"And what good will that do? Urvashi will not come back to Armaan."
Suddenly Salim looks up. "Do you think I could speak to her? Maybe I could persuade her to come back to Armaan. Tell her that it was all a mistake. Tell her how sad and contrite he is."
I shake my head. I don't want Salim tramping all over Mumbai looking for Urvashi Randhawa. "It's not a good idea to poke your nose into other people's affairs, or make other people's troubles your own, Salim. Armaan Ali is a mature man. He will deal with his troubles in his own way."
"At least I will send him a gift," says Salim.
He goes and buys a large bottle of Fevicol glue and sets about sticking the shattered pieces of the heart-shaped frame back together again. It takes him a week, but finally the heart is whole, a grid of crisscrossing black streaks the only reminder of the fault lines on which it broke.
"I will now send it to Armaan," he says. "It is a symbol that even a broken heart can be put together again."
"With Fevicol?" I ask.
"No. With love and care."
Salim wraps it up in cloth and sends it to Armaan Ali's home address.
I don't know whether it reached Armaan or not. Whether it was broken by the postal department, smashed by the security guards, or trashed by Armaan's secretary. The important thing is that Salim believes it reached his hero and helped to heal his wound. It made Armaan whole again and enabled him to resume giving blockbusters, such as this one. Which I am seeing for the first time and Salim for the ninth.
A devotional song is playing on the screen. Armaan and his mother are climbing toward the shrine of Vaishno Devi.
"They say if you ask Mata Vaishno Devi sincerely for anything, she grants your wish. Tell me, what would you ask?" I say to Salim.
"What would you ask?" he counters.
"I guess I would ask for money," I say.
"I would ask for Armaan to be reunited with Urvashi," he says, without thinking for even a second.
The screen says INTERVAL in bold red letters.
Salim and I stand up and stretch our arms and legs. We buy two soggy samosas from the food vendor. The boy selling soft drinks looks at the empty seats mournfully. He will not make a good profit today. We decide to go to the toilet. It has nice white tiles, banks of urinals, and clean washbasins. We each have a designated stall. Salim always goes to the one on the extreme right, and I always take the sole urinal on the left side wall. I empty my bladder and read the graffiti on the wall. FUCK ME...TINU PISSED HERE...SHEENA IS A WHORE...I LOVE PRIYANKA.
Priyanka? I rail against the graffiti artist who has defaced the last inscription. I spit into my hand and try to remove the extra letters, but they have been written with permanent black marker and refuse to budge. Eventually I use my nails to scratch them off the wall and succeed in restoring the graffiti to its original state, just as I had inscribed it four months ago: I LOVE PRIYA.
The second bell sounds. The interval is over. The film is about to resume. Salim has already briefed me on the remaining plot. Armaan and Priya will now sing a song in Switzerland, before Priya is murdered by a rival gang. Then Armaan will kill hundreds of bad guys in revenge, expose corrupt politicians and police officers, and finally die a hero's death.
We return to A21 and A22. The hall goes dark again. Suddenly, a tall man enters through the balcony door and takes the seat next to Salim. A20. He has two hundred seats to choose from, but he selects A20. It is impossible to see his face, but I can make out that he is an old man with a long, flowing beard. He is wearing what appears to be a pathan suit.
I am curious about this man. Why is he joining the film halfway through? Did he pay half price for his ticket? Salim is not bothered. He is craning forward in anticipation of the love scene between Armaan and Priya which is about to begin.
Copyright © 2005 by Vikas Swarup
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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