Dark Luxe was released on September 10 and is an anthology of 13 short stories on the dark side of luxury.
Death of a Phantom
by Mahul Brahma
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
—The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1 by William Shakespeare
There is a saying that I run on reputation. I am the Phantom of reputation. I am the Rolls Royce Phantom. I am the mark of class, snobbery ─ the ultimate in luxury. When I drive down the road, people bow with respect and awe.
When I was brought to London I was treated like a king. I have seen my guards not allowing commoners to even get close to me. And then one day I saw a sharp-looking young Indian in very English attire walking into the store and looking straight at me. It was a very appreciative look. Suddenly, Luke, the store attendant very rudely asked him to leave the store. “Sir, I will request you to leave immediately, otherwise I will have to call security.”
The India was red with anger, and shouted, “How dare you speak to me like that? Do you have any idea who you are speaking to?”
Luke raised his voice and made him leave in seething anger. I felt so bad for him.
The next day, I came to know that a Maharaja from India was coming to see us. And if he liked us, he would take all six of us to his kingdom. I was happy that I would be a royal ride, befitting my stature. The store was all decked up with a red carpet rolled out for the Maharaja.
And then I saw him, in all his grand attire, walking the red carpet, ushered by the manager Mr Jerry himself. The face looked familiar. He came and stood in front of me, looking straight at me. I now could recognize it was the young Indian who had been asked to leave this store, standing in front of me in his finery.
Without wasting a minute he ordered his manager to buy me and paid even the shipping changes upfront. Jerry meekly came forward to apologize,
“I am sorry, Your Highness, the attendant Luke could not recognize you yesterday.”
Luke profusely apologized. The Maharaja smirked, didn’t say a word to him. Little did I know what was in store for me.
I was shipped for India within a week.
And it seemed like ages when I finally reached the shores of India. During the 1920-30s, India was one of the largest consuming nations for the RR Phantom.
It took five hours for the royal attendants to make me ready for the Maharaja. I had never seen such beautiful decorations ─ all adorned in gold, exquisitely hand-crafted. I was feeling like a king who was getting ready to greet another king. A royal meet.
It was sunset, and the tint of the orange sun had given an ethereal glow to my golden costume. The Maharaja walked in. He stood before me for long, just admiring my royalty.
He ordered something in his local dialect, which I could not understand. He looked at me. He smiled and then left abruptly. He would not take me for a drive? Why was I decked up then? May be he didn’t because it was dark. He’d probabaly take me out in the morning. I couldn’t sleep that night.
The palace was on top of a hill, within a high fortress. There were dangerous edges, which fell very sharply to the seemingly bottomless ravine. The next morning when I was expecting the Maharaja, the attendants came to me again. They changed my attire and dressed me up in another royal golden suit. Yes, the mighty Maharaja would drive me around his kingdom now. I really wanted to explore his kingdom.
After hours of patient waiting, I was finally ready. To my surprise a man in a white local dress with a turban came up to me and started my engine. You commoner, how dare you drive this majestic Phantom?
He drove me down the hill through the terrible roads for twenty kilometers, reaching a village market. A crowd immediately gathered around me, admiring my royalty. Then he suddenly killed the engine and jumped on my bonnet. Are you crazy you commoner? You will be punished for insulting me. The Maharaja will never spare you.
The commoner shouted something to the crowd in a local dialect, after which there was pin drop silence. Not a single villager was uttering a word. They looked confused. Then they all went away. The commoner got down and opened all my doors and trunk wide. In a few minutes I saw the villagers coming back with things in the hands. Before I could realize what was happening, one old man threw what he was carrying inside me, on the backseat. It was garbage. The next ten minutes felt like an eternity. I couldn’t believe what was happening. All the villagers were filling the mighty Phantom up with garbage.
Why would the Maharaja do such a thing to the mighty Phantom? Why would a Maharaja not respect the Phantom?
It was dusk when we reached the palace. The entire garbage of the village was inside me. I was made to wait for the Maharaja to come. The commoner stood by my side. I was stationed at an edge, a beautiful edge which led straight down a few hundred feet if you were not careful.
The Maharaja walked in and stood on the edge. The grin on his face visible. I know this grin ─ this is a grin of victory, of triumph. The Maharaja told me he loved this spot. He loved it as it was an edge of mystery, an edge that separated life and death. He stood there, still, enjoying the setting sun. He then looked at me. The humiliated Phantom – the garbage bearer.
He shouted to me, “Make no mistake, this will be your routine till your last day and then you will be sold as scrap. And if I feel like, I will throw you down this hill right now, you filthy garbage carrier. You piece of garbage!”
The Maharaja started laughing. His laughter echoed in the hills.
I am the Phantom, the car of the elite, and this is my fate?
I cried silently. I was standing still in the shadows watching the laughing Maharaja, just a few feet away. My driver was grinning as well.
I couldn’t take the insults any more. I flashed my headlamps on the Maharaja. The strong lights blinded him for a moment. He shouted at my clueless driver.
I hit the accelerator hard. My 624 horsepower engine roared. In a blink I hit the Maharaja and threw him off the edge into the depth of the hills.
I needed to see the ‘garbage’ fall. I enjoyed his warm blood on me as I fell down the hill along with him.He had forgotten, after all, I was the Phantom.