Couple of a Kind

Continued from “Villainy of Innocence”

“Don’t they look made for each other,” he said handing me a framed photograph of a handsome pair. “When Nehru was preparing the draft of his ‘tryst with destiny’, my father would’ve been penning his odes to my mother, whom he was courting then; and well before Nehru came to deliver his famous lines; my dad led his lady love to the altar. Yet it was no less a struggle for him to wed her as it was for Gandhi to wrest our country from the British yoke; while his dad had fixed a match for him with much dowry, the father of the bride didn’t think too much of the suitor any way. Why not, he was only nineteen and was some way into becoming a Fellow of Arts, F.A in short; but the way the ‘man in the teen’ could cross all the hurdles in his way was the first sign of his ‘gung ho’ nature and ‘go-getter’ guts. While still in school, he led his classmates in the Quit India movement in disrupting the telephone network by cutting its cabling, and that a benign policeman of the British Raj did not execute the arrest warrant against my father was another story. Well, in the independent India, though he was eligible for freedom fighter’s pension, he did not opt for it believing that the state remuneration might sullen his sense of achievement.”

“What a fall that the well-off of the day subterfuge for the doles meant for the have-nots?”

“While self-sacrifice ruled the yearning hearts of a generation of our freedom fighters, self-interest came to govern the greedy minds of the powers that be in our free country,” he said. “As for my father, proving it right that vivahe vidya naasaaya, his marriage brought his studies to a premature end as he took his bride to his village to live with his parents and that put paid to whatever his career ambitions were.’

“You did better than your dad on either count didn’t you?”

“We were poles apart in every way and so our lives won’t lend themselves for comparison,” he said. “A year after the colonial air was cleared over our subcontinent, I was born, and I have my mother’s word that he loved me the most of all his children; but, sadly as life has it, our adult faculties fail to recall the pristine parental affection in its nascency. And why doubt that for he died worrying more about my future than any other sibling of mine though the last two were yet to settle down in life. Maybe, soon after I was born that he entered into that aborted business partnership whereby he swore never to believe anyone save my mother and his brother-in-law, whose wife saved me from drowning into the tank. True to his character, he kept his word till the very end, and sadly so, for he lived and died without a friend. Well, I fared no better as in later years I distanced myself from all my childhood buddies including Raju.”

“The impulse of love could be the embodiment of nature but its sustenance is conditioned by the ways of life. Maybe as a recompense for that we tend to love our children,”

“So it seems,” he said and continued with his tale. “As I grew up, I turned into a rebel; can you imagine my smoking at home at fifteen? Why, my father too was a smoker, and strangely, it was my grandfather who had sustained his habit; when he got wind of my dad’s smoking ways, he had loosened his purse strings for once, to enable him to smoke Berkeley instead of the cheap Charminar. They say the common refrain in our village then about my grandfather was, ‘the miser is wiser too’. Much later, my dad was forced to give up smoking on doctor’s advice, but before he could get the better of his urge, my mother was wont to confiscate the contraband, which she used to pass on to me in place of pocket money; some repeat of history. But down the times, compared to the Berkley of yore, the India Kings of the day are no more than nothing or is it that my taste buds were blunted by years of smoking, I don’t know.”

“Blame the hybrids of the day, high on yield and low on quality.”

“Maybe hybrids are the necessary evils of our populous times; but for their bounteousness, can our teeming billions ever have a mouthful. That’s the price man pays for the population growth,” he said. “Any way, following in my father’s footsteps, I too gave up the habit not long ago, so to say on doctor’s advice; but when an old flame pleaded with me to stop smoking for her sake, it was the self same me that told her, ‘I’ll give up the world for you, but not my smoking’.”

“The scare of a doctor is more potent than the concern of a loved one and that’s the reality of life.”

“True,” he said and continued from where he had left, “My dad and I had never seen eye to eye, but we came to respect each others’ abilities; he used to take my advice and often acted upon it. Being in a dilemma whether or not to bring upfront a minor health problem of one of my sisters to the prospective groom, he wanted to have my take on that; well, I told him that it would be a fair disclosure only after she had her way with the boy with her persona. As a man he was brash to begin with, but as he mellowed down in time and as I matured at length, we became friends towards the end of his innings that was after being at loggerheads for the best part of our lives. Whatever, how sweet it felt in those last years of his life and how empathic we felt for each other, what an enduring satisfaction we both derived in our closeness! I’ll cherish that till the end, as he did until he died.’

‘I’m sure his soul in heaven grasps your pathos on earth?”

“If anything, I’m proud to be his son and blessed to be born to my mother,” he said as his eyes moistened and his voice choked, “I tell you, he lived only for his wife and children and if there ever was a homebody it was he; not the kind of homebody once pictured in the Reader’s Digest; when a philanderer boasted himself as a homebody, his wife punned humorously, ‘any home any body’. Well my father was so possessive of my mother that he wouldn’t let her go out even with her own cousin sisters, but to be fair to him, he gave her his undivided love, and my mother too didn’t seem to mind about her loss of freedom. Moreover, he never ignored her word because of her self-less disposition towards worldly affairs; but for all his love for her, sadly, he was a wife-beater until he softened in his forties. If anything can be said in his favor in this regard, that it was more of a norm than an exception with our men in those days; don’t we hear that there is no stopping it in the advanced West even these days? Whatever, after his death, my mother never uttered a word without reference to him and that was for over four years, at least I had never known about a widow who was so devoted to her man’s memory. But my father being a family man proved to be a boon as well as the bane for us his children, he was wont to ration our playtime, which was at odds with my sense of freedom from the beginning; though he didn’t have his way with me, he prevailed over my siblings all the while.”

“Well, disciplining children is a necessary evil but nowadays parents don’t seem to lay store in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ upbringing.”

“Sadly so for the going-to-be-adult kids that is and if anything the failure, like in the U.S, to distinguish ‘child discipline’ from ‘child abuse’ has come to breed retrograde children in its advanced midst,’ he said and continued. ‘When I was six, supervising some furniture being made at home, my dad was not to move out for days on, and that curtailed my freedom more than ever. As I was not even going to school then, it was like being jailed at home and soon, I asked the carpenter how long it would take for him to complete the assignment. When he said that it would take a fortnight more, I told him that I would give him an anna if he completed the work in a week; amused, he asked me what the urgency was, and I told him that once the work was over, my father would go out as usual and that would let me be on my own. When he told my people about it, all had a hearty laugh, and years later, when my father chanced to meet him in another town, well he became a prosperous hotelier there, recalling that incident, he expressed his keenness to see me; and when we met, serving me personally in his restaurant, he narrated the incident to the amusement of all those present. Well, as I fondly relived that moment, my father was joyously embarrassed about it.”

“Moments like those bring charm to one’s life but I don’t have any to recall; maybe current day life doesn’t lend scope for any.”

“Why doubt that,” he said, “but there are moments in life that are bitter to experience and sweeter to recall. While the first of my sisters obediently sat at home, the second one always joined me at playtime. I wonder how in the thick of things her sixth sense would warn her about our father’s impending home-coming; well she used to alert me before leaving the field, but lost in the game, I was always caught on the wrong foot and faced his ire for late-coming. Oh how his intemperance turned demonic once; why he nearly split my head with a pounding staff. It happened in the small hours of that atlataddi when I pestered him to let me join my friends at the annual fete; even my grandmother’s pleadings didn’t deter him from bashing me up for my insistence. I shudder to think how a mishap then would’ve affected him forever; maybe, my skull is made of sterner stuff for I can take any beating at the champi that I came to love in later years.”

“It was child abuse and no less.”

“Being human, parents too can lose their temper on occasion and a little bashing that ensues can’t be deemed as child abuse,” he said. “Once when my son disturbed my sleep, having bashed him up in indignation, I realized that my nagging that atlataddi night would’ve been no less irritating to my father. But think of tel-maalish, and I recall a naayi of my hostel days; he was barely sixteen, and like most Biharis in those days, he was married for a year or more by then. Goading the students to get married early, he used to assert that the real ecstasy of tel-maalish lies in the crackling sound of the bangles as one’s woman was at it. How he used to pity us, the prospective engineers, for we would have a bride in her early twenties that is in our late twenties; of what avail are the girls out of their teens for they would have past their prime by then. But then, Gen. Yahya Khan of Pakistan never had anything to do with women below forty for he felt such wouldn’t be randy enough in bed; how perceptions about sexual pleasures vary really!

Doesn’t that remind us of what Shakespeare said of Cleopatra –

“Age cannot wither her
  nor custom stale
  her infinite variety.
  Other women cloy
  the appetites they feed
  but she makes hungry
  where most she satisfies.”

“How intriguing sexual preferences are? I’ve read about a survey that revealed the inexplicable preference some of the beautiful women have for ugly looking males!”

“Isn’t it appetizing news for the ungainly men? But the problem is that a hopeful wrong pass could invite a ‘beauteous’ ridicule,” he said mirthfully. “Why all is not lost for ugly women either for there are men who get attracted only by such, why there was a king or was it a sultan, I don’t recall, who had in his harem only mustachioed women rotund to boot. As for me, Yahya like, I find the thirty-ish randiness swaying as by then they would’ve gained much in bed without losing too much of their figure. Noticing my roving eye, once when Rathi wondered what if all men were to be covetous of women, I told her that in its balancing act nature makes men covet different things – money, power, position, fame etc. apart from fair sex that is. You know at the end of the World War II, when the Russian army entered Berlin, while most soldiers raped every female in sight, a few of them spared their honor but not their bicycles.

Why Khushwant Singh’s sardarji joke underscores this;

a pretty thing offers lift to a sardar in her limousine and drives him deep into the woods, and after taking off her clothes, when she asks him to take whatever he wanted, he drives away in her car.

Jokes apart, sex is not all that fair to the female if her mate were to be a ‘premature’ kind; and won’t that validate the woman’s right to ‘mate and marry’ and not the other way round.”

“I think we’ve strayed away enough, now we may as well be back onto the track.”

Continued to “A Character of Sorts”


More by :  BS Murthy

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