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Thank you so much for coming this evening. Can you hear me in the back? Um, I have to admit, I'm incredibly uncomfortable sitting down and reading because that isn't a space that I'm used to. Thank you for spending your evening and your time with me. The Last Song of Dusk is a love story set in 1920's India and at the core of the book is a character called Nandini (unidentified), who is a very talented, cunning painter who decides to set her eyes on two very influential men in Bombay. One is the governor of, the son of the governor of Bombay and the other is an Afghani painter Khalil Muratta, who she seduces out of his isolation and then abandons. But I'm gonna read to you from her entrance at a party where she sees these two men and this her response, very, she's very glamorous and very cunning and very devious and I'm gonna read from her arrival at a party. "'Its womankinds' capacity to accessorize', she told (unidentified), on their way to the Wellingtons, 'that separates us from the world of men and other animals.' Because Nandini was sporting a fearlessly see through, sepia, off shoulder evening dress with an elegant, one might say even roguish train, she thought is basic courtesy to veil the succulent fruits of her flesh. For this reason alone she had borrowed Roxanne (unidentified) darling boa constrictor, Churchill, whom she had draped stylishly around her shoulders so his flesh might cover her own. In response to her comment, (unidentified) shrugged her shoulders. They boarded the rickshaw. The trip to (unidentified), near Charlotte Lake would take in the over powering darkness of (unidentified), over half an hour. Through the entire journey, (unidentified) remained stoically silent. But just before (unidentified) she pleaded, 'just let them down easy, please, for my sake, ok?' 'Who are you talking about?' Nandini asked innocently. 'You know exactly what I mean.' 'I never meant to hurt you.' She pressed (unidentified) hand and vanished into the (unidentified). Nandini decided that she could do nothing about what (unidentified) had requested and chose to focus her energies on the evening instead. Taking one look at (unidentified), Nandini was properly enchanted by the 101 storm lanterns hanging from tree branches by the manicured lawn which Lady Wellington had ordered to be cut precisely half an inch and no more, like at Windsor. And by the fleet of waiters, flying around with platters of hors d'oeuvres, refilling challices even before they were ever really empty. The same rakish clamor infected the guests. Toned, towering women provoked a fever with their backless dresses of wide, rambunctious hems that rose up to the slightest winds. Dissolute ballerinas with silver string purses and ivory cigarette pipettes. The men in attendance were wholly consumable in their tidy custom cut suits, bow ties, polished shoes, all strong arms and packed crotches, freeing at the slightest provocation, had depraved rolling laughter that suggested only how wonderful it might be to lie with then in a warm pool of perspiration that only their endless love making might create. (Unidentified) walked under the regal stone arches, covered with (unidentified), then Nandini saw a band strumming at from a (unidentified) on the lawns, a little away from the heart of the gathering. The music instantly put a prance in her step. That ooh, touch me here, there, everywhere, trumpet of New Orleans. Out of the corner of her eye, she spied Stella Dim, England's first ever tit girl who was shacking up at the Bella Vista with (unidentified), author of the international bestseller, The Mating Habits of the Hindus, an updated version of the Kama Sutra, for which he had been awarded the prestigious Hooker prize. 'Do they ever get too heavy?', Nandini asked with concern. Blond and breathless, Stella Dim didn't look like a fallen woman, but merely one that couldn't be bothered to rise very much. 'I have to air every now and then', she enlightened, 'otherwise in this tropical heat, I fear they might shrivel up and drop. One's called "Asia", the left one.' The bosom was scarcely contained in the low cup of her mauve silk gown. 'And the right one is "Africa"', she giggled when Nandini prodded them. 'May I know what sort of government you practice in such vast acres?' 'Communism, naturally', Stella beamed, 'so everyone might get a share of what's not really theirs. And what's even better...' 'Oh, sorry about this' Stella said, 'but I've spotted a dear friend and I've been wanting to talk to him.' 'We'll catch up Stella, on politics over pudding.' Having seen Percy with Worthington, momentarily alone, she slid up to him. As always the son of the governor of Bombay looked like the most pathetic (unidentified) shipwreck showed up this side of the Atlantic. 'Well, well. Congratulations Percy. I bet all my canary yellow, polka dot knickers, you're hot about the wedding', she winked. 'Yes, thanks. We're planning a reception at the Billington grounds. Does your snake, does you boa bite at all?' 'Never', she promised, her eyes widening, 'he merely swallows, he's a boa, remember?' 'Ah, of course.' Percy had never seen a snake used as a sartorial embellishment. 'Have you been long here in (unidentified)', he said. 'Uh, a few weeks now, but I've been hold up indoors for the most part, tied hands down to the painting you know.' 'Ah, brilliant. And what are you painting these days?' He had heard about her art work from Libia (unidentified), among others, heard it was all monsoon and misery. 'I'm afraid Percy, that I've been so busy just being painted, that there's been scant time to do it myself.' He looked puzzled. She sighed, 'Can I trust you with a secret? It's a cross your heart and hope to die kind of deal.' He nodded and inched closer to her. She told him. 'You are his muse?', stumped that a twenty-one year old hellcat of no proper pedigree, might be the reason for some of Khalil Muratta's stature to emerge out of a self-imposed retirement. Percy's eyebrows rose up, now what was she cooked from? 'He's done only four', she said, 'only four and you have to see them to believe them. The last seventeen years of his life are in every stroke. But he says he still needs a year to work on them, you know the finishing, I suppose. By the way, what does your fiance, Lucinda do?' 'Lucinda', Percy Worthington was not too familiar with the woman he was going to marry. All he knew was that she had an annoying snicker, a large vanity case made of zebra skin and posterior as if looked as two gigantic astrolabes had been glued together. 'Why, Lucinda does watercolors off the lake district of (unidentified) hills, oh and she crochets these cracking little cardigans.' 'Crochet', Nandini said in an odd voice, 'gosh, how exciting. It must keep her joints lubricated at all times. I guess it saves from rheumatism setting in too early', and she flexed and unflexed her fingers as if performing the commendable exercises his fiance took on so valiantly. After a whiskey or two, she spotted an acquaintance from Bombay, the wily Mr. (unidentified), who invented the moving picture and whose idea, named "Bollywood," decades later became such a rage that the whole western world would nick it and make their own moving pictures which, alas, were lackluster, formulaic and bereaved of the drama that spines our riveting storytelling. Mr. (unidentified) was excitingly chatting with Tyrone (unidentified), India's only old contour designer who had trained in Paris, apprenticed in London, and retired in Bombay. Spotting Nandini, the thin wrist, thin framed, bony wristed Tyrone (unidentified) clothed in a flamboyant orange suit with a fluffy, white chrysanthemum in the upper slits of his vest, looked at her with astonishment. 'Are you a star?', he garbeled. 'A star', she said duskly, 'no my darling, I am an entire constellation.' (Unidentified) was speechless, so Mr. (unidentified) took over and informed her that (unidentified) just returned from Europe, where his fashion had been dawned by the queen of Denmark as well as the Princes of Capri who was in fact so stirred by his flare for blending the (unidentified) of the sari into staid European clothing, all those stuffy corsets and bonnets, that she had pleaded with him to stay back as her personal designer. He had resisted and here he was, in the great mountains of India. That's when (unidentified) gushed that his achievements were water in front of a luminous beauty and in the name of Shiva, which she modeled for him. 'Model, what an absurd idea. Plus, I'm too old to model for anyone or anything.' 'I don't believe that for a moment.' 'Neither do I', she said with a depraved giggle, but I tried to fool you. 'Listen,' Tyrone (unidentified) was now practically begging, 'listen, will you just dance with me, please?' 'Certainly.' At the very corner of (unidentified) House, under three ancient mango trees, a certain type of newly discovered music, jazz, was making its debut here in (unidentified). The musicians, all brought in from Southern America, were three beefy, sad eyed gentlemen, the color of the night in its absolution. As soaring beauty oozed out of their trumpets, a woman with tied up hair and a rouge red scarf around her thin, long black neck, sat on a scruffy, old wooden stool and sang in a thick, impish voice that Nandini felt could easily travel from being rascalish to slit-wrist bluesy at the drop of a single cord. 'Be careful', she warned the designer as they glided to "Ain't Misbehavin'", 'Don't you go around crushing my Churchill.' 'Pray tell me, why is your boa so well behaved?' 'You ever heard of opium, (unidentified)?' But as she was dancing with the legendary couturier, Nandini was overcome by a terrible loneliness. All of a sudden she hated this place -- the people in their chic clothes, their futile chatter, the sizing up and running down of the attendees. Over the music and under the tittle tattle, she longed for a certain Irishman she knew, his bright listening, the confluence of veins in a (unidentified) organ, his remarkable patience, the delectable plumpness of his rear, and his confidence in his love for her, which somehow made her hopeful about the very idea of love and its existence." It goes on and so forth. That's one part of the book. The other one that I am going to read to you is set in Bombay and it also focuses around Nandini. "On the sheer green manicured lawns of an elegant villa, at the very top of (unidentified), a girl with infinitely beautiful collar bones sits atop a naked, supine artist. Two hawks, reeling hundreds of feet above them watch. Also included among this august audience are other bedazzled birds and bees, and a woman in an alabaster bath tub under a dusty almond tree. She balances a goblet of red wine, at the rim of the bathtub. Her left hand is plunging in and out of herself, losing the momentum, yet applying the vigor. The girl's shins straddle his chest, her hands grab his elbows and she bounces up and down him with a fluid symmetrical grace perfectly fitting someone with just that odd dash of feline ancestry. Her upper teeth bite into her lower lip. That wet, desultory, holy sound of muscle slapping over muscle. The man under her is striking in the manner of an old poem on melancholy and ambiguity. With the penis she fits into herself, as though this were the saddle she needs right now, as though if it weren't inside her, firing her loins, rousing the scorpion of destiny curling, then at last, the poor vagrant might slip off the edge of the earth and vanish forever. The more he moans, the more she bucks up with that peculiar feverish vitality of maidens around a tribal fire and then, without any warning at all, he squishes down and grinds her hips into him as if she wishes to take the firm roundness of his almost hairless testicles within her, perhaps a memento of this evening. The women in the alabaster bathtub, with rose petals over her bath water, is amazed at how the ruffian takes him deep in herself. How she alternates between the riotously carnal and the quietly compassionate. How she mops up the wetness of the other. Heals, comforts, and maddens as though wildcats were roaring in her flesh. 'I am going to die', (unidentified) murmurs. Sweat erupts on his torso, his tackle tenses up. 'I am about to die.' 'You have to wait' she says, 'until I kill you.' She bends herself, grips his neck with her sharp flawless teeth, which immediately hampers his flow of air to his brain and intensifies his pleasures to such levels that as he spins himself, he is convinced the world is only just been born, that he has seen the first few stars whiz by, that light arrived barely three minutes ago. Seeing the lithe girl, the exemplary talents of her biology, the diabolical grace with which she curls over the man and bites his neck, Libia thus shudders because the juices of her loins break free in the bath water, rose petals quiver, the wine glass falls to the ground. 'How lions mate,' she thinks." I'm frequently asked how much of my writing is autobiographical. And I never answer that question. If you allow me, I'd like to share an essay that I wrote back home for the Hindustan Times. It concerns a very high profile murder case. It's called the Jessica Lal murder trail, which happened in India and obviously somebody doesn't want me to read from it. Um, I'll give you a brief background to the case and why I chose to take a political and moral stand on the case. In 1999, Jessica Lal, a young attractive model was working the night shift as a celebrity bar tender at a bar in Delhi. Shayan Munshi, a model and an inspiring actor was also manning the bar along with her that evening. Just after last orders had been called out, after midnight or so, Manu Sharma, the son of a very powerful minister walked in and asked for a drink. Jessica was forced to turn him down because the last orders had been closed down and the bar was shutting down. In response, Manu Sharma removed a gun and shot Jessica Lal in the head. She died on her way to the hospital. Earlier this year, after the trial had lasted seven years in a case that was open and shut, Manu Sharma walked away. The turning point in this case, a lot of people believe, was when Shayan Munshi, the model who was standing right next to Jessica Lal and the key witness in this case, backtracked on the evidence that he had given to the police on the night that Jessica Lal was shot. Shayan withdrew his initial statement which had indicted Manu Sharma, because he now says that the police had recorded his testimony in Hindi, a language he suddenly cannot understand. Many believe this is ridiculous since Shayan's school records state clearly that he was educated in the nation's state language. In addition, Shayan Munshi has also since acted in Bollywood films and spoken Hindi in them, so you have full records of this man being totally conversant with this language. Several theories abound as to why Shayan might have gone back on his initial statement and the lure of nearly a million dollars is an often cited reason in this case. At one point of time as I watched the media frenzy sort of envelop this case and really take away from the horrific brutality that one woman had undergone and the shocking, surreal lapse in morality that occurred that evening, not just from Shayan, but the fact that there were hundred and fifty people from the world of fashion to the world of politics there that evening at the bar, all of them who turned around and said, we didn't see this man, because they did not want to get involved in this murder case. And when Manu Sharma walked away it was really a turning point and I decided that I needed to take a stand on it and I wrote and essay for the Hindustan Times, which I am going to read. It's a letter to Shayan Munshi. "I have to hand it to you, Shayan Munshi, you've got nerve. But maybe someone should turn you around to check to see if you've got a spine. Seven years ago, on this day, Jessica Lal was shot dead in the same room as yourself. In the first information report, I believe that you attested that Manu Sharma was responsible. Your statement, if you had stuck to it, could have resulted in the conviction of a very dangerous man. Instead, you turned a hostile witness and Manu Sharma walked free. I could imagine your pressures, the gory threats, the bribes offered, the thuggish politicians in the line, it couldn't have been easy on you. But then it hasn't been easy for any of us. A few years ago when I met Erin Brockovich, I was struck by how fiercely blue eyes, her almost visceral radiance of pluck. Julia Roberts who essayed Brockovich in the film of the same name was in fact unable to translate this bravado on screen. "It wasn't easy," Brockovich told me, "because I have been alone. I have sat in a corner and wept and I have struggled with what the right thing to do is." So why, I asked her, did she rally on against the big guns. "You know, when you look into the eyes of a dying child", she said, "You really can't give up" and she didn't. And an unemployed, single mother of three, sued PG&E for contamination of water. And in a historical settlement of over 300 million dollars, proved that one of us could take on the system and win. It wasn't easy, I'm sure, for Teesta Setalvad when she went to the Supreme Court to petition the Best Bakery case to be transferred to the the Maharashtra courts in hope of a fair trial. "I was threatened...", she told an interviewer, "...but one has to carry on." Thanks to her staying power, Setalvad effected a retrial in the controversial Best Bakery case of the communal rights in Gujarat. In spite of all the goons in the openly fascist (unidentified) government watching over her every move. But closer to town, in your tinseltown orbit. The actor Priety Zinta tackled the mafia of Karachi and she also stood by her first information report to the cops. I guess it takes a woman to show what being a man is all about these days, doesn't it? When I read the you, Shayan, asked for a witness protection program, it occurred to me that there should also be a protect the witness from bribes program. Of course this is not to insinuate that you went back on your statement simply because you might have been offered more than corral of rupees. Your move to Delhi, your move to Bombay from Delhi is not to get away from the scene of the crime, but ostensibly to work in Bollywood. In that case, all of the producers in this town should know that you don't speak any Hindi, which was the reason you gave for backing out on your initial statement. Outside of fluent Hindi, producers may insist on some level of integrity from you. Not because morality and Bollywood go hand in hand, but because without more integrity of being, there can be no integrity in art, so maybe you, Shayan, are out of work in more ways that one. Your conduct stinks of India's obscene celebrity culture that allows the Bollywood star Salman Khan to walk out on bail after he shoots endangered deer. Your conduct stinks of the indiscretions of privilege that allow rich drunk bats to get away after they've, to run down the homeless of Bombay and get away, simply because they have the bucks to buy freedom. You make me ashamed to be a part of the same generation that holds India's future in their hands. We can do a rah, rah act for the new economy, for the call centers and for the IT boom, but until we don't rule out the Manu Sharma's of the system, our ship is pretty much sunk. Morality is a philosophy and consequently nebulous to define. The practice of morals, on the other hand is a size, ethics. Morals make me nervous. The definition has been taken hostage by politicians, most of whom would know moral from a car accident. Ethics, however, are less amenable to interpretation. When you go back on your word, it's an ethical failure. When a judge refuses to probe further into a case that suggests a conspiracy between the police and the politician, it's a moral lapse. Perhaps the Jessica Lal case illuminates an odd dichotomy in India. We have high public morals, but low personal ethics and in the gray space between the two, the voice of impunity vanishes. Heinrich Zimmer, in his book "Philosophies of India", defines a satyagraha as holding on to the truth, but not every satyagraha needs to be a mass movement. Some are deeply personal enterprises that lend to community rescue. Gandhi's single act of non-violent defiance, what Maya Angelou might call a brave and startling truth, could eradicate the empire. Truth, the Bible says, shall set you free. But the truth is also solemnly binding principle in that it is beholden to your humanity and its responsibilities. What distinguishes you, Shayan, from others who compromise the truth in this case? The forensic experts, the Delhi cops, is that you treated the resulted hype as a career move. Like a poodle, you pirouette down the ramp during Bombay fashion week. You gape at us from the front pages of newspapers plugging your film in the same breath as you talk about Jessica Lal. But this is not Delhi, this is Bombay and here we don't think very much of folks who score publicity points by dancing in someone's grave. That's not just tacky, that's plain cruel. You could write off this piece as a character assassination, but you need to get some character before we can assassinate it." As a coda to this essay, Shayan Munshi was arrested a few weeks after the essay was published. He was trying to leave the country at the Calcutta airport without having notified the police, which is all sounding very dubious of why he would want to leave the country under such suspicious conditions, but we were very grateful that the police were so pro-active as to sweep right down on him and take action. The case, I'm pleased to say, has been reopened, which is also very rare and we're watching it and we're waiting to see what happens and comes out of it, so so much for that. But thank you for spending your evening with me, I feel very lucky for that.