Sunday, February 25

“Trading Flesh in Tokyo”: This modest anthology of nine delightful stories and a play explores many nations and cultures

  • The book “Trading Flesh in Tokyo: Nine Short Stories and a Play” by Rajesh Talwar deals with love, poverty, crime, passion and various troubling social issues.

  • In ‘The Stars Are My Witness’, an Indian scientist based in Thailand refuses international awards for mysterious reasons. Will he refuse the Nobel Prize too? In ‘The Price of Revolution’, an Indian revolutionary discovers that in his absence his girlfriend has developed other passions.

  • Other stories explore terrible secrets, such as in ‘Like Two Fingers Entwined’, where an Indian girl loses her virginity with consequences for a close friendship. In ‘Trading Flesh in Tokyo’, an ageing American-Indian publishing executive falls in love with a young Japanese girl, but there are weighty issues that need to be resolved.

  • Read an excerpt from the book below.

I needed that time to raise the money for my airfare and to buy clothes befitting a researcher at a major scientific institute.

‘What do you need it for?’ Prakash said when I asked him to loan me some money.

‘I want to go to Thailand and get a massage.’

‘A poor joke,’ he said, not pressing me for further information. ‘Okay, let me see what I can do. You want twenty, I’ll get you ten.’

True to his word, the following week he handed me an envelope with the money all there in crisp five-hundred-rupee notes.

‘What did you do?’ I asked. ‘Rob a bank?’

‘I’d rob a bank to help a friend,’ he replied simply, ‘and I can make out that this is important for you.’

I couldn’t tell Prakash of my plans. I couldn’t tell anyone. I just had to drop out, this time not from a college education that I could not afford, but from my life in India itself. It would have to be as though I had never existed, never been born. It would be easier for me than for someone else in my position, I reminded myself. Ever since my father’s misfortunes, we had lost touch with all our relatives. There was no uncle, aunt or cousin who had cared for us, and who mattered to me now. A few, very few former students held me in high esteem. I had hardly a friend in the world, with the exception of Prakash.

I got my passport made under the tatkal scheme – they give it to you in twenty-four hours if you show some urgency and pay an extra amount – and went to the travel agent to buy the cheapest available ticket from Mumbai to Bangkok.

It was a complete culture shock for me when I reached Bangkok. I had heard stories about people being overawed upon visiting New York, but Bangkok was shocking enough for me. The glitzy airport, the smiling faces, the friendly ladies, the relatively clean environment, the impressive highways, all these took me by surprise. Shocking and surprising, yes, but I also fell in love with Thailand. There was poverty here, just like in my own country, but there was little apparent discrimination, no upper-caste lower-caste business, no sexual hypocrisy, and a general friendliness that permeated the atmosphere. A year into my job, once I had visited Singapore and Tokyo to attend scientific conferences, I would start finding Bangkok dirty and crowded, but even so I never lost my love of the country. But I am getting ahead of myself.

`A man with a white uniform stood outside the airport terminal at the Meeting Point with my name on a placard. He was my driver and companion as we drove to Hua Hin, the city in the north where the Thai king lived for part of the year.

After a two-hour journey on the highway, we reached Hua Hin. We drove past a row of hotels that overlooked the ocean, for Hua Hin is a very popular tourist destination, then passed the Royal Palace and a little further on turned into an impressive-looking five-storey building, with spacious gardens, that housed the Institute.

‘Professor waiting,’ said my driver in broken English. ‘First you meet. Then I take care you.’

I knocked on a door that carried Professor Garagate’s nameplate. A few seconds later, the door opened. The driver and I both stepped inside.

‘Welcome to Thailand, Professor Sharma,’ said the slight, balding man with the fierce intellect. ‘Come, come. You must be tired after your long journey.’

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