Larger than Life
I was a painter before I was born, my father tells me. It was written in the stars: I am a Sagittarius, part horse, part man, the only fantastical sign in the zodiac. Given to shooting arrows.
I was born in Bombay, where I began my practice, working on billboards. When a movie was due for release, I would draw the actors and, in my finest calligraphy, complete the title of the film. It was a living.
When I came to England, as a result of a marriage that began in wonder and ended in court, I vowed that my work would be independent. I would be a commercial artist, yes, but I wouldn't paint commercials.
I was, in part, a success. I had a dealer; I sold; but money was always a problem. When my wife divorced me my life became harder still. I lived, for the first time, in a bed-sit: one room, my paints, my brushes, and a bottle or two. I worked day and night, but it was never enough.
And then came the Jubilee. Midas had swept out of mythology and into our lives. As part of the celebrations, I was asked to paint a Bollywood billboard to be paraded through the streets of London. Dance Hall Queens , African drummers, Malay puppeteers, and myself, we would all join hands in celebration.
The money was very tempting.
I couldn't say no.
Alimony is no joke.
It was a portrait of a man, the colours rich and abundant. He was handsome, furious, angry, decadent, devilish. In his hand he carried a knife, twelve inches long, tapering to a point.
It can hardly be detected, but the tip of that dagger is 0.0011471 mm in breadth. The number has a mystical significance.
And on that tip is blood. Not paint. Blood. My own blood.
I daubed his face too. A hero must have colour.
When the day came the weather was fine and I watched from the VIP stands as my painting was drawn by carriage through St James's Park and past the palace.
The rest I saw on video tape, though under police supervision. Today, as far as I know, every copy has been destroyed.
The Family are on a podium behind a rope behind the pavement. My painting passes. The public crane their necks.
My man, dagger in hand, expands like a plastic balloon. When the laws of physics turn pale, he steps from the painting and into the world. There are shrieks; there are howls; and he rubs his hands with glee.
A policeman stutters into his path. The knife flashes, and he is free.
He rushes to the podium, his knife high, his fist clenched. Every muscle in his face is poised to explode. England holds its breath.
The servicemen react. It is their job. They surround him. Their guns discharge, again and again, and he lies prostrate. The pavement wets its lips.
He never lets go the knife. A dozen times he is shot. His arms and legs dance.
When he dies the knife dies with him. Then his body follows and he is paint once more.
A prince stands and cheers.
‘Bravo,' he says, clapping his hands.
Here in my cell, I raise my glass. He was paint before he was flesh, and then he was paint again. When they washed him away he came to me. Somewhere in my mind he lives on, holding a knife to my dreams, larger than life.