The Remix Project continues. The next story is from Anna Wildheit. In her email Anna said that she’s tried to make the story hers with regards to “rhythm, words, flavor, moving things about for the sake of interior decorating, you name it.” And there is more detail on her blog:
Naturally, I read the original first. Tried to keep track of the links my mind made up as I read, jotting down a Possible Sample list.
Kipling’s Jungle Book was an obvious choice. To make it easy I downloaded a .txt version from Project Gutenberg and scanned through it searching for key words. For some reason my mind also felt the Sex Pistol’s No Future was a dead given. Must be Britain, class issues, stuff like that. I googled up the lyrics, because I wouldn’t want quotefail while sampling, right? Then again, who knows how right those online lyrics are?
Again and again this project surprises me with different interpretations and approaches. This is certainly one of the more radical entries. What do we think?
Salam and Baseema – Remixed
Neon signs, and underneath, food with slashed prices and needy smells, and desi men with faces that belong here better than him. His shoulders hunched against the sharp stabs of music from cheap installations, flinching not from people’s stares but their attention. Doesn’t belong, does he, whose hand dared seize the fire. Branded now, personally, identifiably branded. Not like skin and eyes, not like Yo Paki. Not a stranger on someone else’s turf, but on his own, isn’t he now? Yo Salam. We’re gonna break your arms and legs, Salam.
There’s lots of myth and fabrication in the world, but Salam don’t believe in ghosts. This is England, right, not India. Caste don’t exist here, not once he’s convinced Baseema to leave Little India with him, right?
Will she come? He peeks at his phone, still no message back. He glances around, on the lookout for hostility. There’s flowers in a dustbin. He should have brought some perhaps, this is a date after all. But too late, a car pulls up. Night and neon highlights make the taxi’s windows near opaque and his heart is like a tabla beat in his throat. The door swings open, flash of gold and maroon, of sari and bangles, against the black of trousers, glistening black of her hair. Relief calls out his Basmati-white smile. She draws him near with a cautious tilt of the wrist. He looks around, straightens the collar on his jacket, flips up his sleeve to reveal his new bracelets and rings. Feeling a wonderful fellah, he struts over.
He pulls the door closed behind him, and the taxi heads out with a lurch, driving him against Baseema. They snog as neons zip past.
“Missed you,” he mumbles, “I texted—”
She shuts him up quickly, then pulls back with a smile. “Dad took my phone.”
With a glance at the Ring Road outside: “Where we going?”
“Who knows?” she says beat, twisting the sinews of his heart. “He’s going to kill us, he is.”
She nods. He kisses her, she kisses back, fire burning in their eyes. When there’s no future how can there be sin?
Baseema smiles awkwardly at Anish, who looks frightened somehow. In the same boat now, she thinks.
“Hullo,” Anish says.
“Hi,” she replies. Though his nose is the size of Rajasthan.
Baseema likes to make up her own mind. She won’t be told what she wants, won’t be told what she needs. She wanted to do fashion, but her father insisted on her doing Business Studies. Did her mother end up crying into the sorghum flour again last night, like whenever Baseema and her father had a row? But her father made his decision, and now there was this introduction. The families cluster around like storm clouds. Anish glances away. She looks at Uncle Indra’s TV, wondering about future, the rest of her life.
Too quiet, she thinks, stealing another glance at the nose. Bored of him already.
“Anish is being training for computing, isn’t that right Anish? Top cent-per-cent,” her father says and slaps the boy on the back. “Anish’s father owns several electronic shops from Birmingham to Leicester. I think such a union would be proud for our family, no? Don’t you think so?”
Anish recovers from the slap with a nod. Too skinny. He’s not Salam, not her choice. Handsome, dangerous Salam, with that air of mystery. Salam can make her smile, make her feel so wonderful, so aroused. Salam’s a wonderful fellah, even without a proper job. New realms open up whenever they kiss, so passionate a man, with eyes like red fire—to die for.
Baseema knows of arranged marriages that work. But this one’s too skinny, quiet, ugly. I can’t make it work. Her heart is elsewhere: with Salam Singh.
“Baseema?” asks her father, “You would think this would serve our family well, this union?”
She looks down, away from skinny Anish-who-is-not-Salam, this nothing more than a business transaction. “Yes, father.”
He stands before her in his grey trousers, blue shirt, hands energized like a prophet. Through Baseema’s tears her father gains an aspect of Mahakala.
“No. He’s Sikh. Not even wearing a turban. Not a serious boy, not like Anish. Tradition is what matters! ”
Bollocks dad, she thinks, it’s your name you’re worried about. And your business.
Still she looks away, and tears roll down her cheek.
” I’ve made my decision! I told you to never see him again. And you won’t. Anish is a good Hindu boy. You will marry him.”
As counterpoint, the tears that have pooled on the tip of her chin drop on her hand.
“But father,” she whispers. His angry breathing fills her pause. “I love him.”
His shadow moves its hand, ready to strike. But he stops.
“I’ll have none of this again. There’s no future, not with him. Sikh with no turban. Useless boy! Now go help your mother.”
She slinks out of the room to the sounds of ‘Suhana Safar Yeh Mausam’, past Uncle Indra, who bobs his head as if in trance, or in agreement. Tonight they’ll be two, crying into the sorghum flour.
The distant sky’s bright in spite of the rain fizzing on the pavement. She pulls him past old ladies in wet coats. Girls in soaked summer dresses. Melting pot groups of young men standing around, smoking and laughing. Baseema gives a carefree giggle, but his feet grow wary. She drags him into the bus stop, then leans into him.
“I can’t keep this up. This running. Hiding,” he says, looking over her head at the men standing near John Lewis, cheery windows reflecting tufts of smoke. White, black, brown, any colour, all with some future. They laugh. Annoyed, he looks down at her face, strangely relieved as her smile melts. At least he’s more than just an adventure, forbidden fruit. It’s real, this. Love. It turns to guilt as she lifts up her shirt, revealing a bruise across her hips. He hides her in his arms, all he can do against her dad, isn’t it?
“He beat me. He means to kill thee.”
“Shht,” he whispers in her hair. Lots of myth and fabrication in the world, and Salam don’t believe in ghosts. But things happen, and he’s alone, no father or mother, only Baseema. No copper gonna care about another beat up Sikh, innit?
“I’ve heard him talk, he’s serious. If someone sees us together—” Her breath catches, she looks away as fear twists the sinews of her heart.
“We could leave,” he offers, “change our names.”
She pulls back and searches his face, a flash of hope burning in her eyes, then petering out.
“Oh we can’t, Salam. He’s got car-dealerships everywhere. He’ll find out.”
He’s nothing without her, but he can’t go on like this. Useless boy, he thinks as he steps back into the rain. “Then what d’you suggest?”
She dazzles him with a smile. “You’ll find out when we get there.”
“There,” indicating the 193 to Wollaton.
He follows her red ballerina flats onto the bus. They sit down in silence. Condensation inside, rain outside. Miserable faces outside, damp faces inside. Pneumatic hiss, crunch of gears. As the bus heads west, their hands find each other, fingers talking in gentle rubs and heartening squeezes. There’s no sign of murder, so they kiss.
They disembark at Wollaton, and the rain sputters to a stop. The strip for the blind in the sidewalk like a yellow brick road, leading past the roundabout, past houses more glamorous than Salam’s bedsit.
“Here we are,” Baseema says, pulling him into a front garden.
She looks at him, glances away as if suddenly shy. “Answer to our problem.”
“How?” he turns her around after she has knocked on the door.
“Chudail,” she mouths, yet the word strikes him as if shouted. If Salam don’t believe in ghosts, should he believe in witches?
“Treat the woman with the greatest respect, Salam,” and then she bends down to smell a rose. He watches, still fumbling in his head with what they’re doing here, as she points out plants and names them. Buddleia. Mint. Rosemary. The summer wind ruffles his collar, warps the dull churn of the Ring Road in the distance. He thinks of flowers in a dustbin, and no future.
The door swings open, empty corridor beyond, like in those ridiculous horror movies. Baseema’s hand wraps around his. Wafts of curry and incense, vague drone of music, churn of the road in the distance. Looks normal enough, but there’s something else, a pinch of the otherwordly.
“Kaminay! Don’t just stand there,” a voice thick with Indian inflection shouts, “Central heating, okay? Not made of money, am I?”
Baseema pulls him inside. Curry and incense, and a radio turned to B4U. He checks the name at the door in passing, making sure it is not Sundari like that chudail movie he watched with Dave after shift last week, in the JJB Sports stockroom. Baseema closes the door, shutting out the churn of the road, twitter of birds. Only B4U babbling somewhere in the back. Salam’s about to go on, but a creak overhead freezes him on the spot. Creak from the stairs, then thump, thump and creak, an old woman hobbling barefooted down the stairs. Ricktick of bangles, crickcrick of ankles. She wears traditional dress—sari of forest and olive green, with bands of royal blue, with gold designs that flick at the little light, precursors of the mehendi designs on her arms. Silver and gold in her armlets and anklets.
Once downstairs, she eyes Salam with an intensity he’s never felt since his grandmother died. He feels her third eye watching along through the red bindi on her forehead. With a nod she creaks past them. “Accha, Salam, Baseema, here at last, aren’t you?”
Baseema gives him a slight push, he follows and asks, “You know our names?”
“Koothay!” The old woman waves her hands in despair as she limps towards a doorway in the back. She squints at Baseema. “Where did you find such a bright one, no?” then waves them into the room. “Baseema emailed me, yesterday. Come, come. Sit.”
Silk drapes span the room, a sky of colours spanning the cushions and Indian rugs. More curry and incense. They seat themselves on the floor, and the chudail brings ghee sweets and tea. She creaks down opposite them, lighting more incense.
“What is it you be wanting, tell me,” she says while a plume of sandalwood aroma curls up.
Salam shrugs. As Baseema begins their story, he looks from her to the chudail. The old woman’s eyes are stereophonic. He looks down, not thinking about the bindi. From somewhere in back, Sherlyn Chopra’s voices drifts in, invitingly. The incense smoke curls up and bobs against the drapes. The chudail offers him the plate of sweets. Uncertain, he takes one. Banana and cardamom.
“You wish for protection only?” the old woman scrapes.
They glance at one another in silence.
“Come, come. Speak!” she points at Baseema, who flashes a nervous smile.
“I don’t want my father hurting. Just that Salam and me can be safe. Safer. We’re desperate, please.”
“Chal, a simple task, but the outcome is up to the gods,” the chudail says. She gets up, trailing aromatic smoke behind her as she leaves. Salam takes another sweet. Baseema wrings her hands, another nervous smile.
The chudail returns with a plate and a handful of gold animal figurines. She spits on the animals and scrapes her saliva in patterns around the plate. Sandalwood smoke curls thickly upwards, as she begins an incantation that sounds close to Punjabi but then drifts beyond. The hushed murmur could just as well transcend any understanding. There’s a tiger, an eagle, a whole zoo. Then smoke sizzles up from the animals, puff and gone, too quick for Salam to be sure. He feels as if ghosts have entered the room, drifting about in the aromatic haze.
“Arey, it’s done, isn’t it,” the chudail says.
“What, just like that?” Salam says. But her third eye is watching, so instead of asking his questions, he helps Baseema up.
Forrest Fields, 4 a.m. and broke. Salam doesn’t care about the unsafe streets between here and home. He and Baseema managed to meet in Nottingham’s Media, clubbing the night away. His fingertips still tingle, having been on her hips and waist while they danced. Love drunk, staccato images of strobing light and rhythm. He sips his Pepsi Max, bought with his last loose change. His tongue still tastes her neck. His lap still feels her weight. Carling, £1 a pint, a bargain. Perhaps a few too many. Don’t care, just the two of them mattered. No one else. That butchered remix of Talvin Singh still jangles in his head. Love drunk, through the forests of the night. He lobs his empty can into a dark alley, stumbles along in the harsh sodium glare of streetlights and finishes his chips.
Then: snick snick and a voice: “Salam…”
The sound of knives, the voice vaguely familiar. Blurry shadows in front of the shuttered windows where you can buy tees from last years World Cup, or “God save the queen” cheap print knock-offs that make her look no human being. The street dances. Three figures jump from the shadows, one pointing a metal bar at him.
“Leave her alone, Salam. You’ve been told before. Final warning, yes?”
Salam lurches back, chip wrapper drifting down. Their faces hide in the shadow of baseball caps and scarves, but the eyes are Asian. Nike Air. Two have six-inch blades.
“Who?” Salam says. Useless thing to say. Useless boy.
“You know how it goes, Salam. If not you, than her. You don’t want that. Leave her be.”
He’s still frowning when the metal bar hits his stomach, and again. He folds, spews a mash of Pepsi, Carling and chips down his Hugo Boss shirt, bought cheap in TK Maxx. Falls backwards, clutches at the wall, turning. The bar comes down across his back, thumping him into the wall, falling for real now, palms grazing down brick, knees banging on pavement. Alcohol numbs his pain, his thoughts. Crouching like a dog, he spits out the last of his sick, to receive a boot in his ribs, his face. Rolls on the ground, coughing blood. Alcohol numbs his pain, his thoughts. A shape glows white, not the yellow of the streetlights. Ethereal but ever brighter. The three men cease pummelling, cemented to the spot. The watch is long and cold, as glow shapes into tiger, and it’s huge, and glides through metal and stone with a growl, muscles gliding beneath ghostly fur, detached gaze choosing from what’s on the menu. Then a pounce, and the one with the bar goes down, a crunch of spine, a smash of skull. The knifers run, while blood pools darkly in the ghostly glare. Fleeing footsteps, no other sound before dawn.
Doesn’t believe in ghosts, he does, but when it can kill is it ghost? And Salam watches as the ghost tiger clasps its victim’s head between his deadly terrors.
Happy endings, just like in the movies. Used to be a time when Indra would pick her little frame up and spiral through the lounge and young Baseema would be watching with a smile. But things change. TV screens get bigger, technology gets more intricate. Life should be TV. You change channel, flick through hip-swaggers and body shapes and wide eyes and blinding smiles. Decency is something they don’t understand here, but then this is England, right, not India.
Now she cries while making samosas, and Indra turns up the sound. If only Baseema would see: the argument is over, and the proper thing has to be done. There’s money and honour involved. Decency, what’s proper and honourable, for us is another channel than BBC.
His brother, Baseema’s father, opens the boot of the car.
“Bhai. Come closer.”
The shock widens Indra’s eyes. He never expected a handgun to be so big.
It’s okay, trust me, the hand on his shoulder says.
“This is the second plan,” his brother says, “I’ve got some young men to rough him up. We’ll see how that goes, but if it doesn’t work, this is next.”
“You want me to do it?”
“I’ll deal with Baseema personally, okay? Keep it in the family, though, no?”
“Where did you get the gun?”
“Where did you get the TV?”
A child on a bicycle the last figure fading into the dusk. Wind ripples across a darkening field of grass. Terraced cottages waiting to become derelict.
“You want me to … do it?”
“Just bear in mind our reputation if she persists with this Salam boy. Think of the business lost. What will our Pack say?”
“And the body?”
“Some construction company, I’ve got business channels.”
Happy endings, just like on TV. The channel can’t be changed though. Messy, and hopefully not necessary. With a liquid motion a flock of starlings carve arcs into the distant sky, then hides in the clouds.
Friday. England’s dreaming of a future. Salam, on the long walk home from JJB Sports, dreams of cars as they cruise past. Weekend’s next, the city’s alive on anticipation. Skirt material in short supply, but Salam don’t see the women walk by. He’s got a future, if only the weekend. A weekend with Baseema. But first join the others in that swirl of misplaced energy, rush home after work to change. New black shirt, new black trousers. He’ll be a righteous Bollywood looker, him, when he takes Baseema out to dinner. A wonderful fellah for sure.
Half an hour later, criss-crossing alleyways to four different types of music, Reggae to Rock. Puddles float the spectrum-glitter of petrol. Plenty of time yet, says his watch. A kick out of nowhere sends him forward. Salam grasps a fire escape railing, and steadied, turns around. An old man holding a gun.
“What?” Salam’s eyes don’t leave the barrel for long. Heck of grey beard, brown waistcoat, white shirt.
“Just don’t move a thing, no?” the old man says. Voice uncertain, no professional. “You’ve brought much shame, Salam, lad. Come close too Baseema too much, no?”
The alley is long, no escape, no future. Unlike as in the movies, people know better than to interfere. Just him and the old man.
“I love her.”
“Accha, like you could know.”
Shadows lengthen, darken.
“I want to look after her.”
“Pay for her food, a house, a car. How? You tell me. You youngsters think you know it all, isn’t it.”
“That’s money, not love.”
Shadows move, turning. Salam turns his sweating face up. A bright eagle swoops down, immense and ethereal, falling like a brick. Its claws skewer the old man. Gun fires, man screams, then both off they are. Newspapers scatter in the draft, empty cans rolling noisily. Salam stares at the gun. Didn’t believe the gun was loaded, did he? Shadows lengthen, darken again. On the edge of throwing up Salam sits down. This is England, right, not India. And yet only a witch stood between his certain death. England must be dreaming.
Shot through the heart, who’s to blame, ain’t it a shame, shot down in flames. All around in his hometown they’re trying to track him down.
Shadows lengthen and move, newspapers and plastic bags flap listlessly: the eagle returned. Claws empty, eyes blank.
They know where he hangs, they know where he stays. He’s that kid in the corner all fucked up and he wanna so he’s gonna take a piece of the pie.
“Right you are,” Salam says, “Enough of this hiding, running. I have top confront Baseema’s father.”
A squawk like a reply, a head bob like a beckoning.
“Drive steady, all right?” and Salam gets on its back. Bottles and cans skid against the wall and the eagle lifts him over rooftops. Its cry is glass shattering, as it calls to other white eagles hiding in the clouds. Wind ruffles his collar, snugly safe on its back. Down below a white tiger meanders through the traffic jams.
The eagle spirals down in Mapperley Park, drops him outside a detached Victorian house. The tiger bounds over the garden gate. Exotic birds twirl down. The door opens, and a man comes screaming out of the house. A white bear follows, growling. The man sees the tiger, dread hand, dread feet, and stumbles. The garden turns into a zoo for the ethereal, big cats, big birds, rhinos, white deer with a lovesick face, elephants with six trunks. They gather close, treading a circle of powder-white glow around Baseema’s father, then Baseema comes out, bewildered.
“What’s going on? Salam? What’s this?”
“Did we not ask for protection? Who’s always eager to extend a friendly claw?”
The tiger pushes her father down. He screams, pleas for help, then sobs. Two huge paws on his chest, not so ethereal.
“I am an old man. I did not know that thou wast anything more than a herdsboy. May I rise up and go away, or will thy servant tear me to pieces?”
Salam waves the zoo back, into the bushes. “Now you’ll let Baseema and me be together. They protect us. They’ll never let you win.”
“What?” her father says, rubbing his eyes to regain some pride. “You think you can come into my garden and—”
“Must I stay babbling to an old ape all evening?” Salam snaps his fingers, the tiger pounces, mud slides in arcs from its hind claws as it pushes its shoulders down on Baseema’s father’s chest. A growl like distant thunder, the churn of the road. Whiskers brushing cheek.
“Arey! All right!”
Salam waves and the tiger eases up.
The old man finds his breath. “If you hurt her, I won’t let any creature stop me from getting you.”
“You’ve been hurting her enough already, don’t you think?”
Between confusion and fear, there’s anger. Useless boy, has no respect!
“These animals are here to keep Baseema happy,” Salam says scornfully. “Get rid of that Anish dude.”
The tiger’s roar backs up the point, and anger drowns in confusion and fear. “All right,” her father nods.
“Come on, Bas,” Salam says, feeling a wonderful fellah, “we’ve got dinner plans, don’t we?”
But Baseema stares at her father, too fearful to move. The tiger puffs into the old man’s face.
“Go, go,” he whispers. More she doesn’t need, running to Salam. Holding hands they disappear from the garden, while the ethereal zoo disappears in the rhododendrons’ shadows.
Baseema’s father rubs his head. Don’t believe in ghosts, does he? But there’s tiger tracks on his shirt.
Each dog barks in his own yard, but Baseema’s father does his sulking in his study. Old car magazines scattered in tantrum, he still seethes. Useless boy. Wolf in sheep’s clothing. Wolf in man’s clothing, standing up on his hind legs and talking like a man.
The moon forces bold shadows across the lawn. But this is no time for sleeping. I know it; the Pack know it.
On his desk, one hand finds a knife, the other his car keys. There’s a scream in the garden: his voice, muffled and warped, like a twisted premonition injecting him with fear.
He leaves the knife be, looks out into the forests of the night. A faint powder-white glow, and the tiger’s roar fills his study with thunder.
That weekend, at the end of the yellow brick road, they find only an empty house. Walls bare, drapes gone. No trace of spices or incense in the air. Only the distant churn of the Ring Road.
McDonalds’ neon sign, underneath fried food and a mayo-stained computer. Salam searches for the chudail. No trace of her, but in India she would have been stoned for witchcraft. But this is England, right, not India. Salam looks out the window. Did she smile her work to see?
The smell of CK One and he knows Baseema has returned from queuing.
“You better not looking up pictures of Aishwarya Rai again.” She feeds him a chip. “You have me to look at now, and there’s no one to stop you doing that.”
He grins as she pecks him on the cheek.
Neon signs, and underneath fried food and needy smells. He does belong, doesn’t he, whose hand dared seize the fire.
From: The Jungle Book, R. Kipling
Each dog barks in his own yard!
Brother, the watch was long and cold.
He has eyes like red fire.
must I stay babbling to an old ape all noon?
I am an old man. I did not know that thou wast anything more than a herdsboy. May I rise up and go away, or will thy servant tear me to pieces?
what will our Pack say
But this is no time for sleeping. [Baloo knows it;] I know it; the Pack know it
The tiger’s roar filled the cave with thunder
From: No Future, Sex Pistols
God save the queen she ain’t no human being
There is no future in England’s dreaming
Don’t be told what you want don’t be told what you need
When there’s no future how can there be sin
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
From: The Tiger, William Blake
In the forests of the night
In what distant deeps or skies, Burnt the fire in thine eyes?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
Did he smile his work to see?
From: The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, Robert Sherman
[Tiggers are] wonderful fellahs
From: That’s what friends are for, Robert & Richard Sherman
Who’s always eager to extend a friendly claw?
From: I shot the sheriff, Bob Marley
All around in my home town, They’re tryin’ to track me down
From: Shot Down, 50 Cents
We know where you hang, we know where you stay
From: Sure Shot, Beastie Boys
I’m that kid in the corner all fucked up and I wanna so I’m gonna take a piece of the pie
From: Shot Through the Heart, Bon Jovi
Shot through the heart, And you’re to blame
From: Shot Down in Flames, AC/DC
Ain’t it a shame To be shot down in flames