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Excerpt: Show Me A Hero
'Show Me A Hero' by Aditya Sudarshan is a coming of age crime fiction story.
'Show Me A Hero', Aditya Sudarshan's second novel, is a coming of age crime fiction story, about a group of young people in Delhi making an amateur documentary about a very controversial former cricketer- which lands them in controversy themselves.
Excerpt from Chapter 7 of 'Show Me A Hero', by Aditya Sudarshan.
WE TALKED IT over in the summerhouse. For four people it was a small space, but Prashant said he liked the privacy. He sat on the swivel chair in front of the computer, which was, in a manner of speaking, the head of the room. But we all more or less deferred to Khan.
'You shouldn't have lost your composure,' he was cautioning Prashant. 'When you're talking to men like that - there is a technique.'
'I've never met assassins before. How can I know the technique?'
It occurred to me that Prashant was a difficult person to talk down to - however nicely you tried. He had a rough, egalitarian manner that jarred against anybody's assumption of authority. On terms of equality, I thought, he and Ali Khan would get along very easily - but those were unusual terms to set up across the span of a generation.
Khan went on in his own measured way.
You must not imitate their way of speaking. They know they sound coarse. They will not like you any better for mimicking them. They will respect you, on the other hand, if you maintain your gentlemanly ways. Fight with your own weapons, not your enemy's.'
'If you can talk with crowds,' Animesh weighed in with a mumbled line, 'and keep your virtue; or walk with kings - nor lose the common -'
'Who were those men?' Prashant asked impatiently. 'Where did they come from?'
'There's a slum in Shalimar Bagh,' said Khan. 'Most likely from there.'
'They live in a slum?'
He sounded so incredulous; I felt suddenly annoyed.
'There are slums in this city, Prashant! Just because you can't see them from here doesn't mean they don't exist!'
'I know there are slums,' he snapped back.
'The men are only pawns,' Khan continued forcefully. 'If Arindam Yadav so decided, he could have their shanties demolished. They depend on him and he uses them.'
'Yadav,' said Prashant. 'That's the guy they were talking about. Who is he?'
'He is many things. A pimp, a sycophant, a DDA official. He's also a party worker.'
'For what party?'
Ali Khan named a prominent one - on the extreme right-wing.
'I see,' Prashant frowned. 'They . . . don't like you, of course.'
Animesh and I were looking puzzled. Prashant explained for our benefit.
'When Ali made the joke about preferring the sponsor's logos to the national flag, this was the party that had organised the protests. Their idea was to portray him as an India-hating, moneymad mercenary. He was the "non-patriotic Muslim" - remember that catch phrase?'
'There is so much jingoism surrounding the game,' Khan was smiling wistfully.
'I used to find it funny. People don't realise that a sportsman needs to love his sport. It may help a little if he loves his country - but that's all.'
'I guess,' said Prashant, 'they figured there were votes to be got from your downfall. They made you out as a public villain. Anyway, that's what we're up against.'
He settled back in his chair, as though naming the enemy had taken care of it. But I was on pins and needles. The very idea of an enemy was alien to me. Even in my own society, among people I called my friends, I made it a habit to avoid confrontation - so how could I have sought it out from strangers carrying weapons?
'But what's their problem with this movie?' I demanded. 'For all they know, we could be agreeing with them.'
'They're deluded,' said Khan drily. 'But they aren't fools. They've read the papers.'
I gave Prashant a knowing look.
'This is what comes of pushing the publicity!'
I expected him to agree. Instead, he shook his head firmly.
'This is no reason to stop publicity. I thought Ali might be swamped by autograph hunters. That was my concern. But I'm not going to stop talking about the movie - or stop my aunt talking about the movie - just because some people don't like it.'
'What I don't want is men with knives,' he went on thoughtfully. 'I'm not made to be in fights, you know. I wear glasses, and the worst thing about glasses is, they go flying at the first punch. Plus, I have a weak skull. A doctor once told me.'
It seemed to me our conversation was growing too flippant. Surely the situation warranted more urgency.
'Let's call the police,' I said suddenly.
For an instant when I said that, I saw something in Prashant's eyes that mirrored my own apprehensions. Then it stiffened. Then it relaxed.
'Well, that gang didn't do anything,' he said flatly. 'If they had, it would have been different. But there's nothing to tell the police - when it was over so soon.'
'Mr Khan,' I turned to him; of course, his experience ought to dictate our actions. 'Do you think we should call the police?'
Gravely, Ali Khan inclined his head.
'Not at this moment. Let's ignore them - to begin with. Just try to get on with the shooting. But if any of you are threatened again, call the police - and call me too. The movie is more important to me than it is to any bunch of goons.'
As he spoke, in that relaxed, resonant voice, I found myself looking at him afresh. With age, his mouth had puckered slightly and the once-proud cheekbones were gaunt and hollowing. But what was lost in vitality was gained in gravitas. It was a measure of Khan's self-sufficiency that he could take his place among us young men with no demands at all; it was equally a measure that he could have our attention when he chose.
'What about the media reports?' I said. 'The media coverage that Prashant's been arranging - you think we should just lie low now, Mr Khan?'
'Vaibhav,' Prashant chided, 'let's not stop before we've started.'
'I'm only saying -'
'It's just one small incident.'
'Look, I don't know about you, but I didn't like what happened today, and I don't mind saying so either.'
We went back and forth like that for a little bit. We had both been truly worried in the park; but Prashant had shifted his mood since then, and I had not. He seemed strangely at ease now.
Khan put his palms on his knees and leaned forward, as a signal that he was getting up. We stopped talking and looked at him. He gave us a quick, encouraging smile.
'You're all in charge. I'm only here to watch.'
The afternoon sun had passed its peak by the time Ali Khan left. Prashant walked over to one of the tinted glass windows of the summerhouse and flung it open, letting in a cool breath of overcast sky. For a few minutes, Animesh and I sat in silence while he fiddled with the video equipment and the desktop's CPU.
'Hey Prashant,' I said eventually. 'It's pretty strange, isn't it? Having Ali Khan over just like this. No fanfare at all.'
'It was bound to happen.'
Prashant was bending gracelessly over the wires at the back of the computer. When he stood up again, his face was bright with triumph.
'What I like is, he's not come loaded with expectations. He knows this is an amateur bunch and it's not going to be a Hollywood production. He doesn't have any airs.'
'You're pretty pally with him, though,' I spoke out suddenly.
'I'm pally with everyone.'
'Yeah, but "Ali"? That's Mr Khan to you, you know.'
There was an edge to my speech, and that was because the point had bothered me. It was such a different behaviour to what I was used to. My boss at Wildlife Alert called me 'beta,' and I couldn't imagine how he would react if I answered 'Bhairav.'
'Look,' Prashant folded his hands demurely in his lap. 'Cricketers are used to their fans knowing them. And, in any case, people don't mind being treated as equals.'
'You don't treat people as equals,' said Animesh. 'You treat them as grist to your mill.'
But his voice was mellow, and he was regarding Prashant with an almost maternal indulgence. It struck me, as I looked at them, that for all the put-downs Animesh suffered at the other boy's hands, it was he who held the reins of their relationship.
'You both know,' said Prashant, 'that I worship Ali's batting more than anything. I guess that's why I'm making more of an effort - not to let myself come under his thrall. We have to make this movie objectively, don't we?'
I wasn't convinced, but for the time being, this settled the point. Through the balmy early evening, we basked for some time in a comfortable silence, until I turned my head and saw Animesh's lips beginning to twitch.
'By the way, Prashant,' he said innocently. 'Where'd you steal that gesture from?'
Animesh was grinning. I looked questioningly at him.
'That cute little gesture, with your hands in your lap,' he went on patiently. 'You've picked it up from someone, haven't you?'
To my immense surprise, Prashant's cheeks were turning pink.
'I don't know what you're talking about,' he lied.
Animesh said nothing. I only watched.
'I mean, yeah, Sheila does it too. Can we watch the footage now?'
(Publisher: Rupa and Co., 2011)
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