The Big Issue : Edition 568
52 THE BIG ISSUE 2018 much rent, makes it hard for them to see a new Hindi film at Westfield, nahin hai?” “See,” Mr Sharma perked up with his own benevolence. “Here they shop, enjoy movies.” We trundled a fold-up bed into my room the nights Raj stayed. After the light was out, I’d inhale the smell of him; the cocktail of his sweat mixed with a celebrity aftershave. One night, emboldened by the rhythmic sound of breathing, I reached for his singlet, dropped by the side of his bed, and instead found myself pressed up against the side of his roll- away. For what seemed like an hour, my hand cautiously made its way under the blanket, slowly loosening the drawstring, inching its way inside his pyjamas. Savouring the increasing density of hair as the fingers reached their goal. Their reward was a hot stiffness followed by a warm hand pressing mine further into that black forest. After that, he stayed over every night he could. My mother beamed as Raj pretended to teach me HTML 101, unaware the laptop was loaded with a Bond marathon, waiting to drown out the squeaking of the bed with the famous 007 theme. When my Auntie Parvati visited, she’d bring in plates of pakoras. Sitting between us, she’d tell us her old war stories while we sent dirty Snaps to each other. We got audacious, kissing and groping in public, never caught. Well, once. “Fuck,” Raj said after we exchanged a nicotine-flavoured kiss in the alley behind Sharmaville. Opening my eyes, I saw Mr Sharma’s assistant looking at us from the doorway. Adjusting his bow tie, Raj followed her inside. Sharmaville was the first and largest of Sharma’s chain of Indian restaurants. After the Chef’s Hat award, when the judges declared it fine dining’s answer to a meal in your favourite Delhi auntie’s kitchen, it now fed tout à la mode. Sharma2 and Sharmfarm soon followed. Crowds flocked, queues stretched from each restaurant’s sweets counter. The glistening pyramids of those famous laddus were archaeological rubble at the end of each day. Not least because Mr Sharma tasted every batch produced. As a result, he was a large man. A very large man, and the whisky hadn’t stopped his sweating. I watched him unbutton his double-breasted suit, and, extracting a handkerchief monogrammed with a large cursive S, wipe his face down. “What’s his name again?” “Sanjay Patel, Sharmaji,” the assistant answered. “You know, Parvati’s nephew.” “Ah yes! The journalist.” “Writer,” I corrected. “Doing something for Good Food, right?” “Um, no,” I said. “An assignment for uni. I have to write a profile.” “You’re in for a treat tonight,” his assistant said, as Sharma turned away, his attention caught by the first guests. He hobbled over to the entrance. It was only then I saw his bare legs extending from the traditional dhoti, thin brown sticks wrapped in hand spun cotton fluttering under the vent of the massive suit jacket. “Look, let me explain...” Raj said. “Fuck off,” I said, swiping his glass and ashtray off the table just as a bartender walked up to clear them. “Oi,” he said grabbing me by the shoulder. “We don’t want any trouble here.” “It’s okay,” Raj said getting up. “He’s upset.” “Take me home,” I said to Raj, shaking myself free. Sharma’s assistant motioned me to follow her as she walked into the kitchens. “Kumarji,” she called out. “Don’t forget, new batch of chai for the guests and put out the laddus. Make sure they’re presented properly, the rose ones at the front. Don’t be cheap with the gold leaf tonight.” Opening the back door, she spoke into the smoking alley, blocking my view. “Raj, put the cushions and carpets out. And brush your teeth.” She slammed the door before I could look out. Something on a bench caught her eye. “This hasn’t been cleaned properly. See to it.” “Kaali kutti,” someone said as she slapped a kitchen hand’s head. Inside the office she motioned me to sit at the desk.