Hunger

Inder Sahab, known in the neighborhood simply as the doctor, wakes up with a hangover. Painful bars of sunlight sneak in through the heavy curtains, blinding him. The machine gun stutter of overloaded autos outside pierce his dehydrated brain. He lets out a belch and brings up some cud from last night’s meal. With a satisfied smile, he licks his lips and relishes the garlic taste of last night’s dinner. His smile reveals excellent teeth for a man of fifty one. Inder looks at his watch. His bushy eyebrows come together in a frown as he remembers his afternoon appointment with Dr Bhatt. The point of the small hand pointing at 11 is covered by a tiny brown speck. He frowns and scratches the glass with his thumbnail, filed to a sharp point. He loosens the pajama bit stuck in his butt crevice with a pinch and makes his way for the bathroom. Vestiges of last night’s alcohol still slosh around inside his head, dizzying him. Sitting on the toilet, he plays a fine balancing game. The calming numbness changes into pin pricks with every slight turn of his neck. He sits very still and pays attention to the state his toilet is in. What he sees is a revelation. He looks down past his pubic bush into the commode. It is stained brown from years worth of failed flush debris. A shaft of sunlight shines through the almost opaque skylight behind him, illuminating the silk routes of the arachnid empire that has spread from one to the other corner of the toilet ceiling.

Kaamchor Koli, he mutters under his breath. He would have fired the slow chuttad a long time ago if the man wasn’t such an excellent cook. Doctor saab mollifies as he remembers how silken last night’s kebabs had been. He had just pressed the morsel with his tongue against his palate, and the layers of juicy fiber had separated and dissolved. For all his tardiness, Koli mian really did know his cuts and spices. He tongues a piece of meat stuck in his teeth that has been bothering him since last night. Once he had it, he stuck his tongue out to inspect the bothersome fiber, before swallowing it back once again. Last night, after the fourth peg, Inder was almost tempted to invite Chadda over and make him taste Koli’s piece de resistance. A broad smile erupts on his face as he imagines Chadda gorging on those succulent breasts.

Inder sahab comes out of the toilet after a quick shower with a towel wrapped around his waist. His hirsute upper body is fair and soft. A man to whom manual labor is a mystery. He puts on his usual brown suit with more haste than usual. Meetings with Dr. Bhatt always puts him on the edge, and he wants to have the upper hand by arriving early. He takes out a small orange pill bottle and swallows a tablet. He shakes it but it is mute in its emptiness. Damn damn damn!

Thirty minutes later, he arrives at the heavily treed headquarters of Benzer Pharma on Lodhi Road carrying a brown leather attache.

“Hi Sherlyn”, he says to Dr. Bhatt’s secretary, “Am I late?”, he worries that his voice betrays his panic. “Dr. Bhatt’s going to be a few minutes late, why don’t you go on into room 214.”, informs the buxom secretary without looking up. He nods licks his lips in appreciation. The deep lines of her cleavage stir his blood.

“How would you like to come for a drink with me baby?”

He quickly closes and opens his eyes to get rid of the voice in his head. Get a better grip, Inder, he tells himself, and fixes his stare on the watercolor over the reception. It does not help calming him down. The painted birds flap their wings at him! He is about to scream when Sherlyn’s voice breaks the spell. “Dr Panwar”, she is staring at him, her look concerned.

“Some coffee, black and very strong please.”, mumbles Inder without looking at her. She looks shocked for a moment, but before she could decide whether to get offended, he growls, “Now!” and she scoots away. On his way to the meeting room, he stops by the toilet. He locks himself in a cubicle and tries to stop his hands from shaking. He half sits on the toilet awkwardly, his huge frame finding it difficult to crouch and fit on the tiny commode. The deep breathing doesn’t help with the shaking of his hands.

“Why don’t you drag in Sherlyn here and tell her who her daddy is?”

He waits, daring not to face anyone until the thoughts go away. He knew these were just the buildups. It would be another hour before it flares up full flame. But I will have the pills by then, he reminds himself. That calms him a bit.

He waits till the screams in his head quiten. He splashes his face with water and slaps his cheeks. He tells the bearded man in the mirror. “We are here to get the pills, after that we are going back home. Just hold it together, and no funny business.”

214 is still empty when he reaches. He wonders why the chief chemist of Benzer pharma always meets him here and not in her private chambers.

“Probably because it has CCTV. The way you keep staring at her thighs every time you see her! Like a juicy piece you want all for yourself!”

Inder swings around in panic as the door opens, but it is only Sherlyn with the coffee.

“Hey, she is looking at me isn’t she? Does she know what I am thinking?”

He grips the arm of his chair tight, eyeing every little move as she keeps the coffee and leaves. He relaxes only after the clicks of her heels have silenced.

“You never did learn what moderation meant. Don’t lie to me, I have seen you naked and raw!”

Inder pours himself a cup of coffee and gulps it straight down. The scalding hot bitterness numbs his tongue and gullet, distracting the voices in his head. To his relief, he is saved from spending any more time alone by the sound of the door opening.

“Dr. Panwar! Sorry for keeping you waiting.”, greets the Banarasi bedecked woman. He is a bit disappointed that Dr. Bhatt isn’t in her usual skirt today. Still, the flash of midriff is more than generous. She has a streak of gray running through her fashionably short hair. Like a splash of thick jizz, Inder thinks. There is brown lipstick on her lips to camouflage the nicotine stains. Her smile vanishes as she sees the haunted expression on Inder’s face. “Oh dear, it doesn’t look like the pills are doing their job!”

“I told you bitch to give me a higher dosage last time, but what do I have to do to make you listen. You want me to pin you down and make you squeal huh!”

“No, it is just that, I got a bit carried away last night”, Inder speaks very softly, afraid that what he really thinks will come out otherwise.

“This is not going to do Inder, you have hit tolerance. You have got to check yourself into rehab, did you check the brochure for Nanda Devi that I had sent you?”

“Yeah bitch, and be trapped for the rest of my life with those senile farts!”

“It’s just you know, with the house in Ambala just about to be completed, and other businesses…”, Inder trails off, too disoriented to make coherent excuses.

Dr. Bhatt purses her full lips, biting back what she wants to say. Inder Panwar still makes her uneasy. She has been medicating borderline schizophrenics for so long that she could read them like open books but with Inder, she can never be quite sure what he was thinking. Even now, she has told Sherlyn to keep an ear out for 214.

“I am giving you the 65mg this time.” She holds back the bottle as Inder makes a grab for it,

“Dr Panwar, you are a medical man yourself, you should know this is only a patch fix. You really need therapy and electro shock before you overdose you know. I would advise you to check with Nanda Devi, just check in for three months, consider it a vacation. After all, we don’t want anymore, you know, incidences now, do we?”

The loaded question hangs in the air like gun smoke.

“Just give me the bottle bitch before I reach over and pull you down on the floor by your hair and make you do it!”

“Yes of course doctor, I will I promise. I feel much more in control nowadays. It’s just that, things have been so busy. But I will look into the rehabs, I promise.”

With fumbling hands, he unclasps the attache and takes out a stuffed manila envelope. The flap is half open and several Gandhis peek out. He keeps the envelope on the table. Dr. Bhatt pretends as if she has not seen it.

Without another word, Inder leaves. Only after his footsteps have died did Dr. Bhatt finally relaxes, Her knuckles are white from holding the knife so tight throughout the meeting.

Pills in his pocket, Inder almost bounds down the stairs towards his car. All he wants now is the dark of his bedroom, a peg of Vat 69 and some Bach in full blast to drown himself in.

It is a quarter to four, and the traffic is light. He rushes past giant real estate hoardings on DND. He swallows a pill and lights a cigarette. At the sector 16 traffic signal, he chuckles loudly as he notices a hoarding for some fitness trope that declares, “You are what you eat!”

His mood fouls as he notices a large pile-up ahead before the final left towards Sector 31. A traffic cop’s lathi can be seen above the car roofs, gesturing all vehicles to make a u-turn. He rolls down his window and growls to a hawker peddling flags, “Whose sister got fucked ahead, huh?”

“Saab, there has been an explosion in the underground drain, full road ahead is flooded. All cars are going around Noida stadium.”

With a curse, Inder tries to turn his car, but discovers that everyone else has the same idea. The asphalt shimmers in the July heat. The air swelters from the heat of a hundred idling engines. Inder’s left eye starts flinching by itself, keeping beat with the pandemonium of car honks.

But I had the pills!

He loosens his collar which is limp with sweat. Koli the sisterfucker has not fixed the car AC still. He slowly crawls bumper to bumper in the diesel stench for half an hour, the inside of the car like an oven.

Tak tak tak! He turns around to see a policeman tapping the back of his car. “ Sir, are you sleeping? Jaldi!”. The brakes shriek as Inder slams the car to a halt and gets out, furious. He picks up a boulder lying on the scorching pavement and with all his force brings it down on the head of the startled traffic cop. The honking dies down and there is one hot moment of absolute silence before pandemonium breaks out. Inder runs his tongue over his lips, looking at the glistening crimson oozing out of the cracked skull of the still convulsing constable. The scared shrieks grow until it drowns all sounds. The red fills his vision until… Tat tak tak! The angry constable is shouting at him to move it, couldn’t he see that he was holding up everyone. Inder blinks several times, afraid how vivid the vision had been.

Panting, he concentrates all his willpower and drives the last quarter mile, the voices in his head now screaming orders he knows he won’t be able to resist much longer. As he parks his car and gets out, he is sure that everyone on the road has slowed down to have a better look at him. He lets out a low whimper and runs inside. The bitch had been right, his tolerance was too high, the pills were not having any effect. He clenches his jaw as he realises that he would have to let Koli shock him during the night.

He slams shut the front door behind him and bellows, “Koli, madarchod, peg bana”. Koli comes limping as fast as his polio legs would allow, a crystal tumbler sloshing over with a generous patiala of Vat 69. Koli’s neatly trimmed pencil moustache curls up in delight as Inder gulpsdown the neat peg and audibly crunches the ice cubes. The alcohol calms his nerves a little, but he knows what he really needs.

With oily unctuousness, Koli speaks, “Saab sit sit, I will turn the AC on. Why do you run after these phuss pills saab when they don’t work. Your ailing can only be cured by this wretched servant here”, he giggles.

“I will fuck your sister raw, why are you still standing here. You are relishing my torment like you relish theirs, aren’t you motherfucker. Jaa jaa, go get it quickly!” Inder shouts, breathing noisily through his mouth.

Koli vanishes into the kitchen, but his excited titters can be heard. Five minutes later, the room is heavy with the smell of tandoored meat.

“Huzoor’s khuraak”, announces Koli keeping the platter. The doctor bites into a boti of meat, and lets out a deep sigh. The voices stop clamoring. His hands stop shaking. “Koli, dim the lights, and turn up the music”, he orders. He reclines lazily on the sofa and feels something small and lumpy against his back. He twists his left arm behind him and fishes out the troublemaker. It is a cheap woolen sock. A little thing, too small for Koli or Inder, but it would fit a five year old snug like a murderer’s gloves. Inder lazily tosses it on the floor, and tells Koli, “We finished the murgi, but you didn’t clean up the feathers did you pigfucker!”