Continued from “High on Rebound”
Chapter 11, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
But, once in Delhi, the Gautams felt like fish out of water. The smell of the place, full of airs put on by all and sundry put them off. While the superciliousness of the educated irked them, the arrogant ignorance of the rest puzzled them. The intellectual apathy of the Delhi-wallahs that tended to collage all the South Indians as Madrasees irritated them. The bigotry of the cow belt characters in equating the Indianness with Hindi-speaking hurt their own sense of belonging. They were nonplussed at the naivety of the North Indian milieu that assumed, south of the Vindhyas it was dark skin all the way.
The North Indian disbelief that Sneha could be a Madrasee for her rosy skin, nevertheless, catered to their vanity. But, the prevailing impression created by the Northern tourists that the Madrasees go about barefoot scandalized them no end. Ironically, the left-handed compliment that Madrasees were a religious lot made the Gautams feel apologetic about the lack of their religiousness.
In due course, the flip side of New Delhi greatly impressed as well as influenced them. While Gautam was bowled over by Delhi’s tailors, seeing women in sleeveless blouses, Sneha felt as though she wore a veil. Thus, they both lost no time in adapting themselves, he by acquiring a new wardrobe and she by shedding the sleeves.
Yet their stammering Hindi remained a handicap to feel at home in the city that their destiny brought them to. So as to overcome the handicap, they set out to master Hindi, underscored with an impeccable accent. And in time, they began to articulate themselves in Hindi with certain finesse even. It was only time before they even began to thump the Hindi chauvinists in their own tongue with the quip that the books that really mattered in their language were Tulasidas’ Ramayana and the Railway Guide.
But, it was Delhi’s cultural ethos that troubled them to start with. Accustomed as they were to subtle shades, the so-called show that ruled Delhi’s ethos appeared gaudy to their eyes. The excessive formality of the Northern culture that contrasted with their own informal South Indian manners perplexed them. And the elaborate hospitality of the Delhi folks made them feel foreign in their own capital. Besides, the artificial endearment in Delhi’s social interaction embarrassed them for their inability to imbibe the same. What was worse, the chitchat that invariably centered on the absentees offended their sensibility nurtured by the concept of confidentiality. On the other hand, the social nicety of reciprocity hampered them for want of paraphernalia to entertain in return.
Above all, it was the Delhi-wallahs’ compulsive need for competitive exhibitionism that confounded them the most. Insensibly, they began feeling small in the drawing rooms of others as well as in their own. As guests, they were wont to be on guard sipping tea in the carpeted drawing rooms lest they should spoil the sofas. But, whenever someone dropped in, they squirmed in their steel foldable chairs, all the while apologizing for the discomfiture caused for want of appropriate furniture. Thus, to begin with, in New Delhi’s social setting, the Gautams remained out of depth. And insensibly, the consciousness of their material lacking sunk into their psyche to distort their material orientation.
Even as the attractions of Delhi seduced them, the possibilities of success fired their imagination. As they saw the glamour that status gave to the couples and the aura riches provided to the families, their own deprivation for the lack of both became all the more acute. Thus, in time, their post-marital equanimity gave way to materialistic fatigue that opened up their old wounds besides causing some new sores.
As Sneha’s suppressed desires began to seek outlets in none too subtle ways, Gautam could see the unsavory direction in which their life might head. When he pictured the pitfalls in the path of a desirable woman with a frustrated mind-set, he was alarmed at the prospect of being cuckolded. And to avert such a disaster, he contemplated upon course correction. It was in that process he came to dust his old agenda of revenge through riches.
When he applied his mind to the task on hand, he saw some scope to squeeze the contractors who were known to cut corners. But, he reckoned that after a lifelong haul, bribe money might take him some middle class distance and no farther. And what if a disgruntled contractor got him trapped with the grease and all on his palms? Well, that would only jeopardize his job besides blackening his face. Even to get out of the mess, one needed big money, and small bribes wouldn’t get that. Oh, what dichotomy money is! How stupid it was to risk his career for such low stakes. If he were honest at least, he would still have a badge of honor to wear, however dull it might be. After all, he thought, it’s some identity for all that.
But, where else could the righteous path lead one but towards an anonymous end, that too after a lifelong trudge? And status was not about collecting peanuts until one retired into the oblivion. As for status, it was not an incremental accretion to the bank account brought about by thrift. Well, it was a short cut that could catapult man into the status zone. If one were incapable of tricking the riches his way, he concluded, it would be better to stay the honest course. At least, that wouldn’t entail one to cheapen himself. Besides won’t that help one retain his peace of mind? Otherwise, it could be a case of falling between two stools. So, he saw the need of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, as it were.
Thus, for clues of success he focused himself on the ways of life. Soon, he realized that the Delhi-wallahs loved themselves and more so their possessions. In Delhi, for man, and none the less for woman, self-interest seemed to manifest itself in acquisition without satiation. He felt material narcissism was a human aberration occasioned by a craving for identity. It was his compelling need to cut a figure for himself that drove one to provide for his family and cater to his friends.
The aberration of self-love was but his accentuated sense of self-identity. Oh, how self-love becomes man’s second nature that gives him the false sense of self-sacrifice? Nothing illustrated this phenomenon more than man’s propensity to turn patriotic in times of war. It’s another matter that his corrupt ways were but inimical to his country’s interests, all the while.
Hence, man’s inherent greed and imbibed altruism were but the crude and polished sides of the coin of his self-love. But he would be accommodative only when his greed became counterproductive. Thus, the so-called reasonable man was but a product of human cunning than any Samaritan feeling. Oh, what a misnomer the reasonable man is!
Given the human nature, Gautam reckoned, man was wont to cultivate those relationships that were perceived as beneficial to him. What’s more, he would nurture them, even in the absence of reciprocity! Why not, as it could be a paying proposition in times to come. And the successful would suffer the climbers for they needed people to hear their exploits and sing their praises! Well, would they be naive not to know that they needed to help a little to retain the retinue?
It was imperative for him to appropriately position himself to get into the inner circles of the potential benefactors. If only man were to maneuver his way into high circles, it was only time before his acquaintances brought in value addition on the social plane. It was only time before his contacts would have laid the stepping-stones of success for one to touch the sky of opportunities. Why, was it not said that a man was as good as his contacts?
When Gautam turned his mental microscope on the system at work in the corridors of power, it didn’t take him long to realize that it’s the bureaucratic tail all the way to the ministerial chambers. But still, the politicians and the bureaucrats alike feared the loss of power and pelf, the former owing to the vicissitudes of politics and the latter for the proclivities of the politicians. So the existing tended to remain cohorts in self-aggrandizement as long as it lasted. But, the petty jealousies and the little frustrations that lurk beneath the surface of the successful made them wary of each other’s motives.
Moreover, as slander became the below-the-belt weapon to hurt the opponents, everyone turned as obsessive with the rumor mills as Don Quixote was of the windmills. As all came to develop a fear for scandal, so it dawned on Gautam that in the insecurities of the powerful lay the bellows of Delhi to fan his success.
Continued to “Dicing with Life”