Nov 30, 2023
Nov 30, 2023
by BS Murthy
Chapter 9, Book One, Artha and Kama, Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life Vestiges of Prestige "
Once upon a time, the hollowed stock of the Prabhus was an envied lot in Amalapuram. While their palatial bungalow seemed unending, their landholding once covered the tehasil itself. It was into that ancient clan with the renowned surname that Gautam was born. At the time of his birth, his great-grandfather happened to be the head of that undivided family of six siblings. As was the wont of the gentry of his generation, he was a man of leisure and his brothers too were equally unoccupied.
However, unlike their ancestors, the siblings had to contend with the depleted landholding and the reduced stature that it afforded. It was all owing to the propensity of the men of the clan to cut a figure for themselves and the proclivity of their women to set their image in the jewels. Besides, the males were wont not to lose any bid for deflowering bogum girls of the hallowed brothels. In due course, their profligacy besides making the women shorn of their jewels in numbers dented their resources by degrees. And, the dowries for the daughters of the family too contributed to the downturn in no small measure.
By the time Gautam’s grandfather, a namesake, was born, the resource crunch forced the elders to send their children in search of greener pastures. Of course, the clan had always been well educated, including the women. But, custom prevented Gautam the senior to desert the hearth and home. It was thus he came to reign in the ancestral house though not leading a leisurely life. Anyway, wiser to the strides made by those of that ilk in Madras by then, he did not come in the way of his three sons settling down there.
When he died at sixty, he could leave no family silver worth its weight for the extended clan to adorn their hallowed surname. With none of the clan members around in Amalapuram, his widow opted to stay with Suresh Prabhu, her first born and junior Gautam’s father. At that time, he was a maths tutor in Pachaiapah’s College. And to supplement his income to ensure the latter-day professional education to his promising son, Suresh used to double up as tutor for the evening courses. His drudgery contrasted with his brothers in the departments who made good of their positions to line their pockets. And his cousins whose fathers had provided them the head start in the metropolis were all well-heeled by then. It was thus that the once eminent joint family gave way to nucleus families of uneven incomes.
Gautam being his only child, in spite of his modest means, Suresh Prabhu brought him up without any feeling of wanting. It was when Gautam was five that his grandmother came to stay with them. And that pepped up his life to make his childhood a memorable one. As she began to bestow such love upon him that only grandmothers’ can, he was insensibly drawn towards her. Being a gifted storyteller, she unraveled the heroics of the epics to his inquisitive mind.
But, what thrilled him the most was the hearsay of their family glory that she reveled in revealing. As she always turned nostalgic in her narration, Gautam was wont to boast that one day he would restore the past glory to the family name. Pleased to the core, the old woman used to assure him that she would be watching his success from heaven to rejoice at it. But all this did not amuse Gautam’s mother for she felt it might put an undue pressure on his eventual psyche. Whenever she took up the issue with Suresh Prabhu, he dismissed her dubbing them as undue fears.
If not his ambition, the environment at home that emphasized on education enabled the young Gautam to excel at studies. That he was adept at outdoor sports too made him a hero in his school. After schooling, when he kicked the knickers and cycled his way to Pachaiapah’s College in trousers, he experienced a feeling of being big. As his handsome looks were a big draw at the campus, his sexuality too was cast in a self-assured mould.
Eventually, when he topped the class, he felt at the top of the world. As opportunities abounded for the civil engineers then, what with umpteen dams over the major rivers in the pipeline, he joined the course in Guindy Engineering College. When he came out with flying colors after five years, he was in a position to choose his employer. As he chose to join the Central Public Works Department, he was posted at the construction site of Nagarjunasagar as a Junior Engineer.
Soon Gautam set out to the nearby Guntur to call on his father’s cousin sister whose husband was a lawyer of note there. As he approached their bungalow on Ring Road, he realized they were richer than what his father had pictured them to be. All the same, his aunt and her husband welcomed him warmly. And Mallika, their daughter, seemed to have loved him at first sight. Himself drawn to her, he began to imagine the possibility of marrying her. Guntur being near enough to his workplace for a weekend outing, he lost no opportunity to visit their place to be with her. While her reciprocity fuelled his love, her parents’ reception nursed his hope.
But, when he proposed to her, she wanted him to come through the proper channel. So he approached his father to broach the issue with her parents, but his mother was apprehensive about the outcome. Though she pictured the status gulf that separated their families, Gautam’s enamored eyes failed to fathom the same. When the father too felt that the proposal was a non-starter, the son assured him that Mallika would find the way for them to the altar.
Thus, pestered by Gautam, his father was forced, against his better judgment, to call on his cousin. Slighted by the rebuff that followed, Gautam pressured Mallika to defy her parents. But her refusal to go by his diktat left him brokenhearted. Unable to reconcile himself to a life without her, he confronted her parents with the picture of his future in the making. When they were blunt that matches get fixed on the current rating and not on future holding, he grudged his fate, in spite of the promise it held.
Later, hoping that time would have softened their stand, he called on them again to renew his request. But, as they asked him not to make a nuisance of himself by calling on them, he felt humiliated. Smarting from the insult, he shot from the hip that he would soon take a wife to whom their daughter would not hold a candle and that one day he would make it bigger than all of them put together.
His resolve to strive to make that a reality seemed to define his destiny even as the recollection of his childhood boasts of restoring the family aura gave him a sense of purpose. And his grandmother’s words of rejoicing at his success from heaven seemed prognostic to his perturbed mind.
More by : BS Murthy