Madhav Tripathi, an elite, successful government servant, has become aware that an unknown group of assassins is on his heels. Who are they and why do they want to kill him? The story develops at a party full of his contemporaries...
(Read it on Anti-Serious)
A song had struck up in a corner of the party. Rise and shine, someone was chanting, Fly Fly Fly, Ever so Hiiigh. Madhav did not recognize the music, but it was pleasant enough and right for his mood.
‘What a racket’, he grinned, ‘God, these people... Som Bakshi! The ubiquitous Bakshi! How did I miss him before!’
There he was, when was he not? Fat and sleek, in a three piece suit, with his coiffured hair, the drink that was always attached to his hand, the head thrown back in laughter, fawning on Jonathan Carry. Bakshi, who had been born to the bright lights, and had learned nothing since, except the patient art of never stepping out of them. Bakshi, who had made a career out of attending parties and massaging egos and providing sound-bites on the English news channels.
‘Does he never see himself?’ Madhav wondered, ‘I mean, everybody networks, but this guy...’
‘Yes,’ said the Secretary. ‘But at this moment, in this battle, he too is an ally.’
‘Not him!’ Madhav protested.
‘You are light-headed,’ said the Secretary. ‘You are happy, that is good. Finish your drink and you will feel even better. But the enemy is stalking you all the while. Do not mock even the meanest foot-soldier of your own army. Even a fool like Bakshi will fight against tyranny.’
‘He’ll fight like a fool,’ said Madhav.
‘And still,’ said the Secretary, ‘he will be of use.’
Then the Secretary drained his glass and rose six inches into the air. Madhav now saw that all about the lawns, as though at some intuited signal, the guests were doing the same. Not everyone, of course, was equally successful. Pradhan was floating comfortably; the young Danesh was doing very well, rising almost as quickly as the Secretary himself. So was Krishnan- but Krishnan did not care to fly; Krishnan was leaving. Then there was Bakshi; floundering for all he was worth, barely off the grass, laughing racuously in a transparent attempt at concealing his shame. Madhav drank off what remained in his glass and shot up to join the fun.
Everyone was more at ease off the ground; everyone nicer and more tolerable in the throes of their common ecstasy. Conversation flew light and casual; the laughs were knowing, the jokes too private and glib to even need to be completed.
‘How about this new Shah Rukh ‘blockbuster’?’
‘So, did you read Anand’s essay in EPW?’
‘Apparently she once taught English... In an actual University...’
‘I hear that baba is doing another fast-unto-death. I hope this time they let him succeed.’
‘Madhav! When are you going back to the boondocks to save our suffering farmers?’
Madhav laughed heartily. There was no need, of course, to reply, especially since his questioner had already drifted away into the night.
He caught sight of Shivani, wading through the air towards him, hips swaying determinedly and sensually. Little droplets of water still clung to her cheeks; her hair was not quite dry either, but she was cooling off quickly high above the ground. She came to him, her face glowing with achievement, her nerves- he knew- waiting to be soothed.
Madhav took her hand. For a while, he felt that it was just the two of them, far above the dark and fetid forest; separate, also, from the glittering guests; free from drudgery and sophistication alike. Utterly free!
‘You’re having a good time?’ said Madhav.
‘You look beautiful.’
She nodded and looked away. He felt a sharp pinch of annoyance.
‘Yeah, you really showed them, didn’t you?’
‘You made quite a spec-’
But she wasn’t listening. Her eyes were scanning the floating crowd. They paused and narrowed as she spotted her target. Then she did a little shimmy, a manoeuvre specially gossamer in mid-air, to compose herself down the length of her body, before the smile came bounding to her lips, where it stayed.
‘Let’s go talk to Carry. I need to talk to him.’
Madhav, sullen, resisted her tugging hand.
‘If you just want to flirt some more-’
‘Don’t be silly! He’s on the organizing committee of the Arts Festival next month, in New York. You’re the one who keeps telling me to be more savvy about these things!’
They glided on the air, hand in hand. Madhav felt the flickering eyes of many hovering guests, passing over them in admiration or jealousy. He had the further satisfaction of stepping over Som Bakshi, who was snatching from a waiter’s tray glass after glass of the blue liquor (if indeed it was liquor). But for all he consumed, he remained nearly grounded. Clearly, the drink could only stimulate one’s innate ability to soar.