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A jarnalis comes to Khaufpur to ask Animal’s opinion of the verdict in the Bhopal criminal case. Like all jarnaliss he has already decided what Animal’s answers will be. He has probably already written the article.

STORY BY ANIMAL, ART BY VENANTIUS PINTO

[I]

A jarnalis came from Delhi to Khaufpur to ask how I felt about the news from Bhopal.

‘I feel nothing,’ I said, ‘but putain con j’ai vachement envie d’une clope.’

He followed my eyes, got my drift, sighed and offered me a cigarette. ‘My editor said you were difficult. He told me not to bother with you. I said, I must talk to him. We need a different point of view.’

So I’m sucking his cigarette and he’s talking about Bhopal. There was a verdict and a sentencing and a this and a that and an etcetera plus also another etcetera. We’re sitting on the log under the tamarind tree, outside the old tower where I lived with Ma, where I still do. It is unfair, unjust, too little too late, a disgrace, a miscarriage of … oh please, stop ta-ta-talking that blah blah blah.

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‘You know what makes me mad?’ Full of indignation is this jarnalis. ‘The desi kampani and seven coolies were fined 12 lakhs, and the Amrikan kampani and the burra-sahib Amrikans were not even mentioned.’

He looks at me, as if expecting some great reaction, so I don’t oblige.

‘Twelve lakhs, Animal! Just the Indians were fined.’

‘Well, that’ll teach the fuckers!’ I’ve directed a stream of smoke into a hole under the log where lives an old, bad-tempered friend of mine.

‘Animal, there are 572,000 registered gas victims, so this judgement gives each just two rupees!’

‘Baap re! Much as that?’

‘Are you joking? What can anyone do with two rupees?’

In the mouth of the hole two slim red wands are waving.
‘Two bucks? It will buy a samosa. It would keep a person alive for a day.’ I aim more smoke into the hole.

‘This is not two rupees per day, Animal. This is two rupees forever, finish, khattam, end of story. Two rupees for 26 years of horrible sickness, for losing people you loved, for all the abuse and degradation. Two fucking rupees. Is this the value of a poor person’s life?’

I prod his gut. ‘Why are you so upset? You did not suffer those things.’

In the hole now light glints from a flat head with monstrous pincers. Legs appear, pair after pair, and The Congressman slides enraged into the open.

‘For the first time in my life I am ashamed of being Indian.’

To this I can find no suitable reply, but something in the fucker’s sincerity touches me. Nine inches of centipede are looking for something to attack. Time to move. I heave my arse in the air. ‘Well, nice to meet you. I’m off to Chunaram’s for a bite.’

‘No, look, wait. We have to talk.’

‘What use is talk?’

‘Where is this Chunaram’s? Could I join you?’

Oh please no. ‘It’s in Paradise Alley, in the Nutcracker. Not a place for someone with shined shoes and wallet … but,’ I cannot help adding, ‘his kebabs are the best in Khaufpur.’

‘Animal!’ He’s a man struck by inspiration. ‘Let me take you somewhere special. A place you’ll really enjoy.’

[II]

Car’s bumping over rail tracks, through the dirt lanes of the Nutcracker on to the main road, all the way this jarnalis doesn’t stop talking.

‘Man, there is such injustice in the world. Thought I’d seen it all, but this reaches new depths … damn I hate those bakras!’ He spins the wheel to avoid a large truck piled high with bundles that is rushing at us farting black smoke.

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So now we’re out of control, car’s all over the road, I’m hanging out the window shouting abuse at the khalasi who’s perched on the bundles splitting his sides.

‘Even the press has lost its independence,’ says the jarnalis. ‘I filed a piece about the verdict for a newspaper in London. I pointed out that while the Indians are on trial, the US kampani and its boss have been absconding for 18 years and no one has done a thing about it. Back comes a response from the newspaper’s lawyer, “You can’t say this.” “Why not?” “I want you to say: ‘The US kampani was not involved in the case’.” “But look,” I say to her, “the US kampani is named on the charge sheet as a prime accused. Its assets were seized because it didn’t show up. How can it not be involved?” “Make the change,” she replies, “or your article won’t run.”’

He took a puff of his cigarette. ‘I swear by god, Animal, this is a true story. I will name names if I have to. What it means I don’t like to think. How can I write what I know to be untrue? Can the kampani censor the press, does it have so much power? Over the Indian government, yes, of course. Anyone with money has power over the Indian government. Our government will open its legs for anyone with a few bucks.’

[III]

When we pull up at the Jehan Nabz, the tall turban-sporting doorman is not best pleased to see me four-footing it up the steps.

‘He’s my guest,’ says the jarnalis in a warning tone when the bugger tries to stop me. ‘Come on, Animal, we’ll get a table on the lawn. The best bloody table in this place.’

So this is why he has brought me here. It is our joint act of rebellion, our revolution against the state, and injustice and inequality. Well, it is the right place to come.

The Jehan Nabz is a marble palace on a hill above the lake. It was built by the Little Nawab, so called because he was short, plus fond of sodomy, which he performed with equal zest on both sexes, including the wives of his friends who were summoned to the palace and given the royal four inches up the bum. Thus it earned its Khaufpuri nickname of jehannum, or Hell. One night here costs more than anyone in Paradise earns from working a hundred days.

There’s discreet consternation as we process through the lobby, past the stuffed tiger in its glass case, arrays of swords and spears, past a splashing fountain out to the garden. On the wide lawn are tables laid with white cloth, and waiters carrying plates heaped with delicious-looking foods. Waiters, guests, Indian, foreign – all stare as we walk across the grass, I feel their eyes on my back but what do I care? It’s the revolution, we’re here to eat for human rights, justice, freedom, equality and the dignity of man. No surprise, then, when the manager appears and asks for a word with the jarnalis.

‘… not at all the right kind of person,’ I hear him say.

The jarnalis whispers something and the manager’s face becomes instantly solemn. ‘Yes, sir, right away, sir. I’ll see to it myself.’ What has been said I don’t know, but in a moment the poor man reappears with menus.

‘Enjoy your meal, gentlemen.’

What will you have, Animal? This is my special treat. Or rather, the hotel’s.’

‘What did you say to him?’

‘I reminded him that my uncle is the Minister for Tourism.’

‘Minister of Tourism. Oh, very good. Haha!’

‘Actually he really is the Minister of Tourism. Why don’t you try the quail?’

‘I’ll have the Rôti d’épaule d’agneau à la moutarde et aux herbes du jardin.’

He looks amazed, but since my book was published I’ve done a bit of travelling in the world and have stayed in posh hotels all over, and was always treated with courtesy and sometimes even as an important person. I guess in those places I was not wearing the kakadu shorts.

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‘I know what you are thinking,’ says the jarnalis, when we have eaten our quail and lamb and drunk two bottles of dark Clos Triguedina, which tastes like bitter chocolate. ‘These people all round us, well-off Indians, foreigners, they don’t care about the poor. You’re right, at the moment they don’t, but all humans are basically decent. Everyone, just everyone, is enraged at this shameful treatment of the Bhopalis. If we can find the right words, the right way to speak to them, they will discover that they do care.’

‘You’re a dreamer,’ I say. ‘You think what you do makes a difference. I never make that mistake. I can’t change anything and I don’t give a fuck.’

‘Waiter,’ he calls. ‘Two cognacs. Large ones … Animal, you really don’t care that this injustice was done to half a million Indians? That India has been shamed before the world?’

‘Stop ta-ta-talking that blah blah blah.’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘India’s shame, humiliated by Amrika, what is it to me? Why should I care about India? Am I an Indian? My people in the Nutcracker, are they Indians? The poor and hungry, are they Indians?’

‘But of course. What else are you?’

‘If we are Indians then where are our rights?’

‘But I am agreeing with you. We have to get rid of corruption in politics. Where there is development, all the people must share the benefits.’

‘Oh very noble! And where were you for the last 26 years? All of you people who are now up in arms? Where was your basic human decency? Do you know what it has been like? Can you imagine? The long struggle, hunger strikes, three times walking to Delhi, watching the deaths of people you love? Did you pay any attention? You did not. Bhopalis, Khaufpuris, Narmadans, Nagas, Manipuris, Mizos, Kashmiris, Gonds, cotton farmers and the poor in their millions, tens and hundreds of millions, endure misery for years and somehow you do not notice. But now you care because India has been insulted. What is India, you son-of-a-bitch? Do you think it is your fucking pride?’

I’ve leaned over and forked a bit of his quail. ‘You know what is India? I will tell you. There is no India. There is only the land, which stretches out in all directions, trees, mountains, rocks, rivers, fields, villages and humble bastis. In this land there are millions of poor. They are not part of your India. They are the people of a great country, but I do not know its name.’

‘What could its name be, other than India itself?’

‘This country has no name, but into it comes your India bringing foreign kampanis, to whom you make gifts of what is not yours to give. Then there’s trouble. Land seized by force. People driven from their homes by bullets, poison gas and flooding valleys. These kampanis are all over the place – they lie with mouths open like brooding snakes. They have bought the rain, it belongs to them. Soon all the water will be theirs. Next you will ask us to pay a tax for sunshine and for each breath we take. But you know, we are grateful to your India, because to us also it has given gifts. We were poor but it made us destitute, and in so doing also made us free. We had next to nothing, but even that it took. By leaving us nothing at all, it made us invincible. The kampani swallowed our families, our health, our jobs and our dignity, and its good friend India gave us two rupees. By this gift we learned that no citizens of India are we, but the people of a free and generous land, the nameless nation of the poor.’

After this speech, I stop ta-ta-talking my blah blah blah, finish my cognac and go away laughing, taking some morsels of quail for The Congressman and for BJP and Communist, two old black scorpions that live in our wall, whom I feed for the sake of Ma, who loved all living things.

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