He had been nicknamed Shorty. Sparse hair formed a dull peppery crescent on the back of his head, the shine having been appropriated by the rest of his pate. His lips, always in a sardonic curl, smiled dryly; a smile that hardly ever reached his foxy eyes, which narrowed to slits when he watched people he did not trust. Portly and thickset, he had a deceitful resemblance to the figurine of the smiling Buddha, prominently displayed on a glass shelf. While the latter is considered benevolent, this living look-alike was an amassing grabber. In his younger days he worked sincerely for a living, but when wealth began to kiss his feet and flowed around him like golden flood from inheritance after inheritance, the business became a mere mask of respectability. The lure and glare of the lucre had made him pompous. Its weight and power showed in his thinly concealed haughtiness. He swaggered secure in his belief that his wealth would last for seven generations and more, even if nobody added to it.
One other 'possession' he spoke of less fondly was his strapping young son. Chirag had just stepped out of his teens into the final year of college. A good student he had scholarly pursuits in mind. Shorty indulged his son's scholarly whims only because he did not want his sister's brilliant kids to surpass Chirag in any field. On the other hand, Shorty's wife with more formal education encouraged him. She wanted to see him fulfill his dreams and get out from under her husband's greed-limned shadow. She had had difficulty, understanding and adjusting in the first few years of marriage. Her husband ate, slept, talked and dreamed money. He fought and cursed, lied and manipulated, bullied and threatened, edging out other competitors for the inheritances. Most disgusting was his attitude towards those who he was to inherit from. When all her pleadings and reasoning failed, she ignored his ways and put her life and soul into her son's upbringing.
Shorty and son were often at loggerheads. Chirag was mild, gentle and kind. Intellectually inclined, his softness and disregard for money infuriated Shorty, who often called him a sissy but still doted on him. Shorty's ways pained Chirag. He couldn't understand his father's insatiable greed; his rage when his uncles gave a part of their wealth to charity; or why he had estranged his only sister and her children from the rest of the family by lying about and maligning them. As he grew up, the gulf between father and son widened. With time lighter shades of greed and aggression had imperceptibly begun to rub off on his mother so though he loved her, gradually he disconnected from her too. His only friends and guides were his books and his own mind, which he locked and guarded in the strong-box of silence.
On the other side of fifty, Shorty began to take extra care of his looks and health. He wanted to be around to enjoy his inexhaustible riches for a long time. He was planning a long world tour with his friend. He contrived to leave his wife and son behind under the pretext of needing them to take care of things while he was away.
All arrangements were in place, except for a few minor details which required him to travel to Delhi. Out of guilt and to her consternation, he decided to take his wife along and show her a few places in north India. Then she could stop quibbling about his extensive tour. She was reluctant, but he managed to convince her. The prospects of enjoying the naughty enticements, the hitherto only heard-of temptations of foreign lands, gave him buoyancy that belied his age. He hummed and whistled to himself, smiling lecherously at some distant happiness as he boarded the domestic flight. Their plane took off late because of heavy air traffic. The hotel's pick-up van was at Delhi airport to fetch them. They settled comfortably into it for their long drive to the hotel.
Bang! Crash! Screech! Fate had other plans for them. In a gory flash their lives changed irrevocably. The accident proved fatal for Shorty's wife. In and out of hospitals for almost a year, he underwent innumerable surgeries for his spine and legs to no avail. He not only became a paraplegic, he even lost the use of his right hand. When the doctors had decided they could no longer perform useless surgeries on him, Chirag took him home. He put in place a system, so that good care would be taken of the physically and psychologically crippled man.
Yet, the soft and docile boy had become a stewing adult overnight. With the twisted logic of a traumatized mind, he blamed Shorty for his mother's death. His dormant emotions bubbled into rage. His mother's face swam before his tear-filled eyes. He agonized over the terror of her dying moments and spent sleepless nights trying to find ways to forgive him whom nature had battered cruelly. What could he do for this pathetic man? How could he ease the way out for this half dead man, the sight of whom made him wince?
One chilly night he discovered the perfect solution. From the following morning he set the wheels rolling. A month later he called his aunt and cousins and in his father's presence made over fifty percent of his wealth to them. Then he called all those whom his father had robbed of their fair share and distributed some more of Shorty's wealth among them. These were people Shorty loathed. What greater torment could anyone have put him through? Chirag had kept just enough to take care of his father and to live comfortably. He also founded a charitable trust in his mother's name. Shorty's face was contorted in shocked disbelief, anger and hatred. He went berserk. He ranted and raved, entreated his stupid son to have more sense and was ready to give even his left hand to save his fortune. His pillow was drenched in his agonized, unstoppable tears.
"I am sorry Dad. If only those were tears of compunction! Then you would die with dignity and some shred of self-respect! There would even be a few genuine mourners at your funeral." The caustic young man left the room with contempt and pity for the impenitent, avaricious ghost of a father who spent each remaining day of his deplorable existence mourning his lost wealth and cursing his son.
A spider patiently waiting for a fly was also witness to this and thought 'Oh, what intricate webs men too weave, but unlike me they trap themselves!'