TAKE THE STAIRS
I knew I had gotten myself into a misunderstanding but I wasnt clamoring
for a way out. Besides, how often does a banker get to fulfill his wish
to be someone totally different? So I lied'.
could have been yet another short business trip to India, took an
unexpected turn. Installed inside tastefully appointed Room 236
of the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai, I plopped down on the bed and
surfed to Channel V. Usually a good place to chill out, the segment
was an interview with an Indian model with an unforgettable face.
The sound was turned down, practically inaudible, so I just watched
the pretty pictures until a video came on. Music up, I accidentally
sat on the remote and changed the channel. There was a runway and
a big crowd watching three sirens parade the catwalk. Behind was
a big poster which read Lakme India Fashion Week.
I watched for a
while before finally falling asleep. The next morning, on my way
to my first meeting, I rushed out of my room and into the stairwell
of the Old Wing of the Taj. I looked down and saw a familiar white poster.
Fashion Week. The thought pricked at my mind occasionally throughout
the busy morning; but there was really no reason to dwell. The proximity
of models to me did not mean my drought was about to end in heroic fashion.
Hopeless, I did not feel lucky; there was no need to work out, no need
to get my messy hair cut, no need to wonder.
At four p.m. in the afternoon, I stepped through the main lobby of the
Taj and towards the Old Wing when three lanky women with regal necks
walked past. As cool as I could be, I offered a perfunctory glance and
strode onwards when a couple of steps later, a button-cute girl with
skin-tight blue pants looked me straight in the eye and smiled.
I caught a glimpse of my suit in the mirror and realized that its French
cut suddenly looked distinctive and debonair even if the body inside
it was a bit rakish. The swinging glass doors leading to the stairwell
were suddenly guarded by seemingly identical men in blue with the same
bushy moustache. Just as I went to take my first step, my arm was grabbed.
Pass? the guard was looking for the laminate which I obviously
didnt sport like a badge of honour. Confidently, I reached
in to my pocket and pulled out the gaudy gold keychain engraved with
a 2, 3, and a 6.
Lift, he said ushering me towards the boring old elevator.
I pressed forward and said, Im just going to take the stairs,
A bit flustered, he gave me a wobbly salute and I proceeded. The first-floor
landing was indeed the site of the show. Booths to the left, runway
stage to the right, schmoozing fashion types crammed in between. I took
a peripatetic route that maximized my view and wondered if I could find
enough excuses to walk from the lobby to my room and back again. More
blue drones lurked near the sensitive areas where surely inside were
scenes of such concentrated and spectacular beauty that to see it might
burn a mans eyes. Back in my room, the message light was
blinking. My colleague was able to meet me for drinks and dinner after
all. See you in the lobby at seven, his American-accented
I purposely got down a little late so that George could see the stream
of talent that emanated from the show. When I caught his eye, I thought
I could spot a tear. I announced, Fashion Week. At the Taj.
He looked around, lost. I pressed my hand against his back and led him
as though he were a lost sheep. Wanna take a look?
I asked. Silent, he stepped forward. When faced with Saint Peter,
I produced the magical key all while conducting a conversation with
George in as loud an American voice as I could dare. He wasnt
listening of course.
Upstairs, we circumnavigated the first floor. Booths, displays, models,
mobilephones. Even the business people in the fashion industry were
pretty. And of course, all the guys were gay so we had the pick of the
Shes so cute, he said, referring to anyone.
I was busy myself with the earlier girl in blue pants who now was wearing
a brown top that showed off her perfect brown midriff. Smiling without
leering, I shot over a glance. The fact that it was returned was about
as improbable as me returning one of Samprass serves. Stuck to
the floor, I so wanted to go to the tiny space in front of her. Finally,
I moved to within striking distance.
Hi, there, my voice quivered.
Hi, a cute accent emerged.
Not a bad turnout, eh?
No. Quite good, she said, letting her eyes wander.
my voice trailed off.
Model? she filled in. Yes.
What? I asked.
Make-up. Clothes. Shoes. That sort of thing.
And youve been
I was shaking.
Abroad? Yes, but only once. Elle in Paris. It was fantastic.
Must have been, I muttered looking down, seeing the midriff.
She was a dragon, scorching my miserable eyes. I couldnt do a
thing. I couldnt say a thing. You in the business?
In the industry. I spoke in a declaratory tone for no particular
Oh, youre in media. Film, print, or TV?
Now, I knew I had gotten myself into a misunderstanding but I wasnt
clamoring for a way out. Besides, how often does a banker get to fulfill
his wish to be someone totally different? So I lied.
In the States! she perked up. There was no cable
in India, really. Its an American concept meaning non-Network
and therefore it pinpointed me precisely. Production. CBS
News. I spun a story to myself before I launched it on her. Whats
Name is Adithi. She didnt extend a hand; she
just smiled sheepishly.
Would you be interested in getting a drink? I asked, actually
finishing my sentence. My eyebrows pointed to the Sea Lounge which was
obviously one of the guarded places. She nodded happily. I could have
tried to ignore the gawking George but that would have been rude, besides
I needed witnesses, a chronicler of sorts.
I walked ridiculously close to Adithi past the guard and whispered,
Hes with us, to preempt the laminate question.
We were in, covering ourselves with the aura of coolness. We were players.
Heroes. Another good thing about having George with us was that
we had to squeeze into a small booth, forcing me to be completely in
contact with Adithi from hip to knee. At some point in the scintillating
oratory that George was giving on the National Enquirer, Adithi gently
took my hand in between hers. Later, I released and placed my arm around
her, eventually allowing my fingers to drape inconspicuously over the
midriff I may have neglected to mention. It was an uncalled-for
act of generosity on Gods part.
Two drinks later, I suggested food. We slipped out for rare tuna and
Absolut at Indigo and then more Absolut at Athena. Indigo was warm and
blue at the same time, if thats at all possible. Athena was spacious
and hip, like a Philip Glass house. Everywhere I walked with Adithi
in my grasp. George, usually a pace or two behind, started to believe
that anything was possible. He tried for a while to work some magic
of his own, but after a few crash-and-burns, he retired to the solace
of the vodka. Its funny, she said when George
was away. It can get awfully lonely in this lifestyle.
At that moment, my restrained, sober existence hit me and I felt
trapped in a tired cliché. I was, by no means, a hero.
Yes, I imagine it can, I replied.
© Zia Zaman
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