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Glaring Shadow - A stream of consciousness novel
“If city life is characterized by chaos, village life was all about orderliness,” he continued. “Unlike the present-day multi-class urban societies, in the villages of yore, while the Brahmins held the high ground in agraharams and the intermediate castes occupied the middle ground, the peasants, and the artisans lived on the peripheries. So there was hardly any intra-class social interaction to speak about and that’s why I had no idea about the lives of the marginalized, but from the way they dressed and behaved, it was clear that their life was sustained on the economic crumbs thrown at them by the landed classes. The well-heeled among the privileged classes were wont to play rummy if not baestu, also a card game in which the loser becomes a lose-all kudael; oh, how women dreaded at the prospect of their men taking to cards, more so baestu, lest they should become kudael. That my mother prevailed upon may dad to give up cards he was fond of, I came to know much later; as she was wont to play a round or two of rummy with me and my friends, my dad used to grudgingly remind her how she had coerced him to give up his favorite pastime.”
“Well, but what puzzles me is the attitude of a friend’s wife, who having had drinks in her college days was averse to her newly wed husband having a drink or two.”
“That’s the illogic of women’s logic,” he said with a wink, and continued “Those were the prohibition times, so, sans the so-called Indian Made Foreign Liquors and with toddy being a taboo for the gentry, the potion of the peasants, the well-heeled went without a drink. Thus, blessed with one of the three W’s but self-denying the other, the ardent were wont to womanize; well the nature’s calls in the open opened up the opportunities alike for the promiscuous and the sex-starved men and women to indulge on the sly what with the bushes yonder providing secretive cover for illicit sex. By the way what’s this pride in one’s caste and the prejudice against the others’ after all that covert sexual inter-mingling for generations; and what about the bane of the home toilets that give with one hand and take away with the other; why while affording privacy to the personas, don’t they deprive safe ways for the straying folks; well, man seems to rob himself of the freedoms that nature granted him.”
“It may be the case with the middle-classes, but don’t celebrity affairs give a fillip to promiscuity?
“The current page three liaisons seem a passing show while the liaisons of the wealthy with the nautch girls remained enduring news for a couple of generations,” he said. “Maybe being few and far between, the affairs of yore had a charm of their own but in their current day profusion, they seems to have taken away much of the naughty sheen out of them; whether in life or in sport, rarer the fare, all the more it’s memorable; oh what aura cricket’s ‘3Ws’ - the West Indies’ Weeks, Worrell and Walcott – had, and all of them put together didn’t play in as many test matches as the Tendulkars of these days.’
“Maybe Bradman, Dhyan Chand, Pele, and even Laver, in spite of Federer, prove your theory of aura.”
“Well, the lesser gentry were left content to gossip about the card-playing and the cunt-craving sort, pardon the turn of phrase,” he said. “Once a troupe of nautch-girls performed at our village temple, and as the show was on, our neighbor’s servant went up to the lead dancer, and having drawn her attention to his master, he handed her a hundred Rupee note that she took nodding her head; though I couldn’t grasp the import of it all then, her naughty smile as she coyly tilted head is still fresh in my mind. Soon after, when I happened to witness a Bharatanatyam performance by our neighbor’s granddaughter from Bombay, the sensuous nuances in her classical movements insensibly shaped my sense of the feminine sensuality; how I find repellent the bawdy gestures of those gaudy women-in-trade. Well, whatever be the proclivities of the folks, the kids were left alone for the most part as the rat race for private schools had not yet begun then; and to be fair to my father, he was never behind us to come out with flying colors at school; but these days how parents have come to push their kids to excel at studies. It’s as if kids have become the parental means of fulfilling their unfulfilled dreams; what funny times we’ve come to live in; how sad that parents are averse to accept less than A+ grade for their kids; if only the progeny starts demanding to know about the parental scores!”
“Who knows, that day may not be far off.”
“Maybe that’s the only cure for this parental paranoia, why I know a mother, who forced her second daughter to study medicine simply because the elder one was already pursuing a course in engineering,” he said, and continued with his childhood saga. “Summer times were made memorable by the annual visits of my paternal aunt, the one who saved me from drowning in our village tank, and her husband, who was a lecturer in a college of physical education, and so he had a long summer vacation. Being childless, they used to love me and my siblings like their own children; how all of us used to cling to him all day; he being a jovial person, it was a great fun to be with him. And where do you think we used to spend the summer times, well, on foldable cots right under the neem tree shade in the side yard. That was the only time when I used to leave my grandma’s bedside, why, I never heeded my mother’s call to sleep in their bedroom, not that I loved my mother any less but my affinity with my grandma was compelling, may be it was in part due to her story telling. One of my uncle’s favorite taunts was that, being the namesake grandson, he hoped that at my marriage, I would present him the wedding suit promised by my granddad. When I was five, he taught me how to make the opening moves on the chessboard but in spite of my later-day penchant for the middle game, I’m clueless about the endgame till today; well, neither could he master the art of partaking the palm fruit directly from its socket that I tried to teach him; how our kapu, who plucked the fruits from the tree, used to tease him saying that the village kids were smarter than the townsmen.”
He paused as if to relive his childhood in the nostalgia of his old times.
“But the icing on the cake of their long stays was provided by the snacks that my grandma was wont to serve in the afternoons, which she never prepared in the normal course; wasn’t her son-in-law a privileged person being her daughter’s husband?” he said on resumption. “Well it was my dad who introduced me to carom in later days and I followed him with the so-called scissors strike, which might puzzle your opponent when you are in form but could frustrate your partner when you are off color. When I took to cricket in my school final and bowled for the first time, the batsman realized I was a born leg spinner and that the googly could be a few false steps away. Didn’t Bradman opine that leg spin is the most difficult to master for any bowler, and when done, it would turn out to be the most difficult ball for any batsman to handle? Whatever, thanks to my youthful distractions, I didn’t work to build on my natural ability to make a mark in the cricket world, and if not, who knows my name would’ve been taken in the same breath as Warne and Chandrasekhar; but being born in the latter’s era, when cricket was not a fetching proposition, it could have been a hand-to-mouth existence for me as well. But Muralitharan the smiling off spin assassin has been my eternal favorite, how anxiously I got glued to the TV set for his 800th wicket; it was another matter that a wicket more or a wicket less wouldn’t have made any difference to his stature, but then on the badge of honor, statistics have their own corner.”
“Isn’t it silly that cricket has become a religion with Sachin as its Godhead?”
“Maybe for those ‘score kya hai’ guys, whose knowledge of the game borders on zero while their interest in the game is limited to India’s win, and that reminds me of a cricketing joke of our days,” he said turning mirthful. “The naughty answer to a novice enquiry about the filed position in a cricket match was that there was ‘no cover, no extra cover, there is just a deep gully between two fine legs’, and my uncle couldn’t cal it foul when I told him about it. Why, in later years, I used to drag him to our stag parties though he was a teetotaler, and whenever the party jokes turned bawdy he was wont to cry foul; how charming he was in that ‘naughty umpire’ role. But he was not all that charming when it came to my auntie’s socializing, why he had indeed confined her all through to the four walls of their house. But when he began grumbling in the later years that she was good for nothing, I told him he was committing a foul; not having let her out in her prime time lest someone should ogle at her, that he felt secure for her lost appeal, how could he expect her to change the tack; well he allowed me to take such liberties with him.”
“Maybe donning all the roles of life perfectly is possible for none.”
“Don’t they say perfection is in the realms of heaven, a myth any way, and not to be found on earth,” he continued. “Well, those joys ended as my dad shifted to a small town, where I joined Chandu in the second form, and when he suggested that being co-tenants, we better be in the same section, I sought the help of my father’s uncle, who was a teacher in the same school. I don’t know why, but he didn’t favor the move and to discourage me, he told me that with girls around, it would be embarrassing if I were to be unequal to the teachers’ queries in the co-ed section. So I had to wait till I got into a college to have a girl for a classmate, and as if to make good the school-time loss, I promptly fell in love with her; that’s another story any way. But what an irony it was that while the father denied me an administrative favor, his son granted me an astrological boon; I was too raw to appreciate the variety that is bigamy, and what a fuss I made at that like prediction! Maybe it was more a reflection of the times than my own naivety at that age; earlier, whenever the topic turned to her marriage, mockingly holding my hand, our village postmaster’s over-the-hill daughter used to say that she was waiting for me to attain the marriageable age; well there was no adolescent twist to it for, as you know, our family moved out of the village when I crossed ten.”
“Maybe I need a break before you move on,” I said lighting a Gold Flake King.
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