05 April 2011

Parenthood and some other things…


Prologue: an untold incident from the past
When I was in engineering, one day, a classmate climbed the high-wall of the ladies hostel. From there, he climbed up a water pipe to the third floor——to fetch the undergarments of one of the most beautiful ladies of that time. The stories of this incident spread like wild fire and, became more and more colorful as time passed by. When I heard this, I went berserk, pulled my hair and, banged my head——for not doing this ingenious feat myself.
Later, in a secret auction, held in a remote corner of the boys’ hostel in the wee hours, the coveted possession was bid for an outrageous price.
This was long back. Years have passed. Much water has flowed under the bridges. Governments have fallen. Sometimes, in the evenings, I sit in the easy-chair on the porch, and remunerate the old-event. I wonder, why would someone risk his life to fetch something that had no use for him whatsoever? But if you think about it, it’s not a bizarre incident. Something like this should be expected from all men. Historically, you might have noticed, men have done notoriously foolish things, apparently for no particular gain.
I am a different person, now. Over the period my values have changed. Things that once took my fancy, no more fascinate me. May be I am becoming old before my time. I no more wear an ear-ring, no tattoo, no torn jeans, no piercing, and in the last few years I have skipped Mardi-Gras. Now, mostly I go for formals, prefer ties, avoid jeans, and wear long sleeves to hide needle marks. I am erasing my past, mainly because, now I have a year old daughter. God forbid, years from now, in her teens, she won’t come across a person like me.
The reality: Baby is here.
In my case, parenting was an accident. We planned everything meticulously, nothing worked, and finally when we lost hope, God gave us a baby. Hence, a beautiful surprise. It was opposite in my parents’ case. They opted for family-planning, failed miserably, and I was born. Hence, a terrible nightmare! I was born almost immediately after my parents’ wedding; some skeptics had concluded, perhaps I was the reason for their hurried nuptials! This is not true: highly preposterous. Where do people get such ideas? My parents are just regular folks, very religious. They wouldn’t dream such a thing or——wait a minute, now that I think about it——Oh my God! Did I just stumble on a family secret? A secret buried for more than 30 years. The world is going to the dogs! Nowadays, you can’t even trust your parents!
My wife and I took some time to digest the fact that we were parents. After delivery, from the hospital, we went straight home; placed the baby on the bed. My wife looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at each other. (Did you notice I just used 3 sentences, instead of one, to convey a single fact? I guess, I will always remain an amateur.)
“Oh my God,” I said, “This baby is real. And it is going to stay for times to come.”
Then it hit me that I have become a parent. Some days, I was woken up in the early hours by baby-cries, shouted obscenities at the neighbors, only to realize that it was my baby. Life won’t be same anymore. Many things were going to change: no more movie theatres, no more quiet candle-light dinners, and no more late night parties.
Transitioning to parenthood
My parents had three children. To me, they always looked composed. They glided through parenting, smoothly. I have one child, and so far, at least 3 times, I have thought of running away from home!
When my wife was pregnant, we begged God——for twins. When we realized, that there won’t be twins, I felt dejected. “God!” I said, “One simple thing I asked you in so many years. But you won’t oblige me.”
Now, after having a baby for a year, I told God, “Thank you God, for not listening to my prayer!” From this I have learned that God’s plans are better than ours——he is a better Project Manager!
Baby taught us many things: Importance of sleep. The value of this simple pleasure——that I had taken for granted——I realized only when I was deprived of it.
Either I or my wife needs to sleep whenever the baby sleeps, because when she wakes up, someone should hold her. She sleeps clutching my hand, tightly. This gives her a comfort feeling; however, I can not sleep, if someone holds my hand. This reverse requirement has cost me many sleepless nights. Life has become baby-centric (In the past it was Mom-centric, wife-centric, and boss-centric. I was never the center of my own life.)
A few weeks ago, I found myself eating food in the wee hours.
“What time is it?” I asked my wife.
“2 in the morning.”
“Which year?”
“What?”
The room was revolving with a great speed. The fan was stable.
“Which year?” I repeated.
“Does it really matter?”
“It is fine if you don’t know the answer,” I said, “I guess, one is not expected to answer all the questions.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Does it really matter?”
“What are you saying?”
“Why am I eating at this hour?” I asked.
“…we slept with the baby; she is up now.”
“Baby? What baby?”
I guess I was losing my mind.
In spite of several warnings from friends and dear ones, we used to hold the baby all the time. Now she is used to it, can’t put her down, even for seconds. Right now, I am typing with one hand. In the other hand I have the baby——I have become ambidextrous. I can type with right or left hand depending on where the baby is. I am going to demonstrate this on YouTube soon. You will believe me then.
Before the baby, I had so much free time; I was contemplating on writing a novel. I had a great plot. A young man, frustrated by family and relatives migrates to a distant country. There he meets a girl and marries her. Time flies. But this man has an immense desire to tell his story to the world. He wants to write a book. He is all set, but then the baby arrives and the dream is shattered! Intelligent readers would notice that this is my own story!
I can only write what happens in my life. My luck! (In this regard I am like Maugham.)I cannot write true fiction. I tried though. I wrote a few short stories (I know you haven’t read them); a few kind readers, who read my stories, were traumatized. My stories build-up tension till the end, but once you are there, nothing happens. They just end abruptly. This has caused frustration among many readers. Several readers have warned Daiji to stop publishing my stories, or they will go somewhere else. One person has committed suicide. His last note said: “Though, in my heart, I knew this is a mediocre world, I had some hope. But after reading Mr. Lobo’s short stories…”
Did you notice the abrupt ending? The victim didn’t even bother to complete the sentence! Such is the effect of my stories!
The India trip
Being born in the US, my daughter is a citizen. She can visit about 150 countries without a Visa: except, India! Just my luck.
On the other hand, being an Indian citizen, without a visa I get to visit only one country in the whole word: Nepal. Which is not bad—— Nepal is a beautiful country. If the chaos in Mangalore increases, I might just go to Nepal and settle down there. End of the day, I am more interested in leading a peaceful life than to find out which one of our Gods are stronger! Expecting a peaceful life has become a luxury!
At Mangalore airport, the moment I got off the plane, my phone rang. Only one person could have called me precisely at that time: Mother. All mothers have this instinct about their children. They can sense their child in the vicinity. This is a motherly thing. I can’t really explain it. God being “God”, with his tight schedule, created mothers——to delegate some of his responsibilities.
I was meeting Mom after 2 years; so many emotions; so many stories to tell. My eyes welled up; lips quivered.
“Hello Mom”
“Sir!” said the voice, “ICICI welcomes you to Mangalore.”
Apparently it was my NRI bank. They had some “ingenious” scheme, created having only myself in mind——so kind of them.
“I just landed,” I said.
“What better time than Now sir? Gandhiji had said——”
“Let’s not drag Gandhiji into this——”
[During the course of my vacation, I got several calls from the same person——for they had created several schemes, keeping only me in mind. My vacation almost got screwed. I am so tempted to mention the name of the person.]
When my mother saw me at the gate, she was surprised.
“I thought you were coming tomorrow.” So much for the motherly instinct!
“Even the bank people have my correct itinerary,” I said.
The dog at the gate started barking. My daughter cried in alarm. She had never seen a barking dog. In America dogs don’t bark. Their mere purpose: aesthetic.
I had not seen the dog before.
“Why do you entertain stranger’s dog on our property?”
“It is not a stray dog.” Mom said.
“Then?”
“It is our dog.”
“Why it is barking at me?”
“It thinks you are a stranger!”
The dog was stupid, because it was barking at me——its owner! Though I said, I am the owner, eventually my younger brother will get everything——he being the favorite. I will get Grandpa’s ancient book-shelf. One time, in a literary fervor, I had announced that the shelf is the most important thing in my life——Mom took that literally.
In Mangalore, I became busier. Sometimes I attended three weddings in a day. And sometimes, the schedule was so tight, I attended one wedding, my wife attended another and the baby third one. Everyone wants to marry in December and wages a life long grudge if you miss the wedding. Thankfully, I didn’t have to visit any friends——all my friends are on FaceBook. I have about 27000 friends. Most of them don’t even know me. Many don’t have a clue, whether I am a man or a woman or an android. They don’t care if I am 16, 46 or 256. But they want to do farming with me. They send Farmville requests. I would rather go to our fields and do some real ground work.
Accidentally, I met my ex-girlfriend at Citi-Center. We carefully avoided the past, and discussed unrelated things: New York Stock Exchange rates, rainfall in Peru, alchemism, and global warming.
“I have made many mistakes in life,” she said, eventually.
I gasped. Time froze. For a moment birds stopped in mid air; everything went black and white——someone mistakenly had turned the color knob to minimum; barking dogs lost their voices; American radars monitoring North Korean borders malfunctioned for a few seconds.
My heart——that ticks 72 times per minute——skipped a few precious beats. Oh! God! Am I going to be another Humbert Humbert? Vronsky? Mellors?
“I have made many mistakes,” she continued, “but rejecting you is the only right thing I did in my life!”
Birds continued their flight; dogs found their voices; color got restored; Heart beat resumed steadily. All is well.
Tips for future parents
Now, whenever we go out with the baby, we take a big bag with baby stuff. The first time when we went to the hospital, we just took the baby. We had just changed the diapers and the hospital was near by, so we decided against taking the extra luggage, for a half hour outing.
In the hospital, there was this big million-dollar ultra-sensitive machine to check the baby weight.
I was about to place the baby on the machine, the nurse said: “No! No! No! Remove her clothes first.”
So I placed the baby, only with the diaper.
“Remove the diaper too”
“This may not be a good idea!” I said.
“Just do it!”
“I have a better solution.”
“What is it?”
“Weigh the baby with the diaper. Then weigh a fresh diaper. Subtract the weights. Take an absolute. The resultant is the point-in-time weight of the baby!”
“Are you an engineer?”
Shocked! “How did you guess?”
“Because you just gave me a perfect solution that is totally useless to me!”
With that she snatched the baby, removed her diapers and placed her on the machine. And the baby did what was forecasted. My point: Never hold a baby without a diaper, especially in public places. Don’t try it, however confident you are.
At this point of my article, I am supposed to give some tips, for future parents. Parenting is great­­­­——but marry first! (One of these days, I am going to be in deep trouble for my liberal thoughts! You know, how touchy we Mangaloreans are about Culture and Heritage!)
New parents are suckers for tips; they would go to any length to get the tiniest bit of information. The best thing about being a parent is that now you can give advice to future parents.
Remember there are no bad children, only bad parents. (I hope, someone would tell this thing to my parents.) The things you have been postponing to do after the baby, do them now. After the baby you won’t find time.
If you are pregnant right now, you should not read this article. I would highly encourage you to read better literature. You don’t want a child with mediocre literary taste. When pregnant, eat to your heart’s content; people will think the extra weight is because of the baby. With higher buoyancy, this is the right time to learn swimming. Watch movies, read books, take prenatals, no weight lifting, avoid flights, avoid seafood, exercise, walk, sleep, paint your tummy, talk to the baby, no smoking, no alcohol, no caffeine, and no sex——oops! All right, once a week!
There will be people ready to obey orders, exploit them. Once you are in the last trimester, don’t stray far from the hospital. Visit the delivery room in advance, don’t look for it at the last moment. Go for epidural, it’s worth it! Don’t worry about the back pain——it’s a myth.
Like all mammals (including platypus and echidna) nursing is the best thing for newborns! Go for it! No second thoughts! You can count on me on this one. Apparently some of you want to become Models. Nothing wrong with that. Or may be, it is better to be models for your children than to do a ramp walk for strangers! Oh my god! Did I just say something taboo? I have an eerie feeling that I just lost some of my fairer fans. I have dug my grave.
The great expectations
My parents are simple people; Father used to be 10th in the class, Mother stood 15th——there were 15 students in her class! These two seemingly simple folks expected me to be number one in virtually everything!
As a child, I started talking quite late; one could see my lips moving, framing sentences in my mind, before actually uttering them. Einstein had the same problem. My parents misinterpreted these signs. Thought the successor to Einstein was born in their house——nothing is more preposterous! Einstein was working on The Unified Theory at the end of his life, which he could not prove. My parents thought, I would resume his work. Such was their expectation.
I begged them. “Com’on guys, please be practical,” I said, “How can I become a super-achiever when the two of you are just plain?”
Mom said: “Einstein’s parents were not scientists!”
I replied: “Einstein’s children were not scientists either!”
That caused more confusion.
With all these expectations, I used to manage a second rank in the class. The first rank holder was a divinely gifted genius: A Tendulkar. Where as I was a look alike: A Sehwag. I had some shining but I was nowhere near number one. My mom was immensely sad about my second rank.
She couldn’t have been sadder, had I been the last rank holder in the class. Secretly she coveted a son like the first rank holder. But the Gods had cheated her, and blessed her with a son destined to be number 2 in everything he tried! A second rater! A fake!
All my life, I had been second to someone superior. I am the person whom the photographers push aside, to get a clear picture of someone prominent. Being second is a fate worse than losing. How many people know the second highest mountain in the world? or the second fastest man on the planet? or the second longest river? How many people know Buzz Aldrin? No one remembers a second position.
With these experiences, I don’t have any expectations from my daughter. I hope, she realizes the uselessness of the rat-races early in life. I have either become a mystic or set my goals too low——probably, the latter one.
On retrospection, I feel, I haven’t done that bad. In fact I am doing better than some of the number one people of my student life. On the other hand a few last benchers have become millionaires. Not being number one (in anything!) doesn’t bother me much, now. I guess, some people are chosen only to clap hands. We all have roles to play. Probably this is what Milton meant in his quote: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Epilogue: A Happy man
I was holding my daughter so far; just now I placed her on my desk. I can see her from the corner of my eyes. In a few days she will babble her first words. She is making the efforts. I can see her lips moving, She is formulating the words in her mind. Like me, she is a trifle slow in her responses. Her unruly hair, permanently disheveled, gives her the look of a scientist. Oh! My God! Are these some kinds of signs?
*--------------------------*-------------------------*

Note: If you liked this memoir, you might like the others in the series as well. Click Here. 

Note: This article was previously published at daiji.

A Favor



Part 1
The Revolver
I have found the revolver, yesterday. It was in the attic, at the bottom of the old almirah; God knows how long it was lying there. Back of my mind, I knew, it was somewhere in the house. But I never thought much about it till the need arose.
It belonged to my grandfather; he was a veteran. I remember, in my childhood, he used to make me sit on his lap while cleaning this revolver, and narrate war stories. One time, at the border, he had come face to face with the enemy. In a do-or-die situation, he had pulled the trigger, at the blink of an eye, thus saving himself to narrate the near death experience——to anyone interested in listening. I had heard this story several times. Over the period it had changed many versions. Eventually it became so colorful I started doubting any trace of truth in the base version itself.
To tell you the truth, these very stories put me off. Dying at the border, for questionable ideals, didn’t make much sense. Though my father never told me, it is possible these were his thoughts too; for he had traded army life with the life of a school teacher. This is the only time he went against grandfather——who was crestfallen by Father’s decision. But once I was born, he bounced back with great determination to make me an army man. Initially, I was excited about the whole idea, but over the period, as I reflected more on it, I lost interest in a future demanding sacrifice and hard life. When the time came, I informed grandfather about my unshakable stand.
“What?” he said in a shock, “what could be greater than sacrificing ones life to his country?”
A hundred better things came to my mind, and I was about to mention a couple of them; but the painful look on my Mother’s face stopped me. My silence, and later unshakable conviction, greatly hurt the old man. He lost the motive to live.
On his death bed, the old crone made one last attempt. I was summoned. “Don’t hurt him,” Mother said at the door-threshold. I went inside. From the death-bed he gave such a passionate lecture even Yama——the death God——himself, could not intervene.
He (Grandfather, not Yama) snatched my hand.
“Promise me,” he said.
I didn’t want to lie to a dying man. But my mother had placed a heavy hand on my shoulder. I could not tell the truth. I promised. Grandfather died peacefully. For years, never once I thought of grandfather, or my promise to him, or his revolver.
Then something happened that changed my life, made me search for the very revolver desperately. It all started with Dude’s visit to our village.
Dude
When I first met Dude——strangely I don’t recollect his real name——I distinctly remember, I thought he was an alien. Sitting on the outside bench of the nameless-hotel, I was reading the newspaper, while sipping morning-tea. When for some reason I looked up, I gave a start, for I had never seen a stranger person. He wore large sunglasses, a dangling camera at the neck, yellow thick chain and a shining ring on the left ear. At the front of his head a tuft stood erect, defying gravity, like that of a porcupine.
“Dude, do you have a Gym here?” he asked.
No one before had asked me this strange question: A question worthy of an alien. Many in our village are physical workers, and a few——who travel to nearby Mangalore city for work——are so busy with the city-life, there is no real need for any artificial exercise equipment.
“Dude, I asked you a question,” the stranger said.
I must tell you——with some embarrassment——that I misinterpreted, Dude being his name. Later village-elders blamed me for naming him Dude, but I distinctly remember, our postman, Inas, is the one who named him Dude.
I informed the curious stranger that ours being a small village we don’t have any such fancy establishment. That greatly hurt him——being a lover of physical fitness. He started a lecture on the immediate need of a Gym for the village of our size. The lecture broke abruptly when he saw my breakfast plate.
“What are you eating, Dude?” He feigned mock horror.
“Golibaje,” I said.
“What? Never mind. Whatever you villagers eat here.” Then he picked one from the plate, as if a lab technician carefully picking a potential specimen, “Dude,” he said, “if you eat this oily stuff, you will die before forty. I warn you!”
His concern amused me. “Have one,” I said.
He flatly denied, rambled some more on calories, and fat rich food; but, eventually succumbed to the temptation. From his school bag——that seemed like having million small pouches, each carefully designed to hold specific item——produced a perfumed paper napkin, placed a singular Golibaje on it, carefully squeezed the oil out of it and took a delicate bite.
I waited for his verdict.
“Divine!” he exclaimed, reaching for the second one, “makes worthy dying before forty. What’s it called again?”
I told him the name.
“No such thing in Mumbai. Everybody eats junk at the railway station. Did you ever visit Mumbai?”
I denied. A small synopsis on Life-in-Mumbai followed. He had come down from Mumbai on summer holidays, and was staying at the biggest bungalow in our village. The house in concern was empty, except for the old woman——Dude’s grandmother. I had seen her sitting near the window for hours.
I would have continued chatting with this stranger, had I not seen Suma walking towards the library. I excused myself, “Something important has come to my mind,” I said and took leave.
Suma
When did I first meet Suma? I don’t know——long back——may be in a past life. She was there as long back as my memory goes.
Presently, I followed her from a distance. I will only have a few minutes in the library, before she was off for her course.
She was doing a vacation course in Mangalore——on Effective Communication. Prior to the course, like the endless TV soaps, she used to write lengthy letters. I used to spend hours, reading these letters, searching for subtleties. Once she joined the course, the long letters stopped, and extremely short to-the-point letters started. In this regard, the course was effective. I would recommend it to anyone interested.
She had joined the course against her Father’s wish——who thought it was a waste of time. But she knew education was her ticket to the outside world.
I used to meet her after the class. Sometimes, we met at the beach for quiet moments. Later we would take separate buses to our village. No one knew about us, except Inas. You cannot hide anything from him. He passed my letters to Suma, and carried her replies, being our village postman it was safe. Also, I was not required to paste stamps on my letters. In return I had paid off his outstanding bills at the toddy shop. It was a convenient arrangement.
In the library, among the aisles, we acted like searching for books.
“I don’t have much time,” she said, opening a book, “How is your work?”
“Going on,” I said.
“Did they pay you?”
“No. I am still on training.”
“Why don’t you find a new job?”
“It is not easy.”
She sighed.
“Some day, I want to run away from this place.”
That was her favorite line. She would say that whenever she was desperate and helpless. She asked: “Who was with you at the hotel?”
“Some visitor from Mumbai.”
“Looks like a joker.”
“I take that as a complement,” said Dude. He had followed me to the library. His presence put us in an awkward position.
“I am sorry, that’s not what I meant…” she searched for words.
Dude ignored her and asked me, suggestively, “Is this your important business?”
I gave a nervous smile and took the opportunity to introduce them. We had a small talk. In truth, Dude talked and we listened. I noticed his arms were permanently akimbo——result of excessive exercise.
Suma had to leave. She had already looked at the library wall-clock, a couple of time. Unaware of this, Dude was praising the exotic oily stuff he had tasted at the hotel. “I keep forgetting the name, but it is too cool,” he said.
“I need to go,” she said, else she would have missed her bus.
“Where?” Dude asked bluntly; such a question, to a person starting on a journey, would have been considered inappropriate in our village. But being from Mumbai——where everything is allowed——Dude was unaware of such customs.
“City. I have a class to attend,” she said.
“Do you mind if I join you?”
She wanted to say no, but could not. She agreed reluctantly. And they were off.
At the door, the librarian said: “You come here so often, at least borrow a book every now and then.” He smiled. Our village is full of such antiques.
I used to meet Suma at the remote places, away from the curious villagers. Dude discovered us occasionally—since he was roaming all about with his camera.
“I want to open a gallery,” he said one time. And, for some time he had been collecting money to materialize his dream.
Then without any warning he clicked Suma’s picture.
“I wanted a natural pose,” he continued, “In Mumbai you can become a model. I can promote you.”
That amused her. “I am not interested,” She said.
“Dude, you gotta convince her. It’s not a bad deal,” he told me.
After Dude’s departure, she was silent and thinking.
“Once you make some money, let’s get out from here,” she said.
“Why not accept Dude’s offer?”
She looked straight in my eyes.
“He is a fool,” she said.
A sudden change of fate
I was working at a small firm in Mangalore, run by a husband-wife pair. Being a Trainee, I was not paid for initial months. The job description was vague; I was expected to do anything and everything——including running errands——everything for free! Blood suckers.
One day, the husband gave me a plastic bag. “Drop this at home, my wife is waiting for it,” he said. His wife seldom came to the office. But she was on the payroll——something to do with tax evasion.
I collected Suma outside her class, took an auto to deliver the bag.
En route, she started searching the bag.
“Don’t-”
Before I could stop her, she had found something in the bag——neatly piled crispy bank notes. I had never seen so much cash in my life.
She asked the auto driver to make an U-turn.
“What are you doing?”
“This is our chance,” she said.
“What chance?”
“To escape this place.”
“Are you——” and then I realized, all along she was serious about eloping.
“But this is not right,” I said.
“Do they not owe you money?”
“Yes but,” I glanced inside the bag, “This is a lot.”
“Don’t say a word.”
“What?”
She asked the auto driver to stop.
“Why are we stopping here?”
“Don’t say anything.”
The auto driver demanded full amount for the ride. Suma tried to bargain. “Madam,” said the auto driver, “why bother about trifles when Lakshmi has suddenly blessed you with abundance?” He smiled suggestively.
The fool was listening to our conversation. She sighed, gave him whatever he was demanding, and started walking briskly. I followed her, trotting.
“Why did we get down here?”
“Do you want the auto driver to come to your home tonight, with his friends?”
I never thought in that angle. Suddenly she was in charge.
We made sure no one was following, crossed the road, and stopped another auto. The driver didn’t agree for the long ride.
“Too far, I won’t find a return customer,” he said.
“I will pay one-and-half,” I said. That didn’t lure him.
“Brother,” Suma intervened, “this is an emergency; mother has been hospitalized.”
Immediately he softened: “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
The driver raced with the wind, as if his own mother had been hospitalized. He was sitting on the very edge of the seat, in a precarious position, ill-suited for such a high speed. On a different occasion, I would have suggested him to sit comfortably, but now, being mother in hospital, I checked myself. An Express bus, with a conductor dangling at the rear-door, drove alarmingly close by.
“Is this your Father’s road?” shouted the conductor, showing annoyance at the auto rushing on the mid-road.
Our driver retorted something equally provocative, involving sex and conductor’s mother——challenged him for a bare fist-fight. The conductor accepted the challenge, and counter-challenged the auto driver to stop the auto instantly, to start the proposed fight, if he was a true-son of his mother. Thus they fought for some distance, eventually the bus gained speed, and they could not continue.
We stopped outside the Hospital. The auto driver didn’t take the money.
“Sister,” he said addressing Suma, “Mother no money!”
He said that in English. Everyone here, whenever possible, in their own unique way, wants to show an intense fascination for the foreign language.
We entered the Hospital and came out from the opposite end.
I was hesitant.
“I need some time,” I said.
“What for?”
“To think.”
“What is there to think? Do you want to rot here?”
“Still this is not correct,” the whole idea didn’t convince me.
“2 days,” She said, “That’s all you will get. I will keep the money. Else you will return it by midnight.”
With that we parted, took separate buses to home.
In the evening I met Dude at the hotel. I had not seen him in last few days. He showed me his pictures of Kamabala——Buffalo race. I was preoccupied with the money. I gave him a lame excuse and went home.
A surprise post card
Two days were like in hell. Finally, I decided against our plan: It was impulsive and risky. Third day Inas came looking for me.
“You have a postcard,” he said.
Which fool would send me a postcard? From the look on his face, I realized he had read the content. I was about to give him a sharp warning on other people’s privacy, but noticed familiar hand-writing.
“Vasu,
I knew you would refuse. Experience! Life is short: opportunities don’t come everyday.
I am leaving.
No more yours,
Suma.
P.S. Don’t search for me.
It took me time to digest the whole thing. Even in pain, I noticed her short direct sentences that carried subtle meaning! Inas held me, I would have collapsed otherwise.
Dude was missing too. It didn’t take me long to add one and one.
Within moments the whole village learned the news; suddenly it buzzed with life; it had waited patiently for such a colorful event. Thus far, in the absence of such an event, the villagers were bored and life was monotonous.
The cow-incident was the last big thing. Ijjam’s cow had fallen in the swamp behind our house. Its painful moaning gathered the whole village. School declared a holiday. Every next moment the cow drowned by a fraction. It was a painfully slow process. A desperate attempt——by Inas and some youngsters——to save the cow failed. People talked about it for months. After that village life was silent and dull. That had happened a year back; the village was waiting patiently for the next big thing.
And now, the whole village talked about my affair. I was wrong about villager’s ignorance. They knew about it all along. Later I met a couple of old ladies who could recite the exact words from the postcard word for word——such is the power of human memory.
As the days passed by, I became more and more restless. I had failed to know her. A desperate urge to trace the lovers occupied me all the time. I begged Dude’s grandmother for his Mumbai address. But the old crone smartly denied any knowledge of the address; she knew divulging that information would put her grandson at a great risk.
My only other hope was Inas, who refused point blank, “How dare you?” he said, “It is confidential information: property of post office. Your request is unethical.”
He was at the toddy shop, having his usual rounds.
“Is it ethical to elope with the fiancĂ©e of a friend?” I asked him.
“Don’t ask me moral questions.”
I knew this drama artist: Countless times I had escorted him home from the very toddy shop.
I came straight to the point: “I am ready to pay.”
“Careful Vasu,” he warned me. “Don’t try your tricks with me. You don’t know me.”
The situation was going out of my hand.
“How much?” he asked.
“What?”
“How much money?” he smiled sheepishly.
The fool had a penchant for acting.
“50 Rs,” I said.
“Meet me here in 4 days,”
I got up, for there was nothing more to discus.
“Wait,” he said, “If you want the information immediately, it can be arranged.”
“How?”
“500 Rs. and I will give you right away.”
“Do you have it with you?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions.”
I went to Mumbai, met Dude’s father——learned that Dude had been kicked out the house along with his lover. I made a futile effort of searching them. No one knew where they had gone. They had simply vanished.
One day the door-bell rang at dinner time. Father opened the door. “Someone for you,” he said from the threshold. I went in a hurry. My manager was there. Behind him two muscular men were waiting for his orders.
My mother sold some of her jewelry. Fresh rumors started; village buzzed, twice in a row, all because of me, an unprecedented achievement! Father stopped talking to me, unable to face the villagers he confined himself to the home.
Part 2
The Plan
A year has passed. I have turned a new leaf of my life——found a new job with a regular income. I don’t mingle with the village activities. Occasionally, I hear whispers and giggles; the year old incidents are still afresh in people’s memory. I keep to myself and resume my walk. The village is unforgiving.
Yesterday, while returning from office, I saw a light in the old bungalow. Old crone had died a few months back. I got curious. Behind the mammoth iron-gate I waited. After a while a man came to the window. In the dark, someone else could have difficulty recognized the man, but not me, I won’t forget that face in a million years——it was Dude.
At once, all emotions rushed back: the humiliation from the villagers; sleepless nights; Father’s silence; Mother’s indifference. My enemy was just a few feet away. In a similar situation, long back, my grandfather had pulled the trigger. I remembered grandfather: How he used to make me sit on his lap and narrate stories of courage and intrigue. I didn’t have his courage. I had failed him. And then, after so many years, for the first time, I remembered the revolver.
My plan is simple. I will announce everyone, a visit to my uncle at Bangalore. I will take the night train; but, get down after a few stations; go to the bungalow; drag Dude to the swamp at gun point; put a bullet in his head; and, dump the body in the swamp. No one will ever come to know. In a worst case, if the body was discovered, I won’t be a suspect, since everyone knows I was out.
I announced my visit to Mother. She didn’t disagree or agree——just indifferent. That’s how things stand now. My parents no more care what I do.
A favor
Parents are at the temple. The whole village is gathered there for the yearly Yakhshagana. I have stopped attending it. It all looks same to me. Starts at midnight and ends some time at dawn. No one watches the whole performance.
Someone is knocking at the door. At this time? I opened the door, and almost got a heart-attack at the sight of the person in front.
“Dude!” I said.
“Call me Rakesh,” he said.
I had forgotten his name. There is a significant change in him: No ear ring and the porcupine hair-cut. The camera is missing. Looks like he is not exercising regularly——I saw a bulge at the waist.
“May I come in?”
He came inside, before I could stop him.
My whole body shivered. What is he up to? Did he get a wind of my plan? And come up with a counter-plan? I waited for any sudden movement, when nothing came, I said: “wait here for a moment,” and ran inside. Only when I got the revolver, I felt relaxed and confident. And, with this new found confident came outside to face the monster.
“I have come to—”
“Now wait a minute Dude,” I stopped him, “you don’t get to drive all the time. It is my time now,” pointed the revolver to his chest.
“Is that a revolver?”
“Do you expect a garland? You eloped with my girl and my money——”
“What money?” He looked surprised, “She never talked about money,” but soon collected himself, “doesn’t matter anyway.”
I don’t have time for all these things.
“Just answer my questions else I will shoot.”
That brought him to his senses.
“Who else is with you?”
“I came alone.”
“Anyone knows you are here?”
“No.”
I need to prepone my plan. Hundred things are moving in my head.
“I came to apologies,” he said.
“After a year?”
“Listen to me please.”
“You see a revolver and change your color. Where is she?”
“Listen to me. I will explain everything,” then he narrated the events. “Once we eloped from here, we rented a small apartment in Mumbai, for Father didn’t allow entry to home. Initial days were beautiful. Gradually she started asking about the show business opportunities.”
“You are the one who gave her ideas,” I retorted.
“I was not serious. She realized that soon. There were daily fights. One fine day, when I came home, she was gone.”
“Gone where?”
“I don’t know. I searched for her everywhere. Later I found that she had cleared the bank account. Vanished with the money I had saved for the gallery. That’s when I realized she had gone forever. Listen vasu, she was smart for both of us. I got what I had deserved. I have come to apologies. Today is the first time I feel free.”
I crashed into the near by chair.
“It was your fault. Only a fool will stay with you,” I said.
“Don’t say that Vasu. Why you want such a person in your life? She left both of us for worldly things. Twice she has done that. Is there any worth coveting such a person? Start a new life. Forget the old things. Don’t make any more mistakes.”
This was not the old Dude. But how can one forgive so easily?
“It’s all your fault,” I said. My eyes welled up. “Before you entered my life, things were so beautiful. You made my life hell. All because of you,” I cried.
Unable to face me, he looked out the window. “Don’t be so vengeful my friend,” he said, “By stealing her from you, I haven’t done anything but a favor.”
*-------------------*--------------*

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Note: This story was previously published on daiji.