Circa 1975, Bombay…
James had invited me to a party at his place. He said it was a debut party for someone. Since I was not alone in Bombay anymore, I decided to take my new friend Marie to his party as a plus one. We reached his place at Parel on the particular evening. Marie was more excited than me as she was about to meet James for the first time. A man servant ushered us inside the huge duplex apartment. I had come here twice before, though I doubt if he had recognized me. He led us directly to the floor above where I had never been in my earlier visits. As we entered the hall through an unusually bolted door, it felt as if we had stepped into a different world altogether. It was an extremely strange and eerie hall for a debut party. The entire room was lined with cages as far as I could see. They had live snakes. And frogs. And baby alligators. The hall was dark except for soothing matted lights above each cage. I wasn’t absolutely dumbstruck, knowing James, but I surely had forgotten about Marie. As soon as I spotted James under the light of a cobra cage, I turned to Marie for an introduction. But she had vanished into thin air.
I was confused as to what astonished me more: The weird debut party by James? Or the disappearance of Marie? It was dark, but I could gauge at least thirty more people in the hall. Marie could have sneaked into the other side, though it was more likely for her to have fainted by this time. I had not revealed to her till now that James was a reptile supplier for the Hindi movies. She was crazy about movies and the tall heroes prancing around trees. I had just mentioned to her that James worked in those movies and she was ready to come to the party with me. Marie was actually a distant cousin of mine. I had stayed with her and Aunt Lily for a month in their tiny flat in Colaba when I arrived from Calcutta six months ago. As of now, six months later, Marie was my only friend in Bombay though I had known James since childhood.