Mayank Shekhar: When the only way to go is UP!
Elections in Uttar Pradesh, or elsewhere, will come and go; people will remain, and Lucknow, I suspect, will stay just as exciting
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and SP leader Akhilesh Yadav at an election rally in Jaunpur on Sunday. Pic/PTI
You know your Saturday night’s sorted when you find a bunch of black-cat commandos with semi-automatic weapons milling around in your hotel lobby. Asked what they’re there for, they tell you, “Aaj raat ko terrace mein disco(theque) khulega!” Done. This is Lucknow. I have to be at that terrace. My friend, also a visitor, however has made another plan. This is a place, quite far, but with a fancy French name, and so we automatically assume it to be a posh bar.
It’s a residential building. We walk up two floors. The door opens to an antechamber with guns casually stashed in the corner. Another door opens with our host, in white kurta-pyjama, therefore certainly a politician, sitting with his leg up, warmly inviting us in: “Hello, how’re you? What’ll you have, single malt? There’s Black Label,” he speaks in crisp, fluent English. His quiet cronies across the room jump up to make us comfortable.
Yes, I could do with a drink. The host serves me a peg equalling half my glass. Downed one, eased out already, we bond over Bombay. My host, let’s call him Chaubeyji — I never asked, and he never told me his name — used to visit the city regularly about a decade ago. He would park himself, and tonnes of cash, at the JW Marriott. As a resident ATM, he would bankroll various film shoots as and when they required cash. Some of the privileges he enjoyed in Bombay as a result, getting tables laid out on Juhu beach, for instance, had me in awe. His UP boss was then a big-shot in Bollywood.
Don’t know how much things have changed since, but films in Bombay have benefitted greatly from the largesse from Indian small towns, particularly UP and MP. It’s easy money. Financiers seek association with showbiz and similar accoutrements in return. Some of them perhaps wish to self-fund their presence on screen. Like the adorably cuddly Hero Bhaiya, a popular acolyte of the UP Chief Minister Akhilesh, I once bumped into at an airport. Everybody knows Hero Bhaiya in UP. My driver in Lucknow told me, “Inse dushmani aur dosti donon khatarnak!” I didn’t believe him. He showed me the trailer of an action film with him as the hero. It was stellar stuff, although one’s
unsure of its national impact.
A gentleman similar to Chaubeyji’s former boss, however, used to literally run Bollywood once upon a time. He’d called me over to meet him once. I’d done a phoney, tabloid story on how the UP CM, visiting Bombay then, was trying to woo Bollywood folk, hence “encroaching on his territory”. Next morning at the Oberoi coffee shop, he’d told me, “Great spin. Hadn’t thought of it myself. Got a ‘blood bath’ done outside the CM’s hotel today.” I was in my early 20s. The words ‘blood bath’ have stayed with me since.
My head buzzing with Black Label, I ask Chaubeyji to introduce me to karyakartas sitting in the room. They hadn’t said a word. Chaubeyji, the charmer, in some sense belonged to both SP and BSP, the two major regional parties. Given the ’17 election results, I’m sure he’d have an equal number of friends in the BJP if they win. Pointing to the lackey on his left, he said, “Ee hain Kamleshwar Tripathi. 156 cases of arson, rape, and murder.” Lanky Tripathi, who’d been slouching on the couch with his T-shirt up to the ascent of his belly, finally spoke up, “Bhaiya! Rap nahin kiye hain!”
I sobered down in a sec. Throughout I’d had my hotel-terrace-nightclub, with black cat commandos, on my mind. Sensing my keenness, Chaubeyji had already called up the owners to keep it open until I arrived. But that wasn’t the point. I wanted him to come along, and that I would’ve loved to buy him a drink. He said he preferred his private space. I persisted. He fobbed me off. I insisted yet again.
And then he told me that he had been to that nightclub on its opening night: “There was a guy who came over asking for an extra chair from my table. I let him take it. He came back to say the chair was broken. I said, Hoga. So?” That fellow, according to Chaubeyji, started getting aggressive right from the word go. “He told me, ‘I’ll f*** your mom.’ I said, no, you won’t be able to. He still insisted, ‘No, I’ll f*** your mom.’ The third time he said that, I took out my gun, told him, my mom is up there (in heaven), go f*** her now.” I think I heard, ‘Udaa diye’. Matlab? I didn’t ask.
PS: I’ve changed some names and descriptions here, to protect not someone else’s identity, but my own life!
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org