(Pico was someone I knew once. He is gone now but he left behind this little diary. Most of it is just random scrawling, some on loose pages even. At the risk of offending his memory, here are some words from the diary.)
As I touch the dull, black metal of the gun, a million movie scenes explode in my head.
It isn’t my hand I see anymore but Clint Eastwood’s, slowly cocking the gun and shooting down scum. I see Trinity’s hand pulling the trigger as she whispers, Duck this! I see smoke spiraling out of a series of guns, each firing with its own unique sonic-boom, whine, bang, dishkiaon and rat-a-tat. I see bullets striking down goons, old men, Nazis, terrorists, cops, bank-guards, mothers, dope-dealers and presidents. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, guns with silencers, sawed-off shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, sten guns – I see them all, the doom-toys, and I am terrified.
Do you like it? Hahahahaha, says the man sitting opposite me. Do you think you can kill someone with this? he adds.
No-ho-oh-oo, my answer comes out, weak and quavering, as I transfer the pistol from my left hand to my right hand. It is formidably heavy, solid and large, the erect cock of a God. The gun is poorly crafted though and looks stupid, like an anvil. But it has death around it, inside it and it is death I see, cold and real, in my right palm.
I wrap my forefinger around the trigger and understand why men own a gun – the mix of sin, power and cool is hopelessly intoxicating. You hope you never need to kill someone with it but the possibility arouses a sick thrill, like keeping a pet panther in your bedroom and imagining a burglar breaking in.
I hand back the gun. I feel relieved when the man slips the gun back under his shirt, into a leather holster strapped around his belly. One more drink? he asks.
The man is a gangster. He breaks bones, ruptures ear-drums and pierces bellies for a living. His name is Dabbu Sawant and through the ineffable workings of the universe, he is paying for my drink tonight.
It has been a crowded night at the bar, the room is smoky and lone customers have been encouraged to share tables with each other, as strangers. It’s not a perfect arrangement, I hated doing this and I normally stared furiously at the table’s contents to avoid any eye-contact with whoever happened to be sitting across me. This night, it happens to be a bulky, dark-skinned individual who has brought along two cellphones, a rolled newspaper and a packet of Marlboro Lights.
Our conversation had started without drama. You speak good English, he had said in Hindi, after I had spoken to a friend on my phone. I wish I could speak English like you, his yellow eyes hinting at a smile.
Thanks, I wish I could speak Hindi like you. Mine’s not too good, I had said. I needn’t have said the second part, it was obvious from my Hindi that it wasn’t one of the feathers in my cap.
Hindi is ok, he replied, it’s good for getting things done, but English, ah, that is style, Sir. I had half-smiled at this and thought, Sir, SIR - in India, to a non-English speaking person, one still automatically becomes a Sir.
His back-story had been a little heartbreaking but not unusual. Utter poverty, drunk father, diseased mother, petty crimes by puberty, sodomised by perverts on his first night in jail, a psychopathic and spectacularly rich criminal by the age of thirty, paying off local cops like so many attendants, literally owning a beautiful whore for private pleasures, married to a semi-literate woman from his native village, a son now studying in a posh ‘English medium’ school. I am set, boss, set, he had chuckled, popping peanuts into his mouth.
And why was he telling me all this? Couldn’t this potentially get him in trouble later on? The answer was simple and I knew it and he knew I knew it. In this corner of the jungle, he was one of the lions and I was at best an aardvark. Lions don’t lose sleep over aardvarks. Besides, as he had said, he fancied my English and assumed I was an intelligent, wise man with whom he could have a genuine conversation, for a change.
With our glasses full again, the man clears his throat, nods grimly and prepares himself to answer my question – how much did this gun cost you?
Look Pico, he says to me, let me tell you first how I got the gun.
There’s a village in Nagaland, called Dimapur. A beautiful place, I have been there. Pico, I saw little children hahaha help their fathers melt scrap metal and mould it into guns. The metal gets beaten, cut and filed into shape. Now put this on a hand-cut wooden grip and the weapon is ready, bang-bang, the best gun, my kind of gun. The gun now travels, getting first-class treatment from agents, retailers, wholesalers and other motherfuckers. When the gun finally reaches my agent here in Bombay, the price is ten thousand rupees. But Pico, I paid two lakh rupees for this gun. Ask me why.
He whips out the gun and thuds it onto the table. A bowl of peanuts and my heart jump a bit.
Pico, just as I have killed before I got the gun, the gun has killed before it got to me. That is very important. I wanted a gun that’s killed at least ten men, this one has killed thirty, I respect it. This gun (his fingers move respectfully over its dips and bumps), it has skill, nerve and wisdom. When you need it, it will not fail you. But it is very hungry; it needs blood regularly, just like me hahahaha. Here, see this.
I take a close look at the base of the gun. There’s a word etched there, ‘Laskan’. The maker of the gun, that’s his name, the man says. He then puts the gun back, stands up and says, Come, Pico, let’s go from here.
We drive around in his Honda, smoking cigarettes and talking above the cacophony of Hindi movie songs. Call this gut instinct or booze-logic but I know no bodily harm can come my way through him. And there’s a dark attraction about the man and his cold-blooded ways. The danger adds something special to the night.
It’s another sultry night in Bombay and the halogen-lit city floats past me as we drive on. I am talking continuously, words gushing and sloshing out of me. I speak of my world, my profession, women, cinema, dance bars, cricket, the police, love, philosophy, the oil market, terrorism, God, my apartment block watchman. And I speak in English, a simple, slow English which I hope is entertaining and instructive for the man. He is fascinated. He nods continuously and after a while, even offers a few words in English himself – fuck, time, please, yes, no, superb, bottle, money, thanks. We drink non-stop, from beer cans that leave wet stains on the dashboard.
Here, stop here, I say and he stops the car on the pavement. It’s 5:00 am and we have been at it for eight hours now. My home is just down the road and I plan to sway my way to my apartment block. I turn to him to say bye and I see that he has tears in his eyes. But I am too drunk, too drunk to give a damn, too drunk to say anything worth while to this, this, this human being. He says, Thank you friend. Thank you.
I say, Thank you for letting me hold a real gun for the first time hahaha.
You like the gun, huh?
Of course hahaha.
Come, you have spoken to me like a friend. Now I will do something for you. So saying, he restarts the car and we swirl back into the dark and silent streets. I loll back in my seat, beyond all care and reason.
He stops the car somewhere; I stumble after him into a labyrinth of slums, skipping over fallen garbage, tripping over discarded furniture. He says, Shhhh! and stops before a particularly filthy looking dwelling. He knocks on the door and a man not more than twenty years old emerges. One look at his eyes and I know that this guy has been pummeled senseless by some powerful narcotic. He waves his hand up, a salute in slow motion.
Friend, my man says to me, today you have given me so …
Eh?, I say, not catching anything.
Now, friend, this is my gift to you. This is my world, my life, I share this with you, you understand? You will remember Dabbu Sawant forever.
BANG! And there’s blood spraying out of a hole in a head. A body falls down. The world goes black and then, I am sitting on the ground, next to a trickle of brain parts.
I look up and the man is putting his gun into his pant-pocket. He says, Pico? Pico? Pico?
I am sitting on my ass, I can hear loud laughter somewhere, HAHAHAHA someone is laughing. It is me and I am laughing and I am laughing and I am laughing …