By Ahmed Bunglowala
Dusky Devika, thirtyish, was lying stark naked in her queen-size bed, her well-toned body glistening with sweat in the dim light, her back propped up against a couple of outsized pillows, when she hurled a verbal missile at her bedside lover.
“Javed, we need some humus badly in our relationship.”
Javed grunted. “Let’s go to Pete’s for a Kobe steak,” he said, “and catch up with the nightlife.”
“I don’t feel upto the moronic nightlife or the mediocre steaks.” Devika shrugged.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Okay. Suit yourself.”
“Do you know what humus is?” she persisted, adjusting the pillows for a more comfortable reclining posture.
“Not really. Tell me.”
“Are you really interested?”
“That sounds like a ‘noo.’ ”
“No, I really am.”
“Okay, noodle-head. First and foremost, I’m not talking about the Lebanese dip with the two ‘m’s. Humus, with a single ‘m’, is a mixture of decaying leaves and microorganisms that enrich the soil. Get it? We need more nourishment in our relationship than we have right now.” She waited for all this to sink in.
“In what way?” Javed demurred, turning on his made-to-order charm, which made not the slightest impression on her tonight. Her gaze was fixed on the ceiling’s shimmering reflection from the street light.
“For one thing, I’m really tired of being treated like a whore. Every time we meet all you want is me naked in bed ready to fuck your brains out.”
“What’s wrong with that, ducky?”
“Nothing. Let’s just forget about it noodle-head.”
“You’re terribly touchy tonight. Anything happen at the agency today?”
“Same old shit. Bitching and bickering.” She lit a long cigarette and inhaled deeply.
“You ought to give up this shit.”
“Oh, please don’t pontificate on the evils of nicotine.”
“Okay. Let’s go for a vacation. You want another line?”
“No. Where?” She adjusted the pillows again.
“Anywhere. Maybe, Sri Lanka.”
“Why Sri Lanka?”
“Because we’ve never been there.”
“What’ll we do?”
“Be tourists. Eat, drink, dance, sleep. And go sight seeing.”
“Doesn’t sound too hot to me. Leaves me cold.”
“Sherna was raving about the food and the beaches.” He was now in full selling mode.
“I’ll think about it. Give me a couple of months!”
“Okay, ducky. Why don’t we get married?”
“Not a chance in hell! I like my independence too much to settle for that shit—cooking and fucking by matrimonial sanction. No, thank you.”
“Okay, suit yourself.”
“You’re repeating yourself.”
“I think I’ll leave you to your moody blues.” He got up; his lean, muscular frame silhouetted against the bathroom light as he started to dress in his blue, stonewashed jeans and a designer shirt in a lighter shade of blue.
“Before you go just please order a mushroom and capsicum pizza for me from Max’s in lieu of the forgettable Kobe sizzler. ” She pulled out a pillow from her backrest, nestled it between her well-proportioned thighs, and turned over on her side. A small tattoo adorned her left hip with the visual of a coiled Russell viper.
“I love that funky tattoo of yours. Where did you get it, ducky?”
“Hong Kong. Last year.”
“I think I’ll get one too.”
“Get one of a gorilla, on your dick.” She smiled.
“Ouch! He uttered. I’ll order the said pizza. Do I see you tomorrow?”
“I’ll call you at the agency.”
“Okay, you hairy beast.”
“Sleep tight, my sultry angel.”
Javed and Devika had first met at a rave party in north Goa. Both high on coke, a mutual “fatal” attraction had kicked in instantaneously as they danced (to trance music) till dawn. Then they took a long ride in a motorboat, he showing off his navigational skills at high speeds. Later, in his luxurious room in the beach resort they had played out the entire gamut of hedonistic pursuits—heightened with a few more lines of coke and cold Champagne. On his coaxing, she had checked out of her hotel and moved in with him for the remainder of her annual winter “tanning” vacation in Goa—a prerequisite for a high-end model with a well-toned body: the tan meant to enhance her dusky looks. This time around, though, Devika ended up spending most of her time indoors with Javed. They settled down into a predictable pattern—coke, Champagne, sex, and tuna or ham sandwiches ordered from room service. Javed’s reluctance to leave his room was understandable. He really didn’t know what to do with himself when he was not shooting fashion models or when he was not in a sexual situation with one of them. His conversational skills were limited to grunts and sighs, and to the occasional attempt at conciliatory phrases with his sex partners when his predatory charm was wearing off.
Back in Mumbai, Devika had tried to cool off the obsessive and monosyllabic relationship with Javed. For a couple of weeks she moved in with Karishma—her good friend, colleague and occasional lover—who had a cozy little apartment in Bandra. This was the kind of respite that Devika was seeking after the roller coaster ride in Goa. They spent the two weeks chatting, making soups and salads, watching movies, sharing the same bed, and discussing all the “dickheads” they had known and bedded in their 10 years as successful models for any number of “aspirational” products—from platinum bracelets to smart phones. In those two magical weeks they had laughed and cried to their hearts’ content—a kind of catharsis they both needed, given the emotional vacuum they felt with their work and the loneliness they had had to cope with after the “one-way sex” with their dickhead lovers.
Things went back to “normal” for sometime for Devika, who was at heart a shy and sensitive person who would cry easily at the sight of any suffering—whether it was an injured street dog or an urchin sitting desolately at the street curb. Her hard-as-nails profession—with its constant bitching and bickering—had not changed that. As a young girl growing up in a typical middle-class family in a dusty and claustrophobic C town in Madhya Pradesh, she had always expressed a wish (like so many girls her age) to be a do-gooder vet when she grew up. It didn’t happen; hard realities collided head-on with her dreams. Instead, she moved to Mumbai, on her mother’s advice, and completed her graduation from St. Xavier’s College, where she was crowned ‘Miss Gorgeous’ for two successive years at the Annual Xavier’s Dhobi Talao Dance. After graduating in Eng. Lit she did some indifferent modelling assignments for a few me-too brands—in a tasteless attempt to “sex up” pickles, stationery or hardware (gardening hoses).
Devika’s big break came when she met Sherna at a mutual friend’s party at Versova. Sherna—an influential and eccentric model coordinator for a big bucks ad agency—took an instant shine to Devika and saw the potential of her dusky good looks that drove guys a bit batty. From there on, Devika’s career went into overdrive as the contracts flowed in, fast and furious.
Javed was a distant memory for Devika by now. A self-taught and much sought-after photographer, he travelled a lot on his fashion assignments and had gained the dubious reputation of a guy with a keen eye for models who were shy, vulnerable or ambivalent. Then he would go to work on them with his well-rehearsed routine (“Hey gorgeous, would you like some Champagne, coke and sympathy?”) until he had them where he wanted them—in bed—for as long as it suited his capricious nature. Devika, for him, was just another body count.
Devika would call up her widowed mother in Bangalore practically every evening for a chat. They would effortlessly exchange news and small intimate details that only a closely bonded mother and daughter would. They would also gingerly touch upon some personal aspect of their heart-breaking loss when her mother’s loving husband (and Devika’s caring father), had died in mysterious circumstances on an auditing assignment in Delhi. Her mother had moved to Bangalore to put her life back together.
One day, quite casually, when Devika described Javed to her mother—a maths and yoga teacher in her mid 60s—she repeated the same advice she had offered on earlier occasions about her daughter’s liaisons. ‘Beti, he sounds just like all the others. A dumb dildo with a mindless guy attached to it. Dump him a.s.a.p. I think your father would have had the same view.’ For Devika, this was easier said than done: given her healthy sex drive and her strange ambivalence towards cloned men, like Javed, who didn’t have the slightest interest in her as a person or as a woman with her own mind and consciousness. For them, it was invariably about the shortest and fastest route to the kill.
Inevitably, it happened again, in Goa. Javed was assigned for the photo shoot of a new brand of flavoured condoms called Carry-On. Sherna, of course, chose Devika as the female model for the steamy close-ups. No contest. The venue of the shoot was one of the ultra-exclusive luxury resorts (with its own “private” beach) called No Where Else in north Goa—where the glitterati land up with their platinum credit cards, seeking instant ego gratification. The resort was also reputed to be a happy hunting ground for “cougars” on the look out for young, able-bodied male companions willing to service their ageing, mostly white, bodies. In return, the young men were well looked after: sometimes even flying to destinations abroad with their grateful dowagers.
Javed and Devika were put up in adjoining rooms at the resort—a little too close for comfort, Devika thought. On the second day of the shoot, Devika—wearing a flimsy sarong with a dolphin print; reclining on the comfortable divan reading a book—heard the door open and saw Javed walk in with a bottle of wine and a brown paper packet.
“Biryani from Panjim’s Delhi Durbar,” he announced, holding the packet and bottle above his shoulders. “And Bolivian wine for the love of my life.”
“You mean for the fuck of your life? Devika responded, a weary expression on her face. The main reason for Devika’s high-strung behaviour in Javed’s presence was due to an intense conflict between the sexual attraction she felt towards him and her revulsion at his narcissistic character.
“Oh, come on ducky. Don’t start on that track, it’s pretty much played out.”
“What track would you like?”
“Something more romantic.”
“Oh, please don’t go Bollywood on me. Or I’ll puke on this expensive fucking carpet.”
“I booked the tickets for Lanka, between the photo shoots,” he announced airily. “You looked gorgeous today. Want to see the pictures?”
“No. You did? I didn’t say ‘yes’.”
“You didn’t say ‘no’ either that night or today afternoon at the pool.”
“When do we emplane, my beloved?” She made a mock-coy Victorian gesture with her hands, pouting her lips.
“Tuesday. After we wrap up this assignment.”
“I haven’t asked for leave yet.”
“I spoke with Sherna. She’s okay with a week. Sends you her love.”
“You talked to my modcod?” She sat up straight in the divan, her back arched, legs crossed.
“Yeah. What’s the big deal? She’s a good friend.” He sat down on the edge of the divan.
She reached for a cigarette but didn’t light up. Her face had a clouded expression, as if she was trying to make up her mind about something—maybe about Javed’s well known ‘initiative and drive’ as their common colleagues liked to describe it. To her it seemed more like an involuntary affliction—like the common cold.
“I’m not coming,” she said calmly, lighting her cigarette. “You go with your mother, sister or one of your stupid sluts…”
“Much more fun with you,” he interrupted, filling the two wine goblets with practiced ease.
“Yeah, I know. A fun-filled holiday for you, with sex on the house.”
“Ducky, please don’t go nasty on me.”
“I’m just being real, like in realistic.”
“I’m sorry I talked to Sherna.”
“You’re a mind-fucking control freak. When will you learn to let go?” There was a flash of anger in her limpid, brownish eyes.
“I was only trying to make things happen between you and me, again.” A well-rehearsed contrite expression crossed his chiselled, clean-shaven features.
“You must also learn, big boy, to leave things alone.”
“I’m really trying to get to know you better, ducky.” Another sales pitch.
“You’ll have to try much harder. Get my drift?” Her tone was a bit softer as she uncrossed her legs.
“Yes, I do.”
“I’m planning to move to Bangalore to be with my mother,” she announced, apropos nothing, tying her long black hair in a tight bun with one swift action.
“I was thinking after this fucking shoot.”
“I think so.”
“Have you spoken with Sherna?”
“No, I will.”
“I’ll miss you, ducky.”
“Ha, ha. Like hell you will.”
“Can’t it wait till we get back from Sri Lanka?”
“I am missing her too much. It hurts.”
“No, you don’t.”
Devika was not buying any of his fatuous concern, which left Javed in a state of suspended turmoil. Not one to give up easily, he decided to cajole her libidinous core. Drawing on his years of experience in seduction stratagems, with a variety of sex partners, he stared on a new track.
“How about a soothing foot massage to relax you?” he whispered, running his hand over the soles of her feet. The tingling sensation made her recoil. Waiting for a response from her, he deftly laid out two lines of coke on the side table, next to the divan.
“Come on, ducky. Don’t Worry. Be Happy.”
“Please stop calling me that.” She protested.
There was a momentary silence in the room as they snorted the potent powder. Then they drained their wine glasses. He was on edge. She was fighting a losing battle, her resolve dwindling with the sudden rush of fluids to her groin.
“Okay cowboy, make sure you just stick to the fucking feet,” she murmured in her silken voice, which was a prelude to the surfeit of pleasures that lay in wait for Javed—and, of course, for Devika. The practiced predator and the ambivalent prey made a long, messy night of it. The biryani was untouched.
On the flight to (now sanitised) Sri Lanka, he raised a toast with the cheap French wine the airline was doling out for its business class passengers.
“Here’s to my favourite, brainy, slut in Asia who knows the difference between humus and hummus, and vice versa.”
“To my favourite noodle-brained stud who can’t tell the difference between a metaphor and a road roller,” she teased, squeezing his arm so hard that he flinched.
That was the last intimate exchange they would have before the plane rapidly nosedived into the sea. With the jet’s twin engines seized up, and the joystick not responding—the captain, co-pilot and flight engineer were at their wits’ end. In desperation, they huddled together in the cockpit and chanted a brief Buddhist sutra as the plane’s downward momentum accelerated. Then, there was a piercing scream from one of the women passengers that froze everyone in cold terror. It was from Karishma—a last-minute inclusion in the Sri Lankan holiday plan—seated a couple of rows behind Javed and Devika with her new trophy: a wicket decimating pace bowler in one of the IPL cricket teams.
When they found the wreckage after 12 days, the search team spotted a strange object floating on the water. It was later identified (by her mother) as Devika’s favourite talisman—a palm-sized sandalwood horseshoe that she carried in her purse wherever she went.
Ahmed Bunglowala is one of the pioneers of the hard-boiled school of detective fiction writing in India; he is the creator of the iconic private eye Shorty Gomes. He lives in Goa with his wife.