Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Two Chapters of Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora Free!

Dear Friend,

Thank you for your support to Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora. Each reader of this blog has in his or her way helped my baby reach a diverse audience. Some of you have read the book and shared your feedback, some of you have bought it but haven't come around to reading it yet, while some of you know that the book exists, while have no idea what it is about.

For those of you who have not read the book, or don't read books unless they know what breathes between the covers here are the first two chapters. Absolutely free. This is where you stand up and start a slow clap.

If you like this, do order the book online here or pick it up from a bookstore close to you. Your money is very important to me. Like really important.

Part 1
Rustom Iraqiwalla

Chapter 1: When Rustom Ran

He managed to run away twenty years after the first attempt. It was typical Rustom Iraqiwalla. Slow, impulsive and unexplainably beautiful.

The first time was different. It was an adventure. He had read a comic, whispered in a dog’s ear and then walked through a door. Five minutes later, Rustom was dragged back by an astonished aunt who found the boy stopping a Tuk Tuk near the front gate. The Aunt was long dead now and the gate was long run over by the road that crept closer to the family mansion with every new municipal budget. Rustom too was older and now he had a family. They called him Rusty. Times had changed,
but the bird inside still rattled the cage.

It took him ten years to ask Jennifer to be his wife. As a baby, he came out two weeks late. His mother gave him a digital watch on his third birthday which he forgot to wear every time.

A beautiful man-child. Organized. Dysfunctional. Intelligent.Foolhardy. Stinking rich yesterday. Dangerously poor today. A sum of contradictions.

Rustom had been sitting and smoking in silence for two hours. It had become a routine since the letters started arriving. Sometimes he would sneak up to Sara’s room to watch her sleep
inside her crib. Then he would return to his room again and light another one. The letters were the trigger. He knew he could not be impulsive about the matter. He made up his mind. He changed his mind. The Fali myth was no myth. It was real and it left him afraid. There was only one thing left to do. Rustom made his plan and then he ran away.

A couple of hours later Rustom was inside a train. I will figure the rest later, Rustom told himself. The collapse had been so quick and so overwhelming that the only thing he wanted to do was get away. He yearned for distraction, so Rustom played a game with himself. He pretended that his past was being erased as the train cut through the corridor of trees and electricity towers. Woosh. Woosh. Jennifer. David. Woosh. Woosh. Bombay. Factory. Woosh. Woosh.

He thought about Myra. Her hair made a swooshing sound when she moved her head. It was long and silky like the rest of her. Fuck. Fuck, Rustom repeated aloud. So much for having
the wrong surname and genes.

But for Fali’s gift, Rustom would have taken the flight. Now, he was forced to travel by train. He had looked around the first-class cabin for a few minutes before concluding that this wasn’t really that bad a thing. The empty cabin gave him much-needed time alone. No nagging Jennifer and no orders to bark on the cell phone. It felt strange when he looked at his empty hands. Usually, they held Sara or his phone. Today, Rustom’s child was home and his phone lay on the collapsible table in front of
him. Out of habit, he had already checked it a few times. No one had called. No one could. He had changed his SIM. Only the driver knew his new number. He was finally free to think
in peace and make a plan. Then the phone beeped.

1 unread message. Rustom tapped it open, a little unsure, and a whole lot afraid.

Know your future, call 45678. World Famous Astrologer.

Fuck you. From now on, I am making my own destiny.

Rustom was pale and gaunt with long curly hair. He was tall for the railway bunk that had been designed for the average Indian. Yet, Rustom discovered that he was not tall enough to completely fold his legs at the knees and be done with it. When he drew his legs up they left empty space. When he stretched them, they overshot the bunk. He found it all very uncomfortable. Irritated, Rustom walked to the lavatory to look at the door-sized mirror to confirm if he really was inside this strange train and running away from home. He noticed the wrinkles at the corners of his green eyes and grinned. The women said it added to his charm. He quickly regained focus. Yes, the end was near.

Rustom got down from the train at the next station for a smoke and walked past the train driver. The driver, a middle-aged man with a round belly and a bald spot, looked away in disgust. Years ago, the driver would have liked to be that stranger who looked like a man out of those aftershave commercials on TV – a rich spoiled chora who used fairness cream. Rustom glanced at the driver and he wished he was him, a typical working-class man with no worries and no Davids to repay. I’m
sure that man’s wife is a good cook.

Rustom would only think of the driver once again. The driver would never think of Rustom for the rest of his life.

Rustom returned to his cabin. He was running from David whose patience would run out in a week’s time. The deadline was close to living up to its name. Rustom then thought about the one thing he had been avoiding thinking about – the money. He slapped his forehead, like one slaps it on forgetting
a birthday. How? How… did we ever run out of money?

Even after throwing away a fortune to horses and a generation of escort girls – the Iraqiwallas always had money. They were the ones the neighbours hated and the local extortionist admired. The rich Parsi family with that strange name who paid up without even being asked. Bit by bit the smart ones carved their share out and went their own way. Rustom, whose great-grandfather had created the family business empire, was now left with a shell of ribs and bones. And now on Rustom’s watch, they were broke. How…how…did they ever run out of money?

Rustom pulled the railway-issued blanket up to his chin. He fell in and out of light sleep as he dreamt about the parties and the scent of each woman he had known. He felt their moans and heard the secrets they whispered in his ears. He dreamt of a cocktail of banknotes with a red cherry on top. There was a bra lying next to the bundle of notes. Then he saw their faces. Each of them was smiling but their eyes were serious. They called him a bastard and then smiled at each other.

Rustom woke in the middle of the night and stretched his hand below the bunk to feel his bag. It was filled with enough cash to let him live easy for the remainder of the journey. He groped till he felt the steel of the chain around the bag. Then he fell asleep and this time Rustom Iraqiwalla dreamt of the horses.

A few hours later, although it only seemed like a minute to Rustom, the bag was poked by the end of a policeman’s stick. Rustom was also poked gently. ‘Wake up. This is the last stop of the train. Wake up…’ the old constable’s eyes squinted till he noticed that the occupant was a fair-skinned young man. So the constable quickly added a Sir.

‘…Sir. Wake up, Sir.’

Suresh, the constable, had been working the beat for the last thirty years. He knew only the rich were allowed to have fair skin and be good-looking. And they were mighty pissed if they were called anything but Sir or Ma’am. Suresh had learned other things too but he was too shy to share his theories. The  poor are not allowed to own thoughts, he told his young son. The only thing he looked forward to, and he had been doing so right from day one of his job, was retirement and his pension. Now he had only a month left to stay out of trouble.

Rustom ran his fingers through his disheveled hair and muttered something that Suresh could not catch. Rustom felt the sticky plastic of the bunk underneath him and looked up to see the beady-eyed policeman with a large smile on his face.

‘Where are we?’ he asked.

‘Sir,’ Suresh repeated in his heavy South Indian accent. ‘End of journey. You leave train now, pleassse. Train leave for cleaning now. Good morning, and you go to station to drink filter coffee.’

Rustom nodded and whispered a thank you. Reaching into his cargo pants, he took out the keys and
unlocked the chain that had kept the duffel bag safe through the night. Suresh now stood at the entrance of the cabin, still looking at Rustom and his bag, not quite ready to take a chance. When he could not control himself any longer, Suresh asked in his gruff interrogation voice, ‘Bag has what, Sir? No funny business here, Sir.’

Rustom got up and stretched. He picked up his bag and walked into the corridor, sidestepping the constable. Suresh was left standing behind him. ‘Nothing,’ Rustom replied as he stepped off the train. ‘No funny business.’

‘Brat,’ murmured the constable as he walked on to check the next bogey. They would never speak to each other again. Suresh would go on to get his pension in a month’s time. His son would grow up to take his father’s job. He too would call the rich Sir and Ma’am for the rest of his life.

Chapter 2: Totally First Class

Rustom got into the only rickshaw outside the railway platform. He took out a piece of paper to confirm the address. Hotel JK Palace, Rustom repeated but the rickshawwallah waved his hands to interrupt him in mid-sentence like it was natural for Rustom to want to go there. Rustom told him
the address nevertheless. It was not often that he used a rickshaw,and Rustom was already on guard for the type of mischief that Feroze had warned him about.

Once they started, Rustom threw the paper out. The receptionist at Hotel JK Palace grandly announced that he had reserved his best room as soon as he had received the phone call from Bombay. ‘Totally first class, Sirji. Mr Reddy always stays in this room.’

‘Who?’ Rustom asked.
‘Mr Reddy. Always. You pay in cash, no?’

His bag felt lighter as he walked up to the room. Once inside, he took out the whisky bottle and poured a stiff shot in the plastic cup the hotel had provided. Rustom took a sip and looked around. The wall paint was peeling and the bedsheet hugged the bed like wet leather. If this was first class, what do the standard rooms look like? Did Mr Reddy resemble the engine driver? His fingers pressed the cup to make it slightly out of shape. Rustom poured himself another drink, and restored the cup to its original shape. He felt buzzed. Rustom grinned. The whisky was doing its job.

He got up and inspected the room again. It may have been cheap, but it was amply furnished. There were chairs and pet tables apologetically thrown around at empty spots as compensation for the lack of atmosphere that hotel rooms normally have. The bed looked long enough for him, although there was something about the way it was placed towards the corner. Rustom sat on its edge and leaned back. It creaked but did not fall apart. Rustom thought about the Taj and shook his head. Jennifer and Sara will lead a comfortable life once I am done. The only one pissed off will be David.

Rustom looked at the bag. It ensured the continuity of his disconnect. He got up from the bed and dragged a chair to the front of the mirror. He ran his fingers through his long curly hair, lit a cigarette and looked hard at his own face. The edges around his eyes were prominent and his face had rapidly lost its luster over the last few months. He was thirty, and for the first time he looked thirty. Is this why I want to kill myself? If Jenny had known he would age so fast, she would not have married
him. That is how she was. Rustom shook his head. That is not how Jenny is. I am just being cruel. Jenny is not like that.

‘Face, when did you grow so old?’ Rustom asked.

‘You are a handsome Bawa. The choris love you. What else does a man your age need?’ Feroze, the old driver, would say glancing at the mirror every time Rustom bitched about the unfairness of life. Rustom missed Feroze and his reassuring voice. The old driver had protested when Rustom had forced the wad of thousand-rupee notes in his hand, but Rustom had convinced him to keep it.

Rustom felt impatient. So he took out his wallet again and looked for Sara’s photo. He could not find it. Was he already forgetting how she looked? How can I forget what my daughter looks like? His memory of her face was blurred. He shook his head again. Where did the eyes end and the nose start? Was it the whisky? Absent-mindedly, Rustom ran his fingers over the pocket of his brown cargo pants. He thought about taking Fali out but the curtains were open. Rustom sighed, got up and
walked to the window. Only when he had drawn the curtains did he feel the reassuring shape of his great-grandfather’s last gift.

A Webley Mark VI. Fali Iraqiwalla’s gun. The thing they fondly called Fali.

Most families pass heirlooms from generation to generation. The Iraqiwallas moved old Fali’s gun around. Take it, and don’t forget to leave instructions for the next user. Rustom previously believed that the insanity they had inherited from Fali had screwed them all. But now he knew that it was not
only the genes. It would be fitting to end it once and for all with Fali’s gun. Rustom smiled and closed his eyes. The letter had explained a lot.

Fali started it all. Maybe it was just a thing, maybe it was the hemochromatosis. Dilnavaz, Rustom’s sister, killed herself (in keeping with the times, she ODed), Ronnie, the father, was missing (presumed dead/on the run with his mistress), two uncles famously used Fali’s darling in a suicide pact, while Jenny ended every sentence by saying, ‘Rustom, I will kill myself if you don’t get a haircut soon.’

Where did she get her insanity from? Rustom was still smiling. She wasn’t even an Iraqiwalla. Maybe she too was of Fali’s stock from somewhere. The rascal had slept with practically everyone in Bombay.

Rustom opened his eyes. He reached the same conclusion that he had reached in Bombay. He had to kill himself.

Rustom was afraid of heights so jumping off the Nariman Point office had been ruled out. Worse, if some overenthusiastic policeman reported his fall as an accident, the whole plan would fall apart. He would be dead, which was fine and inevitable. Sara and Jennifer would end up penniless, which was not. If not his life, Rustom Iraqiwalla wanted his death to be worth something.

The gun it was then. The lawyers would love it. The family would expect nothing less.

If there was any chance to escape his destiny, Fali’s Will had destroyed it all. It insisted on a suicide. Now, he had to kill himself. The old lawyer was both embarrassed and amused to share the news with Rustom on his thirtieth birthday. So, he wrote a letter. The letter was the trigger. It provided Rustom
with a way out.

‘Dear Rustom. You might find this interesting…’

The book is available here and in bookstores.

Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora by Gaurav Parab [Hachette] was listed by the Times of India and Business Standard as one of 5 weekend reads , The Hindu calls it a Genre bender, The Statesman ‘An Almost Perfect Debut, The Lucknow tribune calls it a debut to remember, The Pioneer calls it Cinematic, The Vistara Air inflight magazine a Good Book on the Shelf, the Sakaal times says its ‘sheer brilliance in storytelling’ while the Bangalore Mirror calls it an unforgettable story. It is available in leading bookstores and online here

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