Nahin jaayega, aage waale se poocho.

The hanky was white, with a design on the edges that was so faded by repeated washings that I could not tell what it was anymore. When she would open it, the black seeds would lie there, insignificant as if unaware of their own power. Half an hour before the shoot would begin she would give me two seeds and I would put my head down in her lap. She would put me to sleep. I was in two public service ads. One of them was for smoking–Dhumrapaan nako kara.  The other was for water preservation.  In that one I am being given a bath by my on-screen father and a voice over who is then berated by a stern voiceover for leaving the tap on, letting the bucket overflow. That day, for some reason, the seeds did not take effect. We had to do the shot 22 times. The tap was on the entire time.

I was 12 years old and the Indian production lady at the casting for “Mumbai in Motion” took me to the head of the line. “He has experience,” she told the fat, white man behind the desk. She said to me, “Uncle ko hasao.” I grabbed my mother’s dupatta, stretched it out between my legs and danced like Salman Khan singing “Jawani Phir naa aaye.”

I was doing my homework on the floor by the main door when Lali ma came running down the lane, zig zagging clumsily between the open gutter and precariously sharp tiles. “Afzal America Jaayega! Award milega picchur ko!” she screamed.

Our bedrooms at the hotel were bigger than 4 houses in our lane put together. I ate pancakes with rich, golden syrup till I felt like vomiting. There was no tap near the western toilet, I sat on the pot for nearly two hours before the production lady came to find me and teach me how to use toilet paper.

I slept with the award under my bed every night. Newspaper-walas came to me and asked me how I felt to be home. They asked me if I was sad.  I told them I was very sad. They made me make sad faces and pose in the classroom. I complained about the heat and mosquitoes to them. I could not get used to it, you see, now that I had been to America for four days. My face was in the newspaper for weeks. When my grandfather died, my mother used her inheritance to buy a flat in Gowandi. The news-walas wrote two pages on it. They said that it was bought with the money I had made from the film. I went to a new school in a rickshaw every morning and sometimes they followed me in cars, taking pictures of me. I did an ad for Parle with Amitabh Bacchan. In India, people knew three names Amitabh Bacchan, Sachin Tendulkar and Afzal Sajjad.

Even after the news-walas stopped, the production lady came to see me at home sometimes. When  she saw my running nose and gaunt face asked me to stop. She said she would stop sending me money from the trust-fund that the fat, white man had set up for me.

Arre, but I am an actor. Bina aphim ke acting hota hai kya? Bhenchod log.

Haan boss, kidhar jaane ka hai?

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