It was three years after India was independent. This story is set in the-then Bombay. It would be bland to call this a love story, but it is nothing but that.
When Linda came to Pari’s house, she first looked at the wooden door behind the garden. It was slightly ajar. Then she noticed Pari dancing in the rain. Linda stood there with her rainbow-coloured heavy umbrella, transfixed by the magical Pari in the rain.
Pari was booked for a photoshoot right after this. Linda had to get her inside.
‘Coffee, Linda?,’ Pari asked as Linda approached the dancing damsel, the radiant queen, a bright winged fairy.
‘Yes, I could do with a cup,’ Linda said, folding her umbrella as she walked inside. Pari entered her house dripping wet. She didn’t mind the water dripping behind her.
Mr Percy ran after them to clean the soppy floor. There would be people soon. The crew had already placed different pieces of furniture in the dining hall: the photoshoot venue was Pari’s house.
‘You have to get ready,’ Linda said.
‘Yes… But today I don’t feel like working,’ Pari said, with a faraway look in her eyes. ‘I just want to drink coffee and watch the rain. I think I will just cancel the thing,’ she said. Linda sighed. She didn’t know why she rushed from home to be on time for the shoot. She took the tray with the coffee cups from Mr Percy. ‘Thank you, old man. That’d be all… Umm, could you please call the studio and cancel the do today?’ Pari asked.
‘Will promptly do so, Ma’am,’ he said.
Pari knew things had been taken care of. She looked at Linda and said, ‘Let’s go and sit on the terrace.’ Pari changed into dry clothes–a light blue gown, and they walked up the stairs to the terrace. The terrace garden was glowing with lush green plants. It was drizzling now. They sat themselves down.
‘It makes you think, doesn’t it? The futility of living… When was the last time we enjoyed rain, Lin?’ Pari asked. She was clearly in a very different sort of a mood today. Linda never knew what went on in her friend’s head.
‘Yes… But that’s because I don’t have the time for all such things. Money is food, babe. Everyone’s not like you,’ she said, each word weighing her down.
‘I wasn’t born into all this, love. I made all this. And some day, I am going to turn into rubble and everyone’s gonna forget me. You wanna bet? At least somebody’s gonna remember you and Mr Percy. I wish I had someone to come back home to. A Mrs Percy perhaps, or a certain Jake to meet up for a date…’ Pari teased Linda.
The latter blushed and she rose to hide her colouring cheeks. ‘Jake hasn’t been around the last two weeks,’ Linda said. ‘Haven’t you called him?’ Pari asked.
Pari lit a cigarette. As the smoke spiralled in front of her, she looked at Linda’s sad face and said, ‘Are you in love?’ Her friend had that sheepish grin. She said nothing. ‘Let me see what I can do,’ Pari said.
Later that evening, Pari called Mr Percy. ‘Find out Jake Adams. Get him to meet me,’ she told him.
‘Aye Ma’am,’ he said.
The next two days, the house was filled with unwanted people. The shoot was exhausting for Pari. She kept quiet. She was always dignified like that. She was known to reign the movie world in the most graceful way one could imagine. And life went on.
The third morning, Mr Percy woke her up at seven in the morning. ‘What’s it old man? I thought I would sleep in the whole day,’ she said grumpily.
‘Mr Adams, Ma’am. Waiting downstairs,’ he said. ‘Oh…you found him then,’ she said as she got out of bed. She dragged herself to the washroom. Half an hour later, she was dressed. God knows why she put on the very dark red lipstick.
Mr Adams saw a white beauty gliding down the stairs. She had worn a white gown.
‘Oh…Mr Adams,’ she said.
He was drop dead gorgeous. His brown hair and light green eyes could make her faint. Poor Linda. The victim of fantasy. ‘Please come to my study,’ she said.
‘Good morning, Miss Pari,’ he said.
‘Just Pari please,’ she said as she guided him to the study. The ebony table was a huge one. The two sat facing each other. Mr Percy got refreshments, and only lemon in hot water for Pari.
‘All I want to know is whether you love my dear friend Linda,’ she asked.
‘Linda… She’s a sweet girl. But am sorry I don’t love her,’ he said with a sigh, taking a sip of his coffee.
‘That’s terrible, Mr Adams. It will break her. But you can’t help it,’ she said.
The sun light was streaming in the room through the French windows. The heavy bottle green curtains gave it a lush shade. ‘Is this why you had called me?’ he asked looking at her a little disappointed.
‘Yes, I am afraid it’s so,’ Pari said. But she couldn’t understand why she felt a little discomfort from the moment she saw him.
‘Before you became this, we were friends once. Many days ago. You knew me as Roddy, Pakeezah,’ Adams said.
‘Squeaky Roddy, my god!’ Pari leapt from the chair and ran across the room to hug her old friend. Whatever had happened to her memory! She was so surprised.
When Linda visited Pari’s house that day at five in the evening, she didn’t find her home. Seeing her dejected, Mr Percy explained, ‘Ma’am has gone out. Why didn’t you fix an appointment? She didn’t know you were coming.’
‘Yeah…it’s alright. My fault,’ she said as she went out.
‘You must be out of films for a reason…’ Adams told Pari. She had ordered squids and was now looking at them longingly before putting them in her mouth.
She said, ‘I am waiting for a good script. I haven’t found one so far. What about you?’ she asked.
‘I teach. History. And sometimes, Maths,’ he said. He was sipping lightly on his beer.
‘Maths and History! Unusual combo…’ Pari noticed.
‘Yes, but I have always liked them both. Now, tell me about you,’ he said.
‘My life is an open book. What do you want to know?’ Pari was looking intently at him.
‘What the world doesn’t know,’ he quietly said.
‘What the world knows… is hardly me. With success comes woes. And I have had my share. I didn’t tread carefully,’ she said.
‘I am sorry to hear that. But am sure you have had a fair share of cakes and perfume, too,’ Adams said with a twinkle in his eye.
‘Perfumes, yes. But cakes? No… I may have one in say two months. A cupcake,’ she said.
This took the handsome young boy by surprise. ‘Only one cupcake in two months! How do you survive?’ he asked innocently.
‘I survive. On fame, I suppose…’ Pari was distant and cold for a while, it seemed to him. He let the subject drop.
‘Why did you change your name?’
‘You know how these people are. They already had one Pakeezah. So I became Pari. Do you like it?’ she asked.
‘I like everything about you,’ he said. They looked at each other for a few seconds. Pari felt his penetrating gaze.
Then Pari said with a thin smile forming in her near-divine lips, ‘Squeaky Roddy. Do you remember how you got that name?’
‘Yes, don’t I just?’ he said, a dejected look on his face.
Just then the waiter approached their table with their drinks. They gave each other a mischievous glance and drank the shots bottoms up.
It was a Friday evening. Pari was standing in her room near the window. Her long eyelashes were weighing down on her eyelids, her gaze was cast outside on the road below. She saw the people passing by her house, cars zooming past, vendors selling vegetables and fruits. She felt very alienated from all this. She had come from a middle-class family, and her celebrity status had granted her the riches and wonders of the world, but she missed a lot of trifles. How she would love to dine with her parents every day and laugh out loudly! She wished she could gorge on all the fatty fast food instead of spending countless hours in the beauty parlour. She hated it. The world judged her for her looks, her figure—everything superficial. On Friday, she was missing all these with an unmatched intensity. Squeaky Roddy, Calvin, and Pakeezah—they were the notorious trio in their community. Pari didn’t have a clue where Calvin was. Having met Roddy after so many days, she sank in the beautiful ordinariness of her past life.
‘Hi, Pari,’ Linda said before entering her room.
‘Hi, Lin. Come in,’ Pari said, without facing her. She felt extremely uneasy meeting Linda. She had tried to avoid meeting her friend and manager in several ways, but there was no undoing the meeting that day.
‘We have to meet Prem-Raj firm for discussing the script,’ Linda said, in the usual monotone.
Pari kept looking outside the window.
‘When shall I book the appointment?’ Linda asked.
‘Any time after Wednesday. I am busy till then,’ the actress said, still looking the other way.
Linda looked at her diary schedule; in the next five days, Pari only had one interview and one charity programme to attend. Except these, she was free. In fact, she was entirely free on Tuesday and Wednesday. She was extremely confused. She thought Pari may have forgotten the programme.
‘Tuesday and Wednesday you have nothing…’ Linda had just started when Pari blurted, ‘I decide which days are free and which are not. Please do as I say.’ Pari was shocked herself at having spoken to Linda like that. Linda fell from the sky; she had never been spoken to in that way by her employer, who she had come to think of as a friend. What could have possibly gone wrong?
Linda left the room, bewildered. She didn’t want to disturb Pari further. Maybe she required some time on her own. As Pari heard the door shut, she drowned in shame and regret. She knew what was driving her actions—guilt. Did her life have to be such a poor film story? Was this really love? She couldn’t get Roddy out of her mind. Did he feel the same? And what would she do with Lin? She remembered reading a detective story by Christie—where a rich lady steals the husband of her dear friend. Her face flushed, she tried to ignore the thought for the rest of the day.
‘Old man, get Sabrina out. I want to take a ride,’ she told Mr Percy.
Sabrina was the black mare she had purchased two years back. It was a good mare and had served her well. She went out for a ride in the mango grove near the sea, and went to a secluded spot on the beach. She halted, descended, and sat near a cove. The mare stood a few feet away from her. She looked at the vastness in front of her. Her eyes became one with the marine blues. She forgot the time and day of the week. She let the moment engulf her. The abuses she had encountered, the humiliations, the attacks, the dirty politics—everything came back to haunt her. And then that bright handsome face of Adams. She felt strangely peaceful every time she remembered him. They were once like siblings. They used to write small poems and set them to tunes. One went like this:
Stars and starfish,
Spoon and dish,
Danced away away away,
At the dimming of the day.
She laughed out loud. With no one to hear her, she let her voice echo in the emptiness of the sand and sky. Then she whispered the name thrice, ‘Roddy, Roddy, Roddy. Pari Adams. Pakeezah Adams.’ As soon as she said it, she knew she had to get herself out of this mess. She couldn’t drag him into this life. It wouldn’t turn out to be a happy life, she knew. Besides, what fate did a Muslim have in this war-torn country. And he was British!
The next Wednesday, she met the director with his script, and on next Friday she flew to London for a month to shoot for a film.
I don’t know if this will reach you. I had gone to meet you the other day. Mr Percy, the good man, told me of your busy schedule. You are a star, I am a mere mortal. But I am glad you are back in the industry. We would get to see you again—the queen of the silver screen. Have I told you that I have never missed a single film you have acted in? I didn’t like most, but I could see you.
I have nothing specific in mind other than chatting with you like we used to. Having met you after all these days has made me want all that I miss these days.
I keep remembering our dinner that night. It was truly magical for me. Could you call me once you are back?
Pari folded the letter as she was called on the set. She touched up her make up and ran out in the sun. It was the last day of her shoot, and Mr Percy had directed this letter to her, just like he directed all mails to her wherever she was.
It had been a year Linda wasn’t her employee any more. Pari was the busiest star in the industry. But she was shrinking within herself with each passing day. She was afraid of her bare face without the make up. The cosmetics could surprisingly hide most of the skirmishes, except the ones on a person’s heart. Pari remained loyal to her friend in a weird way. She lost touch with Linda. When Linda begged her to not do something so drastic, Pari remained firm, to the point where she knew Linda would come to hate her, and moved away. She didn’t tell Linda the reason. In love, hatred or the feigning of it is a mandatory step, missed by most people. If you can make someone you love hate you when you want to move away, you have done him/her a favour; you have loved truly. And if one hasn’t loved, one hasn’t lived.
As for Roddy, he wasn’t permitted in her house ever again. He came back twice, and never went back there again.
Pari had written him a reply.
We are very different now. Best to keep it that way.
What Roddy thought of the letter, she didn’t know and even though she wanted to take every word back, she stayed put.
She couldn’t do this to her friend.
‘Hello, Lin,’ Adams said approaching the grieving lady in the bar. She was sitting on a high stool alone, with a scotch in her hands. She started, and looked at him as if she had seen a ghost.
‘What are you doing here?’ she asked.
‘I am here for the same reason as you: to drink,’ he said, with a laugh.
Linda, who was quite drunk already, said, ‘And what’s your real reason, Mr Adams?’
‘Let me see… I can’t seem to guess. I think it’s just a drink,’ he said.
‘No, there has to be something else,’ Linda said.
‘Like what?’ he said, cheerfully.
‘Like the blues…’ Linda said, looking into the slightly shaking whiskey.
Adams looked at her and lowered his glance. What could he say? To each his own miseries. His intense light green eyes could hide more than their capacity. He really didn’t know what to say.
‘How’s Pari?’ he asked.
‘Who, Pari? Hoorpari?’ Linda asked, her face distorted in mockery.
Adams was confounded. He looked at her quizzically. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
‘I don’t know any Pari,’ she said, and walked out.
Adams sat at the bar alone and wretched. To the world, he was a happy-go-lucky person, but inside, he was a miserable loner.
‘Pakeezah…’ he silently whispered.
‘Hello,’ a child came up to Pari. ‘Could I please have your autograph?’
Pari was surrounded by a thick crowd. A Muslim actor in the heart of India after the country was torn with relentless riots—hence, the security measures were excessive. She was always cordoned off by her a curtain of human bodyguards. She had been attacked twice in the past couple of months.
She was pleasantly surprised to find a little boy tugging at her dress, having sneaked into the crowd bypassing the bodyguards. Thanks to his height.
‘Of course, little one. What’s your name, beta?’ she asked.
‘Pari,’ she said.
‘Hey, a nice name. I mistook you for a boy,’ she said.
‘I know. My parents are big fans. They watch every movie you are in,’ she said.
‘Oh, I would love to meet them,’ she said, as she wrote a small message to her petite fan.
The little Pari pointed at one direction. Even from that distance, Pari couldn’t miss the rainbow-coloured umbrella screening the scorching sun. And she also knew where the little cherub had got her light green eyes from.
She waved at them. And put on her sunglasses. Her eyes were welling up. Everything was a blur, but the hands waved her back.
Pari smiled. She knew she had conquered the world that day.
She retired from the cinema after completing her project and vanished from the face of earth. The newspapers went wild, ‘Where is the queen of Bollywood?’, ‘Where did Pari vanish?’, ‘is Pari alive?’
Then one day, five years after the day the two Paris met, Mr and Mrs Adams got a letter.
My friends. I took my time. Now I can safely say that the world has forgotten me. Whereas you have got a sweet little family of your own. A home. I am quite far away to bring any more harm to us. I was mad to have lost you both as friends. But I think I can make amends. I can be your pen friend. I will write to you if you write to me.
And please give the tiny box to Pari. It’s a little gift from me.
When the child opened the box, there was a music box in it. And a scrap of paper with these lines inscribed on it:
Stars and starfish,
Spoon and dish,
Danced away away away,
At the dimming of the day.
Written many many years ago by Squeaky Roddy and Pakeezah…