When both of the guests from the Philippines went to the guest room after drinking coffee in this villa made on the sea coast outside the Dublin city, the owner of the villa picked up his mobile and reclined on the sofa. It was 2 a.m. Though he knew very well that no voice went outside of this room, still he was talking in a muffled voice on the phone. The owner’s name was John Altamash.
From the other side suddenly came a loud laugh. Such was the crispiness that it felt like many instruments had started playing at once in this deserted night. He became alert and abruptly looked from his feet to the waist. Then after getting assured, he put the phone next to his ear. It wasn’t a video call, he thought and remained in the reclining position. Now more than the astonishment, he felt joy. He thought of not letting the time pass.
"What happened?" He asked with his lips touching the phone.
"Nothing." Came the voice from the other side. But he could not understand that if nothing happened then why did this magical voice come echoing like innumerable bells.
"If this voice can come without doing anything then please, once more," he said.
The laugh stopped suddenly while it was about to start. As if it was confiscated forcibly. As if the voice coming from the other end had gone inside a shell.
"That is good, you do not waste your valuables like this," he muffled his voice even more.
"What did you say?"
"I said treasures are not to waste."
"Then what are they for?" The voice asked as if it was making fun.
"Treasures are there to attract more treasures like a magnet."
"Do you want to die under a heap of treasures?"
"The question has come a little late."
"It means that I have already died."
"Oh! So it’s the ghost whom I am talking to."
"Not the ghost, call it next birth...reincarnation."
"Can I ask why have you taken birth again? What was your unfulfilled wish?"
"The series of wishes does not end, they take pace eternally from one birth to the next."
"There must be a name of the wish."
"They are described in exultations, not words."
"Inshaallah, please describe and let me know."
"Not like this."
"Then do you want instruments to be played?"
"Instruments are nothing in front of these, they are silent. Stunned!"
"Then there must be some way of these exultations being manifested? Please say."
"Exultations fear from getting manifested, if they are not accepted then they will turn into casualties. "
"Don’t ask riddles. Long nights are not there to waste like this. You repent your whole life after losing them."
"Not riddles madam...be serious. I really want to make a deal with you."
"Then tell me, why are you flying kites of words!"
"You try to understand..."
"May I ask you the reason to call me non-understanding?"
"Oh, I did not say something like that, I was…!"
"Even now I cannot believe…"
"What, man?" The voice was now getting agitated.
"No, I mean pay attention to what I want to say…"
"So, at 2 am I am sitting here to not pay attention to what is being said? But at least I have to hear something to pay attention."
"Listen, madam, I have a long experience."
"When did I ask you for any proof of that? I never said that you are inexperienced."
"Yes, I know that."
"Listen Mr., stop thinking about useless things. You know that I belong to the world after my country and talking about my country, you know already, at least in this field…"
"I know-I know...who doesn’t know Tansen? And Lataji...you don’t misunderstand. Your country’s achievements are world-famous."
"I am not understanding anything. Neither right nor wrong. I am just waiting for you to say what you want to."
"It’s night, I know that I am disturbing you."
"But you are not, I am asking you to disturb me."
"O-ho-ho-ho, I am not joking."
"When did I say that you are joking?"
"Okay, tell me where are you and what are you doing?"
"What kind of question is that? I am at my home and relaxing, talking to you, eager to hear your talk."
"I mean who is there with you now?"
"Oh, nobody, I am alone."
"Then..." Altamash stopped in the middle of the question.
"Meaning? Alone...alone in my room. There is my staff along with me at home...but why? What are you asking or saying, say it clearly. We are not talking for the first time."
"There is nobody with you? Then now you..." John Altamash stopped in hesitation.
"Oh man, what’s the matter? I am sitting thousands of kilometres away from you, still, you are hesitating like you are in front of me...now don’t ask what am I wearing or whether I am wearing something or not, et cetera...oh sorry, please say what were you saying?"
"Madam I...I mean I have one wish."
"Son, try to control your wishes..." the voice said dramatically.
"Yes..." Altamash said as if he was a really obedient child.
"Oh, speak-speak, I was just kidding."
"But I am not kidding."
"Yes but you are also not doing anything, I mean not saying anything."
"I will say."
"Then say it."
"I am requesting something," John Altamash said.
"You can also give an order."
"I am grateful to you."
"You remember, I told you that I am not satisfied with some of the moments in your upcoming album, I want to work more on them?"
"Yes, you did tell me, so what do you have in mind? Please tell me." Now the voice was gentle and decorous. Curiosity and ambition could be felt in it.
"You laughed a little while ago."
"Yes, but I did not laugh on you, I can’t disrespect you. How did you even think that I can laugh on you?"
"Oho...where are you taking this conversation, I meant...I was saying that can we record that laugh?"
"What? I don’t understand."
"There is nothing to understand miss Selina, I am just saying that we will record that laugh and add it in the album at certain points. We will have to record some things again. Especially the third song - “Aao Janaab Tumhein Kinaron Pe Le Chaloon”...I want to add that crispy laugh at many points in this song. Just watch, its impact will change completely. Fantastic, you don’t know how the youth will react to that laugh."
"Okay," the voice was decorous and serious but one could sense a little disbelief in it.
"You will see, our work and money won’t go to waste."
"You think so?"
"Of course...it will be like the Moon is looking down from the sky and the sea waves are causing disturbance to hide themselves...how will you know the value of that laugh? A 'Jal Tarang' of waves can be heard in it."
"You know your work but do you really think so?"
"Oh madam, only others can see the light emitted by stars, when the stars themselves have learnt their importance? The people watching ‘Miss World’ made you, right? Did you know what you were? You were out there finding jobs in offices."
"What can I say..." as if the voice had drowned in its sea of silence. Superstar singer Selina Nanda couldn’t say anything. It felt as if the voice marched ahead to let the sunrise take place after singing a melody on the horizon.
Bestowed with the title of Miss World, Selina Nanda was getting fame as a pop singer after working in a few TV serials and movies. One album of hers was getting made whose producer, this man, lived in Dublin. After talking to Selina about reshoot of the album at around two o’clock at night, his mind got into work. Even after heavy expenses which were going to occur, he was confident and waiting for Selina to give him dates. Both of the guests from the Philippines staying in the guest room of his villa had come to meet him for this purpose only. The biggest problem in talking to people of different nationalities was the difference in time as well as the variation of day and night in different parts of the world, and it had become his professional compulsion to remain available 24 hours of the day for the people involved in international work.
The villa’s owner Altamash had set up a studio at some distance at Shannon where people from all over the world kept contact with him. Over the last few years, Indian artists too had become interested in these international projects. There were two reasons for this, first was the unimportance of music in Hollywood films and the second was the large market of Indian films here because of various languages and cultures.
There was a tendency in some Asian countries of considering values established in Europe or the U.S. as more authentic. Even though they looked at the prosperity and affluence of these countries with disgust, everyone wanted to emulate them subconsciously. India belonged to the same group of countries. This was the reason that whenever someone wanted success or recognition in India then he would first go to these prosperous countries and once recognised there, he would get instant recognition in India. Media played a huge role in growing this tendency. In these Asian countries, one more tendency was prevalent. VIP culture dominated here. Meaning if someone became successful in any field, he was considered a VIP and was treated as some kind of superman or an extraordinary human being. The result of this was the end of privacy from your life after being made a VIP. Everything related to you was made public. This was the reason that such people moved to these prosperous countries after not finding life natural or private here. These prosperous countries did not have such craze for any of these people that they could not even walk out alone out of their home. So these people found peace in these countries.
Though John Altamash was here for many years but he used to come and go to India and Pakistan. His father was Pakistani who had married and settled down in Ireland. That’s why, this producer who was steeped in European culture, knew so much about countries like Pakistan and India. He was not only aware of their cultures but also their languages. He could speak a little bit of Urdu and Hindi. Altamash had four kids whom he wanted to teach at Islamabad. Actually, Islamabad had some good schools which imparted education as per Britain’s culture and the children who studied there did not remain strangers to the Asian countries even after learning European mannerisms. Altamash knew very well that Pakistan does not enjoy good relations with its neighbour India but he considered the politicians to be the reason behind this animosity. He also believed that the public feels no such enmity and everybody wants to live together. And these days he was busy in making and launching an album of an Indian actress and was publicizing it in the same way in India and Pakistan.
After a few days, when the office of John Altamash presented to him the estimate of the recording of Selina Nanda’s album after three-four meetings, he was shocked. It was highly expensive. Though whilst working on Selina’s album, both of them had developed a friendly relation but the reason for these increased expenses was the news of the beginning of a new project of Selina which they had received from her office. Though the permission of the recording was granted to John Altamash even after the shooting in Hollywood had started but a heavy fee was charged for this. Selina had to change her film’s schedule to make way for John’s recording on the dates he needed and its burden fell upon John Altamash’s company.
Selina’s laugh from that night was still ringing in Altamash’s ears. On the one hand, was his passion-filled enthusiasm to add that crispiness in the album and on the other hand was the fear of an increase in the cost. Altamash would imagine that laugh in the middle of Selina’s song and wiggle in excitement. His conviction was getting stronger that because of this laugh, the songs’ flavour would get romantic and music would get lively. He was astonished to see that Selina’s popularity was increasing day-by-day and it was getting expensive to work with her. But he was still grateful that Selina had honoured his request and arranged two days by rescheduling a big-budget film for him. Now the travel expenses for leaving the shoot in between, from Uzbekistan to Ireland, were added in the cost. Selina’s personal staff was also getting bigger.
This time it took a few days in talking to Selina. But Altamash could neither ask her to reduce her fee nor he could get ready to postpone or cancel his intentions. In the end, he decided to record that laugh before the album’s launch.
From an interview published in New York, media came to know about the re-recording of the album before its launch, regarding some of the weaknesses. When this news reached the newspapers of Pakistan and India, it had changed completely. It was made a lot spicy and many big names were associated with it.
One paper wrote that Selina doesn’t want her singing to be below the levels of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle. That’s why she is re-recording some of the parts.
One channel claimed technical mistakes. It was said that Noorjahan had suggested some improvements because of which the launch date was being postponed.
A newspaper’s detailed analysis said that some of the backing singers and instrumentalists of Selina were being sent to Europe for modelling training. One famous producer, who had been a trainer of Madonna and Michael Jackson once, had given an interview in which he suggested ways by which Selina could improve her singing.
One actress, who was Selina’s competitor, had said that this project was going to be a flop in all probability as the promotional expenses were already very high.
All this media coverage did reach John Altamash but he laughed over it and Selina’s laugh from that night was all he could care about. His office was busy in preparations. An insurance company from the Philippines had given Selina an attractive offer to insure her voice in easy instalments.
A former Miss World named Christina Kankanappa’s statement was published in The New York Times in which she had said that during her times, media did not pay such attention to the winner beauties which it pays now. She had also criticised the fact that even in the intellectual world, physical beauty was getting preference which could hamper various skill development programmes. Christina was nominated for a prestigious peace prize after a few days.
John Altamash had fallen prey to the magic of Selina’s crispy laugh. He would float on his back with a glass of wine on his chest at night on his private ship, with his mind lost in that laugh. The waistbands of his Pathani suit would get entangled with the rings of that crispy laugh at night and in the morning he would get busy with the paperwork of Selina’s recording in his office. He was a hundred per cent sure that the new generation would spend its sleepless nights with their mobiles placed on their stomach and these songs being played on them. Under his magnificent direction, Selina’s crispy laugh along with the beats of instruments will dance on the stomachs of teenagers and youngsters and will fill his coffers.
Neither Altamash remembered this nor anybody else that in Miami Beach, Selina won a crown once by saying that the aim of her life was to work for the welfare of the handicapped. Today the rapture of her voice was dreaming to make beautiful and young residents of this world restless and a famous producer-director like John Altamash was creating the show to make this dream come true. Time was moving at its own pace.
Selina loved New York. The thing which she liked the most about it was that unlike India, she was not stopped at every step here by the crowd to be given a godlike status. She was a celebrity here as well, posters of her serials or movies were put up here too but despite this, she could walk without any fear on the low and high walkways of Central Park alone, she could eat her favourite ice cream on Times Square. She could not only visit the surroundings but also could stand atop the Empire State Building to understand the highs of life. At any time of the day, she could lose herself walking on the ships basking with electricity, sailing over the Hudson river, whether alone or with friends and she could catch a flight anytime from JFK to reach anywhere in the world. She had travelled amicably in the four-storied New York City Subway many times with the people belonging to various races and countries.
Once she went out to look at her posters and hoardings all over the city, wearing only a small gown. This city neither let the height of dreams come down nor it caught one in a cage made of gold after fulfilment of those dreams. That’s why she liked this city. After the shoot, Selina used to come at the relief centres here to take a walk and give her tired body some rest. She received care of every kind here. She got food from all over the world here. All kinds of looks-colours-shapes-races were acceptable here and she had seen humanity getting complete freedom and liberty here. The Statue of Liberty was her favourite place too. Perhaps no other city in the world accepts black-white-fat-slim-tall-short human statues equally.
Whenever Selina had some free time out of her busy schedule, she liked to spend it in New York only. Though she got free time rarely. But she got chances to come to New York every now and then.
Once when she came here for the premiere of a Japanese movie, she also got a chance to become a guest at an international seminar at a famous hotel. Here a speech given by a Japanese model opened her eyes when she said, "Many countries require a good height to become a model, many ask for fair skin, somewhere large eyes are the measure of beauty and somewhere, it’s your bust...but there are many races in this world which are not fair-skinned, they don’t have long necks, nor do they have large eyes or black, bright or blond hair...because of these criteria, you disappoint people from many countries, you ignore them, restrict them...then what right do you have to accept these global titles? How can you be universal by representing just one segment...this is an illusion."
Since then Selina had decided to not to spend her time only on the support of her beauty and had started working on her skills...the city of commercial protection of intellect, New York, helped her immensely in this regard.