemy of water and turn a few drops of whiskey into gin. They are happy. They talk about becoming art dealers very soon and my friend encourages them. I shake hands with them in less than five minutes and retire to my room and back to my writing. I am sure two more art dealers are born in the same evening.