I haven’t moved on yet…though they had bid me adieu four days ago. Am I already forgotten, buried as an unwanted past?
The veranda, adorned with Rohini’s favourite Lily plants and tiny Bonsai’s mesmerized me. How come I didn’t even notice them? In the journey of thirty- five years with her, I never cared to see the world through her eyes.
“Heera, will you please hang Babuji’s photo on the wall? The puja and rituals are over and it’s time to clear up the place.” Rohini’s authoritative tone broke my reverie. The woman, who wouldn’t dare to utter a single word in front of me, now ruled the household. She looked beautiful in the mauve saree, sans the vermillion. Her head partially covered with the pallu, held high with a newfound self – confidence.
I was not angry at her. Death had taken away the emotions of anger and ego and I found a strange sense of freedom; freedom from desires and ownership. I now stood as a spirit, introspecting and lamenting on the kind of life I led. If only this wisdom dawned upon me during those living years, things would have been different.
I went closer to her, as she sipped her coffee surrounded by the lush greenery of the garden. I could see a few strands of grey falling on her soft cheeks. With her slender fingers, she tucked them behind her ear. The ruby ring was still there, though the fine lines on her fingers reminded me, that it had been ages I clasped them into mine. The ring was not a gift. I had stolen it from a jewellery shop. I gave her things to impose my superiority, but never to touch her heart.
I was dying to touch her…oh wait, I was already dead and it was making me feel more helpless. The entity called time which I never bothered to spend had slipped out of my hand.
I peeped inside the newspaper she was reading. Oh an obituary for me?
“You will be missed.” Below my photo read Shri Karanprasad Mehta, our beloved leader, and guide. Who were these people claiming to miss me? I was not one of those benevolent employers. I crafted a wall of arrogance around myself and mistook their fear as respect towards me.
All of a sudden, Rohini turned around and looked straight into my eyes. Did she sense my presence in the air? With twitched brows, she looked around and then after a pause, she dipped her head back inside the newspaper.
My story is a dead man’s story. A wicked and greedy dead man’s story which wouldn’t inspire anyone, but may tell you how not to live your life. I want to be liberated from this ghostly existence. Maybe my honest confessions shall make the Almighty open the doors to the next world, a world beyond life and death.
Born and brought up in the slums of Mumbai, I became street smart at an early age. My rickshaw-puller father, Mohanlal, was a man who believed that poor people are destined to toil hard to make the ends meet and wither away silently. My mother, Gayatri, worked as a housemaid in the plush bungalows of the nearby locality. Often she would take me along with her to make sure that I won’t roam around with other slum boys and pick up the bad habits. A pang of jealousy and anger would engulf me when the frivolous demands and tantrums of the rich kids were fulfilled by the parents without giving a rational thought. I despised it when they passed on their old garments and shoes to me. It pricked the bubble of my ego, and I used to fight with my mother about it.
“Karan, these are as good as new ones. Wear them; it will help us save us money for the school fees of your brothers and sisters.” Mother would reason me. I was already a teenager, and the rebellious traits started showing. With a trail of two younger sisters and one brother, the resources often failed the demands. I would shamelessly ask my mother why she and father procreated so many us when all they could provide us was used and worn-out stuff of the affluent people.
Father would often trash me and throw me out of home for my rogue behaviour. Later, he would search for me in the dark alleys of the slum and bring me back, with a faint hope that someday I would mend my ways. I would steal money from home and puff it out on cheap bidi, I began taking baby steps into the one-way dark tunnel of the world of crime.
Birds of a feather flock together and so I did find my tribe; Narayan, a pick-pocket and Gangaram, a local goon. Soon we started terrorizing local shopkeepers with our threats and collected money from them as ‘hafta’. With time we graduated from Hafta Vasooli to extortion and robbery. The money gave me the taste of luxuries. The greed for more aroused the demon in me and increased my thirst for power. I couldn’t take a ‘no’ from anyone and the fear in the eyes of my victims gave me an addictive pleasure.
Money was flowing, and with it came to distrust and deceit. Gangaram parted ways with me. Let me confess, I double-crossed him in an extortion ransom. It left me with Narayan, who eventually became my most trusted aide. We decided to try our luck in the land mafia and soon my shrewdness made me a prominent player.
At home, my blood money was accepted for the education purpose of my siblings, but I was disowned because of my frequent visits to jail. Though a rickshaw-puller, father maintained a high level of integrity. But dignity alone isn’t enough to survive and my poor old man died of jaundice, due to improper medication and care. Mother meekly accepted me and my ways, though she never moved in with me at my new home.
This house has witnessed all the pleasant and unpleasant events during the past thirty-five years of my life. The power which comes from dominating others is mortal, whereas the strength which has its roots in your conscience and values is imperishable, even after death. I was never ignorant of this philosophical knowledge, but too weak to implement it in my life.
I faced the wall which was now adorned with my garlanded picture. The fragrance of incense sticks and Diya gave a momentarily peaceful solace to my tired soul.
“So how does it feel Karan?” I was startled.
Rohini was calmly reading the newspaper and Heera was engrossed in his chores. Who was it then? I was the ghost now… yet scared. I was amused by the thought.
“Welcome, Karan. You always fail to see me.” I turned my head away from the wall. As I took a few steps, the voice echoed from another end of the room. “Karan, I have been with you all along. You garnered wealth and power because of me and I was the cause of your doom… it’s a pity that you never recognized me.”
“Who are you? Are you someone from Gangaram’s gang? He always conspired plans to eliminate me from the business.” Unsure about the happenings around me, I began to mumble.
A sarcastic laugh engulfed me as the room transformed into a passage of darkness. I could still see Rohini and Heera, oblivious of my non-physical existence.
“I am the voice of your biggest enemy, your own greed. Close your eyes and let me show you what we enjoyed together.”
With my eyes closed, I could see images overlapping each other. I saw my first crime. I was threatening a shopkeeper, with a knife in my hand. The currency notes which he handed over to me smelt good. The next moment I was witnessing my rowdy self, snatching away a briefcase full of money from an old retired man. The shameless grin on my face while counting the bundle of notes was repulsive. My lust for the women, considering them as mere objects starkly danced in front of my eyes when I saw the images of various prostitutes, whom I relished and ravaged.
Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of Rohini. She looked so tender in that women’s remand home where the local Neta employed me to arrange girls for him.
“I want that delicate one this weekend at my bungalow.” The lusty eyes of Netaji fell upon her. I felt a blow and kept avoiding sending her for his pleasure. Instead, I would pick other girls.
“Today it’s your turn Rohini, but I am not going to send you.”
“And send someone else? If you think something is wrong in my spending night with him, you should think about other girls too. But you won’t because it brings you money.” She said blalantly and asked Narayan to drop her at Neta’s bungalow.
“You can’t go there,” I ordered.
“Why?… Oh yes, then I won’t be eligible for you? I too need money.” She had the audacity to say things straight on my face.
In the next two days, I married her. I didn’t marry her out of love, but with a desire to possess and control her. For her marriage was liberation from the shackles of the remand home. She submitted herself to my sexual desires. I never made love to her; only had sex with her. As soon as the chase for her was over, my ego was satiated. I would often visit prostitutes because I hated being tied down in relationships. However, I never understood that tied up with my inflated ego in a loveless marriage, Rohini was drifting away.
From a petty goon, I had become a real estate businessman.
I grabbed a bungalow from an old couple, whose son was living in the USA and bothered least to check on them. They were not willing to give this old fashioned villa on rent. I coerced them and then without giving a single penny began enjoying the bliss of a roof over my head with Rohini. The helpless couple asked me to vacate or pay the monthly rent. It was responded with my threats and terror. Finally, after ten long years, the couple paid me 25 lakhs to vacate their beloved home, which gave me a sense of victory and I moved to another helpless landlord’s home. Meanwhile, I and Rohini were blessed with a son, Gaurav. I was an obsessed and over-protective father. Gaurav was showered with all the love, money and materialistic wealth.
The corners of my eyes were moist when the images emerged from Gaurav’s childhood. The bliss of parenthood, along with the mistakes which I committed as a father was in front of my eyes. Like me, my boy couldn’t take a ‘no’ for anything. Gaurav would show off wealth and power and I boosted his shallow ego at every step. From the toy bicycle to his admission in the most reputed engineering college I bought everything for him. He would demand money , but what I failed to understand was that he never expected love from me.
I transferred the papers of our house in his name as a gift when he earned his degree after several attempts. For me, he had become a man. But in fact, he never grew up.
One fine day he declared that he was moving to Australia.
“Why Gaurav? We have everything here. You are our only child.” I was baffled at his decision.
“Megha doesn’t want to live here in the shadows of your criminal background. She feels in future our kids will be affected by all this.” His cold reply broke my heart.
Megha was his love, and again how could I say ‘no’? The money which got him everything, she found it dipped in crime. So, he chose to leave us. I asked him to re-transfer the property documents of the house in my name before leaving to avoid any legal hassles while selling it. I too wanted to move out of this place. No amount of power or money would give me peace here. He agreed, however with a condition.
“The market value of the house is now around Rs.4.80 crore. But since we are family you can pay me Rs.4 crore and have your house back.”
I was stunned. How could he demand money against it? I was his father.
“Now don’t over-react, Dad. You haven’t paid a single penny for this place. The poor couple let you grab it as they couldn’t arrange the money you demanded. Either you pay me the price, or I shall keep the house. That’s the rule you followed, No? So, what’s the big deal now?” He showed me the mirror.
“This was never our home; you had caged someone else’s happiness to build this abode.” Rohini insisted on leaving the place.
I had spent my everything on Gaurav and with age catching up my power had declined in the underworld circle. I managed to arrange 2.50 crore and rest was decided to be paid through monthly EMI. I didn’t want Rohini to be homeless at this stage of life. She was the only companion I was left with, now a powerless and lonely man with repentance in the heart.
Gaurav’s greed took a toll on my health and a month after he left for Australia I succumbed to the fatal cardiac attack. He didn’t come to perform my last rites.
I am still waiting for him in this veranda, where I taught him how to walk.
The images stopped flowing.
I was in deep pain, stuck in between the two worlds and was crying aloud. Alas, I was all alone with no one to console me, other than my greed, which I failed to tame at the right time.
“Karan, you could have stopped all this on the first day when I tiptoed inside your head. But you enjoyed the pleasures which I gave you. But nothing comes for free. Your son grew up watching you, and I enveloped him too. You never showed
him that I can be controlled and he took me as a normal trait.” The inner greed’s voice turned grim.
“But I wanted to buy all the happiness for him.” I protested.
“Buy happiness?” A could sense a smirk. “A person can be greedy, but if the greed is for virtues and values, he will liberate himself and fellow beings. But if he is trapped in me for the vices and materialistic wealth, there is no freedom. The walls of this house are stained with your selfishness. You got your share of punishment when you saw your reflection in Gaurav…Time to move to the next world Karan. How long do you want to wait for him?”
The voice kept on echoing. My greed was having the last laugh.
Photo By: Cristina Gottardi
This is an entry from team Heads &Tales of ArttrA-3 – A Game of Writers, co-sponsored by Diners Club International.
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