Crossing the Mirage – Passing through Youth, Chapter – 1
Youth is the mirror that tends us to the reality of our looks. The reflections of our visages that insensibly get implanted in our subconscious lend shape to our psyche to define the course of our life.
This is the saga of Chandra’s chequered life that mirrors this phenomenon in myriad ways.
As perceived by the deprived, he had a fortunate birth. Yadagiri, his father, was the prominent pearl merchant in Hyderabad - Deccan, the seat of the Nizam’s power in undivided India. The patronage of the royals and the nobles alike, helped add gloss to his pearls making him the nawab of the trade. Besides, Princely Pearls, his outlet near the Charminar, was a draw with the rich, out to humor their wives and adorn the mistresses.
When Anasuya, Yadagir's wife, was expecting her second issue, trouble brewed in Telangana, the heart of the Nizam’s province. While his subjects' surge to free themselves from his yoke clashed with the Nizam’s urge to keep his gaddi, Sardar Patel's plans for a pan India was at odds with his designs to retain the Deccan belt as his princely pelf.
‘With a go by to the nobility,’ Yadagiri tried to envision his future, ‘it could be shutters down at the Princely Pearls.’
Thus, at the prospect of the momentous merger, even as the populace got excited, he was unnerved perceiving a slowdown in his trade. Confounding him further, as the impending merger was on the cards, Anasuya's delivery time neared
‘Should it be a girl again,’ he thought, ‘it would be only worse. Why, without a boy, what of the surname?’
Soon, as his wife was moved to the hospital, he was rattled by the prospect of her delivering another daughter. But, as it turned out, his fears proved to be liars on both counts.
Anasuya delivered Chandra, the very day the Nizam, courtesy Sardar, capitulated to the Delhi sarkar. And soon, the nouveau riche, from the business class, began to outshine the old nobility, pearl for pearl. Buoyed by the bottom line, Yadagiri dreamt of building a pearl empire for his son in the Republic of India. While Anasuya lavished upon Chandra the affection due to a son born after one gave up, Vasavi, his sister, running ten then, found in her brother a soul to dote upon. Thus, toasted by his parents and pampered by his sibling, Chandra had a dream childhood.
But, when he entered adolescence, the realities of life began to confound him to his discomfort. Coaxed by his father to excel at studies, he was perplexed for the lack of aptitude. What's worse, the antics of his classmates made him hapless -- they marginalized him at playtime, for his lack of reflexes, and, for want of grace, targeted him at fun-time. Well, to cap it all, the snide remarks of the have-nots, that he chose his father well, induced in him a vague sense of inadequacy.
As if all this was not enough for his tender psyche to cope up with, he had to contend with the sternness of the paternal strictness. Thus, it was only time before the seeds of alienation towards his father were sown in his impressionable mind. But the support he got from his sister and the solace he felt in his mother’s lap helped soothe his ruffled feelings a little. In time, he reached the threshold of youth, but couldn’t cross the despair of adolescence.
Oblivious of the possibilities of life, man goes through his journey of disarray, in the itinerary of the past, chasing the mirages of malady even amidst the sands of hope. And that despairs him forever.
Into his puberty, as his biology induced in him sexual curiosity, owing to his ungainliness, his youthful urge for reciprocity remained unfulfilled. Being naïve to the feminine nuances, his eyes couldn’t comprehend the emanations of their indifference. When in dismay, as he turned to the mirror for a clue, the reflections of his self-doubts stared him in his face. Yet, goaded by desire, he ogled women but to no avail. And as he went back to the mirror to reassess his self-worth, the craft of man wouldn’t oblige where nature’s device deluded him. Thus, being in a limbo, he came to be haunted for being unwanted.
Besides, as his sexual urge got augmented, his eyes became the instruments of dissection of the maiden form. Though bowled over by females, he was unable to interest them himself. Intrigued by their manner, he turned his focus onto those to whom they were drawn. And soon he realized that though the nominators of female admiration varied, the common denominator of male appeal appeared to be the dashing.
As a corollary to his discovery, he shed his inhibitions and psyched himself to make a pass at a fancied lass. But in a reproach, governed by vanity, she said that she doubted his acquaintance with the looking-glass. Sadly, that fatal tease came to shape his outlook about his own looks to his detriment. Disdained thus, he shunned maidens and mirrors alike.
Once when his father reprimanded him for his unkempt hair, he entrusted its upkeep to his sister’s care. And as she said, in jest, that his porcupine hair needed tins of oil to be tamed, as a way out he went for a crew cut. Though it was in the fashion then, he invited ridicule of all for the same reason. Belittled thus, he became a recluse.
Perturbed by his proclivities, Anasuya alerted Yadagiri who dismissed it all as the tentativeness of youth, and advocated patience to let it pass. Unconvinced though, Anasuya suborned her female instinct for ‘action’ to the ‘inaction’ of her master’s wisdom. But, as Chandra began to even lose his appetite, her motherly love could take it no more. Thus, she took her son to the family physician and, on prescription, put him on Liv-52.
As that too failed to enhance her son’s appetite, the mother was at a loss, and it showed. However, the women of the neighborhood read it all wrong and gossiped on that count.
“An unwed daughter of twenty-eight,” opined a sympathetic soul, “surely is a sore.”
“No less an eyesore,” said another.
“What can be done,” said a fair-skinned, “when the girl is so dark?”
“Don’t tell me,” said a know-all. “She got her chances but Yadagiri rode the high horse then.”
“That’s the trouble with us,” philosophized a bluestocking. “We aspire for more than we can hope for. Wanting the very best is a bad idea but failing to see what the best one can get is even worse.”
Unmindful of the gossip that reached her in its magnified form, Anasuya broached the subject of Chandra’s condition with that lady philosopher who professed herself as an amateur psychologist. Having read the brief, the lady of letters diagnosed the malaise as a case of ennui and as for the remedy, she prescribed a course in fiction for him.
It’s thus amidst his class books, the Zolas with the Gogols, that Anasuya slipped in, started gracing Chandra’s study. Unable as he was to concentrate on his studies, he began browsing through them as a way of distraction only to end up delving deep into the fictional world pictured in them. Soon, as he was seized with novels in their scores, their fictional aberrations helped him analyze his own shortcomings. But what really hooked him to the novel was the ego gratification it afforded him in judging the characters portrayed in it. What's more, the empathy he felt for the fictional figures brought the latent sympathy he had for his sibling to the fore. This, in turn, abetted self-pity in his consciousness.
Well, Vasavi remained single, not by choice. While nature deprived her of a whetting visage, her upbringing failed her in imbibing aplomb. Besides, Yadagiri’s attitude towards matchmaking didn’t help her cause either. No sooner would a well-meaning proposal come forth than he would dismiss it on the grounds of status or pedigree and/ or both. It was as if he came to see his own elevation in slighting others and as the well-wishers too lost patience with him, the leads to the prospective matches got sapped one by one. All this had dented his own efforts besides drying up the well of his daughter’s marital prospects.
On the other hand, Vasavi, having failed to induce a suitable boy on her own and with nothing better to do, went on an acquisition spree of diplomas in assorted faculties. Ironically, that made her progress on the marriage front even worse, as the list of eligible bachelors on academic plane was leaner, what with the penchant of the boys to take up jobs with their basic degrees.
When Anasuya saw the folly of it all, she started pestering Yadagiri to see the writing on the wall. Finding there weren’t any bachelors of over thirty left on the roll of honor, he swallowed his pride and opened his doors for all comers. However, having gone past her prime by then, Vasavi came a cropper with every proposal that came by. But, at last, fate seemed to test her character by tempting her into wedlock. And steeled by life, she said ‘no’ to the guy who said ‘yes’ for he made his mercenary intent too apparent for her liking.
It appears that nature has double standards when it comes to endowing the sexes. Why, it's as if, it affords the females, the charms of youth, only to attract the males to propagate the species. Uncharitably though, so it seems, it dents the female aura on the way to menopause, leaving her to fend for herself mid-course. On the contrary, and for the same purpose, it vests virility with men well past their prime.
Anasuya, however, thought of a detour as she saw that they had reached a dead end. She said that it would be an idea to let a widower lead her daughter to the altar. But Yadagiri would have none of that for he felt it would devalue the family and demoralize their daughter. Thus, the status quo prevailed and Vasavi, to her discomfort, remained single.
By the time she crossed thirty, Chandra crawled into the final year of his B.Com. With her emaciated frame and pimpled face, Vasavi seemed even more pathetic to his sympathetic eyes. The thought that they shared the ugliness, bequeathed by their father in equal measure, made him empathetic towards her, even as he was embittered towards his parent on that very score.
‘Oh if only we had taken after our mother!’ he thought endlessly. ‘Why, we would’ve inherited her beauty, wouldn’t we have?’
For its very possibility, the thought of deprivation made it all the worse for him. But, in time, the realization that ugliness was a worse curse for women than men, evoked sympathy for the weaker sex in his empathic soul.
Whenever he found himself in his sister’s presence, the pity he nursed for her insensibly surfaced in his eyes. The first time she was struck by his manner, finding his stare scaring, she gazed at him to gauge his mind. As their eyes scanned the bounds of mutual sympathy, at length, their souls got bonded in eternal empathy. In their state of fellow-feeling, fearing that speech might impair the purity of their emotion, they preferred to keep mum.
‘How wretched it must be for her, in her condition!’ he thought then. ‘Hasn’t she reached the dead end, in the midst of her life? Maybe, a career would’ve provided some distraction for her. But dad would have none of that. It’s as if, the very idea scandalizes him. It is really stupid of him to stick on to the old times!’
Often, as he felt his own life was no less oppressive, he became melancholic to his mother's worry. Whenever she tried to probe his mind, he put it in the wraps, lest its exposure should burden her even more. Despite finding him dismissive of her inquiries, she never ceased pestering him but to no avail. Thus feeling helpless, she kept an eagle eye on him, and whenever she found him depressed, which was often, she sent him on some errand. She had reasoned that an outing, if it did not alleviate his melancholy, would at the least help unstring him a little.
That day, as Chandra was confined to his room for too long, Anasuya went up to him in concern.
“What’s wrong?” she said feeling his forehead.
As their eyes met, he savored her affection.
“What a beautiful mother!” he thought. “What a pity she bore us ugly.”
Seeing his condition, she sent him on an errand to the Princely Pearls. When he was leaving home, he found his sister playing with the kids of the neighborhood.
‘How she loves children!’ he thought with mixed feelings. ‘Won’t she be distressed for not having one of her own? Is it as an escape from boredom that she gathers them? But would that help her in any way! Maybe, it could be even worse for her. Why, wouldn't the charm of their company sharpen her lacking even more? Isn’t all this misery because she is ugly? What an angelic soul, with life so sour! Oh, ugliness is the worst of fates, so it seems.’
While he crossed the Lal Darwaza, he happened to come across two burka-clad women.
‘What's this Muslim custom of wrapping up woman in burkas!’ he wondered. ‘What is it that is sought to be hidden behind the veil? Is it beauty or ugliness? Whatever, the veil seems to be an ingenious leveler of the inequities of genes, at least in the public view! But, on that score, do women really care to hide themselves behind their veils? After all, it can't be, moreover, how can they be mad to endure the ordeal of breathing and the discomfort of constraint in that? Then, of what avail is it to women than to cater to the male sense of insecurity about them? Oh, how man's falsity of purpose deprives women the joys of being her free selves? Won't the burka symbolize the hold of man over woman’s body and soul, not to speak of her psyche? Well, the slaves were better off than these women in their veils, why doubt that.’
As he went along, feeling sad about that, he found two hamalis toiling to push a cartload of cloth bundles.
‘Why, men like these too have no way to lighten the burden of their birth,’ he thought, looking at them. ‘To be born poor and ugly is a double jeopardy really. Oh, how the color of the skin came to be the measure of the looks! Well, it could be that the white man owes his dominance of the world more to his fair skin than the grey matter of his brain.’
Inexplicably, he was seized by an impulse to follow the travails of the hamalis. So, unmindful of the surrounding traffic, he kept course with the cart. As if to shorten their arduous course, the laborers exerted themselves to accelerate their motion. Lost to them, he came in the way of a speeding car.
Bringing the vehicle to a screeching halt, the woman at the wheel yelled at him in her sarcastic tone, “Hi, you find life burdensome?”
Muttering an apology, as he moved away in confusion, she sped past him in irritation. The poignancy of her insensitivity perturbed him as he lumbered along to the dismal destination.
‘Won’t it seem the color of the skin is the measure of man's worth as well?’ he thought in humiliation. ‘Oh, how dark skin devalues man in more ways than one. Would I ever be able to induce a decent dame to become my wife? Why, even Vasavi refused to entertain ungainly men, didn’t she? How come, even the ugly seek beauty in their mates? Why not, it's the beauty that triggers the biological impulse.’
At that, inadvertently, his thoughts turned to his mother.
‘What should have been her compulsions to marry my father?’ he thought. ‘Being so beautiful she herself that is! If only she married another, perhaps, Vasavi and I could’ve been differently made, wouldn't we have been? Won’t mother be thinking that way, seeing the plight of her children more so her daughter that is?’
But, on second thoughts, he felt ashamed that he allowed himself to think in those terms.
‘The reality of life is unmistakable, isn’t it?’ he felt dejectedly. ‘It’s the fact of heredity that shapes one’s looks for good or for bad. Unfortunately for us, we took after our father. Had we acquired our mother’s features, and even a shade of her complexion, it would’ve been all too different. Vasavi would have been a mother many times over by now and I could have been the playboy of the college. Wouldn’t that have made all those who snub me envious of me?’
The envisaged envy of others in his fantasy made him envious of them in reality.
‘Surely, it could be a heady feeling to be admired by women,’ he thought. ‘How wanted that might make one feel! Won't the glow of the favored shows it could be infinitely fulfilling. But looks like, it's my fate to encounter indifference indefinitely. What a wretched life, I can't even dare to daydream!’
In that state of depression, when he saw his father at the Princely Pearls, his state of mind ensured that he found him more oppressive than ever. The grouse he nursed that it was his father’s genes that were the source of his and his sibling’s troubles came to the fore as though to settle scores with his hapless parent.
The psychic mix of hostility towards his father and empathy for his sister catalyzed by self-pity made Yadagiri's welcome words seem absurd to Chandra's pixilated mind. What was worse, the father’s show of affection appeared apologetic to his son’s afflicted mind. Unfortunately thus, in the son’s myopic vision, the paternal love seemed an embodiment of parental guilt. It was as if at that very moment the son’s alienation from his father reached a point of no return.
Continued to “End of the Tether”