The next morning Raveena was having breakfast alone when Randy Kapoor’s secretary called.
Nanda brought her the phone and silently handed it over.
“Thank you,” Raveena said.
Nanda’s expression remained sulky.
Nandini was definitely preferable.
“Good morning, ma’am, I’m calling from Mr. Kapoor’s office. Mr. Kapoor would like you to meet him here at one P.M.,” a woman said in precise Indian English.
No wonder outsourcing was going to India. The professionals here spoke better English than Raveena did.
“Okay,” Raveena said. “The only thing is, I don’t know where his office is.”
“Yes, ma’am, I will give you the directions. Where exactly are you residing, ma’am?”
Since arriving in India she’d been called madam and ma’am more times than in her entire life put together.
“Umm, I’m in Bandra. Portugal Road.”
“Very good, ma’am. A beautiful area. Our office is in Bandra as well.”
“Yes, ma’am, Bandra is home to many producers, directors and stars. Now, tell the auto-rickshaw driver to take you to Turner Road and—”
“Auto-rickshaw?” Raveena interrupted. No way was she getting in one of those things. “I was planning on taking a taxi.”
“Oh no, ma’am. A taxi will not take you such a short distance, and why pay extra money besides? Tell the auto-rickshaw driver to take you to Turner Road and from there 14th Road. We are located at 29 Jains Arcade, on the 2nd floor.”
Raveena was scribbling this down as quickly as she could. “Jains Arcade. Got it.”
“Wonderful. I will tell Mr. Kapoor to expect you at one. Have a nice day, ma’am.”
Raveena set down the phone and ate some more of the scrambled eggs Nandini had made. They were delicious, flavored with green chilies, tomato and cumin.
Stuffed, she pushed the plate aside and a large black crow immediately swooped in through the dining room window and scooped the egg off her plate. She screamed and threw up her hands.
The crow then perched on the ledge of the window, gazed at Raveena with a beady eye and promptly guzzled the piece of egg.
Since yesterday, she’d been startled by all manner of winged creatures flying in and out of the house. Because of the heat and Uncle Heeru’s devotion to birds, all the windows were open all the time. When she’d asked her uncle why he didn’t invest in air-conditioning, he’d responded by saying he did not want to catch a cold.
The average temperature in Bombay that winter was eighty-eight degrees.
Earlier, Raveena had seen Uncle Heeru fighting with a crow over a piece of papaya.
With a sigh of acceptance, she pushed her plate closer to the window and addressed the crow. “Dig in.”
Wings outstretched, the crow once more swooped in and grabbed the last piece of egg. Instead of dining on the ledge, the bird flew up into the trees shading the house.
American crows definitely had better manners.
Two hours later, Raveena thought she was going to die.
The auto-rickshaw darted in and out of traffic, at times jumping up on the walkway, before zooming back onto the street. Open on both sides without doors, the contraption made her feel exposed. And she was guaranteed maximum exposure to exhaust fumes.
Raveena had done her hair for the meeting, setting it with Velcro rollers, but the wind and humidity wreaked havoc with the curls. If she was going to be traveling by auto-rickshaw, she’d have to do it Jackie O. style, with a headscarf.
Then again, Raveena saw plenty of Muslim women in burkhas walking up and down the street and thought about wearing one herself for practical reasons. Her hair would be covered. Her face would be protected from grime, and she wouldn’t have to worry about her clothes getting dirty.
The heat was relentless. Not wanting to arrive at the meeting with foundation melting off her face, she’d wiselykept the makeup to a minimum. Just some eyeliner and a dab of Chanel lipgloss.
However, Raveena was regretting her choice of clothing. Her parents had warned her to dress conservatively while in India. So she was wearing beige trousers and a white tailored Oxford shirt.
Meanwhile, right alongside the conservative Muslim women in burkhas were teenage girls in shorts and twenty-something women in tank tops, jeans and everything in between.
Obviously, Bombay was to India what Los Angeles was to the rest of America.
A whole different world.
Raveena especially liked the cute cotton tunics or kurtas she’d seen many women of all ages sporting. They looked comfortable and stylish. Raveena decided to buy half a dozen for Maza and herself while here.
“Fourteenth Road,” the driver said, spitting a stream of tobacco juice into the gutter. He was thickset and heavy, sweat visibly seeping through his khaki-colored clothing.
“Okay,” Raveena said, happy the tobacco spray had missed her nether regions. “29 Jains Arcade?”
The driver didn’t reply, so she repeated the question. He gave her an impatient nod.
“Fine,” she said, sat back and watched the scenery chug by. Cars, buses and auto-rickshaws battled each other for the road. Skinny cows walked alongside, nosing through rubbish for food. The barking of stray dogs was everywhere.
The driver stopped beside a small stand where a man was busy rolling bidis—cheap tapered cigarettes that looked like marijuana joints.
Not realizing they’d arrived at the place, Raveena continued to sit in the back of the rickshaw until the driver turned, looked at her and pointed to the right. She turned and saw a large building.
Raveena paid the driver twenty rupees, about forty cents, and very carefully crossed the street, dodging bicyclists, auto-rickshaws, cars and a hungry cow.
There was a guard at the entrance to the building who stopped her before she could go in. He had an AK-47 strapped to his back.
One of them was seriously packing too much metal.
“I’m here to see Randy Kapoor,” she said, trying to look as non-threatening as possible.
The guard looked her up and down, decided she didn’t pose a menace, and nodded. Raveena opened the door and nearly let out a sigh of relief as the air-conditioned coolness washed over her.
She took the elevator up to the second floor and found herself confronted by a set of thick glass double doors. Engraved into the glass were the words:
Behind the glass she could see trendy twenty-something Indians walking back and forth, answering phones and working on computers. Raveena entered the bright purple and orange lobby—very MTV—and went up to the black circular front desk.
“I’m Raveena Rai, here to see Randy Kapoor.”
“Oh, yes, Miss Rai,” the woman smiled. “Please come with me.”
Raveena followed her through another set of double doors and into a lavish waiting room done up in marble. Two beautiful gold statues of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, occupied alcoves on opposite walls. A second woman sitting behind a black marble desk rose at their entrance.
“Raveena?” the second woman asked, and Raveena recognized her voice from the phone that morning. The woman came forward smiling. “I’m Millie D’Souza.”
Millie was petite, her black hair cut in a shiny bob. A slender gold cross gleamed against her throat. “Mr. Kapoor has yet to arrive. Can I get you some coffee? A cold drink?”
“I’d love something cold. Ah, you don’t happen to have Thums Up, do you?” Raveena had been craving the drink since yesterday.
Millie looked surprised. “Yes, we do. It’s my favorite, but most people prefer Coke or Pepsi.”
Raveena took a seat on a plush burgundy sofa while Millie returned to her desk and pushed a button on the intercom.
A few moments later a young boy entered the room carefully balancing a tray with two tall glasses, his bare feet moving soundlessly across the floor.
Millie waited until he had left, then took a sip of her drink. “In America you do not have people like our office boys?”
Raveena thought about certain personal assistants in Hollywood who were expected not only to make calls, but wash the star’s Chihuahua’s butt, plan parties for the star’s kids, arrange for sex escorts and bring coffee. But she knew what Millie meant.
“No, we don’t. I mean, secretaries will make coffee for their bosses and get lunch, but that’s not their main job. And they’re usually eighteen years old and over.”
Raveena sat back and drank her Thums Up. She was getting addicted to the stuff.
By the time she finished her drink, Randy still had not arrived. Millie was busy taking phone calls and working on the computer but would shoot Raveena sympathetic looks now and again.
To entertain herself, Raveena thumbed through several glossy Bollywood magazines. That was how she got two pieces of very bad news.
The first was from an article on, yes, Randy Kapoor. Apparently, his last five films had all been expensive flops. The very last had been a Bollywood rip-off of Runaway Bride.
She peered closely at a picture of a thin, balding gray-haired man in a suit. He was wiping his brow and looked like the worried accountant of a mobster. According to the caption, it was Randy Kapoor’s financier and father, Daddy.
The picture of Randy himself was blurry, and she could barely make out his features. She did, however, make out the bright yellow Tommy Hillfiger jacket he was wearing.
Very Ali G.
The second piece of bad news was from the gossip pages of a Bollywood rag called Stardust. Raveena was shocked to see her name mentioned. Well, not her name per se, but it was pretty obvious who they were talking about. She quickly scanned the lines:
Rumors have it that casting couch Casanova Randy Kapoor has brought in a foreign actress to play the heroine in his next film. According to the copulating Kapoor, the role required someone of Indian origin but with an American accent. However, Stardust tattlers tell the real tale. As it turns out, no self-respecting Bombay actress will work with the randy Randy. We wish the poor unsuspecting Yank all the best. Maybe she should have brought a chaperone with her…
Great. Raveena had barely been in Bombay for two days, and already her reputation was being battered and splattered across the pages of India’s answer to Variety!
About the randy Randy business—sure, the casting couch was a fixture in Hollywood as well. But Raveena had never encountered it.
She couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or offended about that.
Raveena was still deciding when the door opened and Millie looked up. “Mr. Kapoor,” she said.
Raveena put the magazines away and prepared herself.
She was finally going to meet Randy Kapoor.
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