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Glaring Shadow - A stream of consciousness novel
“What would’ve been my life like had my dad succumbed to that heart attack when he was barely forty-two,” he resumed his tale. “My third-rate degree was just on hand then and there was nothing else for us to fall back upon in such an eventuality; maybe, it was his will-power to avert our downslide that kept him alive. Or it could be the destiny of my own siblings that intervened with his fate to keep him going as their interests wouldn’t have been as well served by my life, and I too couldn’t have been as carefree as I was in my youth, which had been the crux of my life. But before that when my grandfather passed away, given our attachment, my father was worried to death that it would upset me no end, and so he asked his cousin to break the news only after preparing me for that. Oh, how my poor grandfather used to insist on knowing my exam schedule for him to do the Sundara Kãnda parayanam for good tidings at my exam time, and it takes some eight hours or more to recite the epic even for a regular that he was; if only I had put in my studies half of his efforts to invoke the divine grace upon me; how some of the experiences of life seem sweeter in recollection!”
“Don’t they say man loves his grandchildren more than he ever loved his own offspring?”
“Surely, you would have a grasp of it when you reach that station of life,” he said as his eyes turned moist. “How I regret that I’d never paid heed to his letters for they were all carbon copies; what was worse, I never wrote home, aware though I was how eagerly my grandfather - not to speak of my father – looked forward to my missives; the errand boy at my father’s office once told me that it was his daily chore to check up for my letters at the head post office. Well that was the eagerness with which my father awaited my letters that shamefully I never wrote; but still, I didn’t mend my ways for I was lost in my own wayward ways. It was another story that my grandmother’s villainy saw my father’s hand behind my indifference to my grandpa’s missives to grind her inheritance axe, whatever, as and when I was short of money, the requisition and the compliance were both telegraphed. I learnt from my mother much later, how anxious my dad was to see that I was not inconvenienced even for a day, and if only I knew what a hassle it was for him to arrange the money for me, I wouldn’t have been the spendthrift I turned out to be. Oh, why didn’t he tell me how hard up he was; would I have been so insensitive as not to have tightened my belt? When my father wrote to me that his errand boy died in a road mishap not on his routine postal trip but on some official duty, as if to spare him the pangs of guilt, I could picture the sentimental side of him that I had never seen till then; but as my eyes welled up with tears, it struck me that I wasn’t in tears when I learnt about my grandfather’s death in spite of our attachment. Maybe it had all to do with the fact that he died at a ripe old age or it could be that I was subconsciously reconciled to his end.”
“However close you might be to one, you’ll never really know about one.”
“That’s true but still we appraise others without getting into their shoes that we won’t be able to do any way,’ he said. ‘God knows why, but my grandmother became inimical to my father, not to speak of my mother. When she couldn’t bear it any longer, my mother told my father that she would have no more of the old tyrant and he might set her up separately for she knew he owed it to his mother to take care of her and that she was prepared to manage the house with the rest of his salary; well fairness to all has been the hallmark of my mother’s character. But my grandmother any way preferred to stay with her daughter.”
“Isn’t it strange that women tend to be partial towards their daughters all the while craving for a son, while men, who seem to think that daughters don’t confer parentage, and yet cling on to them?”
“Looks like women always feel vulnerable in this man’s world,” he said. “Didn’t the psychologists theorize that woman sees her son as her proxy to get even with it, but when he gets married, she perceives his wife as the usurper of her assumed power to dare the world? Maybe the feeling of being back to square one tends her closer to her daughters with the accompanying sense of alienation towards her daughter-in-law; but for man, while his proclivity is to beget a female, his craving for a male in the lineage could be owing to our culture conditioned by religion, and that’s the irony of the sexes. Shortly before my grandmother was gravely ill, I gave her a piece of my mind as to how inimical she had been towards her own son and his family, and when her health deteriorated, she insisted on living her last days at her son’s place; maybe in the course of life our sensibilities are blunted while the scent of death stirs our sensitivities to its subtleties. Well, she did breathe her last in my father’s arms and who said death separates; but sadly as if history tends to repeat itself, even in the family setting, my mother, when widowed, became inimical to the idea of my brother’s marriage so as to sponge on his bachelorhood earnings till her end. It’s the tragedy of my life that I had to be equally harsh with her, and I only know how painful it was; ironically it was no less satisfying for me that my grandmother’s change of heart let her die in peace and my mother’s change of mind enabled her to rein in her vested interest before it was too late for my brother; oh, gripped by the devil of insecurity how wretched she used to be, and when exorcized of it, how joyous she became after my brother’s marriage.”
“It’s not mere conviction but the courage to act upon it that characterizes men.”
“But it requires the strength of character for that,’ he said, and began recapping his childhood. “There was hardly any schooling worth naming in the village setting in those days but one could still get into the first-form in a nearby high school through a written test. When I was nine, my father made me seem ten the cut-off age for admission, and took me to a nearby town for the test; even as I sat nervously in the exam hall, the invigilator, who was brash, made it worse for me and so I refused to take the test; but the offender’s apology that my father extracted as a sop made me relent in the end, and lo I was into the first-form that you call class six now. We were no more than a handful that made it to that school from our village then and my seniors used to vie with each other to take charge of me, each claiming that my grandfather had entrusted me to his care. But as it all tended to turn farcical, I asked them to let me be on my own; what a joy it was walking all those five miles both ways, well, sans the backbreaking schoolbags of these days. But, when my grandfather took me back to school to retrieve the umbrella I forgot there, it was no fun to my weary legs, more so as he lectured about the pitfalls of forgetfulness all the way; maybe my subconscious absorbed it all for I consciously avoid being forgetful.”
“Did you find it?” I asked rather instinctively.
“The odds were one to ten as you know and it was no odd case any way,” he said. “But the thought of umbrella brings my grandfather’s fondness for rainy season that I share. It was his wont to have his siesta lying in the easy chair in the verandah, and in the monsoon time, whenever he woke up to a deafening thunder, he would declare that ‘it portends downpour,’ of course gluing his eyes to the pitch-dark clouds in the sky. Like all landlords, he too used to rivet his eyes onto the sky, worried about the kharif crop, and how as children we loved when it rained and used to dance in the downpour wetting ourselves to the roots. But for my mother it was always ‘oh, enough is enough’ but my grandfather would say, ‘why not let them enjoy now for they might give up all this as grownups’. How true, but then the phases of life are varied, each with different possibilities of fulfillment; when it ceased raining all kids used to place indents on the elders for paper boats for playing with them in the roadside water pools or backyard water bodies. Why the rainy season afforded the elders their small pleasures as well; as I see in hindsight, all used to ogle at women’s legs as they hitched up their saris as though to save their hems from getting soiled on the muddy roads. I wish I lived a little longer in my village to cherish more of my life but then maybe I shouldn’t be greedy for I had enough and more of the village life.”
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