He always did want to make a movie like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a story about love. And who said there was only one kind of love?
“Marriage yours, Video ours” read the board outside Zafar’s photo and video store located in the heart of the bustling shopping centre of Dehradun, Paltan Bazaar. Below that, in small letters was written “Zafar’s Photo Video Xpress”. The board was around 4 feet by 3 feet, the letters were hand-painted and the painter who had done the job had made a total mess of it. The words ran into each other so it read “Marriage yoursVideoours” But it didn’t matter to Zafar. The store, his video camera and the signboard were his pride and joy.
It had taken him a great deal of effort to set up this small shop. He had borrowed money from his Abba and then some more from local moneylenders at sky high interest rates.
This was his dream and all he wanted to do was make a movie like the smashing Bollywood hit of the 90’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Zafar had seen that movie a hundred and twenty times and counting. He remembered every scene and dialogue from the movie. He wanted to make a love story like that and he believed that this shop was a start. He wanted to shoot weddings, after all weddings were the culmination of true love and one day when he learnt to handle the camera well enough he could start shooting a feature film. He had a couple of story ideas in mind.
The store had opened with much fanfare almost a year back. He had invited all his friends and neighbours for the inauguration of the store. Rahim Chacha, the chairman of the Stores Association of Paltan Bazaar, had cut the ribbon and inaugurated the store. Biryani was served to all the guests. He spent all of the money he had borrowed on inauguration day itself because he was confident that he would recover it all back soon. After all, there was no dearth of weddings in Dehradun.
It had been a year since that day and it hadn’t been easy to get work. Zafar had lived in Dehradun all his life and he had seen it morph from a small sleepy town to the capital of the newly formed Indian state of Uttarakhand. The town had become a city and people’s tastes and preferences had changed accordingly. The videos and photos at the weddings of big business owners were taken by photographers and videographers from Delhi. These were guys with their fancy DSLR cameras and lights who were flown down and put up in fancy hotels and given full access to these weddings so that they could take “candid” shots. Zafar hated their kind; those fellows didn’t even have a studio!
He could take “candid” shots too, but these rich young brats wanted these fancy citywallah photographers who charged almost three times of what he would and take pictures of random objects, and close-ups so tight that you would require a detective to identify the person in the pictures.
His customers belonged to the lower middle class of the city, the ones who spent their entire life savings on a wedding because they were mortified of what “people” would say if they were thrifty. But there as well he had competition in the form of Raju, who had started a swanky video and photo studio in Paltan Bazaar itself. Money wasn’t a problem for Raju because his father was one of the wealthiest cloth salesmen in town. So for all his clients, Raju was the cheaper option compared to the citywallah photographers. Even his store sign was flex printed and not hand-painted like Zafar’s.
Money was hard to come by and the loan sharks had begun hounding and harassing him and his family. Zafar needed a way to make money and his days and nights were occupied by thoughts and plans to make money. It was on a day like this when he sat in his shop thinking about robbing a bank filmy style when Manish showed up at his shop.
“How are you? You little gandu!” he screamed as he walked into the shop.
Zafar got up and without missing a beat said, “Better than you, chodu,” and gave him a hug.
Manish and Zafar had been childhood friends. Manish had moved to Delhi soon after his 10th standard; no one really knew what he did there but he lived in a decent sized apartment in Pitampura with his wife and two kids. Manish was sort of a hero to Zafar and his friends in Dehradun. He was the small town boy who had made it big.
After trading pleasantries and friendly “abuses”, they started chatting and the topics rapidly veered off from politics to cricket to their old neighbours and, as it almost always happens when old friends meet, to their childhood memories, escapades and old flames.
Manish suddenly asked “How is Rinki, yaar?”
Zafar smiled at him and sipping his hot tea said, “She is fine, yaar. I saw her a couple of times taking her son to school. It’s been years bhai, but that ex of yours sure looks hot!”
Manish slapped his back and said, “Saale! She is your bhabhi (sister-in-law)”, aying claim on a woman like men are usually accustomed to. Zafar guffawed in response.
Manish became quiet and stared out of the small window behind Zafar into nothingness; it felt like Manish was preparing himself to ask him something.
“That is one reason I came here. I need the keys to your store for tonight, bhai,” started Manish hesitantly and avoiding eye contact with Zafar.
“Why?” asked Zafar, quizzically.
“Arrey yaar, Rinki and I want to meet tonight and we don’t have a place,” replied Manish, barely whispering as if he knew his request will elicit an angry response from his friend. Zafar stood up in anger and said, “What the hell is wrong with you, Manish? This is my shop. This place provides for my family, it is sacred. It is not a whorehouse.”
“Don’t scream, yaar Zafar, and be careful about what you say next because Rinki is not a whore,” exclaimed Manish. “We just want to spend some time with each other. That’s all. Don’t be so stuck up, Zafar. Won’t you even do this much for your brother?” Zafar shook his head.
Manish stood up from where he sat, walked up to Zafar and with a tinge of desperation said, “It’s just for a night. I will never ask you any favour again, I promise!”
Zafar kept quiet for a while and slowly dug his hands into his pocket and kept playing with the keys. Every bone in his body told him that he shouldn’t give away the keys. After all it was wrong, it was against everything he stood for.
The silence in the air was palpable. As Zafar reluctantly handed the keys to Manish, the jangling noise the keys made pierced the silence like a sharp knife. Manish took the keys from him and gave him a quick hug. Zafar just stood there, stiff and displeased. Manish walked away quickly before Zafar could change his mind.
Zafar couldn’t sleep that night. He kept imagining Manish and Rinki in his shop. The thought of them together, probably naked, in his store was making him furious. He needed to know. He needed to find out what they were doing there. He would go there and ask them to leave. This was not love, it was pure lust and he would have no part in it.
He slowly got out of his bed and headed to the shop. The street was empty and pitch dark. The only sound he could hear was the buzzing of the ancient sodium vapour lamp that hung precariously next to his shop, casting its faint yellow light on the road. Zafar treaded slowly and went behind his shop so that no one would see him there and he could go from the back and ask them to leave.
He could see the red flickering light from his dark room through a small slit in the rear window. He went closer. He couldn’t see anything clearly at first but slowly his eyes adjusted to the light and he could make out two bodies intertwined like snakes. Manish’s back was turned towards him and he could see Rinki sitting on top of him.
Slowly, Rinki started moving her body and holding on to Manish’s back. Digging her nails into it. He could see him whispering something into her ears and in no time she started moving faster and she bobbed up and down, her voluptuous breasts bouncing against his childhood friend’s face. The moans were getting louder. Manish put her hand on her mouth as she let out one long moan and they both collapsed on the rough floor of the dark room.
Zafar just stood there, transfixed, staring at the two bodies which now looked like shapeless lards on the ground.
He could feel his pulse quickening and the gentle throbbing in his pants.
A sudden howl from a dog nearby jolted him out of this state and he started running towards his house and he did not stop till he reached his doorstep.
Zafar felt like a pimp. He felt cheap and disgusted with himself. He just lay in bed and after some time, drifted off to sleep. It was an uneasy sleep, his mind still wandering back to what he saw at the studio. The moans and grunts were still echoing in his head.
Early next morning, he woke up to the sight of Manish, who was sitting by the bedside, slurping coffee.
“Last night was fun, thanks to you, bhai,” said Manish, with a snigger.
“I don’t want to hear about it, Manish,” yelled Zafar as he got up from his cot, looking visibly disgusted.
“Okay, okay… calm down, man. Let’s go out for a smoke and talk,” Manish said with a puzzled expression on his face.
Both of them stood quietly, smoking their cigarettes. Manish broke the silence first: “You have a nice store, Zafar.”
“Thanks,” said Zafar quietly.
“You have been my friend for a long time now, Zafar,” started Manish. “So, I am going to come straight to the point. Have you ever thought of using your store for other purposes apart from taking passport photos and editing wedding videos?”
“Not really,” replied Zafar curtly.
“Hmmmm, I have a proposition for you, my friend, you can rent out your store in the night and make some money out of it” said Manish carefully.
“What do you mean?” asked Zafar.
“You know what I mean, yaar. Rinki and I are not the only people in Dehra who would need a place to you know…meet.”
“You can put a camera in that room, record people’s activities and send it to me in Delhi. Believe me, there are people ready to pay a substantial amount of money for all this leaked sex videos kind of thing and nobody is going to make a fuss because it is shameful for the people involved.”
“What has gotten into you, Manish? I think you have completely lost your senses and morals after going to Delhi. Do I look like a guy who will get into such obscene things?” Zafar turned, red in anger, but the image of Rinki’s bouncing breasts suddenly crossed his mind.
“Well, you certainly look like a guy in dire need of money!” said Manish, blowing smoke in a little circle. “And please get off your high horse, Zafar, I know how you look at women. Don’t act coy; I know how much porn you watch. I am leaving tonight. Here is my card with my official number. Call me if you change your mind,” said Manish, with a tone of finality.
All Zafar could think about as Manish walked away from him was the way Rinki’s fingers dug into Manish’s back.
Zafar kept fiddling with the card all night. He kept staring at the numbers till they leapt out of the card and started floating around the room. He didn’t have much money and things weren’t getting any easier. The store was empty half the time and there wouldn’t be anyone there at night. It was useless.
Renting it out for people to meet didn’t sound like a bad idea and putting the camera there was like divine retribution — these were adulterers and cheaters after all and they deserved to be punished. He was merely shooting things, cutting it and pasting it, like making a movie. That’s all it was, a job, a way to earn a living.
His father wouldn’t keep nagging him about the debts. The loan sharks would be silenced. He could change the signboard to a brand new flex.
And, after all, he always did want to make a movie like Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a story about love. And who said there was only one kind of love?
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It ended too soon! Dying for more!
Nov 14, 2018 at 19:22