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DIRTY DEEDS IN DARJEELING

The drowning man didn’t know he was drowning, all he knew was he just couldn’t breathe. Peter was a wilted British banker in the grip of his Australian fiancée, on his way to a new life in Melbourne to get married, have children, acquire a mortgage, build a house and then die. He could see it all spread out in front of him.

‘Help me,’ his eyes were pleading, ‘help me out of this – now.’

They were both completely average in every average way, on their average trip of an average lifetime; his last gasp of freedom before she locked the door and threw away the key. They’d just come, she told me proudly, from ‘Rajanisthan,’ a trip, apparently from hell. Christine had organized it, of course – or rather she had found and entrusted their travel agent pal to do so. The friend of a friend of an Indian friend hadn’t done a terribly good job of it – but such things must not be mentioned aloud.

‘Everything is f-i-i-i-ne,’ he said through gritted teeth, ‘everything is f-i-i-i-ne.’

Peter was limpness personified in the body of a rugby player. He looked strong, healthy, a little over-weight, a ruddy British fellow who liked a drink, his cricket, his mates, an unreconstructed chap in the process of being trained – trained to be a husband, trained to be a father, trained to be the kind of man that Christine expected; a man just like her Dad. Like all British men he fell sick immediately on arrival in India.

The poor sod had hurled, poohed and grizzled his way from Jaipur to Udaipur, Pushkar to Jodhpur, scarcely drawing breath before arrival in Darjeeling. He didn’t care much for India but didn’t dare say so. It was different. He didn’t like different. All he really wanted was Mum’s cooking – and Mum was a long way away. His eyes filled with tears when he thought of his first Christmas coming up away from home. But he had no say in it. She was pattern set, eyes blinkered – Christine was a girl on a mission. She was going to be the next woman with sixteen children. She had decided on him to father them. It was time. He was hers.

They were in their late twenties, settling in for a brief eternity of suburban torpor – a not unattractive couple who coexisted without the merest flame of passion. They scarcely looked at each other, scarcely talked; sat quietly with their books, behaving like their parents, with nothing at all to say. They were just about to get married. You’d think they might still have a few conversations left in store, but no – even those seem to have evaporated, along with their interest in the world. A lifetime of this yawned ahead of them. They seemed powerless to defy the expectations of their upbringing. This was how it was.

Within a millisecond of marriage she’d be pregnant and into their young, dull lives would come a reason for co-existence; then another, then a third. She would hurl babies from her open womb with a regularity that you can set your clock by until menopause stopped the rut. Poor thing, she had no say in her condition – this was nature and nurture combined in a need she was powerless to resist. This was what she was placed on earth to do. That was that.

Her certainty was the most terrible thing of all. She was cheerful and relentless in her task. He was by no means certain. Peter was just too limp to say ‘Whoa!’

We were trapped together in the tea-fields of Darjeeling.

Beware of the Dog.

Violence in Darjeeling, Army on stand-by

The Army was kept on stand-by as violence erupted in Darjeeling Hills after ruling GNLF leader K G Gurung was grievously injured in an alleged attack by rival GJMM activists on Friday. GNLF’s unit president, while calling the indefinite bandh, urged police to arrest GJMM founder Bimal Gurung and his supporters. The GNLF leader alleged that he was behind the attack.

After the incident, GNLF supporters, brandishing traditional weapon ‘khukris’, rampaged the town this evening and gheraoed the police station, demanding his arrest. People got panicky and preferred to stay indoors, while businessmen downed shutters and vacationers were in a haste for early return. The GJMM, however, denied its involvement in the attack.

Troops were asked to stand-by as the situation in the hills was volatile. The local administration clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 Cr PC and armed policemen intensified patrolling in the town, which has worn almost a deserted look.

Darjeeling District Magistrate said the situation was tense but under control.

Rediff news: 22/11/2008

They take their politics very seriously in West Bengal.

What they want is an independent state. They want Gorkaland. While we were chatting politely by the Ranggit River the GNLF and the CPI-M were battling it out with the GJM, the CPRM, the GRC, the AIGL and GNLF-C in front of the PSC in Delhi.

Work that out if you can. It’s a labyrinth. Internecine party politics had shattered the already over-complicated political order and created sub-parties, rival factions to the rival factions. Whether or not Darjeeling should become Gorkaland, an autonomous government, was lost in a swirl of accusation and counter-accusation. Bandhs were called hourly for the slightest of reasons. Everything connected with everything else. For whatever reason, good, bad or ridiculous, people were on edge. It didn’t take much to tip them over.

Around us the roads were blocked. Martial law had been declared. Any car braving the picket line could face attack. This was real – Dogster’s fertile imagination hadn’t conjured this bit up. When an Indian mob is angry it’s best not to be around. Things get crazy very fast.

I lurched out into the gardens for some fresh air. After my excruciating dinner with Peter and Christine I needed it. This young couple were way, way out of their league, bless them, just common folk on their best behavior. They had yet to develop the social skills needed to have dinner with total strangers.

They couldn’t do the dinner dance – Dogster wouldn’t. He entertained himself in traditional fashion, drank too much, asked leading and intrusive questions then ignored the answers, rolled his eyes and sighed. Yes, he should’ve been kinder, yes, he should’ve been nice – but Dogster found his latest companions devoid of entertainment, lacking in good fun, oicks from the outer suburbs, disinterested in the world, disinterested in their companions, disinterested in anything but themselves.

Far in the distance I could see bobbing flames.

How pretty, I thought.

As I watched more and more flickered into view. I saw ten in a line walking down one path, another twenty along another, ten more – then a larger group; a flaming snake of light, bobbing along the path. All seemed to be heading to a central point.

After ten minutes I could count a hundred torches, after twenty minutes two hundred more, all moving steadily across the mountains in shuddering snail-trails of flame. One line of fire would meet another on some far distant pathway; the two would join, and join again. Now there were three, four big marches, snaking down different hills, heading towards the plantation.

‘How wonderful,’ I said and raced to get my camera.

The staff didn’t look too sure.

I charged back out and headed down the drive.

‘No-o-o-o-o’ said a breathless green jumper, ‘No-o-o-o, please Mr. Dogster, come inside.’

He grasped my elbow firmly and pulled me back. I stood with the staff instead and we chatted away as the flames came closer.

‘What’s happening?’ I asked. We were all standing in a line along one side of the house looking into the darkness. It was getting chilly.

‘Sixth Schedule,’ said one.

‘Gorkaland,’ said another.

A babble of voices broke out behind me.

‘GNLF.’ ‘No!’ ‘GJMM.’ No!’ ‘Yes, GNLF!’ ‘No!!’

‘These are people from the other tea plantations,’ a deep voice said behind me.

This was Sanjay, manager of the estate, a handsome, cultured young Indian with not a sincere bone in his body.

‘Why not your tea-pickers?’

‘They’re marching too.’

I can hear them now, moving from up the hill, shouting something. They sounded fairly pissed off.

‘What are they shouting?’

‘Justice! Justice!’

Down at the front gates, now. The shouts were louder, I can see faces glowing in the flames, hear the anger, hear the chanting.

‘Justice! Justice!

It occurred to me this might be quite serious.

Sanjay dripped charm.

‘There’s absolutely no threat, of course,’ he said.

The marchers kept going past the gates and continued up the hill. The staff visibly relaxed. Three more columns of torches were arriving at a meeting point about a kilometer up the track. Now they were all together, a field of torches, a distant angry shout.

‘JU-U-U-U-STICE!’

‘Come and have a drink,’ he oozed.

Sanjay was a man in the prime of his life, able to quote Shakespeare and Gilbert and Sullivan, a man who knew which arm a lady should be offered when going in to dinner, a man who knew the difference between a first flush and late season, low grown or high, who knew the logistics of running a factory, distribution and acreage, a man who had it all. He had one fatal flaw. He couldn’t stay away from his dick.

His love life was either legend, odyssey or myth. It was impossible for me to know which – but I had some little knowledge of his disease. We talked late into the night, mostly about him, his life, his loves, his dreams. He was at a stage in life where he was the centre of Sanjay World; we were all here to do his bidding. Handsome and fit, dressed to kill, with a great job, great education and great prospects, he had just one little problem. Our Darjeeling lothario had a great little wife.

‘What to do?’ he confessed after a guzzle of whisky. ‘I get a sexy fe-e-eling, what to do?’

A great little wife didn’t appear to stop Sanjay in his pursuit of pleasure. He was a staunch defender of the rule of law, of the educated, professional way of life. He would defend to the death their moral code – but didn’t really feel as if it applied particularly to him. Nothing could defeat that daily tickle; nothing could prevail against that ‘sexy fe-e-eling.’ He considered himself a bit of a stud. He was one of those men who wanted you to know.

Not, of course, on the plantation, there his die was cast; there he was The Manager, a paragon of virtue. Sanjay had to go away to play – and play hard and fast he apparently did. My companion was famous as being the biggest sleaze in Darjeeling.

‘I have known one hundred women,’ he said very seriously.

‘Wow,’ I said, completely unimpressed.

‘Any man in India who says he has not known many women,’ he paused dramatically, ‘is a liar.’

*

‘Sanjay,’ I said expansively, ‘you are a man who loves women. Am I right on that point, my friend?’

We stood on the edge of a great valley, looking up at the lights of Darjeeling. Away over there were the Himalayas, black against black in the sky. We were drunk.

‘I am that. I agree.’

‘You’re a man who sees them as your natural god-given right, to enjoy, to appreciate, to adore. Am I right?

‘You are right.’

Dogster was swaying, waving one arm broadly at the valley.

‘Then, my friend, you must go out and taste. You have no option. It is built into your soul. You must pick up that first flush and take a sip, sluice her round in your mouth, my friend, taste her – spit her out. Try the next, sip, sip, slurp and spit – then the next…’

Dogster was warming to his theme. He couldn’t done a few more taste testings before he had concluded his speech but he was slurring; ‘sip, slurp and spit’ were proving difficult to say. They came out as ‘slit, spurp and shit.’ It was time for Dogster to shut up and look distinguished.

Sanjay saved the day.

‘You are a truly wise man, Mr. Dogster,’ he gushed.

He was quite right of course. I felt like his evil Uncle. My thoughts turned to good deeds.

‘I’m wondering why then, my randy friend, you haven’t given some thought to slipping our Miss Christine the Sanjay Sausage? She’s a woman. She’s got two breasts and whatever it is else you find attractive. That should be enough for you, surely?

He took a breath, as if to speak, then thought better of it. Dogster could tell he’d struck a nerve.

‘Why not show her the path to eternal satisfaction, Sanjay? Give her something to measure young limp-dick by?’

Sanjay hooted with laughter.

‘He’s an O.K. guy.’

‘I never said he wasn’t.’ I was warming to my theme. ‘You might give him an out. Why not? Taste the tea? Why not try every variety? You could change his life, my friend, alter his existence, just by the brief application of the Sanjay Saveloy!’

I could tell that, just for a drunken moment, he was giving it thought.

‘Go on,’ said Satan. ‘Give him a break.’

I felt like the devil. Maybe I was. I was bored. That’s when the devil-dog comes out. He’ll say anything to anybody with not a care in the world. He’s best at asking leading questions. He’s a ‘so when did you stop beating your wife’ kinda guy.

‘Go on – just to see if you could…’

This was the nub. For him this wasn’t about women and their fascinating allure. Like many randy men he probably didn’t care for them at all. He needed them, but he didn’t like them. All his gush and blather, his manners and obvious style were weapons in Sanjay’s daily battle; to get his women where he wanted them, under his control.

It wasn’t even about the deed itself. This was nothing to do with sex. Sex was the rocket fuel, but it wasn’t the spark that fired the motor. This was about power. This was about the challenge. This was about the kill.

The prey in question were sitting inside, silent by the fire.

‘Up to you, young Sanjay…’

‘Mmm-m-m-m,’ he said.

The chase was on.

‘We can get you out tomorrow,’ Sanjay said with a smile.

The GNLF had announced a six-hour breather, a relaxation in the strike so people could stock up for the long bandh ahead.

‘No, we can’t,’ he said an hour later.

Despite the breather, cars were not allowed on the road.

‘Pack your bags!’ he announced early one morning.

‘Stop packing!’ he shouted ten minutes later. ‘It’s back on!’

It continued like this.

‘What’s the news?’ was my greeting as I saw him each day.

He’d report, report back, then back again as events changed.

‘It’s off!’

‘It’s back on,’ he’d say between mobile phone calls.

‘It might be lifted sometime soon.’

‘I don’t know,’ became a stock reply.

I relaxed. I had no option.

This wasn’t such a bad place to be burdened with imprisonment. This tea plantation was a classy, classy joint – but it was solitary. The staff was professional to a fault – but Dogster soon learnt not to expect conversation. Conversation was exclusively for the host, Mr. Sanjay – and the other guests. Another breakfast, another lunch, another afternoon tea with my new young friends – I had just enough conversational skills to keep things going. The couple appeared to have none. Their lack of passion extended to all things, including each other.

I could bear no more. Dinner was spent alone in my room. I left the youngsters to Sanjay.

Late that night I came out on the verandah to take the air. Their dinner had gone on a long time. Obviously they’d had fun. Mine host came out for a smoke. He was joined by Peter. They didn’t see me in the distance. I coughed.

‘Oh! Mr. Dog!’ Sanjay shouted. ‘Come and have a drink!’

‘Nah, boys, that’s for you. This old man’s off to bed.’

Christine, sweet blameless Christine who just wanted to have sixteen babies, lay all alone in her pre-honeymoon double bed. She didn’t like the way this had turned out at all. Peter was here to attend to her; it was their pre-honeymoon, bonding with the boys was not part of the plan. She snuggled down into her petulance. It was warm and dark inside. She fumed and pouted and ticked away, watching the clock.

*

I heard the screaming coming from their bedroom. It was two a.m. Christine was enraged. I couldn’t quite hear what she was saying but her blood-curdling shrieks cut through the stillness like a knife.  She had a temper on her, she was scary, that’s for sure – I could see why he didn’t resist. A door slammed. I heard sobbing – then a thump.

Dogster had a choice here. Get up, open the door, look down the verandah – see who it was making that noise, attend to them, stay up all night listening to their dreary story, be a great guy, give great advice, listen to some long drunken tale…

Nah. Screw ‘em.

I’ll get up if I hear a gun-shot.

*

Car doors slamming.

Mmmm, what time is it? Arghhh, no, go away.

Motor starts. Crunch of gravel. Fade to silence. Eventually, hours later, I surface.

‘Good morning, Mr. Dogster,’ said one of the staff. ‘Good news!’

Clearly, I was the last to know.

‘Where are the others?’

‘Gone. Mr. Dogster.’

So they were. The bandh was lifted. I heard nothing more of Peter and Christine. They were heading back to ‘Rajanisthan’, from thence to Australia to settle and die – although, after last night’s conflagration I wasn’t really sure. What was that all about? I must ask Sanjay.

No time to ponder – now my plans were to the fore. The roads were clear and free – for now. But this was Gorkaland – tomorrow, who knows? An hour later I was in the front seat of a car heading for Bhutan. Sanjay was there to see me off. I hadn’t seen him alone since our conversation.

‘Sanjay, I have to ask you, pal…’ I whispered.

He came closer.

‘Did you screw her?’

He smiled. He nodded at the driver and the driver turned the key. He waited till the last second, till we were drawing apart.

‘Not her…’ he said over the crunch of the gravel.

He laughed at the stunned expression on my face as we backed slowly down the driveway.

Heading south down National Highway 31 Peter and Christine sat silent in their car, looking into a dismal future.  Peter sat in the front, hung over and feeling sore. She seethed silently in the back seat, staring fixedly at the back of his head. They’d hit a rough patch in the tea fields of Darjeeling.

Devil Dogster chuckled and shook his head. We turned east to face Assam.

*

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