Mr Lulu: by Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay

It is Lulu who is behind everything.

I don’t exactly know who Lulu really is, or why he’s important. But whenever something happens in the country, I have to interview him. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve interviewed him. But he never remembers me. Whenever I meet him I have to introduce myself afresh, while he doesn’t display even a glimmer of recognition. That is what you might call the regrettable fact.

I remember going to interview Lulu on the sixteenth of August, 1947. His chamber wasn’t air-conditioned then, but he was as busy as he is now. I had to wait nearly an hour to see him. But when I went in he didn’t seem at all busy. He had his feet up on his desk, and was balanced precariously on his chair, which he had tilted backwards. ‘Be quick,’ he ordered with a smile.

‘This independence, this ultimate victory, this partition and this … this … ‘ I choked in emotion.

Lulu nodded and said, ‘Yes, yes, this independence, this partition and everything else is marvellous. Utterly marvellous. This victory … But I worry that the ghosts of the Englishmen who’ve died here aren’t leaving. If they can’t be got rid of, the English will still be here. And Englishmen as well. We should now set the ghosts of India’s past against English ghosts.’ I realised then that Lulu was slightly drunk.

After Gandhiji’s assassination I went to Lulu and, having waited for about an hour, entered the chamber to find him sitting in identical fashion.

I said, ‘This treachery, this assassination … ‘

Lulu shook his head and said, ‘Abominable. I don’t see the point in killing anyone. What’s the use? The very thought of it makes me absolutely sick. After the murder, the arrest; the nerve-wracking case in court day after day. Then the hanging … oh! There’s a far better system. If I wanted to kill someone I could simply make a statue of that person and then fire gunshots at it. Then I could write a letter to him, saying that on such and such day at such and such time I have killed you. And when he’d get the letter, he’d be as good as dead. He’d stop all his activities. The murder would be symbolic and non-violent too.’

After the war with China I went to Lulu again on behalf of the magazine.

‘About the war … ‘

Rocking back and forth in his chair as before. Lulu said, ‘Hopeless. These wars and things are pointless. Especially against the Chinese. I think these disputes should be resolved in a different way.’

Eagerly I asked, ‘How?’

‘Say a hockey match is arranged between India and China.

‘If India wins, what she says goes. If there are objections to hockey, China can challenge India to a game of ping-pong. Anyway, what I’m saying is that it’s best to finish the war on the playing field. Serious fighting is sheer childishness. I know China is claiming that Tibet is theirs. Before my first marriage my wife also used to say she was mine. Exclusively mine. After that I had to get married four more times, though I am a free man again now, but like my first wife, all my other wives told me the same thing, and they’re probably saying the same thing even now to their new lovers or husbands. Nobody and nothing in the world belongs to anyone or anything.’

That same day I told Lulu, ‘Why don’t you get your chamber air-conditioned? And instead of that rickety chair you could easily arrange for a revolving one.’

After this, I had to interview Lulu concerning the Pakistan war, the Naxalite movement, Vietnam, the United Front, etc. But never mind all that. When I went to Lulu after the Emergency, his chamber had been air-conditioned for some time, and he was spinning on a revolving chair. A little drunk. I said, ‘Do you have any comments about the Emergency?’

Lulu slapped his desk mildly and said, ‘Of course.’

‘What?’

‘There is an emergency. Very serious. Extremely grave.

‘I’ve been feeling this for quite some time. Come, let’s go.’

‘Where?’

‘Emergency. Great emergency.’

Lulu rose. Pushing me down the road, he bundled me into a car, took me to a bar and said, ‘This is a great emergency. ‘

‘But I was asking about the Emergency in the country.’ Lulu looked at me through half-closed eyes. A rather contemptuous look. Ordering two pegs of whisky for each of us he asked, ‘You’re new to journalism, aren’t you?’

‘No. For years now I’ve … in fact I’ve interviewed you on many occasions… ‘ Lulu clutched his head and groaned. He said, ‘Then you’re an ass of a reporter.’

‘Why?’ I flared up. The next moment I remembered that he was an important man. The most peerless hero in the country. Behind everything was Lulu. I became courteous again and said, ‘Maybe.’

Lulu said, ‘Great emergency.’

‘What?’

‘This Emergency should have been declared at least twenty-seven years ago.’

‘Why?’

Lulu sipped his whisky and said, ‘For one thing. Last week I was supposed to visit Delhi, but it was cancelled at the last moment. I rang the railway office to cancel the reservation. As soon as the phone rang someone answered at the other end and said, good morning. I thought it was a wrong number and put the phone down. But the same astonishing thing happened the next three times too. The railway office was answering the phone, and even saying good morning before replying. Just think about it. I’ve been phoning the railway office for the last twenty-seven years, but this has never happened.’

I took down everything carefully in my notebook. Lulu brushed it aside and said, ‘Idiot reporter, when will you realise the meaning of democracy? An extreme emergency now threatens your glass of whisky. The ice is melting and warming it up. Drink it up first and write later.’

Lulu was very important. He couldn’t be disobeyed. Sipping my whisky I said, ‘But saying good morning over the telephone from the railway office is not everything, Mr Lulu. How will that help poor Indians? Millions of Indians have never used the telephone in their lives, nor will they ring up the railway office.’

Lulu said gravely, ‘The government’s present policy is to bring the telephone within reach of every village in India. There will be a notice with every telephone: for a good morning ring up the railway office or any other government office.’

Worried, I said, ‘But Mr Lulu, making telephone calls will cost money.’

‘That they will, but the good morning will be free.’ Writing down this response covertly in my notebook, which was on my lap, I said, ‘Questions have been raised about citizens’ rights and freedom of speech.’

Lulu downed his two pegs and, sipping the first of two more, responded, ‘Human rights is a beautiful expression, but meaningless. I haven’t found out what it means even after going through seventeen dictionaries.’

I corrected Lulu and said, ‘Citizens’, not human.’

‘Oh,’ he smiled, ‘I see. Citizens’ rights. I was a bit worried because I thought you said human. Actually, human and citizen are two entirely different words, and so are their meanings. As long as you remember that, it will be fine.’

Somewhat confused, I asked, ‘Are humans and citizens two separate classes?’

‘Of course!’ Lulu practically shouted. Gulping his whisky, he spoke again in a low voice, ‘Actually neither makes any sense.’

I said a little doubtfully, ‘But …’

‘Stupid journalist, you’re wasting your time. There’s an Emergency all around. Our needs are also an emergency. There’s no time. Our life’s running out, there’s no time at all. If you delay, youth will run out, spring will be over. Up.’

Lulu’s importance was infinite. I rose at his command. He took me in his car to a big mansion. Before I could work out what strings had been pulled to allow such an enormous building to occupy a couple of acres of Calcutta’s expensive real estate, he whisked me into the lift. As we went up he smiled at me like a scoundrel. ‘I have half-a-dozen mistresses in this building,’ he announced.

He glanced at me to gauge my expression. I tried to keep it as neutral as possible, saying, ‘Quite possible. Entirely natural.’

He didn’t smile. Frowning, he retorted, ‘Why is it quite possible? How is it entirely natural?’

Pushed into a corner, I responded, ‘Science says men are by nature promiscuous …’

‘Then why is polygamy banned by law?’ Lulu asked.

‘When a lousy reporter, although he’s already married, goes to bed with another woman, you don’t give a damn. You probably go to bed with other women yourself. But when a gentleman gets married a second time, this becomes news to the likes of you. Idiot journalist, do you know how irrational you are?’

I got a bit annoyed and said, ‘I don’t sleep with other women. In fact I haven’t even had the chance. Because of my monetary standing, social prestige and fear of my wife, I cannot be an adulterer even if I want to.’

Looking affectionately at me, Lulu said, ‘Mr reporter, now you see how meaningless citizens’ rights are for an ass like you. Most citizens all over the country are not humans, they are goats, just as you are. They have voluntarily relinquished their rights over women other than their wives. So what do you want citizens’ rights for?’ I didn’t notice which floor the lift stopped at. Lulu opened the door and got out. Following him down a spotless corridor I asked, ‘But freedom of speech? Aren’t you thinking of that, Mr Lulu?’

Without replying, he rang the doorbell on the right. A very beautiful woman of about thirty-five opened the door. As she stood in the doorway, her face became romantically suffused when she saw Lulu. Her eyes lit up, her lips trembled with fullness, she lost her balance out of sheer desire and tottered.

Drawing her close, Lulu kissed her and said … What he said can hardly be put in words. Obscene expressions of extreme amour. I lowered my eyes and pretended not to hear.

Completing his tenth kiss with a smack, Lulu turned his head towards me, winked and said, ‘How come you’re not taking notes, obtuse reporter? Aren’t my words and acts important? Or don’t you want to give me any importance?’ I flourished my pen in unwilling fingers. They weren’t keen on writing.

Lulu said, ‘Scoundrel bastard idiot.’

Keeping his importance in mind, I kept quiet. I even tried to smile a bit.

Lulu entered, signalling me to follow him. When I went in he shut the door, planted himself opposite me and said, ‘Say it. I won’t do anything to you.’

I was in trouble. ‘Say what?’

Lulu looked surprised and said, ‘Don’t you feel like saying something?’

‘No.’

‘Devil! Scoundrel! Liar! You have nothing to tell me?’

‘No, nothing,’ I responded apprehensively.

Lulu laughed uproariously. ‘In front of your eyes I kissed a fallen woman, said obscene things to her and you don’t have a reaction? Is this believable, great reporter? Actually you want to abuse me, kick me. You do, don’t you? But alas, you’ll never use your freedom of speech. Listen, you coward, when I feel like calling someone a swine or a bastard, I do it. Why can’t you?’

I said gravely, ‘My politeness prevents me.’ Lulu laughed again. ‘Then what do you want with freedom of speech? As long as you can say whatever you feel, you’ve got freedom of speech. If you can’t, you haven’t.’

Feeling irritated, I said, ‘The right to abuse people is not the only freedom of speech, Mr Lulu. If one can’t oppose a political ideology, can’t criticise the government … ‘ Without paying the slightest attention to me Lulu stepped towards the beautiful lover of his ebbing youth. She, too, approached him on slow footsteps from the other side of the room. Both their faces were overcome with passion, but even so Lulu glared at me and muttered, ‘Take notes, you idiot, note down everything. Watch every step. After coitus I will kill my lover. Watch carefully.’

I shut my eyes and stuck my fingers into my ears. And in that position I fell asleep on the sofa. Lulu shook me awake after some time. As soon as I opened my eyes he muttered in irritation, ‘Damn inefficient.’

Keeping Lulu’s importance in mind I said, ‘Yes sir.’ Standing before the cupboard and adjusting the knot of his tie in the reflection, he said, ‘Reporter, don’t they use the term love-hate relationship these days? That we both love and hate the object of our affection? I’m in the same situation. Can you tell me why I both love and hate all my lovers? I’ve killed fourteen of them so far.’

As a matter of fact Lulu’s lover was nowhere to be seen. Moreover, his revolver, with a silencer attached, was visible on the centre-table. I could even smell gunpowder. I jerked as though struck by lightning. ‘Mr Lulu, you’ve really killed your lover? My god!’

Lulu answered in surprise, ‘But I was supposed to.’ Shaking in excitement, I shouted, ‘There’s a limit to everything Mr Lulu. I’m going to the police immediately. However big a shot you may be, I’ll see you hang for this.’ The great Lulu probably felt a little apprehensive for the first time. There was doubt on his face. He chided me gently.

‘Shut up you idiot. Someone might hear.’

Still I shouted, ‘But this is murder, Mr Lulu. I can’t keep it under cover.’

Lulu looked hurt. ‘Think it over carefully, imbecile. It would be much better not to go to the police than to go to them. I’ll give you plenty of money to keep this under wraps. Lots of money – more than you could ever earn in ten years. Besides, if you do go to the police you’ll be embroiled in the case and all that comes with it. And one more thing.’ Lulu raised his revolver and pointed it at me. ‘If I want to I can shut your mouth in other ways.’

He smiled. I sweated. Exhaling, I asked,

‘How much?’

‘Two lakhs.’

I wiped my forehead. ‘Two and a half.’

Lulu put his revolver in his pocket and opened the cupboard door. Throwing a few bundles of notes at me, he said, ‘I’d bought Ginnie one day with this money. It was on the strength of all this money that Ginnie got rid of all her other lovers. Today I’m buying you with this money, reporter. Who knows whether I’ll have to buy someone else with it, too.’

I touched the bundle of money and shivered. ‘Are you warning me, Mr Lulu?’ I asked.

Lulu turned grave. ‘No. I’m just reminding you that there is always a risk involved in this kind of earning.’ I said, ‘Don’t threaten me Mr Lulu, my heart isn’t very strong.’

Lulu shrugged off the whole issue casually and said, ‘What was it you wanted to know about citizens’ rights and freedom of speech?’

Ginnie’s corpse was probably lying next door. The whole situation was very unreal. But I remained steadfast to my duty, pulled out my notebook and said eagerly, ‘Please continue.’

But Lulu became absentminded the very next moment. Caressing the tail of his tie he sat down on the sofa and said to himself, ‘I have looked at women with love, looked at women with loathing, looked at women with contempt …’

‘What?’ I was a little surprised.

Lulu yawned and said, ‘Write down, we want freedom of love and sex, freedom to hate, freedom to kill.’

‘Mr Lulu!’ I reproved, cautioning him about his comment.

He looked at me in surprise. ‘Isn’t that what you want, reporter? Think it over, think it over carefully. An average Indian – whether he is employed, unemployed or a political worker – what are his needs? What kind of freedom does he want? Think about it, reporter, in personal life you too want freedom of love or joy. Then think of social life. Check whether you don’t hate most of the people you meet all around you. For you have nothing in common with their behaviour or ideology. Thirdly, those whom you hate, whose thoughts and beliefs are different from yours, your wife’s or lover’s, those who don’t give you even half of what you want – don’t you genuinely want to kill some of them? And don’t you cloak this murderous desire under politeness, civility, kindness, etc? Suppose a law were to be passed today, saying murderers would not be hanged, jailed or punished, don’t you think millions would be killed right, left and centre at once?’

‘I don’t know, Mr Lulu.’

‘Oh yes you do, you don’t admit it, that’s all. Stupid reporter, write down, these are the freedoms we actually want. Write it down.’

I sweated and wrote.

Lulu got up and walked out busily.

It took me a while to take down the words. When I had finished, I saw Ginnie’s ghost standing with her back to the door. A sensuous smile on her face, lust in her eyes.

Scared, I sat down again on the sofa and clutched my briefcase, pregnant with two and a half lakh rupees, to my chest. Ginnie came and sat beside me. Touching me, she said, ‘I am for sale.’

‘You haven’t died, Ginnie?’ I asked.

‘I’ve died a thousand deaths,’ Ginnie smiled.

I realised I had failed to earn two and a half lakh rupees.

I realised this and sighed. Some time ago I had gone to Writers’ Building for a briefing by a minister. When I came out with him to the corridor, it was overcast outside and raining torrentially. The minister and I leaned on the railing, watching the rain. He asked whether I was going to print the entire text of the speech he had given at National Instruments. I reassured him. And at that moment, suddenly noticing the beauty of the rain, the happy minister hummed, ‘Spring is in the air … ‘ A completely unseasonal song. But there was no denying the joy in his heart at the sight of the rain. For some time at least he would not worry about how many of his statements would be printed in the next day’s papers.

To tell the truth, I hummed too, even in this dire situation, ‘Spring is in the air …’

Ginnie came forward. Her face was suffused with desire, her body thrown into disarray.

Within a few months Ginnie had extracted her two and a half lakh rupees back from me.

After the Congress’s debacle and the Janata Party’s coming to power, I went to Lulu again. I found him sitting in the same pose, his feet up on his desk.

‘Mr Lulu,’ I said.

‘You must be a reporter.’

‘Yes sir. I’m sure you don’t recognise me. At one time you used to be very fond of me.’

Lulu said blandly, ‘I still am. But that doesn’t mean I know you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Say a great Indian leader loves millions of his countrymen, more than his own soul. All day he ponders over what he can do for them. But that doesn’t mean he has to know each of those millions. If one, two, ten or even ten thousand Indians starve, beg, steal, rob, plunder, are hit by floods or die, he doesn’t have to beat his breast. If he has to ask after the health of each of his countrymen, one lifetime will not be enough. So love or affection has nothing to do with knowing someone. Therefore I love everyone, but I don’t necessarily know everyone.’

I said meekly, ‘This is very true of great and famous people.’

Lulu dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand.

‘Never mind. Do you want to know about the fall of the Congress and the rise of the Janata?’

‘Yes, if you’d say something about this rise and fall.’ Lulu said in a detached voice, ‘Declaring Emergency was a terrible thing, and that was what led the Congress to its defeat.’

‘But, great Lulu, it was you who’d said that the Emergency should have been declared twenty-seven years ago.’

‘Stupid journalist, I’d said that this Emergency should have been declared twenty-seven years ago, but that doesn’t mean declaring Emergency now was right. What I’d actually wanted to say was that if it had been declared twenty-seven years ago, there would have been no need to declare it now.’

‘Respected Lulu, what’s your opinion of the excesses committed during the Emergency?’

‘They were truly excessive. The railway office wishing everyone good morning was the most excessive of them all.’

‘Lulu, don’t you think the change in government has restored security and freedom to citizens? Don’t you think it is the will of the people that has triumphed? Isn’t this a victory for the people and democracy?’

‘Of course. But it is also true that right through the history of this country, even during the Emergency, it was the people who ruled. This ruling public are those people whom a State or a Union minister, a Governor or the President himself, loves, but does not know. They are aware of the existence of the public, but they don’t have a clear idea about who they really are. A member of this same public, a rickshaw-puller, had one rainy day taken five rupees from me to take me from one house in Southern Park to another. When I told him about the Emergency, he asked sternly, so what? A porter in Howrah station took five rupees from me in the same way. Dear journalist, think of the great police, think of the dutiful employees of the sacred courts of justice, think of small and big businessmen, think of people employed in any trade. Think of unemployed louts. All of them are the great public. They have always been ruling the land in the name of the nation. I know you find it funny when the police in this country arrest a cheat, thief or murderer. But remember, that is the rightful rule of the public as police. When you have to give bribes to avoid harassment at court, think of that too as rule over the public by the public. When you buy adulterated stuff, or are cheated on price or weight, that is also the public’s gain. When local hooligans take collections for charity or politics and drink it away, shouldn’t that be considered dole for the unemployed paid by the employed public?’

I said excitedly, ‘You’re digressing, Mr Lulu.’ Lulu shook his head and said, ‘No, my dear and respected journalist. I’m trying to say that people’s rights and democracy have never been undermined in this country. They’ve always been there, they still are and will be. The public is a large and great force. This force acts upon itself. Tom kills Dick, Dick cheats Harry and Harry bribes Tom to get what he needs. And that is how the public’s great power maintains its balance. And that is the way things will continue. I think the country no longer needs a government. We have successfully realised the dream of a stateless society.’

I raised my eyebrows and said, ‘What do you mean, great Lulu? Terrible things will happen if there’s no government.’

Lulu shook his head and said, ‘Look, you moron, I’m not talking about abolishing the government. Like theatre groups and film producers, or like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, the government will remain to bring exciting entertainment into public life. Political parties will fight elocution contests with one another, there will be vote-competitions, there will be musicals in Parliament, just like today. Laws for the betterment of the people will be passed there, funds will be allocated, quiz-contests will be held. But all this will not affect the public’s own system of rule.’

I said furiously, ‘What are you saying, Mr Lulu? This is disrespect for the government.’

Lulu got up, went to the window and said, ‘Journalist, come and take a look at the beautiful view outside.’ I went to the window at the great Lulu’s command. In a flash the indomitable Lulu lifted me up and threw me out through the unbarred window. I shrieked horribly and shut my eyes.

But I didn’t fall. Lulu held on to one of my hands. His hand was my only support as five floors of emptiness yawned beneath me. Looking up, I pleaded desperately, ‘Oh great Lulu, oh kindly Lulu, pull me up.’ Lulu kept holding on to me. Exactly as I’d seen in To Catch a Thief – just as Cary Grant had suspended a female thief from the terrace and forced a confession out of her – Lulu said in the same way, ‘Tell me, my dear journalist, what is the Central or State Government doing for you at the moment? If you were to die now, how much of a setback would it be for the government? Would the news reach the Prime Minister or the President? They don’t even know that you exist; after your death they won’t even know that you existed.’

Hanging from the window I said, ‘O great one your words are very true.’

‘Stupid journalist, you are shouting about the government day in and day out, but you haven’t realised that the responsibility for your life is yours, not the government’s. When will you realise, it is not the government, it is the people around you who are watching you, being kind to you, hating you, killing you or even loving you. Imbecile, as a representative of the people I ask you whether you accept or not that we have a stateless society.’

Looking at the vast emptiness below, I cried out in terror, ‘I do.’

‘Say, long live democracy.’

‘Long live democracy.’

‘Say, I am the people.’

‘I am the people.’

Then the great Lulu pulled me up. After that it didn’t take me long to realise the meanings of individual freedom, citizens’ rights and democracy.

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