Dec 01, 2023
Dec 01, 2023
by BS Murthy
Chapter 7, Book Two – ‘Dharma and Moksha’ of Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
Rama Rao came from a respected family that lived by the imagery of its past glory. By the time he got his Fellowship of Arts, his father had thrown in the towel over his ambitions for a degree in the same. Courtesy his surname, which was still a currency then, he became a clerk in the Registrar’s Office at the Andhra University. The parental pressure to marry his maternal cousin was mounted soon enough to push in Rama Devi into his disappointed life.
Much before he could reconcile to his fate that robbed him of his graduation, the idea of an early offspring captured his imagination. After all, he wanted to see his children settle down well before he retired. Thus, Vidya found her way into this world to be a part of her parents’ first wedding day. By the same token, Mohan and Raghav followed her in quick succession. And that enabled Rama Rao to opt for vasectomy at the height of his virility.
As his daydreams about his children’s future began to overshadow his past disappointments, he could see the short-term advantages of early parentage. Thus, in the euphoria of his hope, Vidya and her brothers had a dream childhood. As his wife too shared his optimism, their house became a Place of Good Hope. In time, when it was time for his kids’ school time, he enforced a regimen of their study time. Though Vidya fell in line readily, her brothers’ sluggishness became the source of his nervousness.
The boys showed an aversion for studies what with Mohan passionate about sports and Raghav inclined to loaf around. Disturbed by their proclivities, Rama Rao breathed down their necks to goad them to their B grades. But, Vidya, besides excelling at her studies became adept at kuchipudi. Even as he watched his daughter’s progress at the dance academy with a hawk eye, he kept a tight leash on his sons at home. And all that changed as his children became adolescents.
Soon, he realized that while his daughter became sensitive, his sons turned insensitive to his sensibilities. When his sons managed to crawl to college, he doubled his vigil over their activities. But, as he saw them going astray, he was truly a worried man. Observing the campus scene as it evolved, he was aghast at the children of the moneyed receiving pocket money the size of his pay-packet. With their fathers’ ill-gotten wealth, he reasoned, these youth pandered to their egos by inducing the have-nots to be their hangers on. When the circus came to a close at the campus, he envisaged, the rich and the privileged would accommodate these ringleaders among their ranks. As for the have-nots, having come cropper at their studies, they would be left with their hard grind for the rest of their lives.
In spite of his discourses, as the waywardness of his sons grew out of bounds, his hard feelings for the wealthy reached obsessive proportions. What was worse, he came to equate riches with corrupt practices. And he came to believe that the rotten campus culture was the outcome of a conspiracy by the corrupt to stall the progress of the upright. He theorized that the corrupt, by waylaying the children of the poor at school, contrived to nip in the bud the challenge of the have-nots. It was thus, he concluded, they came to have hegemony over money for successive generations. Thus, he came to see the corrupt as the scourge of the society for they devour at its very vitals. Why, he even declared that they usurp the fruits of development without any contribution to the growth of the economy. He was particularly unpardonable of them for they caused the high cost of economy that made it worse for the common man. The most condemnable aspect was that they occasioned the moral degradation in society with their corrupting influence.
As his belief grew in what he surmised, so was his penchant to equate the rich with the corrupt and castigate them alike. He soon became a crusader against corruption and advocated the boycott of the corrupt to make easy money an unattractive proposition. The below par scores his boys managed at the exams seemed to underscore the veracity of the theories he propounded making him paranoid. In his perversity, he even came to welcome their failure as it vindicated his own stated position. At the same time, the progress Vidya made both at the fine arts and the sciences revived his visions of the revival of his family to rival its past glories.
His moment of glory came when, in her final year, Vidya went public with her dancing skills on college annual day. In the accolades she received, he envisaged the crowning glory of his surname. Midway during the program, impressed with her beauty and grace, the chief guest approached him for Vidya’s hand to his engineer son. Seizing the chance, he ascended the stage and announced that his daughter’s hand was sought just then by a highly placed official for his well qualified son. After a dramatic pause, he declared famously, that he was rejecting the proposal as the father was a known grafter. To the dismay of the unfortunate man, he said that the honest public should deem that the campaign to boycott the corrupt had begun.
The echo in the gallery that followed seemed to have led him to the crescendo of his crusade. But, back home, the reactions varied. While his wife thought he was foolhardy, Vidya felt he had the guts to live up to his principles. Mohan and Raghav, who had held by then that their father was cranky, were not surprised by his bravado. And as the incident was widely reported in the press, he thought he had become a celebrity after all.
Shortly thereafter, as Vidya got her degree, she seemed to have reached the crossroads of her destiny. As she began to receive offers to perform in the wake of that publicity, there ensued a debate at home about her future. While her father itched for dancing career, her mother pitched in for marriage. But her father ruled that at nineteen, Vidya was too young to wed and had enough time to dance her way into the wedlock. He added that in due course, she could make a name for herself and that would fetch her some fine match in the end. As Vidya too felt the stage would enable her to fulfill her urge for self-expression, the stage was set for her to turn into a professional.
Thus, she became a performing artist and started getting a good press to boot. Widely acclaimed by connoisseurs and laymen alike, she turned out to be a much sought after kuchipudi dancer. It was then that her father sensed the chance to calibrate her appearance fees. Initially, though her family felt the moolah she brought in came in handy, they, in time, ended up developing a vested interest in her earnings. Vidya, however, was too tender and trusting to understand her position until her parents showed their crassness too coarsely for her comfort in that precipitous move.
It so happened that a middle-aged landlord with no occupation to steady his nerves happened to see Vidya on stage. Impressed with her voluptuousness, he developed visions of his becoming a movie mogul with her as the banner heroine. Bitten by the vanity bug and fired by his desire for her, he approached her father to spare her for his endeavors. Promising to make a series of movies with her as the heroine, the imposter tempted the willing with an open offer. Sensing a kill, her father raised the bar higher which the enamored managed to clear. Thus, taking for granted, her father cemented the deal, however, after grabbing a hefty advance.
When her father goaded her to go to the movie land, she wondered what a hypocrite he turned out to be. And making her contempt clear for a career on the silver screen, she poured water over his dreams. Besides, she said, she never fancied herself as an actress, and if pushed into the act, she would only make a fool of herself. Unmindful of her reservations, he tried to brainwash her about the glories of heroine. Vexed with his arguments, she wanted to know whether he was aware of the casting couch. Blinded by greed, he saw no value in chastity in today's world and for all he knew, he said, it was never the case. He said it was time she realized that the pativratas of yore were all cock and bull stories. And that left her aghast.
As she remained steadfast in her refusal, exhibiting more of his insensitivity, he gave her a rosy picture of the film world. As though to address her vanity, he added that it was the best career option for a spirited girl like her. And the benefits of a film career that he tried to show her made her realize that he was out to make money out of her. So, she pointed out, that a career in the movies was like a rainbow in the sky that fades out in time. At that, he said that, in the end, she would land up with some bigwig. Oh, how disgusted she was that her own father was so insensitive to her character! Thus, as he spelled his stake, she sought for time, to find a way out to scoot.
When she approached her mother, she expressed her helplessness saying that it was his will that always prevailed in the end. Besides, she too felt a short stint in the movies wouldn’t be a bad idea after all. That might also help her brothers settle down in life in some way or the other. Finding their interests at loggerheads with hers, she realized her continued stay with them was an untenable proposition. So she resolved not to dance to their tune for once.
But, as she began to recce the course for her escape route, she saw the minefields of exploitation all around a single woman. While she thought she had reached the dead end, the movie-mogul-in-the-making began pressing her for the call sheets. At her wits end by then, she chanced to see the coverage about the proposed Shanti Sadan in Andhra Prabha. Seeing the silver lining, she enquired about Vanaprastham only to hear the swamiji-guruji duo extolled by one and all. Buoyed by the reports, she wrote to swamiji requesting the reply be mailed to her friend’s address. When she received an invitation from guruji by return post, she heaved a sigh of relief.
Excited at the Godsend, she became restive to walk out on her parents straight away. But, thinking better of her impulse, she reckoned that if only she escaped after compromising her father, he would have no face to show her in the future. So she felt it would be an idea to give the slip at the appropriate moment. Thus, contriving her plan of escape, she gave her consent to call their shots. While her people went agog at the green light, the aspiring heroines from her neighborhood were down with envy. But, as her kith and kin drew up plans for their future over her predicament, she could see the ugliness of greed from close quarters. Unmindful, otherwise too, her parents made her ready to accompany the dream merchant to Madras.
At last, as her family bade her farewell when she boarded the Madras Mail at Waltair, she felt something vital had sapped within her. But, as the Mail raced towards her destination, in what seemed to her as an irony of her life, she affected interest in her companion. That afternoon, when the train halted at Annavaram, feigning hungry, she wanted him to fetch her something to eat. As he raced towards an eatery on the platform, she slipped onto the sidetrack to made her escape. Soon, she reached Vanaprastham and even as she was being ushered into his parnasala, guruji received her with all warmth. Readily recognizing her potential, he assigned the idea of Shanti Sadan to her constructive care for its early fruition.
However, following in her tracks, her father reached Vanaprastham to cajole her back into his fold. But, guruji backed her to the hilt and stressed that her interests were better served at the Vanaprastham than in the movies. Yet, he tried to coerce her into submission but seeing her unrelenting, he lost his cool and threatened to drag guruji to court for abetment. Shown the door, her father in frustration took the matter to the police station. The S.H.O, a disciple of swamiji, soundly rebuked the complainant and warned him not to trouble her anymore. And to let her father have a foretaste of future transgression, the inspector put him in the lock-up for that night for trespass.
That night she wondered why her father went to such lengths. Was he a mere hypocrite as she thought he was? Was it only the vested interest in her earnings that was behind his ruckus or was there more than met the eye? Or was his hatred for the moneyed for lack of monitory means? Why, could not his craving for the moolah be owing to his staring at it from the grey side of the monitory fence? Maybe, secretly craving for money, he was publicly castigating the rich. Well, when he had his chance, what greed he showed to grab it with both hands! Whatever it was, she concluded, her family was history for her, not the repeating type though.
Undisturbed by her family and guided by guruji, she put her heart and soul to build Shanti Sadan from its very foundations. Given a free rein by guruji, in due course, she shaped the sadan, as a resource to the hapless, not as a resort to the parasites, where she broke away from her past and concentrated on the present until the thought of Suresh stirred the tidings of future in her. All the while, she didn’t give up on her passion for kuchpudi and honed her skills during her spare time. Besides regaling those at the Sadan, in time, she started teaching dance to the interested at Annavaram.
More by : BS Murthy