Crossing the Mirage – Passing through Youth, Chapter - 5
Continued from “Onto the Turf”
That mid-summer noon, cramped up in a general bogie of that Deccan-bound train, Chandra developed a cold sweat.
‘Oh God, what if Rashid’s lightning call didn’t come through?’ he thought anxiously. ‘Well, what else could’ve I done, as there was hardly any time left to catch the train. How I wanted to talk to her myself though Rashid felt it made sense for me to leave without losing time. Didn’t he swear that he would alert my parents to avert the disaster? How am I to know now what came of it later?’
As though to have a clue to the vexatious issue, he pulled out his sister’s letter from his shirt pocket, and began to read again.
Oh, my Chand,
I’m sorry, for my decision will upset all of you. But I think I can’t help it. I can’t carry on any longer, even for the sake of our mother.
Now it’s all so clear. It’s going to be a solitary confinement for me in the voidness of life, for the rest of my life. I know that it is partly of my own making for I failed to take advantage of my chances and thus missed out on life. Oh, why did I fail to appreciate my own limitations to mess up my life? No denying, though our father wishes me well (and you well) his prejudices played no small part in my downfall. Whatever it is, my life itself had become unrealistic for me.
Let me tell you, I’m just dissipated. I’ve even lost my ability to hope. Without a past fulfillment for a memory and with no hope to nurse now, I’ve no appetite for life, which has become torturous to say the least. Moreover, I've even lost patience with myself, well; I’m not old enough to imbibe the philosophy of resignation to be able to carry on in this vein. So I’ve resolved to put an end to it all, to be merciful to myself even at the risk of causing pain to others. I know time heals; won’t it dry your welling eyes and balm your emotional wounds in its own way? And that gives me heart to hurt you all.
I’m glad you’ve ventured into life to help yourself. It’s a great satisfaction that I could contribute to make some difference to your life. As I’m going to become the past, I wish you a fulfilling future. I know there is nothing in my life to inspire you, but there’s a lot that can caution you. If you can benefit from that, I shall rejoice from up above in spite of everything.
I would be timing my end so that you can reach in time to shed a tear or two over my body before the need for its disposal is felt by the living.
With sisterly love,
Even as Chandra finished reading, he was again all in tears.
“You’ve dropped your ticket,” the man opposite said, handing it back to Chandra.
“Thanks,” Chandra muttered
“You seem troubled,” the man seemed concerned.
Chandra nodded for 'yes' as he found him sympathetic.
“What’s the matter?”
“Well, it might take a lifetime to narrate,” Chandra said philosophically, “and two to grasp it.”
“I hope all ends well,” said the other before withdrawing.
“Thank you,” said Chandra before wondering within. “Did Rashid’s call materialize in time? Wouldn’t she have timed it all wrong to be pulled back from the brink? Won’t I take her along with me now? Won’t Bombay change her to cheer up?”
As his hopes rose, he felt excited.
However, a little later, as the train stopped in some wilderness, he peered out in irritation. In despair, he tried to visualize the void she would leave in their life if she were dead. When the train stood rooted for long, Chandra became restless all again. Meanwhile, those around the exits stepped down to loosen their limbs. And to ascertain the cause of the hold-up, the curious in the compartments too followed suit.
“It seems there was a derailment,” announced someone who gathered the news from the guard.
“Oh, God,” sighed a lady in Chandra’s compartment, ‘then it would take a couple of hours, at the least.’
Hearing her, Chandra was crestfallen as if he was woken up to a new reality.
‘Does it portend disaster?’ Chandra couldn’t help but think in exasperation. ‘Oh, how frustrating is this! She could’ve been really desperate to resort to suicide, wouldn’t she?’
‘Is it courage or cowardice that drives people to end their lives?’ he thought. ‘Would have her courage deserted her at the brink? Maybe her cowardice could've pulled her back from the precipice. Well, can cowards commit suicide, as it requires a great deal of courage to end it all, once and for all? Isn’t life dear to one and all? If so, doesn’t it require courage to die? And courage to die is all too different from that required to carry on living against odds. Well, only those who lack the courage to change their lot and unable to cower in the face of death resort to suicide, so it seems.’
While Chandra was lost in thought, nature ran its routine course. It was sunset by the time he came out of his reverie and the train didn’t yet receive the green signal to resume its eastward course. At length though, signaling motion, the driver honked the horn and that was music to Chandra’s weary soul. For its part, the power jolted the bogies as though to rid them of their inertia.
Well, as the lethargy on the train gave room to relief in the compartments, after what seemed an eternity, time too was on the move for the stranded passengers. But, fearing that he could be late by a lifetime, Chandra was in distress, and as if to soothe his ruffled spirit, fatigue tended him to sleep in a sedentary position. All that night, as his sleepy head sought their shoulders, the men on either side of him put it into oscillation in irritation. Nevertheless, Chandra was steadfast in keeping his course with slumber.
At dawn, to the welcoming chants of chaai garam, the train stopped at an obscure station. By then, the men on either side of him were craving for a cupful or two of the steamy thing. And they, rather rudely, woke him up for the fear of his oscillating head unsettling the tea cups to soil their dresses. Seemingly, their rudeness in no small measure stemmed from their instinct to settle scores for their sore shoulders.
While the aroma of the chaai tickled his senses too, Chandra realized that he had eaten nothing since he received the letter the previous day. As if the realization itself had affected him, he suddenly felt giddy. Three hot cups of tea, though, seemed to calm him a little. But, as he returned to reviewing his situation, the exhaustion of his imagination benumbed him. Finally, unable to contemplate, he sat like the Buddha in nirvana for the remainder of the journey.
When, at last, the train reached the Nampally Station, he stepped out into the sweltering heat of the mid-summer noon. Hastening out, as he dumped himself into an auto rickshaw, he realized he had no luggage on him.
‘It’s as if time froze the moment I received her letter,’ he thought, waiting for the auto to gear up. ‘I was lucky to reach VT in the nick of time. But am I in time now?’
Soon the auto driver maneuvered his way out of the surging crowd to head towards Pearl House.
When Chandra sighted his home, he thought about his parents’ predicament in case Vasavi had taken the plunge. Meanwhile, having readied the fare, he signaled slowdown as the auto approached the gates. Wanting the auto be stopped at the imposing gates, Chandra thrust some currency in the driver’s hand. Jumping out of the auto as Chandra ran towards the gate, the driver hailed to him to take the change. Unmindful of it, Chandra pushed open the iron gates, and finding the main door ajar, he ran into their house.
Coming face to face with, what appeared to be the normal ambiance of their home, he was tempted to feel he came in time, and thus sighed in relief. But, finding none, he felt sapped and sank into a sofa.
‘Did it all go wrong then?’ he thought. ‘Oh, they didn’t even lock the house!’
“Chotebabu, nice you've come,” said the housemaid who came in sobbing, “they are all waiting for you at the OGH.”
“How’s Vasavi?” he managed to mutter.
‘They’re trying to save her there,’ she said amidst sobs. ‘When your friend rang up, we found her unconscious and moved her there. Had he not alerted us, there would have been no chance. God bless him.’
Like a corpse on the move, he accompanied her to the casualty of the Osmania General Hospital, but finding none from the clan there, he made enquiries with a nurse on duty.
“Poor thing,” the nurse sounded sympathetic, “she took so much pesticide, enough for a couple of cotton crops.”
“Can’t she be saved?” asked Chandra impatiently.
“Sadly,” said the sister crossing herself, “she’s no more.”
“Oh, my God!”
Distraught, he reached the mortuary to join his disjointed parents and others, who had gathered there to lament over the happening. On seeing him, his mother became all the more inconsolable.
“See how she hurt herself and us too,” she cried, clutching at him for support. ‘Now I am condemned to live in guilt all my life. I wish God would take me away too without delay.’
“What an irony!” said Yadagiri, with welled up eyes. “She helped you desert us then and caused your return now.”
In the profusion of tears that rolled down Yadagiri’s cheeks, Chandra could discern a few that owed their emotion to the return of the prodigal.
“I’m sorry for whatever happened,” Chandra mumbled, going up to his father. “I will not hurt you again.”
“In a way, it’s of my own making,” responded Yadagiri with empathy. “Why blame yourself for that?”
Choked with emotion, Chandra couldn’t utter a word more.
When the body was brought after the post-mortem, wiping his unceasing tears to clear his vision, Chandra stared at it endearingly before he fell on it unconsciously. And that set his parents shaking with grief and the rest sighing in pity even as the nurses shifted him to the ICU. While Anasuya cried no end, Yadagiri, too shocked to react, sank onto his knees.
However, as it became clear that Chandra was physically exhausted and mentally weary, the doctor declared that there was no cause for worry. While Chandra was being drip-fed for his recovery, it was felt prudent that he be spared the sight of his sister’s cremation. Thus, in a way that reflected the reality of life and death, Vasavi’s body was ritualistically consigned to the flames even as her brother’s was religiously nursed back to normality.
After the obsequies, that custom ordained, the near and dear stayed back to share the Yadagiris’ grief.
“Praise be to her,” an elderly woman addressed Yadagiri, “the dear one didn’t disgrace the family like those who elope in her situation. And to be fair to her soul, you should own up your fault for having been needlessly biased towards every match that was suggested.”
“It’s no time for fault finding,” said Anasuya. “It’s her fate that overpowered her life.”
“If only she were after you,” retorted the old soul, “her fate would’ve been different.”
“That’s true,” concurred a deserted woman, “fair skins have an unfair edge.”
“None seems to realize how hard all this is on Yadagiri,” said one, who all along had had a crush on Anasuya. “He must be cursing that his children haven’t taken after his wife.”
Chandra, who heard it all, felt disturbed.
‘What if, like me, my kids too are born ugly?’ he thought in distress. ‘It’s clear that even having a beautiful wife is no guarantee to beget attractive children. Isn’t it likely that history may repeat itself to perpetuate ugliness in the family? I better think how to avert the calamity.’
When, came the time to serve the grand meal and with the relatives having left thereafter, pinpricks gave way to melancholy in the household.
Self-destruction seems to be an aberration peculiar to the human condition. Aren’t man’s miseries of his making, brought about by his own debilities? And yet, while lamenting over his shortcomings, he tends to blame it on life! But life seems to understand man more than he does it. Well, to preclude him from perishing in grief, life infuses in him hope for sustenance. Besides, by imparting an existential ethos in him to avert the cascade of tragedy--of human extinction--life seems to countervail itself to keep up its propagation.
Thus, while fate left the Yadagiris to nurse their psychic wounds, life had provided the balm for their healing.
‘What is all my wealth worth when it couldn’t provide warmth to my children!’ he thought, having read the script that life had shown him. ‘As for my status, isn’t it all in tatters anyway? What a paradox! My obsession for my children’s glory brought me infamy that is besides harming their cause. But, where did it all go wrong? Oh, didn't I try to push them on the track of my biases? Well, all have their latent debilities and imbibed attitudes and it's only fair to let children sort things out as they grow. What sense does it make for parents to misshape children as their alter egos? What ignorance, couched in affection! It’s the possessiveness of the parents that’s inimical to the individuality of the children, isn’t it?’
‘What a fallacy the sense of possessiveness is!’ shaken, as much by his personal tragedy as by his reflection, Yadagiri tried to see the paternal role in a fresh light. ‘Aren’t parents but mere facilitators to perpetuate the species as per nature’s designs? It’s his ego that makes man imagine that, without him, his family would be orphaned. Is there anything more ironical than the falsity of that proposition! Well, left to her, Vasavi could’ve managed her life far better. Was it not my bias that had undone her? How despairing it is to think I’ve ruined her life and driven her to suicide. Now let me spare my son at least. That poor girl was wiser in helping him escape my overbearing influence. But when it came to her own life, she lost her balance! Oh, though late, she helped open my eyes to make it easy for her brother.’
Despite his sorrow, while Yadagiri felt proud of his daughter, in spite of it, Chandra changed his mind towards his father.
‘Why was I so cut up with my father?’ Chandra reasoned. ‘Well, he was born ugly and its not his fault, was it? Isn’t birth itself a chancy proposition? Or is not death for that matter? If we were destined not to be born, wouldn’t our mother have been barren? Why blame him when it’s our fate to be born ungainly? After all, nature could’ve as well shaped us after our mother, but it didn’t. Imperfection seems to be in the nature of any repetitive phenomenon. Won’t some buds of the same bunch blossom better than the others! An odd bud would be crooked as well! When inequity seems to be the order nature had ordained, how fair is it to lay blame on my father? Moreover, being a man, is he not entitled to a wife? Why, am I not craving to take one myself?’
The empathy he felt for his father enabled him to reshape his future. He thus found himself writing to Rashid.
My dear Rashid,
Forgive me for my long silence. I’m sure you would appreciate my position and understand my predicament. Just the same, I know I can’t leave matters in a limbo any longer.
The tragedy shattered us all, to say the least. It’s inconceivable that I would leave my parents in the near future. Moreover, the bitterness that brought me over there has given way to the feeling of empathy in my suffering soul. So, I’ve decided to stay back to take care of my mother and assist my father.
Though I know my move would upset you personally, I have no intention to hurt (y)our business. I would like you to treat my share as your own. Do treat it as a measure of goodwill from a friend who got a shelter from you in the hour of his need.
I hope to see you some day as a prosperous businessman.
I remain, indebted,
P.S: Please find enclosed the notarized document relinquishing my share in our business for your record.
Continued to “Lessons of Life"