"One Serving Moon"

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"One Serving Moon"

  1. 1. One Serving Moon J.Ramanand November 2010 (ramanand@gmail.com)
  2. 2. N o sooner had the car left to take its owner to his early morning tennis session thata buggy rolled to a halt outside the house. The driver, a pale and sweaty man, peeredoutside. He was blessed with a natural talent in looking like the kind of person you didnot want appearing outside your house, especially early in the morning. This wasfortunate for Kato, for it contributed to his successful career as legal summonsexecutive (recently promoted and now on overseas assignment).Kato was not a morning person himself, but he had a long list of people to confront thatday. This town of plagiarists, copyright-violators, and inspiration-thugs slept late intothe day and was most likely to be at home at dawn. It was also a good idea to let theyoung intern with him know that in this job, comforts such as a leisurely start to the daydid not exist. But there were compensations: for instance, the satisfaction of personallydelivering bad news to the doorsteps of reprobates.“This seems to be the house of ‘Singh, S’, said Kato, looking around. “You got thepapers, kid?”Aftab, the intern, nodded. He pulled out some papers from a cream envelope, andappeared to be checking that he had everything. But he continued to fiddle with them,unwilling to step out.Kato had seen this before. One of the perils of seniority was being saddled with namby-pambies, of having to “show them the ropes”. Such phrases always made Kato feel likea master executioner. He found himself drifting into a daydream involving a pair ofgallows and some unknotted nooses, but snapped himself out of it. It was the heat, hereminded himself. He longed for some tranquility instead of this noisy, sun-lit city.“See, kid, it’s just as they tell you in training. You walk up, you knock, you ask for theguy – in this case, Mr. Singh. You serve him the papers. If he has any questions, you tellhim the answers are in them. If they press on, you point to the toll-free helplinenumber. If they begin to sob, you simply walk back, without leaving yourself vulnerableto an attack from the rear.”Yeah, the agency had got it down to a business process.“I’ve heard other agents have had things thrown at them. Just last week…”Kato cut in. “That happens, yes. But these war stories are often exaggerated. Get goingkid, we got lots of other places to go to.”
  3. 3. He watched Aftab reluctantly pull himself out of the buggy, and drag himself down thewalkway past the gate, and to the front door. Kato looked at the print-out in his hand,trying to figure out the route to the next villain in fake-town.Even before he could finish, he heard footsteps and looked up to see a relieved Aftab.“Done already? Good start, mister.”“No, no”, said Aftab, trying to catch his breath. He’s fled back, thought Kato. Therewere no signs of blood, so perhaps whatever was thrown at him had missed its target.“I couldn’t deliver the notice – he wasn’t there. Mr. Singh, I mean. Oh, he’s not Mr.Singh. Gulzar sir has gone to play tennis. I mean he must be Mr. Singh, but he’s notthere.”The scaffolds, the blindfolds, the last meals…the images came flooding back into Kato’shead. The guillotines and electric chairs patiently awaited their turn.“Rubbish! What are you talking? – sober up, fella. Explain yourself.”Aftab was a roly-poly law school graduate whose fifteen-plus years of formal educationhad rendered him unskilled in presenting a cogent explanation of anything outside thesyllabus. Yet he tried.“Sir, what I am trying to say is like this. Gulzar sir lives in this house. I saw a photo of himinside. In the living room, behind the person who answered the door. That person whotold me ‘sir is not there, he has gone for tennis’.”“So where does Singh live?”“No, no, this is his house. I mean, I think his real name is Singh. Only he doesn’t look likea Sardar, if you know what I mean.”Kato didn’t, but let that pass.“So he’s the man, but he isn’t there?”Aftab nodded with gusto.“He’s gone to play tennis?”Aftab repeated his previous performance.
  4. 4. “Says here on the papers he’s a chap in his seventies – plays tennis? Is he trying to pull afast one? Evasion tactics?”“I am also surprised, sir. Most people here go for morning walks, but I have seen photosof Gulzar sir, and he looks the fitness-type.”They sat in silence for a bit. Agency rules meant that the notice had to be handed to therecipient himself, unless circumstances were extenuating.“His name is Gulzar, you say.”“Yes sir. He is a famous celebrity – writes songs for films.”“I know that, boy – everyone on this list is that kind of person. Gulzar, eh - any Russianconnection?”“I think it means “garden” in Urdu. It must be a pen-name.” Aftab mused. “He’s a poet,and it’s a nice metaphor. But sir, Gulzar sir is a world-famous person – why are wegiving him a notice?”Metaphors – that was the problem, thought Kato. People wandering about the gardenof words. Plucking flowers without permission and decorating their poems and prose.All this in full view of the sign that said “do not walk on the grass”.With the sigh of someone betraying a confidence, he whispered: “Do you know whomwe’re representing?”“Some ‘Lord Moon’.”“’Lord Sasi Artemis Moon the Luminous (of Mahtab House), to give him his full title.Perk up, Aftie boy, you’ve been working for the moon himself.”Aftab’s round eyes dramatically increased in diameter.“The moon? The planet? I mean, the satellite? Seriously? What sir, you’re pulling myleg, isn’t it?”Kato shook his head.“You’re not joking, sir? I didn’t even know he existed in human form. Well!”Aftab sat in silence digesting this revelation.”But what problem does he have with Gulzar?”
  5. 5. “Not just with Singh, but many others. Not just here in Bombay, but in Hollywood, inMoscow, in Tokyo. It was recently brought to the cognizance of the Lord that manypeople on the mother planet have been using and misusing his name withoutpermission. Being a celestial and owning the legal rights to his name and image, he isasserting his right to be fairly represented, and fairly compensated.”Over the course of his legal schooling, Aftab had become aware of the moralinadequacies of several members of his future profession. Clearly some smart-aleck,perhaps from their own agency, had sniffed out this non-existent opportunity andpersuaded the poor celestial to hire them to go after some unassuming people.“Let’s take your Mr. Czar, or Mr. Singh or whatever other alias he’s got.” He pulled outthe papers from the envelope in Aftab’s hands.“See here: in his case, these cases of copyright violation go as far as back as 1963. Hewrites then (and I’m quoting from the translation): ‘…the Moon steals a glance afterparting the clouds. He smiles at my unease’. Is Lord Moon some kind of Peeping Tom?And here, your friend also wishes the moon should be confronted by an eclipse. Howrude – hoping for an eclipse is really the worst threat you could hurl at the Lord.”“Oh, come on! You’re not serious?”“How would you feel if someone hoped your face would be blackened?”“I didn’t mean that. Are the original lyrics there too?”Kato showed him the verses.“What lovely lines!” exclaimed Aftab.Kato frowned.
  6. 6. “Take this then. Writes he: ‘Our house will be where the road goes past the moon.’Do you know the Moon is the master of seven planetary estates? He doesn’t live insome housing colony. Or this: ‘The beggar-woman takes the moon as a begging bowl.’What impertinence! Sometimes he talks about the Moon as a pillow, sometimes heasks for the Moon to be caged and brought forth. One lady even gets rashes becauseshe tries to swallow his Lordship! Aren’t there stories about a monkey-god trying tocatch the Sun? – you wait till Lord Sun sues the pants off the author for threateningthat.”“Mr. Kato, sir, with no disrespect, sir. You are taking this too literally. This is what poetsdo – it’s called poetic licence.”“How did you pass law school, you nincompoop? Of course, I’m taking this literally –that’s how the law functions. Unless you have a banana state here and a fruit salad forthe law book. This is slander, boy. Or is it libel? I don’t know – I always get the twomixed up. And what license, eh? I bet he has no papers to prove that. The Lord Moonsays he’s not given any such rights to anyone.”Aftab looked unconvinced.“OK Aftie, let me ask you something: how would you feel if someone used your name ina story or a poem and then said they wish they could steal your light or distribute partsof you around?”“I’d feel flattered, sir. My aunt once wrote a poem about me on my birthday, but we hadthis incident with the cake that day…”“Spoken like a true pauper. People like Lord Moon, people far more important thanyou, have a lot to lose – their image is everything to them. How would you know? Youdon’t see these poets using names of soaps or televisions in songs, do you?”He looked at the advertising boards around them. “Is there a song referring toVodafone? Show me a song saying “I wish you were like Odomos”. Or like, what’s that,Zandoo? You know why? They’d get sued like hell by these companies.”“Aarrghh!” said Aftab. He snatched the papers from Kato.They sat in silence, glowering at the dashboard.S ometime later, the silence gave way. Aftab had begun singing softly.
  7. 7. “Wow, that’s so nice”, he said aloud. Then he pulled out another page.“What does that mean?” asked Kato, breaking in.Aftab turned to look at Kato, surprised.“I am not very good at translation, but let me see. It is something like this: The night hasa bindi – what Indian ladies wear on their forehead, you know – so the bindi is themoon.”He scratched his head.”It’s really hard to explain outside the full poem. OK, let’s take another line. Here, thesituation is that the heroine has had a fight with her husband. So she tells him, see,these nights are without any taste; that without you, the moon’s golden light seemsfalse to me, it isn’t the same anymore. So sir, according to me, Gulzar is only praisingthe moon’s colour, no?”Kato looked unimpressed. “That may be so. But in another song he says ‘we have takendown the earrings of the Moon’ – the Moon’s security people feel it shows them in poorlight. And I agree. The moon is not the lawless place it used to be.”“Sir, we have a saying here, beg your pardon if you please sir. It says ‘the monkey willnot know the taste of ginger’. And before you go wild at me, sir, that’s a metaphor andit’s got nothing personal against you. Well, perhaps it does. But you seem to have noheart, at least not one that isn’t legal, sir, and you need a real heart to savour the tasteof poetry.”At this, Kato made a sudden lunge at Aftab. The intern ducked, then opened the door,dropped the papers and was about to make a dash for the open when he saw there wasanother car parked in the drive way. It had not been there before.Kato had seen the same thing, and he too had stopped in his tracks. He smiled andgestured to the papers. Aftab picked them up and handed them over, while keeping hisdistance.
  8. 8. “But I’m not coming with you, sir.”“I’ll show you how it’s done, softie-Aftie. And you’ve got a lot to answer for. Once I’mback.”Kato began walking up to the house. His swagger was purely for Aftab’s benefit.A ftab watched as Kato went up the walkway to the door and rang with the zest ofsomeone home-delivering righteousness within 30 minutes. No sooner had the doorbeen answered that Kato’s mouth opened wide and far. Outside the gates, Aftabwatched the strut morph into a stutter. Having never been fond of Biology in school,Aftab’s young brain had years ago egged him on to studying law. That had been a goodchoice, for his brain was struggling to over-rule even the minor illusion that Kato’s eyeshad popped out from his sockets for a quick bounce-about.His attention thus entangled, he missed the return of his supervisor. Kato’s face lookedlike it had been freshly whitewashed.“What happened, sir?”Without a word, Kato got into the car. Aftab did the same. At some distance behindthem, the equally puzzled house door closed.“I don’t believe that!” said Kato after a while.Aftab said nothing, preferring to wait for more information. It duly came after fiveminutes.“I don’t believe that!”“What do you not believe?” Despite wanting to, he didn’t add the word ‘you idiot. Butthe sentiment lingered in the air.“He looks the same! He’s identical! That can’t be. That’s not right, is it, Aftie?”Aftab touched Kato’s forehead.“You don’t have any temperature. I didn’t see you take a drink. You couldn’t have gonemad in two minutes, could you?”There was a frayed edge to Aftab’s voice.
  9. 9. “There he was, at the door.” panted Kato. ”The exact same face. The silver hair. Thedeep voice. Those white clothes – those starched-as-iron clothes. Even those bloodyArabian-nights footwear, man, even those slip-ons.”“Same as whom?”“Lord Moon, you madman, the Moon himself. How can that be? What kind of magic isthis? Pinch me, boy, sound the alarm, I want to wake up.”Aftab didn’t decline the invitation. He smacked Kato.“Damn” sobbed Kato, “I’m not in a dream.”“Of course you aren’t. Are you’re saying Gulzar sir looks like the Moon? Our client?”“I’ve seen photos of him, the Moon. I know what I’m saying. It sounds ridiculous, I know.Are they twins or something? That’s crazy, really crazy.”“That reminds me of some movie I’ve seen.”“What?”“Nothing.”“What do I do? I must be mistaken. I must have hallucinated. I should go again.” Hemade an attempt to get out but his hands were shivering.Aftab looked around, trying to see if he could spot some kind of TV camera. In themeanwhile, Kato had begun whimpering. A policeman at the far end of the road lookedbriefly at the car.Aftab turned to his co-passenger.“I think you need something strong, something stiff. Have you ever had a cutting here,sir?”Kato shook his head.“It will do you a lot of good. There must be a stall nearby.”“What after that? I don’t know what to do next. Suppose I go to the next guy and healso looks white and silvery? The agency will think I’ve gone nuts. I’ve never defaultedbefore.”
  10. 10. “Let that be. Who’s on your list next? Where’s the list?”Kato did as ordered. “It’s someone called ‘Sameer’.”“Sameer? Great - let’s go there. I’ve never really liked his lyrics. That’ll cheer us bothup.”The intern fixed Kato with a newly acquired intensity.“Let me drive.” he commanded.The buggy sped off just as the poet Gulzar began sipping his morning tea in the housenearby.

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