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Published: July 11th 2013
Frank had hoped that Tashi would take him back to Bodnath, but since he had obviously made his own way there for a private visit, he decided to go it alone too. So one day, taking a leaf out of Tashi's book, he took a day off work, and cycled over to Bodnath. He remembered where the establishment was, and went down the side alley to the back entrance. The 'mother' greeted him warmly, and invited him into the downstairs room where the girl with the whiney voice was sitting. Frank asked after Tashi's favourite, but was told that she had 'married' someone and would be away for a few weeks. He had to make do with the remaining girl, who sulkily began to make herself up from the various powders and colours contained in a set of little bottles. This ritual took some time, and he was offered a bowl of chang
while he waited. The 'mother', who was well past her prime, preened herself as well, and requested him to find her a nice, handsome English bachelor who would carry her away to England. Frank promised he would investigate the matter and report back.
Eventually the make-up ritual was completed, and he was led upstairs, past the room where they had played before, to the loft. The girl laid herself out on a straw bed, opened her legs and waggled her parts. Frank had not even begun to feel aroused, and so tried to kiss her on the mouth. This was repelled, as was his attempt to kiss her breasts. She looked bored stiff and manipulated him with a lethargic movement of her hand. But nothing happened, and he lay in embarrassed frustration while she lackadaisically fumbled. Realising that nothing was going to come of this, he stormed downstairs, told the house-mother what he thought of her 15 rupees worth of girl, and left, determined never to try again. Whether he would have felt better about the encounter if everything had gone according to plan is another matter.
To distract his troubled conscience, Frank cycled over to the Tibetan refugee centre at Jawalakhel to say 'hello' to his flute teacher, Lakpa. He sought him out in the carpet factory and as he entered the weavers started to sing in the high-pitched manner of the Tibetans. Frank found him, as he had when he first met him, at his loom. With a rough-hewn face that had not been finished off with due care, he was easy to spot among the other weavers. When he smiled, which he did often, he revealed an incomplete set of snaggle-teeth that had never seen a dentist. Frank chatted to him as he worked. The others stopped singing when they realised that he was making a social call to a friend, and was not a prospective purchaser of their dragon-themed carpets. Lakpa told him he was going to see a film after finishing work for the day, and invited him to accompany him. This was just the kind of distraction Frank needed, and he accepted.
To while away the time before the film began, Tashi took him to his parental home, or rather the tiny dark shed that went for a home, and Frank sat cross-legged on a carpeted platform and watched his mother brew the tea that had to be offered to and accepted by every guest. The old father was sitting cross-legged on the bed reciting religious texts in a murmur from the long, rectangular prayer sheets used by Tibetans. He acknowledged Frank's presence and stopped his prayers to pass a few words with him with Lakpa’s help. His hair was unkempt and his clothes worn and dirty. The room was filthy and littered with so much junk that there was barely enough uncluttered space to move in. Vast clouds of dust and smoke could be seen descending the shaft of sunlight from the mean little window by the bed, and when the sun had moved a little, the room was plunged into darkness.
Lakpa took him into town to see the Hindi film 'Bala'. It was the usual Bollywood stuff - a melodramatic story of the ill-treatment of a child whose parents had died in a horrible way, and his eventual good fortune and reconciliation with his deeply repentant tormentors. The story was interspersed in the time-honoured way with irrelevant comic and song scenes. The cruel treatment of the child by his aunt was accompanied by enraged tuttings, and kindnesses done to the child were rewarded with applause. This was not a story-line that required much attention to follow, and more compelling images of his own making were randomly projecting themselves in the theatre of his mind: the handing over of money; the array of little bottles of beautifying colours; the slow sulky creation of a working girl’s face; the self-conscious climbing of the stairs; the come-on-then-get-on-with-it expression on her face; the humiliating descent; the blind, unreasonable anger. Sitting now by Lakpa in the darkness of the auditorium, he simmered in shame.
His unsettling thoughts were interrupted from time to time by his companion. He had seen the film before, and it was terrible for him to already know the storyline. As each climax approached, he would clutch Frank’s arm and commentate superfluously on the events as they unfolded. Special delight was shown when the cruel aunt was forced to do housework as just punishment for turning her dear, sweet, innocent little nephew into a domestic slave. This was a satisfying unwinding of her bad karma
within her own life-time.
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