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Glaring Shadow - A stream of consciousness novel
“I’m no Gandhian and I don’t intend to be one,” he continued from where he had left. “But as is being done, I see it’s a disservice to his legacy to deify him; it’s when I approach him as man that I value him as a human being, but in his picture of mahatma, I see many a wart in his atma. Credit him for cleaning up the public toilets but why not condemn him for having forced his spouse to do the same; why laud him for his quixotic abstinence unmindful of his wife’s conjugal plight; was he not an inveterate autocrat in the democratic garb; what about his falling afoul of Prakasam, and how he played favorites with Nehru. Why bother about him as he’d been reduced for long as a political mascot of the slavish-minded of the self-serving Nehru family that hijacked his name to grind its dynastic axe! What an irony it is that his party that sundered the British yoke should have rendered the political reins into Italian hands? Bemoan the congress party.”
“I’m no apologist of the dynastic congress but what about the duplicity of N.T.R on the political stage,” I had interjected. “When he needed to fill A.P’s coffers, he advocated drink all over; prompting the IT tycoons and the corporate honchos to shun his dry land at the time of our early reform. But when voters pulled him out of the kursi for his eccentric governance, he made prohibition his political plank to regain power; that’s about the immorality of our politicians as the public memory being short; that’s how A.P missed out the early openings even as P.V’s vision helped shore up the country’s economy.”
“What to say when Rajiv Gandhi’s ignoble reign is celebrated and Narasimha Rao’s path-breaking role is sought to be sidelined,” he said “We are a naïve people to figure out our country’s heroes, say Nehru vs. Patel or Rajiv vs. Rao and zeroing on our national interests; maybe owing to our feudal roots and slavish moorings, we suffer from the approval syndrome, which is a compulsive need of one to be seen by the others as an egalitarian to a fault. But then, the world doesn’t seem to appreciate our quixotic mindset as the foreign press tends to picture Sonia Gandhi as the most successful Italian politician.”
He paused as if he was unable to digest the indignity of it all.
“While Ruma ruled my heart, Rathi became the heart of our family,” he resumed his tale. “The inclusive camaraderie that extended to third cousins in our family appealed to her friendly nature, and so she took to my people as duck would to water; well what a knack she had in letting all feel at home in our 2BHK flat. But when a well-heeled visitor said if only we had a more spacious dwelling, he would’ve loved to put up with us whenever he was in town, she told him that we don’t bite more than we could chew; but how my poor dad used to go out of his way to please all and sundry; it’s as if man massages his own ego by playing host to those who profess closeness.”
“It’s stupid, really.”
“What else it is, but when the chips were down after he was stricken with cancer, none came forward to stand by him,” he continued. “My brother told me that once in need of a paltry sum, my dad sought it from an ex-colleague whom he had helped all along; but that man excused himself, prompting my father to give me that parting advice to be careful with my money. But by not parting a farthing with a dying friend, how that man had denied himself the satisfaction of discharging a bit of his debt of gratitude; while I felt sorry for him, it pained me that my father had to die after losing the little faith he had had in the virtue of friendship.”
“More than the lack of concern for the dying, it could be the fear of foregoing the money that was behind his insensitivity. Why, I know of an incident when the bride was pestered by her in-laws to fetch her jewels even though her father was battling for his life that was the day after her marriage.”
“I suppose your reading is right,” he said and continued. “But much before my dad’s heart was broken for a few bucks; he dropped in at our place and wanted to know whether I could spare him hundred rupees. How dumbstruck I was that he should’ve been as hard up as that; why even after I had started earning, he used to book my return tickets on my home visits and had declined my offer of twenty-thousand to facilitate my brother’s engineering education. While I was trying to figure out the import of his financial downturn on his psyche, Rathi fetched him five-hundred rupees that touched his heart no end; oh, even as I gloated over my fortune for having been blessed with such a wife, how his eyes glistened grasping the sense of her concern for him. While I owe it to Rathi for letting my dad feel wanted when he was down, it was his dismissive smile at my twenty-thousand-offer and the cared-for feeling these five-hundred gave him made me realize that it’s the small things that make the big moments of life.”
As those poignant memories seemingly impinged upon his heart, his eyes began to swell with tears in profusion.
“What was more, Rathi was the neighbor’s neighbor,” he continued after composing himself. “How she was at ease with her life and made it easy for others; it was like seeing the simple living and high thinking in action. Wonder why life had let fate withdraw its model brand well before its expiry time; but the lament in the obituaries about the loss to the society on account of those, who had long ceased to contribute amuses me; would the lack of meaningless hyperboles in them mean any disrespect to the departed? What about the living legends; the psyche of these spent forces makes an interesting reading; used as they were to adulations in their heydays, they tend to bemuse themselves at sundry events as the organizers eulogize them to add value to their own endeavors, and as if they came out of their oblivion, they head home to savor a peg or two to buttress their fantasy of falsity.”
“Sorry for the digression,” he continued as we savored the Laphroaic that I replenished meanwhile. “the spiritual beauty of Rathi’s love lay in ignoring my roving eyes; it was not that she was any less sexy or I loved her any less, but I was too romantic to remain unmoved by the desirable women though she was more ardent than the best I’d ever laid. Soon after our marriage, we had set up in the first floor of a house. As the widowed house owner lived in the ground floor, her daughter came to spend the summer holydays with her two kids; about Rathi’s age, she was her namesake as well. Oh, what a sexy dame she was, possibly the sexiest I had ever seen and the one I most wanted to have in all my life; as my passion for her namesake was ever on the raise, my Rathi said she wasn’t losing sleep as her rival’s hairy legs were sure to leave me cold that was if push comes to shove; but as I chanced to divine the dame’s satin legs, Rathi said she was only jesting to pour water over my raging ardency in those summer times.”
“Oh, how unlike your Rathi, women clip the romantic wings of their men and still blame them for being cold to them.”
“Women tend to imagine man’s romanticism as an on-off switch within their reach,” he said. “Didn’t I tell you about a plain girl, who was enamored of me; much later, another I knew nursed the idea of marrying a romantic guy but was aghast as her father intended to get her married to a dull character; when she told me about her predicament, I said that though she was beautiful, yet she was not vivacious, and that it’ sex appeal that triggers romantics; I told her in half-jest that if she were sexy, I would’ve seduced her; that made her comprehend the sexual realities of her life.”
“Are you a lover or a seducer? I’m unable to figure that out.”
“What is a lover if he is not a seducer?” he said and continued. “Coming back to our sexy neighbor, as I told you, I had lost my eyes to her and she too didn’t seem to mind that; Rathi and I used to sleep on the terrace while that dame slept in the open compound with her mother and the kids; she could soon sense that standing by the parapet wall, I was forever ogling at her. That full moon night, I found her with her sari askance as she lay on her belly dangling her bare legs up in the air; oh how voluptuous she was in that moonlight then; sensing my anticipated presence, as she turned all the more inviting, so I got down and sauntered nearby to let her make the next move but she staid put in her bed though I could discern her desire in her manner. Why she had failed to cross the threshold of our adulterous zone to address our wants I would never know; in spite of my surging urge, with her mother nearby, I too didn’t dare to press farther. So our passions were locked in a painful stalemate that night; her man’s arrival the next day barred my further moves to checkmate her on our love-board of attrition. I always had the feeling that she was craving to be grabbed by me that night and had I dared to hustle her into agreeing, she would’ve been mine that night, and possibly that would’ve ushered us into a liaison of our lifetime; but destiny packed me off to this place shortly thereafter; oh how she remains the most insatiate passion of my life with a lingering longing; and had I not made it with that remarkable Sumitra, what a memorable contest it would’ve been between them for the ‘most wanted’ woman that I didn’t have?”
As he closed his eyes seemingly savoring the persona of the woman he had failed to possess as well as to reminisce about the flavors of the one he was able to savor, I went out into the open to have a smoke in the fresh air.
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