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Different folks

His real name is ‘Arzoo’ — desire in Urdu. But what can one make of a dwarf’s desire if isn’t to be ‘returned’ to normal height. So from Arzoo he became Arzee — ‘plea’ or ‘petition’ in Urdu.

books Updated: Jul 17, 2009 23:11 IST
Different folks

Arzee the Dwarf
Chandrahas Choudhury
Harpercollins
* Rs 325 * pp 184

His real name is ‘Arzoo’ — desire in Urdu. But what can one make of a dwarf’s desire if isn’t to be ‘returned’ to normal height. So from Arzoo he became Arzee — ‘plea’ or ‘petition’ in Urdu. Addressed to whom? Not to God, disbelief in whom is one of the eccentricities of being a dwarf: “If I don’t belong in the world of normal people at other points, then why should I be with them when they turn to God?” Not to the government, which does not loom as large on his horizon as one would have thought — it is the small people who need the government the most.

The plea is addressed to humanity: please let me live a normal life! And his petition seems to have been heard when he learns that Phiroze K. Pir, the head projectionist at the Noor cinema hall, is about to retire making way for Arzee his diminutive deputy.

Arzee swells with importance, he dreams of marriage, of a secure position, of a handsome salary, of enhanced self-esteem. Arzee He has a normal enough life: normal friends, a normal job (not a clown in a circus), a normal family (his brother is a tall person) with the exception that his mother tends to spoil him and be over-concerned about him. “But he did so want to get married, and show h was just like anybody else. He wanted to accumulate all the things that would make him a bigger, a more secure person. He didn’t want people to joke and titter about him — not to his face and not even in private. Now the joke was to be on them.” In other words he wants to cease to be a dwarf in social, if not physical, terms.

But a dwarf’s plea has no stable hearing. He walks into the cinema one day and is asked to report to the manager who tells him that the cinema is going to be shut down. Arzee’s world lies shattered around him. He does not know what to think, so great is his tragedy. He is in for a massive loss of face among his friends and returns home dejected. The gift of normality had been snatched away from him.

The day after he goes to Deepak bhai, a small time hoodlum who works for a betting syndicate and asks him if he has any work for him. Deepak is obliging and gracious having received some money that Arzee owed him and gives the dwarf a phone number. The dwarf dresses up as a bottle of cold drink, and gallivants around the suburbs of Bombay as such. In his sorrow he betakes himself to a dance bar and pours out the biggest grief in his life to one of the dancers. He tells her the story of his love for Monique a hairdresser in Tony’s saloon.

What is astounding is that this love is physical and not some romantic wish-wash. It is triumph of normality, the snatching away, from the jaws of the world, of a great victory for dwarfhood. But then Monique's father shows up one day and throws the dwarf, almost literally, out of Monique's life. After which Monique disappears from his world. Arzee has asked Deepak to find Monique for him through his friends in the syndicate.

The rest of the story is best not told for there is an element of suspense at the rather filmy end to this non-filmy tale. Chandrahas Choudhury is a good raconteur and his story is worth reading.

Soumitro Das is a writer based in Kolkata