Continued from “Trial in Camera”
Chapter 6, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
On their way back to his place in Gautam’s Rolls Royce, Mehrotra was mad with Suresh for undoing his hard work.
“Didn’t he handle the ball on 99?” he said with irritation.
“How are we to make the umpire look the other way?” said Gautam feeling helpless.
“Justice Sumitra is known to err on the side of the accused,” said Mehrotra pondering over the turn of events. “But what can be done when your son wants to hang himself?”
“Hide the rope,” said Gautam characteristically.
“Oh, how I’ve put my prestige on the line,” said the indefatigable lawyer.
“On the line of my son’s life, that is,” said Gautam. “And I know with you around it’s not over as yet.”
“Now it’s left for Dr. Prakash Gupta to give a psychic turn to it all,” said Mehrotra contemplatively. “How that god-dam dame turned the case upside down!”
Soon Dr. Gupta was pressed into service to heal the fresh wounds of the emotionally stressed under-trial. It was not long before the specialist detected the altered undercurrents in the accused’s psyche induced by the damning testimony of that woman. It seemed as if his live encounter with his past misdeed induced myriad images of life and death in his afflicted mindset. In his altered perception, the courage to face the calamity showed by her seemed to have put his own cowardice to stand trial in a poor light. Further, compared to her conviction to overcome her trauma, his inability to handle his life shamed him no end. The more he looked for the differences in their personalities, the more he saw the poverty of his own character. Moreover, he could see how her spirit to uphold justice contrasted with his father’s cunning to subvert the same for his acquittal. As the conflict got crystallized in his mindset, his outlook towards life underwent a radical change.
‘Why am I hankering for life after all?’ he thought at length. ‘Going by my past, it’s worth nothing, isn’t it? And what value addition acquittal by trickery would bring in? Why not face a fair trial and take the sentence as it comes? If they spare me the rope, I would rebuild my life; otherwise, it’s a journey into the unknown. Let me see what life has in store for me.’
But Dr. Gupta was not the one to buy the argument. He said that one owed to one’s life to preserve it at all costs. He took pains to convince the afflicted that it was not he per se but his misogamist mindset that was behind his crimes. It was only appropriate that he saw his own commissions and omissions in that light. It was time he desisted from his psychological self-flagellation. Why his true redemption lay in living a life of a reformer. At last, the psychiatrist succeeded in infusing in the afflicted the desire to overcome the present to sort out his life in the future. But, as the good doctor made a compelling case for Sneha to testify in the court so as to earn him a lenient sentence, Suresh was thrown into a dilemma of qualms.
‘Maybe, I might escape the noose but would she be able to stand the shame of her owning up all?’ he thought reflectively. ‘In spite of everything, wouldn’t she be clinging to her honor as dearly as I might like to hang on to my life? Anyway, what is so worthy about my life that it should be saved by embarrassing her before the Justice and the others? Why should I let her pay the price for my sins? If her peccadilloes are exposed in my defense, won’t she stand naked in the court, though in camera? Won’t she then die in disgust in the court itself? Don’t I know of her haughty nature? Why should I have more blood on my hands, and for what avail?’
Overwhelmed thus, the accused expressed his aversion to the expert’s envisaged line of defense. In turn, that threw Dr. Gupta into a dilemma of qualms.
‘Maybe, he’s right in not wanting to compromise his mother,’ thought the psychiatrist. ‘And it is even indicative of his altered sensitivity, isn’t it? But is it right for me to keep quiet, for that could signal his death? And then, how ethical is it to damn a woman to save her son? I would be damned if I testify, and no less damned if I don’t. What a dilemma of qualms! Acquittal is a long shot but my testimony might save him the rope, wouldn’t it? Yet, if I keep off, it looks like the noose for him. Then, will I ever be able to live in peace, having failed to save a life when I could help? But still, how can I flout my professional ethics to go public with a private admission? What if I breach the code of conduct for a perceived good? Would I be able to do that with a fair conscience? Oh no, while the disclosure might help the son, it would devastate the mother, no mistaking that. How are the interests of the duo at loggerheads hindering my vision? Who’s there to guide me now?’
As though led by the divine hand, Dr. Gupta went to Sneha to confabulate with her. Apologizing for his intrusion into her private terrain, the good doctor proceeded to psychoanalyze how her adulterous ways led to her son’s misogamist mindset. Ashamed as such for having become the talk of the town, she was truly devastated by the doctor’s disclosure. Affected as he was by her predicament, yet the doctor in dilemma rooted for her testimony. He averred that it was bound to buttress her son’s defense in medico-legal terms and thus earn him a lenient sentence. Sadly, he concluded, the choice boiled down to owning up her shame in camera or seeing her son in the death row.
“Doctor saab, what has my life come to now?” she said as she sighed. “Oh, to save my son’s life, I must kiss and tell in court! Can it ever get more ironical than that for any woman?”
“I understand,” he said holding her hands as though guiding her on the way to her destiny, “what a Hobson’s choice it is, and it is the sadness of your life now.”
“I don’t think you would ever get the full picture,” she said, seized by an urge to be understood by him, “till I show you the other side of my demented mind.”
“How I wish to be of help,” as he said, he attuned himself to hear her.
‘Oh, why did it never occur to me before?’ she began contemplatively. ‘Thanks to you, now I realize that I myself was a victim of parental paranoia. As fate would have it, I was the first-born besides being the closest to my parents. We are five siblings—three brothers and two sisters. When I was born, my father, the youngest amongst his six brothers, was a petty clerk at the municipal office in Guntur. But all his brothers happened to be high ranking government officials. My father never failed to remind us that his father had retired by the time he had completed his schooling, and that came in the way of his higher education. But for that, he felt, like his brothers, he too would have made it good in life. What's worse, as none of his siblings took up his cause; he came to see them as the source of his deprivation! Oh how he came to grudge them all his life. God knows the truth; my grandfather was wont to maintain that my father was no good at studies.”
“Whatever,” she paused for a while, as though to get a correct picture in hindsight, “it forced him to settle for a clerk’s post and remain in the ancestral home. Maybe, he needed my grandfather’s pension to augment his own salary to support the family. Of course, all my uncles left Guntur and were on their own. But my mother was unable to reconcile to the facts of my father’s life that denied her a nucleus family of her own. Thus, feeling trapped in the joint family that entailed her taking care of her aged in-laws, and envying the carefree life of her sisters-in-law, my mother came to grouse the crumbs of life that fate had dished out for us all. Well, her sense of frustration helped further my father’s own sense of deprivation. All that insensibly cemented their joint sense of helplessness. Whenever my uncles came with their families to see our grandparents, my parents used to feel slighted for they believed that the visits were just for a show off. Now I realize to what lengths the state of imagined deprivation could take one.”
She stopped for a while as though in disbelief, over what she had said.
“As if to protect their children from developing the poor cousin complex,” she continued in dejection, “my parents built a cocoon of moral superiority around us. Now I realize with hindsight that my father wanted his children to score for him in the game of one-upmanship with his brothers that he had lost by a mile. My mother too felt the same way, vis-à-vis her sisters-in law. As my siblings and I came of age, they made us aware of the status gulf that separated our cousins and us. Besides, our parents were wont to pinpoint to us the nuances of our grandmother’s differential treatment of them. How our young hearts used to boil with ambition to redress that parental lacking! Why, we used to assure our parents that we would make it bigger than our cousins one day. Well, that enabled them to derive a peculiar satisfaction, and that used to satisfy me and my siblings no end. Maybe that would've insensibly bound me to lift the stock of our flock subconsciously that is. That could've been the beginning of my undoing.”
“But as the dictates of life differ from the desires of man,” she continued with a sense of resignation after a long pause that seemed like eternity to Dr. Gupta, “and since ambitions are better realized by the well-heeled, we had to do with clerical education while our uncles’ largess to the respective institutions, enabled our cousins pursue professional courses. Ordained by fate though we became the weak links of the grand family chain, our collective bitterness only got steely by the day. Yet there was a saving grace for the hurt family pride, and that was the perceived beauty of my sister and me. It has ever been the only joy of my parents. But, as I crossed nineteen, the thought of dowry seemed to dampen their spirits all at once.”
“When Gautam proposed to me,” she said excitedly recalling their nascent romance, “our family jumped for joy. That he was handsome only added value to his being an engineer. All of us perceived the alliance as nothing but an accretion to our family pride. Oh, what a day it was, as everyone says to this day! But Gautam and I had a measure of it only through our wedding album. Well, we didn’t have eyes for any but for each other then.”
At that, she broke down.
“As I was in the seventh heaven,” she began at length, “Gautam showed me visions of far away galaxies. And, finding him burn with ambition to reach the zenith, I goaded him to get there. Why, didn’t I have my own poor cousin burden to shed there? For a start it was smooth sailing and then it seemed as if we were scaling the heights only to slip down the slope. Maybe, we grew too big for our shoes or we might have left our business flanks unguarded. Then came the moment of reckoning: to barter my chastity or embrace bankruptcy. Was it a choice any way! Oh, how I was averse to have anything to do with that shameful proposition. But then, how paranoid I had been to see my son’s cousins become his poor cousins! So, driven by my over eagerness to score for my family, I scored a self goal and that was the beginning of our fall, mine as well as Gautam’s. And from then on, severally as well as collectively, by degrees, we sank into the depths of depravity.”
As if their ladder to happiness had broken down at that very juncture, she wept inconsolably but the good doctor was at a loss for words to console her. Moreover, he thought it prudent to let her drain out her agony. In time, wiping her tears, she continued.
“What a shame, I began bartering myself for the permits for petrol bunks for my siblings,” she said with certain remorse. “You can figure it out how my moral downturn would have heralded their upward social mobility. Oh, what an irony! Why, is it not the way of life? Well, the crowing glory of our family, as we looked at it, was when I helped my sister get married to an IAS officer. As for the wedding, it is the talk of the town in Guntur even today. That announced to all, including our poor cousins, the arrival of my father’s pedigree on the social stage in all style.”
She paused and looked at the doctor stoically, and discerning empathy for her in his demeanor, she turned sentimental.
“When the bubble burst, my people stood behind us as one man,” she said proudly. “Who said friends are better than relations? Actually, it was our so-called friends who turned their backs on us! And coming to the media, oh, how unfair it had been to us. How it was made out that Gautam turned me into a sort of a sexual ladder to climb up to the top of the business world! Believe me, Doctor saab but for that shameful submission, he never used my charms for his business promotion, nor did I do on my own. He is a man of honor ruined by ambition and not the pimp pictured in the press.
‘Why blame others when I am to be faulted?’ she continued in her choking voice. ‘It was I who turned wanton and hurt him to no avail. I failed to realize it then and thus invited ridicule on him. But my poor man is all empathy for me in spite of my lewdness, is he not? Oh, how I wronged my god! But for his understanding and my siblings’ support, wouldn’t have my shame turned me insane? But as it appears, it’s the filial puzzle that forked my destiny.’
“Why regret about the past?” said the doctor impressed with her chequered life. “I know you’re capable of living it down.”
“Wish I had the strength left for that,” she said melancholically. “Now, it’s clear that my impressionable mind was influenced by the parental deprivations to fuel that futile chase for wealth. How stupid can one be when it comes to the basics of life! Surely my parents erred in using their children as emotional dustbins to discard their own frustrations and biases. If not, maybe, I should’ve restrained Gautam from his overweening ambition and helped bring balance into his way of thinking.”
She stopped as though she were at the crossroads of her life all again and turned remorseful.
“Besides, I wouldn’t have felt the need to compromise as I did in chasing the twin mirages of wealth and status,” she said regretfully. “And what a silly life I had led all these years! But, was I not a victim of the rat race into which my parents had pushed me insensibly? Though I won’t like to blame them, yet I wish they had had the wisdom not to bias their children. Had it been the case, I could have been my own person, with my fair share of faults. But by imposing their emotional overburden on me in particular, it seems they complicated my psyche that ultimately led me to my moral nadir. After having lived the best part of my life in pseudo satisfaction thus, I found myself at the cross-roads of confusion when the scandal blew up in my face.”
“Though I never applied my mind to it, I am sure the emotional quotient of my siblings could be no better than mine,” she resumed after a long pause. “I wonder how they are handling their lives! God forbid, should they have to face the stiffness of adversity, I am afraid they would all crack without a clue. Thanks to Gautam, at least, I am better off that way.”
She went into a prayer as though to appeal to God not to test her siblings.
“But for that thoughtless upbringing,” she resumed her analysis of her life, “I would have lived in mediocrity as a faceless practitioner of middle-class morality, all the while fantasizing life of high society. Maybe unwittingly, my parents readied me to be the glove on Gautam’s ambitious hand to grasp the expediency of life. It was another matter that we lost track of our life itself before we were lost to each other in the end. Maybe I would never know why I became loose for no conceivable reason. Honestly, had I suspected in the least that I was pushing my son into the vortex of crime by my wayward ways; I would have been more circumspect. Who knows, I myself would've got out of the cesspool of promiscuity. Well, that’s the regret with which I would've to live and die.”
“If not for my disorientation, there was no way I would’ve gone astray,” she said with an apparent regret. “Gautam was no mean a lover for all that. If not a victim of circumstances, I wouldn’t have ended up the way I did. Surely, I shouldn’t have. True, I am amorous but not amoral at all. Whatever I had undone myself, hurt my man and ruined my son. Now, I think it’s time I help my son at least to get a chance to undo his past.”
“I know how hard it is for you,” said Dr. Gupta as he got up to leave. “May God give you the strength to handle your predicament.”
“Let's hope so,” she smiled wearily seeing him off. “I can never thank you enough for your concern to my son. Had I shown him a fraction of that, perhaps, things would not have come to this pass. Well, it is time I show him that I care. How I wronged the man I married and the son I bore. Sadly, there is no way I can retrieve the shame I heaped on my man. But it’s not the case with my son, let me see. Thanks for coming and goodbye to you.”
Continued to “Moment of Reckoning”