A Character of Sorts

Continued from “Couple of a Kind”

“Now back to my dad,” he continued his extraordinary reminiscences. “When he made me board a train to Ranchi, what a pleasant surprise it was to discover the softer side of his! Why his tears of farewell that brought to the fore the love he bore for me readily washed off my bitterness for him. Moreover, as I exchanged the domestic notes with my hostel mates, I realized that no dad did spare the rod to spoil the child, and that made me see childhood in a joint family in a fresh light; the grandparental indulgence countervails the inhibiting parental discipline to condition children to the ayes and nays of life from its very nascence. But as life would have it, the joint family makes everyone, save the head, irrelevant in its setting when it came to the household affairs, and on the other hand, the nuclear family that affords self-realization for the couples, fails to cater to the children’s need for a disciplined upbringing. What a sad spectacle it is these days seeing the single-child parents vying with each other in pampering their kids or treating them as their ‘toys of joy’, but tell them that is not the way of rearing kids if only you are prepared to put your relationship with them on the line. Well time only would tell what affect this mindless upbringing brings to bear upon the adulthood of these unfortunate kids.”

“That is in spite of the advanced human psychology on hand!”

“Who’s making use of it anyway?” he said in consternation. “All seem to hustle themselves with their kids into the blissful Shakespearean mould of, ‘he that is robbed, not wanting what is stolen, let him not know it, and he’s not robbed at all’. So be it, but who said one cannot have the cake and eat it too for my dad managed to do so all his life. Level headed though, he tended to be reckless at times; that diwali, when I turned five, he didn’t have a second thought about teaching me how to handle the fire-crackers in the mandua, which opened to the sky in the middle of our house. But how my father failed to foresee the possibility of an odd cracker setting our dwelling on fire I would never know. Why as if guided by the Murphy’s Law, a cracker of a missile made its way to the attic full of dry coconuts and how that made all miss a heartbeat or two. Well chastised by my grandfather as my dad sheepishly went up the attic with a bucketful of water, driven by curiosity I too had ascended the ladder behind him. Possibly the missile had expended itself before its landing in the midst of the coconuts but keeping an eye on the attic to nip the possible flare-up in the bud, none had a wink that night, why the excitement of it kept me too awake for long.”

“What a change! Those days, if parents threw caution to the winds to expose their children to the ways of the world, parents these days are proving to be more timid than their kids.”

“How true, when I was eleven year-old, my mother had been to her parental home for her fourth confinement,” he continued. “Even as she delivered my third sister, the Godavari was in spate like never before, and the steamer service too was put on hold for want of safety. But underscoring the fact of life that someone would be around always to aid and abet the lawbreaking, there were boats in wait to ferry the willing on the sly, of course, for a premium. Though my father was law abiding otherwise, maybe driven by the impulse of espying the new arrival, risking our lives he ventured across the unruly river with me; why we were not even some way into that hazardous voyage, giving me scares the boat began to rock but my father’s imposing presence and his assurance that there were expert swimmers on board, just in case, turned my sense of scariness into a feeling of daring. But later in life, I always felt that he shouldn’t have ventured on that voyage putting our lives at risk; after all, he could’ve waited to espy the new arrival, but then that’s what he was, a fearless man till the very end. Well the way he faced premature death was bravado no less.”

“Isn’t it illustrative that the dividing line between daring and risking is wafer-thin?”

“Well, my father was innately bold,” he continued. “Oh, the way he ventured out whenever there was a burglary alert in the neighborhood! Why with a stick in my hand, I too wasn’t afraid to follow suit; it was his daring that might’ve percolated down into my childhood subconscious, enabling me to imbibe his credo in good measure. Although, he softened with age, he remained bold, and how tough he was with the in-laws of one of my sisters when they came up with their ludicrous post-wedding demands. As a matter of principle he didn’t want to yield and when they hinted at abandoning the bride then and there, he told them that he would ensure they took her along with them, and after that, it was left for them to harm her at their own peril. If anything, his stance then summed up the man in him, a la Alec Guinness in the Bridge on the River Kwai, and that called their bluff, and all was well in the end. If only the fathers of the afflicted brides can muster half of my dad’s courage, I’m sure dowry-deaths, like sati, would be a thing of the past.”

“If only the media has a way of knowing such incidents.”

“Don’t you think the media is manned by morons?” he said. “Oh, how they carpet-covered the newlywed Bachchans’ temple trysts to save their marriage from the mangalik affect! What message did the media carry to our folks, bogged down by superstitions? Maybe, man was better off without the media and now worse off for the 24 x 7 non-stop humbugs; and what an opportunity the senior Bachchan lost to make a difference to the prejudiced heads by making a statement against the nonsense. Oh how small really the Big B is, and how big the media made Diana the small. It’s incredible how her quest for lust was portrayed as her search for love! No faulting her taking a lover on the rebound as her man thrust a rival into her marital life but for the media to picture her bed hopping as her craving for love is galling indeed. Why in picturing Diana as the icon of love the media made lust a synonym of love and what’s worse, it made a villain out of her man who embodies the best of love that is constancy.”

“Why hadn’t anyone seen it that way?”

“Can one grasp the realities of life in the glare of glamour?” he said. “What is media if it doesn’t feed itself on sleaze and scandal with trivia thrown in between; why blame those who man it as all crave for such to gloss over the humdrum that is life of most. Even if you ever make the media privy to what all transpired between us, the meaningful part of it is bound to be blue-penciled. Whatever that’s the enigma of the media, like it or not, there is no escaping from it but were you to novelize it, maybe, there could be a few takers for your endeavor.”

“Maybe so but as Hitler had discovered, most of us take the media’s word as a Gospel truth.”

“Wasn’t it the basis for Goebbels concept of propaganda?” he interjected. “Back to my dad; he was more like a mullah when it came to the segregation of sexes though it had nothing to do with his upbringing either for my grandfather didn’t have a jaundiced eye on that count. I heard that my dad was opposed to his mother and sister resting for a while on the roadside verandah even when he was just twelve or so and that speaks for it. That’s why it was no wonder that he turned out to be a possessive husband and a guard of a father, especially of his daughters. How I wish he had read a book or two on the psychology of sex, especially that of Havelock Ellis, well that could have spared me of that shock and one of my sisters of her bitterness.”

He paused for a while as though to recover from the shock of his recollection.

“I told you that after the grief of the garden, for a hobby, I turned to the collection of cinema handbills distributed to announce new releases,” he continued. “What a pleasure it was to gather more of the same on the sly and how we used to prize the booty though it was of poor quality with an occasional color pamphlet being a bonus; but that Bhookailash one on a craft paper was a dream come true. That Sunday, as my father was in siesta, I was at rejoicing my collection before I lost myself to the Bhookailash thing. Can you imagine what followed? I was rudely jolted when my father snatched it from me accusing me of a premature interest in the female form for he mistook that I was fantasizing about the heroine. Sharing his discovery with my mother, he tore it into pieces and began thrashing me as if to drive the devil of sex out of my head; well I was not even twelve then and apparently he had seen it all through his adult eyes. Whatever, I cried more for the pain of its ruin than the plight of my back that bore the brunt of his beatings; and with that loss, I lost interest in the rest, and gave up the hobby itself.”

“Some psychology of sex should help today’s boys who become tomorrow’s fathers.”

“You have a point there,” he said. “Maybe sensing the propensity of my destiny, disappointment chose me to be its abiding partner. As life would have it, in time, one of my uncles came close to marrying the Bhookailash heroine, whom my dad thought I had been ogling that noon; could he have ever imagined such a turn of events then? It’s another matter that my maternal grandfather’s view that ‘once an actress always an actress’ made my uncle give up on her. Maybe, he was right that with an actress wife, as he felt, one would never know when she was genuinely affectionate or righteously indignant for she can affect either emotion with consummate ease. Better it’s left for men who marry actresses, nay actors as is the norm, though without casting aspersions on their sexual straightness, to say whether life for them becomes make-believe or not.”

“If all carry their character to the office, may be the actors bring home their professional skills.”

“I would’ve known about it had not my uncle backtracked but to my dad’s jaundiced eye, the genuineness of one my sisters seemed to him as a put on one occasion.”

Continued to “Moments of Poignance”


More by :  BS Murthy

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