Continued from “Moment of Reckoning”
Chapter 8, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
When Gautam woke up to Sneha’s death in dismay, impelled by their paradoxical togetherness, he felt like following suit. But as the love of life infused hope in him, the pity he felt for her made him guilty, letting him wonder whether he deserved to live at all. And that made him feel remorseful no end.
‘Having pulled her into my life, oh, how did I push her towards her death?’ he cried in pain. ‘Why did I seduce her soul with the lure of the lucre? Didn’t she pay the price for my ambition with her body and soul as well, in life and death? Why didn’t she make her intent to die privy to me? Had she lost faith in me, after all? How else could she believe I would be better off without her? If only she knew how I feel for her! But then, where was the time for our togetherness, busy as we were chasing the mirage of wealth? What trophy had we won in the rat race of life?
‘What else to expect after that fatal decision?’ he went into a reminiscent mode. ‘Why did the devil prompt me to make that deal with that son of a bitch? How did fate trick us into our own undoing? Or was it a test of my character? What a shame that I prompted her to prostitute herself! It was as if I had turned her into a sex ladder to reach the nadir. How naïve I was to believe that we would be able to put all that behind us, and that life would be a sonorous song of married bliss. But then, how could I blame her if she lost her sexual balance in the process. Why, had it not affected my own sensitivity? Oh, how we lost out together! Didn’t we realize soon enough that at its core, our make-believe world was hollow? How stupidly we tried to fill our emptiness with sexual newness! Wonder how we went about it as though by an agreement though we never discussed it? At least, we clung to each other mechanically, but now it’s as if the coupling to the driving end itself got severed. Well, owing to the fatigue of our life, isn’t it?’
‘But could it have been any different?’ he tried to analyze their life in the rewind. ‘What was the starting point anyway? Was it not the moment I sent her to that brat? Didn’t I feel then as if she took away my soul with her? Didn’t I deserve it? Or did I really care for all that? But, didn’t she herself have an axe to grind with for her family? Whatever it was, oh, how confused she looked as she came back! And how empty I felt receiving her! What an empathy I felt for her as I took her into my arms. How I wanted to assure her of my eternal love. But, lo, having hugged her tight, didn’t I gauge the gulf between us? When my remorse made me crunch her closer, didn’t I feel the rough of the invisible between us?’
‘What about her?’ he continued recalling that fateful event with a sinking heart. ‘Instead of sinking deep into me, didn’t she slip out on the sly? Didn’t it seem an end within the end to me? How hurt I was for forcing that one-night stand on her! What a pain it was later to realize that she was going strong with that chap! And how she began distancing herself from me! Didn’t that force me to seek refuge in my business? But, what a narcotic success is! How it helped dully the pain of her peccadilloes! If not for it, wouldn’t I have put my foot down on her? What a longing I had for her then! And by the time she rediscovered her love for me; didn’t I myself develop a roving eye? That was that. And after that, was she not one of many, sexually, that was?’
Lest he should have been unfair to her in his reminisces, he began reading her letter all again.
Yet, it’s not with the intent to hurt you that I say this; but how would it have been had you put your foot down on my waywardness! But then, you are a gentleman, and I didn’t prove to be your worthy ladyship. And still, thanks to your large heart, I was cozy as your wife.
‘Why didn’t I reprimand her?’ he cried inconsolably. ‘Any man would’ve done just that with a wayward wife, wouldn’t he? But then, was it not my misplaced sense of honor that made me ignore her waywardness? Oh, if only I had realized that it made no sense to keep my word in the face of her abusive ways. How did I fail my woman all the while believing I was more than fair to her? What if I end my life for having undone hers? But, is not life itself an end within the end? Why, won’t youth bring an end to the childhood to start with? And how successively life ends its own phases till death ends it once and for all? Why not I let my old age end the waywardness of my middle age?’
All the same, as he came alive to the rituals of her death, he thought about their son.
‘If anything he’s the worst sufferer for my foolhardiness!’ he began to think. ‘At least, Sneha and I had a wild go at life but what about him? What if his life gets snuffed out before it blossoms? What a pity it is to die in the flower of youth. How I failed her as husband and him as father. Damn my success when I failed my family! What an irony, though we wronged him, he needs to perform her last rites now, and God willing mine in time to come!’
When Suresh was brought home on bail midday that day, Gautam felt as though he was himself on trial. Seeing him enter with a sense of shame, immobilized as he was by guilt, Gautam could make no move himself. With his troubled conscience, as Suresh dragged his feet to his mother’s body confusedly, overwhelmed by remorse, Gautam looked at him endearingly. But, Suresh stared at Sneha’s body vacantly and felt she had closed her eyes as though to save them both the embarrassment of reunion. While the son found himself staring at his mother’s body thus, the father was too embarrassed to even look at him.
Nevertheless, the irony of the moment opened Gautam’s eyes to the collapse of his ivory tower. As though he had a revelation all of a sudden, shedding all his inhibitions, he went up to his son and showed him the damning letter. When tears blurred Suresh’s vision, Gautam wiped them for him to see his mother in the dead woman.
When Suresh fell at his mother’s feet in penitence, Gautam stared at his dead wife in repentance. While the son in Suresh wept silently, to solace his own embittered soul, the father in Gautam embraced him to console himself. In a way, their tragedy seemed to have induced a mutual empathy for each other that transcended the barriers of their grief. In their state of mutual reconciliation, insensibly they both felt sympathy for the departed soul.
When came time for Sneha’s last journey, as though to stress that they shared the blame for her fall, Suresh insisted on being a pallbearer aside his father. But seeing his mother in all her nakedness on the funeral pyre, he saw the paradox of their relationship.
‘What an irony that all along I was coveting the very body that I was destined to consign to the ritualistic fire!’ thought the son melancholically. ‘It’s as though in death she assigned it to me, as it was unthinkable for her to entrust it to me when alive.’
As the purohit nudged him to do the needful, Suresh performed his duty in a caressing way as though to save her of pain to the extent possible. When her body was engulfed in flames, he prayed for her soul and vowed to fulfill her last wish were he to live. At that, he was surprised to realize that he neither feared death nor coveted life anymore. Though, the purohit signaled the end of the rituals for the day and that the ashes could be gathered on the morrow, the father and son were averse to leaving the place till the very end of Sneha's earthly existence. And, in time, as the sun sank into the horizon, the embers of the funeral pyre began to subside, bringing her ashes to the fore. As though to atone for their role in her death by ordeal of fire, they both braved the heat to gather her ashes from the remnants of the funeral pyre to the last molecule.
When they reached home, they reverentially placed the urn of her ashes before her life-size painting and kneeled before it for long. As they could hold no longer, they squatted on the floor there. At that, with his wife’s ashes for witness, Gautam talked to his son, man to man.
“Though her body is no more to bear her grief,” he said choking, “I’m sure her soul would be restless till you realize what she really was. You know it was her last wish, and I want to fulfill that by revealing the saga of our life. Let her soul vouch for the truth about the narrative.”
Continued to “Vestiges of Prestige”