When writing about any other such man, I would’ve been bland with my contrivances: an inherited fortune, an all-expenses-paid-for education, a world outlook that bordered on dilettantism while seeking out some moral higher ground to continuing to sleep with whores. No. He was not quite all those things—there was something different about him that may have never come across if not for a remark I overheard. He was a zealot, a man given to a cause, living out a straightforward life—debauchery notwithstanding—whose excesses were moderated with a sense of judgment spiked with spiritual devotion. He kept to himself most of the time, never indulging in small talk, and would often leave me wondered if he had nothing to complain about at all; whenever we met, he would ask me what I was writing about these days, whether I’d read any books lately, and with a sincere seniority, he would give me advice on what not to do in general.
I’d once heard that he’d been suspended for assaulting a younger colleague—it could not have been him. However, knowing that both were true—his unassuming nature as well as his record of being unnecessarily aggressive—told me that his “cause” was something to beware. Then again, I didn’t find out that he was a terrorist until years later. He had a sister, he told me one evening over a cup of tea and a cigarette, a younger girl who was studying “something or the other” in Pune. Apparently, she’d had a thing for law—a gift for the polemic—but the voice of her parents had been drowned out by him: “I mean, you tell me, she is a girl. She is going to have a hard time. Just do something in literature, etc., get married, settle down, have kids. There is nothing more than is due a woman. I am supporting her. She is going to bear children. I don’t see the problem!” The lines around his eyes and mouth pointed to a lack of any other kind of reason in him; he was convinced about whatever he was talking about.
Another time, a box of pizzas had arrived for my room. I had ordered it for me and a friend who had a night of talking/writing/drinking ahead of us, and we wanted to do away with the pretentions of having bread and salad for dinner. Unexpectedly, he showed up. He had nothing to say about the liquor in the room. He just took a look around and left. The next morning, I met him on the way to the Main Hall. Even as I walked up to him, he turned away and raised his hand. “Don’t talk to me anymore,” he said, “I did not expect any of that from you. You are drinking at this age?” In those two seconds, there was a bestial rage in him and he was speaking through gritted teeth. I said nothing, and soon, like I’d expected, the heat snapped and he cooled down. “I will meet you in the evening again for tea. Don’t try to meet me or speak to me before that.” I muttered something—I don’t clearly recall now—and left him. I waited for about 40 minutes that evening but he did not show up for tea. I had work to do at the office and left.
The vainglorious disciplinarian that he was, I was a little surprised to see him during dinner hour at the mess. He dragged me away from my seat, the ghee still sliding down my fingers, while the others watched us for a moment before turning their attention back to their plates. He seemed agitated. “I need a favour from you. Will you do it for me?” What is it? “Well… OK, you must not tell anybody about this, OK?” Alright. I assumed it was something diplomatically fragile to do with his managerial duties. I was right: “I am part of this club in YK Nagar, and they need this packet delivered to this address here”—he produced a card—”and I am held up at the moment. Can you deliver it for me, please?” OK. By when— “As soon as you finish (he waved at the dinner table). Thank you so much.” He left quickly. I have never heard from him since. The package itself was some sort of a chemical substance, and that night, I made sure I handed it over to the police and told them about this man who I worked for.
That was in 1995. I’ve had a daughter after that, and then my wife died in the bridge explosion two years ago. I hope you don’t condemn the abeyance of my spirits because, even in all of this, I continue to wonder where such men come from. He had bought me that house in Krishna Nagar, he had given me a job even though I was underqualified to hold it, he had always been there to listen to me when I’d had anything to say. That was when I was married to Revathi. Now, she is dead and I am forced to question my faith in many things—why am I not in mourning? I don’t know. I don’t know who I am, or who I would have been if not for a lot of things. They say I must have faith, but faith in what? Faith in men just like me, I suppose, who come from nowhere and are expected to be somewhere.