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Glaring Shadow - A stream of consciousness novel
“Oh, how it hurts to think that my dad could’ve behaved so badly with my sister I was rather fond of!” he resumed after a long pause. “I was away in Ranchi then and what I had heard of it hurts me to this day. One late evening she was lost in her thoughts, whatever they were, on the verandah, oblivious of the ogling ways of a roadside Romeo. My dad who happened to return home then got it all wrong, and paying a deaf ear to her professed innocence, like a man possessed he had beaten her black and blue, the poor thing. Well, she never forgave him for that, even after his death, and I don’t fault her for that. But what an irony that it was on her account he once ventured across the Godavari in spate risking his and my life as well. Sure he came to soften up his stance on other issues but somehow he failed to shed his blinkers in sexual matters; and he was lucky that the inclinations of my sisters and the impediments of the times gave him no hiccups on their pre-marital front.”
“What a tragedy it is to hurt the loved ones owing to the debility of belief.”
“Well said, more so the religious belief; maybe towards the end one might be able to shelve self-indulgent biases but the faith-induced bigotry tends to grip one all the more.” he said thoughtfully. “Saying ‘sorry’ would’ve helped, but he believed what he wanted to believe, and her denials seemed but self-serving arguments to his closed mind-set. Well he was rude with me too in my childhood that is; but in his deathbed gesture I came to see his way of saying sorry for his intemperate past. He gave me, and not my brother, his wrist-watch with his name embossed on it, which was a long service award from Lipton. It was another matter that my brother loved him more than I ever did, and it appeared as if he bestowed it upon his first born, but I suppose it was not as simple as that. When I was ten, toying with his wrist-watch, I dropped it down to its doom inviting his wrath. Frustrated with the loss of his first acquisition, he roundly thrashed me even as my mother tried her best to put sense into his agitated head that it was after all an accident. Though resentful then, it was much later that I could understand his sense of loss; money being scarce, it was no easy task to replace it. Maybe laying on his deathbed, he recalled the episode while he recapped his life; he surely would’ve, for one of my uncles once told me that he would project the celluloid of his life on his mind-screen thrice a day. Why not, if youth is daydreaming about the future and the middle age the dilemma of the present, then old age makes a memoir of the past. Well, it could have been my father’s sense of remorse that might’ve prompted him to make a present of that wrist-watch to me by way of his redemption. But by the time the possibility of that occurred to me, he was no more. If only I could’ve told him that I understood his constraints and never bore a grudge against him on that or any other count; oh, how that would’ve helped ease our consciences!”
“What a poignant moment it could have been?”
“Sadly it was not to be,” he said. “I believe the hallmark of his life was his boldness in the face of death. The moment we stepped into that cancer hospital, seeing some patients carrying their urine bags, he said he would rather die than live with one such. Seeing scores of patients there prolonging their senseless life in a pitiable manner, I realized that there was also this greed to be alive that my father was not afflicted with. But awaiting his inevitable death in his home that he made the centre of his life, when he sent word for me, all knew that he believed his end was at hand. As I reached him, he lost no time in wanting a private chat with my mother and me; he took both our hands into his, and asked me to take care of her, adding, ‘I scolded her, I did even beat her up but I always respected her’. We his children always knew how much he loved our mother but at that juncture I realized that he chose to be a one-woman man all his life out of respect for her. I always wondered why he wanted to confess to my mother in my presence; maybe, he might’ve felt that being the firstborn, I was the first witness of his love for her in all its intimacy. But sadly for me, I failed to keep the word I gave him to take care of her; it’s true she is not in want of any, thanks to my brother, and no less to my sister-in-law, who doesn’t grumble on that score. How I hope that life gives me the chance to redeem myself!”
“Your brother seems to be your conscience saver.”
“In a way he is,” he said. “But I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to thank my dad for what all he had done for me for all my infirmities that bothered him no end. If only I had said sorry, wouldn’t have the troubles he had taken for me seem pastime for him then? But it was not to be as I left him after the memorable meeting to fend for myself in the city I lived. But even when his final call came, I was nowhere near him; oh, had I reached him in time as he breathed his last, maybe I would’ve been inspired to make a clean breast of myself. But as luck would have it, some jamboree came to a close the previous day in the city and the revelers blocked all entrances of the trains that day, making it no entry for others. Oh how I begged to be let in, but none had obliged.”
“What to make out of the muteness of the masses?”
“As individuals most of them would have obliged but collectively all became callous,” he said. “Even sensible people lose their sensitivity in collectivity, which I call the camaraderie syndrome; won’t a group of six, in a train compartment of eight, collude to shoo away whoever nears them. Showcasing the insensitivity of another kind are those who never let others occupy the next seat in the long-distance buses, supposedly reserved by their never-to-arrive friends. See how their attitude unfairly affects the fellow travelers; while the early birds bear the back seats, the latecomers become the frontbenchers. Well, when I finally reached home, I was late by an hour to have a word with him; maybe he breathed his last lighter for his confessions but I’m left to live carrying the cross of my omissions.”
As his demeanor suggested that burdened by his guilt he was sinking into a state of depression; alarmed, I goaded him to tell more about his father.
“What a connoisseur of food he was!” he began enthusiastically. “Be it grains, cereals or vegetables, he bought the choicest, which were transformed into the best of meals by my mother’s recipes. When it came to fruits, he was a man of all seasons, and I wonder if there ever was a more ardent lover of mangos than him. Why he was wont to partake three apiece with each meal and that counted up to six a day in summer days, and what were they, not the grossly overrated alphonso but the peerless kothapalli kobbari besides panchdara kalisa, peddarasam, chinnarasam, cherukurasam, juice fruits all available only in the coastal Andhra. I can’t help but pity those who pay a ridiculously high price for alphonsos, just a notch up the much cheaper bangenapallis. Whatever, it was as if the flavors of ‘fruits of the season’ vied with the aroma of my mother’s exquisite preparations to satiate our palates but then don’t mistake us for a family of gluttons for we were frugal eaters all. But as people are taking to junk food these days it won’t be long before we may lose the cooking skills developed over generations; sadly that takes man back to his roots literally that is.”
“By the way, what were his last words for you?”
“Be careful with your money for none would spare you a penny in your hour of need, that’s what he said,” he said and then added, “and I may say, why should any for all that; should you become the subject of charity would you remain an object of equality?”
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