Armaan has come to Switzerland, ostensibly to locate a contact but actually to romance Priya and sing a song, in which he is joined by twenty white female dancers wearing traditional costumes that are rather skimpy for a cold, mountainous country. The song and dance over, he is now sitting in his hotel room, where a crackling fire burns in the fireplace.
Priya is taking a bath. We hear the sound of running water and Priya humming a tune, and then we see her in the bath. She applies soap to her legs and back. She raises a leg covered in bubbles and uses the showerhead to wash it clean. I hope she will also use it on her ample chest and make all the bubbles disappear, but she disappoints me.
Finally, she emerges from the bath with just a pink towel around her body. Her jet-black hair hangs loose behind her shoulders, glistening with moisture. Her long legs are smooth and hairless. Armaan takes her in his arms and smothers her face with kisses. His lips move down to the hollow of her neck. Soft romantic music begins to play. Priya undoes the buttons on his shirt, and Armaan slips out of it languidly, exposing his manly chest. The glow of the fire envelops the two lovers in a golden tint. Priya makes soft moaning noises. She arches her back and allows Armaan to caress her throat. His hand snakes to her back and tugs at her towel. The pink fabric loosens and falls at her feet. There is a tantalizing glimpse of thigh and back, but no shot of breasts. Salim believes this is where the censors inserted a cut. And why he envies Mrs. Kane.
Armaan has now locked Priya in his embrace. We are shown the swell of her breasts, her heavy breathing, the perspiration forming on her forehead. There are catcalls and whistles from the stalls. The old man sitting next to Salim shifts uncomfortably in his seat, crossing his legs. I am not sure, but I think his hand is massaging his crotch.
"The oldie next to you is getting frisky," I whisper to Salim. But he is oblivious to the old man and me. He is gaping at the intertwined bodies thrusting in synchronized rhythm to the music in the background. The camera pans over Armaan's heaving back and zooms in on the fireplace, where golden yellow flames are licking the logs with increasing abandon. Fade to black.
There is a fire of similar proportions in our kitchen when I enter the chawl, but instead of logs, Salim is using paper. "Bastards!...Dogs!" he mutters while tearing a thick sheaf of glossy paper into pieces.
"What are you doing, Salim?" I ask in alarm.
"I am taking revenge on the bastards who have maligned Armaan," he says as he tosses more sheets of paper into the pyre.
I notice that Salim is tearing pages from a magazine.
"Which magazine is this? It looks new."
"It is the latest issue of Starburst. I will destroy as many copies as I can lay my hands on. I could buy only ten from the newsstand."
I grab a copy that has not yet been mangled. It has Armaan Ali on the cover, with a screaming headline: "The Naked Truth About This Man."
"But it has your idol on the cover. Why are you destroying it?" I cry.
"Because of what they say inside about Armaan."
"But you can't read."
"I read enough and I can hear. I overheard Mrs. Barve and Mrs. Shirke discussing the scurrilous accusations made against Armaan in this issue."
"That Urvashi left him because he could not satisfy her. That he is gay."
"You think they can abuse my hero in this fashion and get away with it? I know this report is a load of nonsense. Armaan's rivals in the industry are jealous of his success. They have hatched this plot to destroy his reputation. I will not allow them to succeed. I will go to the Starburst office and set fire to it."
Salim's anger is white hot. And I know why. He hates gays. To tarnish his idol with the brush of homosexuality is the ultimate insult in his book.
Copyright © 2005 by Vikas Swarup
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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