He had the soul of our times, and is the namesake of many. He tamed success by the scruff of its neck, only to fuel envy in our neighborhood. When it seemed there was no stopping him, fate dealt him a deadly blow in his early sixties. Besides losing his wife, son and daughter-in-law with their children in that fatal road mishap, he found his leg mangled in the debris of that Ferrari. The intensity of the pity all felt for him seemed to match the magnitude of his loss, but as he became a recluse, his thought eluded all, and in due course, his tragedy became a thing of the past. But, in time, his intriguing behavior brought him back to the top of the page three in the local media – why he had disposed off his lucrative real estate for a song that left the realtors in the lurch. And as if to create a newsflash in the business world, he had off-loaded his considerable stockholding, which sent the bulls running for cover in the country’s bourses. Soon, even as the scrip was still crunching in the bear hug, the closure of his umpteen bank accounts earned him the national headlines, as it heralded a first rate liquidity crisis in the country’s banking system. But even in that gloomy setting, it cost me a fortune to acquire his palatial bungalow the outhouse of which he had retained.
When I called on him for chitchat that morning, I was shocked to see him shredding mounds of money lying beside him. Unmindful of my protests, as he picked up another wad of notes, I snatched it from him as if it were the money I paid through my nose. However, getting hold of another set, when he resumed his destructive regimen, I said it was absurd that the toil of a lifetime should be laid waste thus. Maybe, to clear my vision as well as to set his mind at rest, he unwound himself, which I would rewind for man to readjust his clock of life. But then why not reveal his name when he is worth writing about? It’s because, the value of this tale lies not in his name, hallowed though, but in the hollowness of life he had led that is even as his name became a synonym for fame. However, if someone were to guess who it is, so be it.
“My tragedy brought to the fore the falsities of life,” he began melancholically. “How sickening it was to sense the anxiety of those to step into the shoes of my lost heirs. If only they stopped at that, and not stooped further, wouldn’t I have taken them as the necessary evils of my aimless life! But they began to believe that they had a case for cause of action to file a suit in the court for their share in the spoils of my life. Let them go in for a writ if they want to, how do I care now. What is the injunction they are going to get from the court but to maintain the status quo. Better still if the court were to grant them this shredded stuff; won’t that save me the bother of scavenging it. But then, why blame them? How I failed to see that the self-worthy will not ingratiate themselves, and that it is the self-serving that cater to the egos of the egotists. Won’t the upright seem arrogant to the egotistic, served by the servility of the spongers. Oh, by letting success go to my head, how I began to condescend to descend to the principled folks, who tend to occupy the middle order. Didn’t Napoleon say, ‘The surest way to remain poor is to be an honest man” and, anyway, they are few and far between as Shakespeare had averred “Ay, sir; to be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand”.
“Maybe in our age of the billionaires, the ratio could as well be one in a million.”
“You may not be off the mark after all,” he said. “Aren’t more and more people getting exposed to the temptations of money these days, and don’t I know how difficult it is to resist the temptation of the moolah. More so, as it appears that Mammon and Bacchus have pushed Venus to the backbench of life. Well, warming up to the dubious, didn’t I make it appear that only those who courted me counted? But why would sane minds court the empty heads anyway? But still, I didn’t care that my attitude distanced the discerning, even Anand my nephew I was fond of, and he was the last to know of my tragedy. Why not, won’t it take time for news to trickle down to the distant relations? When he came to offer his condolences, how my troubled conscience was solaced by the empathy I saw in his eyes! What a contrast it was with the put-ons of others underscored with their eyes-on-my-heirless-wealth! It was as if his ethos had placed my derailed life back on its ethical tracks. How I pleaded with him to become the prince of my domain and the inheritor of my fortune, and it was only when he declined my offer, did I realize what a pauper I was in spite of my riches.”
“Don’t tell me he’s a saint not wanting to be one of the richest on earth. Maybe, it’s his weird way of getting even with you.”
“You may know that he values love above all else, and that’s saintly, isn’t it?” he said. “He’s skeptical about the senseless wealth for its malefic effects on the ethos of his life, and what’s worse, the questionable quality of those that it ushers into one’s life. While his modest station in life keeps off the axe-grinders and the gold-diggers from trespassing into his life to his hurt, he’s afraid that the halo of my bequeathal would change all that for it might make him a false deity flocked by the dubious gang. That used to be my philosophy of life as well. I always wanted a woman to enter into my life, pulled by my persona and not seduced by my wealth for I know women have a weakness for successful men. Well for my part, I always had a weakness for desirable women. When Ruma wanted me to own her and her riches as well, for good or for bad, it all changed forever, but now, how I wish I had his pragmatism to love and to life. Whatever, that monetary rise was the beginning of my moral fall.”
“But money can bring the best out of man and I’ve a cousin to name for that,” I said. “When he was a man of modest means, he pestered me no end for a paltry sum he lent me but now he’s a silent donor of millions. I guess that it was his insecurity then that made him petty in spite of his being large-hearted. Why, it’s the hand that holds the money that shapes its character and not the other way round.”
“And sadly for my money it fell into my frivolous hands,” he said staring at the heap. “When I said at his refusal what I was to do with all the money, Anand said in jest that I might as well hang myself with it. Oh, if only he had told me how to go about it; can one make a rope out of a wad of a trillion? Why money is paper and rope is coir; money can buy rope but can’t make one on its own; which is stronger then, money that buys rope or the rope that gets sold for money? Yet all the money in the world cannot tie a monkey? But strangely it can bind man, even the Herculean one! Or is it that man himself submits to money, thinking that he would be weak without it. Oh, how I acquired wealth to feel strong and appear so to Ruma. But what money did to me than making me a weakling? What of this impulse to destroy that, which I had accumulated all my life. Can I become strong by shredding the stuff? Maybe, am I not rooting out the cause of my bane? How my hands have begun to ache already, and I’ve so much more to shred still! Wonder why didn’t I feel any strain at all accumulating all that wealth; what a heady feeling, the sense of success is! Why did I let the glaring shadow of success eclipse my soul? Maybe I would never know. But now, wiser for the myth of wealth don’t I see the falsity of fame in which I had been gloating over.”
“You seem to be shaken really.”
“I was in a slumber till Anand stirred my soul in showing me the reality of life,” he said reflectively. “And what a shock it was.”
“Maybe it paves the way to unburden yourself.”
“Isn’t it strange that unburdening itself is a burden for me,” he bemoaned. “How tiring it is to destroy all that I had built, so to say, over my dead soul. Whatever, can one either build much or destroy enough with bare hands. Maybe as business machines generate wealth, we need money munches to devour it. But all I’ve is a pair of scissors.”
“If ever you get to invent one, I don’t see any takers for it and that saves the bother of patenting it.”
“Surely sense of humor helps,” he said trying to get up from his chair to reach the bureau.
“How I forgot I needed crutches, don’t I have the ghost leg still? Even after exorcizing the devil of wealth, I may have to put up with it for long. And that speaks about the power of habit that is the bane of man. Didn’t I develop the habit of making money to impress Ruma, only to go down on the road of doom? Wasn’t my sense of insecurity to retain her love that was behind all that? But then, how admirably did Anand lead his wife Anitha through the travails of life.”
“If you don’t mind my being frank with you,” I said involuntarily, “your tone betrays your jealousy couched by the admiration of him. It’s also clear that you wished Ruma was cast in Anitha’s mold.”
“I like your perceptivity, the acme of sensitive writing,” he said and added reflectively. “Don’t I know you aspire to be a writer? Your muse willing, maybe my life can inspire you to make a memoir of it. If so, pray not give away those who came into my life and I too, but for a slip of the tongue, won’t name any save those you are already in the know. Name them as your fancy suggests, and what’s in a name as Shakespeare had said.”
“Why it’s an idea, and as Abhishek Bachchan says, it can change one’s life,” I said enthusiastically. “Let me take notes,”
“Why not you give it a try as I glean through the glaring show of my life in all its myriad shades,” he said handing me a writing pad.
Continued to “Pains of Regret”
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