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Glaring Shadow - A stream of consciousness novel
“Relatives are a bother any day, more so when they die. Oh how the goddamn sentiment robs man the freedom to abstain from the obsequies,” he began having wiped the tears that continued to roll down his cheeks in torrents. “That’s how I viewed Raju’s death getting into my car, that sultry afternoon. (He paused for a while as if in repentance). What an untimely death it was for him; well, as if there is an agreeable time for it, saving the ripe old age. Once into the thick of life, how we got estranged; did I shun him or did he avoid me, maybe, as I shunned him, he avoided me. It’s as if the flood of time contours the banks of life in inscrutable ways. If not for my mother’s insistence and Rathi’s pestering there was no way I would have bothered to make that condolence trip. Well Rathi had been my wife before Ruma took over her place; and what a fine woman she was.”
“Maybe man as a creature is callous at the core.”
“Could be,” he continued after pausing for a while as if he was ashamed of his the then attitude. “Entering the house, I was shocked at seeing Devi as the widow; why she had earlier declined to marry me though I was mad of her. When she introduced her teenage children, I realized how much water had flowed down the bridge that separated Raju and me. When their family friends said that he had shaped up his children admirably, I could sense my own failing on that score. They all said in one voice that he had seen life as a source of fulfillment and an opportunity for enlightenment and the prospect of death never bothered him for he felt that it was but a challenge to the survivors. Well he was wont to say it seems that life sees to it that they address its altered realities rather admirably. Won’t the feeling of deprivation give way to the ray of hope in due course? That’s how time becomes the great healer, blunting the sorrows of life on the anvil of habit.”
“The one who snubbed you came to value the man you shunned, how interesting!”
“Why that made me realize what I lost by keeping away from him,” he continued. “As if to stress upon my loss, another said that the beauty of his life was such that he made a huge difference to the lives of others. It was an article of faith with him that service to humanity lies in inculcating self-belief in people. Were Raju to be a celebrity, added another admirer, his biography would’ve been a Bible for humanity. Moved myself, when I told Devi how sad it was to have lost a soul like that, she said that she was fortunate to be his wife for so long, and would’ve still felt fulfilled all her life even if their association was far too shorter. What was more, she said that he had given her enough guidance to go about life that she was confident of seeing it through on her own. You may know that she had rejected my hand saying that she could sense that I might get swayed away by women instead of guiding them.”
“But then is it true?”
“Before I come to that,” he said, “let’s see what’s this sense of outgrowing is all about. Is it not a false perception of being better placed in life than those we had grown up with? It’s as if they are not worth our thought, and should they come across, we would only condescend to descend while dealing with them. Maybe, the inability to jell for the lack of intellectual parity is still understandable, but then, how many strive to grow intellectually any way? Whatever, it was my perceived outgrowing that kept me aloof from Raju when I needed him the most. Had I not shunned him, maybe, he would have probably helped me steer clear of the perilous path that led me to my doom. Don’t I see now that by cold-shouldering him, I lost my way in life?”
“I see it differently though,” I said. “Your mistake was that you removed yourself from the reality of life. Even if you continued to value his friendship, still you would have dismissed his approach to life as an apology for failure. Maybe there was no way you could have emulated him given your state of mind then.”
“Probably true,” he continued after a little contemplation, “but still his association could have made some difference to my life if not my way of thinking. Well that’s all about ifs and buts of life. Why, it would have been the end of me as a six-year old, had not life preserved me to see more of it. It was one of those auspicious days, and my auntie took me along with her to the temple on the banks of the village tank. Wanting me to stay put at the bathing ghat, she herself got into the waters for a bath, but as I followed her on the sly, I was nearly drowned. She thanked god for having kept me alive and thus averting a life-long guilt for her, but I believe that it was my destiny that ensured that I escaped. Maybe, it didn’t want to end it so soon without allowing me to enjoy the fruits of love and suffer the pains of loss. It’s as if my life has an inextricable link with death, didn’t Rajan’s end in that road mishap along with my wife pave the way for me to taste the joys of his wife.”
“But there was that talk of the ‘accident of accommodation’.”
“It’s the malady of man to see the sinister in all,” he said apparently hurt. “Why not give some credit to my grey matter if not to my soul matter? Which fool would think of stage-managing the head-on crash of a vehicle in which he was a co-traveler? What motives can one’s malice attribute to me for the recent accident, which besides robbing me off my leg wiped out my entire family?”
“I’m sorry for hurting you with my thoughtless remark.”
“Don’t worry about that,” he said after a pause. “Why, you’ve only lent your voice to the rumor that’s thick in the air. Well to satisfy your curiosity about whether or not I get swayed away by women, you may know that it was my weakness for Ruma that imbalanced my life. When we first met, she was somebody’s wife and Rathi was my one-year old spouse, so the seven-year itch was nowhere near. Though I was mad about Rathi, still I had a roving eye to which, thankfully, she paid a blind eye, and that evening I was bowled by Ruma at the sabzi mandi. Oh! Ruma had a face to pull and the figure to hold, why, as a beauty she could be a rarity, pleasant to espy and gripping while ogling. Having seen me drawing Rathi’s attention to her, Ruma took the initiative to interact with us, and had they not taken to each other readily, well; my passion for the stranger would have taken the path of dissipation. If not for Rathi’s premature death, maybe, there might not have been a tale worth telling, surely, her steadying influence on my life would have ensured its smooth sailing in the vortex of time. What a made-for-each-other couple we made! And to be fair to Ruma, it was she who made life exciting for me in so many ways.”
“Don’t they say that men and women make unique combinations in different permutations?”
“That’s the way it is,” he continued. “When Rathi invited Ruma for dinner, the very next day she brought some fine Spanish wine along with her, to cut the ice, so she said. She told us that she crossed the caste barriers with Rajan to marry for love; however, stuck up with the old values, their families tried their best to bust their union and so they left for Oman, where he made a name for himself as a civil engineer. When they felt financially secure, as homesickness began to unsettle them on the foreign shores, they made up their minds to windup their show there. So she came ahead of Rajan to put things in order here before he packed up there to join her. What a time we had that evening! I couldn’t hide my fascination for Ruma, and she never ceased being coy at my compliments, which prompted Rathi to say that she found our flirting rather thrilling. When Ruma blushed to the roots, Rathi hugged her like an elder sister, and as it occurred to us that it was time to call it a day; we realized that it was too late for Ruma to return home. So as Ruma stayed back for the night, having made her feel at home in the guest room, Rathi teased me no end that I had lost my eyes to the guest. When I said in jest why not I plan a perfect murder for her widowhood to make her my other woman, Rathi said in half-jest that she would join Rajan above for a heavenly time. Won’t that leave Ruma and me to have a raging time on earth? How I were to know that my jest and her half-jest were prompted by our fate!”
“Call it superstition if you please but they say tadhaastu devatalu hover around to vet our ill-utterances.”
What with the recollections of that love tragedy haunting him, he turned morose for long.
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