A Win and a Defeat
A Win and a Defeat
Good friends are the best gift the God has ever given to man, I firmly believed. They are the ones you could share your joys and sorrows with freely. They are a great source of strength and solace in times of difficulty and depression. So whenever I was in low spirits, I would turn to my best friend, Seshadri.
As I reached Seshadri’s house that day, he was hissing like a cobra. A typical policeman, Seshadri was always grim-faced. A stickler for discipline, he expected everyone to be so. In the name of discipline, he was missing the thrill of life, I often felt.
Seshadri had forced a smile on his lips on seeing me. We were of the same age. He was a tall man with a good personality and sported moustache, which ably covered his feelings. One could never know whether he was pleased or displeased, thanks to the moustache. The serious-looking Superintendent of Police, Seshadri, was a terror not only to the criminals, but to those in his own department even.
“My, my! Can’t you lift that police mask even at home?” I said to him settling down in the sofa. “Tell me, man, have you ever smiled since donning the police cap?”
My query having evoked a giggle, he came and sat beside me. “Ok, now tell me the news. Has your problem been solved?” he enquired.
Suddenly my mood had changed to that of melancholy. I heaved a sigh and said blandly, “Latha is adamant. She even threatens to end her life if she is forced otherwise. I know not what to do”.
“Nonsense!” Seshadri fumed. “It is all your own fault. You are damn lenient and allowed her unbridled freedom. And you see the result now”.
I kept mum. For, I knew he was right. The problem I was presently facing was nothing new. It was an age-old one, experienced by many parents. If there was anything new, it was that it had happened just to me.
I was an officer in a Public Sector Undertaking. Latha was my only child. The twenty-plus was in her final year degree. I had allowed Latha all the freedom she needed. Although I belonged to a traditional orthodox Brahmin family, I had never tried to impose my beliefs and practices on her. I wanted her to develop on her own. I wanted her to be rational in her thinking. This was despite strong opposition from my wife, who was an orthodox to the core. Latha excelled in her academics and was well disciplined.
However, I had a jolt when she had brought a boy home one day and introduced him to be her boy friend.
I looked at him. Tall, fair and handsome, he appeared to be good and cultured. His name was Rasool and he was in his final year law, Latha had said.
I was dumbfounded when Rasool said, “Uncle, I love Latha very much. I want to marry her with your blessings”.
It had caused a big ruckus in the family. My wife could never accept the proposal. It was unthinkable for her to compromise on her religion or the customs ingrained in her blood by birth. She yelled hysterically at Latha after Rasool had left.
Rasool’s parents had no objection to their marriage. Only we had. For, it was unimaginable for a girl born in such an orthodox Brahmin family as ours, marrying someone belonging to the Muslim family.
The heat had turned on me. I was put in the dock by my wife and relatives. For allowing Latha the freedom. For cosseting her all along. I was blamed for ‘spoiling’ the girl.
I always considered myself to be a moderate, and progressive in thinking. Yet, I myself was unable to reconcile to the idea of marrying off my daughter into the family of a different religion and faith.
I tried to convince and prevail upon Latha. She was not relenting. She had declared that she was in deep love with the boy and that if she were to marry, it could be Rasool only and none else! She was firm in her resolve. No amount of howling and yelling by my wife, or the admonishment from me, could change her mind.
When I posed the problem to Seshadri, he had advised me to put Latha in her place by discontinuing her studies and to marry her off to a boy from our own caste immediately – by force, if needed. He even told me to confine her to home, so as to prevent her from meeting Rasool.
I did not do any of the things. For, I knew Latha too well. She was a bold and strong-willed girl. If she were determined to marry Rasool, no one could stop her. And she was not the kind to elope with her lover. Any attempt at putting restrictions on her movement might only prove to be counter-productive, I feared.
Latha had been going to the college as usual, amidst the cold war that was going on at home.
With her final year examinations behind, Latha had given us an ultimatum. She had threatened to commit suicide if we did not come round and allow her to marry Rasool…I was damn scared. My wife too was alarmed. Not unduly. For, we knew that she would not hesitate a moment to do what she said. We were really in a fix….
Even as Seshadri and I were discussing the problem, his wife Savithri had joined us with the coffee. “It is rather difficult to understand the present generation, Annayya!” She said with a sigh. “Your friend is blaming you for being lenient towards Latha. But with all his strict discipline and controls, what has happened to Kalpana now?”
Astonished, I enquired eagerly, “What has happened to Kalpana?”
She looked at her husband, who tried to look away from us.
Kalpana, Seshadri’s daughter, was about the same age as that of Latha. She was also in her degree course..
What Savithri told me about Kalpana, had made me flummoxed. Kalpana too fell in love with her classmate Mohan. And she was bent on marrying him.
“Do you know the background of the bastard?” thundered Seshadri. “Even if you keep the question of his caste aside for a moment, he stands nowhere near us – either in wealth or in status. He is the son of a tailor, studying with the help of scholarships”.
I was too numbed to say anything.
“The fellow was after Kalpana’s beauty and the riches behind her and has trapped her in the name of love. And the innocent girl has believed him” fumed Seshadri.
Knowing the kind of discipline Seshadri imposed at home, it was still wonder how Kalpana - a quiet, shy girl - could dare to do it.
“So we are sailing in the same boat! What have you decided, then?” Mustering courage, I asked him at last.
He glared at me as if he were looking at a murderer. “Quite simple. I told Kalpana to forget the scoundrel, lest he might be killed in a police encounter as an extremist,” he said nonchalantly.
I gaped at his tone and tenor. I knew he was quite capable of carrying out the threat. He was a police officer, after all!…I was seeing a different angle of him now. Whether this was the real Seshadri, I wondered.
“What was the reaction of Kalpana?” I asked him a little fearfully.
“Does she have any choice, eh?” he smiled crookedly.
“Kalpana was so terrified that she had fallen on her father’s feet begging him not to harm the boy. She had agreed to fall in line, to save his life”- It was Savithri who had explained.
A dreaded silence had pervaded us. I could now understand why the atmosphere was tense when I had arrived. I did not know what to say. As a father, there was nothing wrong with one wishing his daughter to be married into a good, well-to-do family. There was nothing wrong, either, in his getting angry, as his dreams seemed to be shattering. But he could still try to convince his daughter, instead of threatening. What to do if she did not heed - I myself did not have the answer, of course. Yet, threatening to eliminate the lover by misusing one’s position and authority was something no civilized society could appreciate or approve of. The very thought of it was nauseating.
For the first time in the history of our friendship, I hated Seshadri. Till then I had known him to be a responsible, efficient and honest police officer only. But now I could see the other side of him too.
It looked as though Savithri was not averse to her daughter marrying her lover. But did she have guts to oppose her husband?
I could not sit there any more. As I got up to leave, Seshadri said, “Look, Murari. I think you too should adopt the same strategy in Latha’s case also. My cooperation is always there, you know.”
I did not reply. I silently walked out.
I performed Latha’s marriage with Rasool, despite strong opposition from my wife and the relatives. This was because I did not want to separate the lovers. Perhaps the fear of Latha executing her threat also had weighed more.
It was a great revolution, I should say. It had created a serious ruckus as well as a big sensation all around. A purely traditional and orthodox family marrying off its daughter to a boy from the Muslim community – was never heard of before. At least in our families. It had caused a storm in the relatives’ circle. Everyone had despised it, and opposed vehemently. I was taken to task by the elders. I did not budge. I was apprehensive that my family would be boycotted for the ‘despicable’ act. The worst did not happen, al beit only a few relatives attended the marriage, which I made to be a simple affair. Giving a go-bye to the tradition, I had arranged for a registered marriage in the presence of a few close ones. And gave a reception in the night. My wife did not attend. She had resorted to satyagraha and been weeping all through, accusing me and my daughter of ‘depraving’ the customs and ‘subverting’ the religion.
Seshadri, though attended the reception, was grim through out. “I can’t help pitying you, Murari. It is nothing but an awful downfall, an utter defeat in life!” He said to me while leaving.
But I could take solace in the words of Savithri. “I feel you have done a wise thing, Annayya! Latha is quite happy, and what more do we want basically?” She had said when we both were alone. “I am worried about Kalpana. Though she has succumbed to her father’s threats, there is a sudden transformation in her, and it is frightening me. She confines herself to her room all the time and does not venture out even once. She would be staring blankly into the space quite oblivious of her surroundings, as though she had lost everything in life”.
I felt sorry for Savithri as she wept silently.
After sometime, Kalpana’s marriage too was celebrated with pomp and show. The groom was foreign-returned. He had worked in the States for a couple of years after completion of his MBA and returned to India recently. The boy was quite handsome and appeared to be a nice guy. He belonged to a wealthy and highly cultured family, which seemed to match the ambitions and the status of Seshadri. I was happy that Kalpana could get a good husband, even though she had failed in love.
“You had your way as usual. Hats off to you!“ I could not resist appreciating my friend.
He smiled and said with a bloated pride, “Yes, no compromises with life. I always win!”
Three springs had since passed by. Life had become a routine, except that I had a transfer to another place, a year after Latha’s marriage. While Rasool had set up his own legal practice, Latha had landed a government job. As I found Latha to be happy and agile enjoying the life fully, even the remote feeling of guilt that was pricking me sometimes, had vanished. It did not bother me much even if some of the relatives had stopped visiting us. Not only my son-in-law, even his entire family was very good, gentle and quite friendly. Both our families had got mingled so much that none of us could remember that we belonged to different religions. This had brought a change of heart in my wife too, who had now started accepting them. And what more could I bargain for?
Seshadri too had a transfer to a far off place during the period with the result we had lost touch of each other, being busy with our own jobs. Soon after the marriage, Kalpana had gone away with her husband, never to visit her parents again! Now I did not know whether she had since started visiting them again. All the same, I was glad that the girl could reconcile and adjust to the realities of life, without much difficulty.
One evening when I returned from office, the entire Rasool family was at home. All of them – Latha, Rasool, his parents and even his two sisters and their husbands! They had brought good news.
Latha’s father-in-law was a leather merchant doing quite well in his business. His daughters and sons-in-law too were in good jobs. Theirs was a happy, ideal family. I considered myself lucky to have given my only daughter into the family.
And now, for the good news. Latha was in the family way… My joy knew no bounds – not only at Latha’s pregnancy, but also at the fact that every one in their family was rejoicing it! They had found time, leaving their own priorities, to visit us to break the good news and to congratulate us. I was touched by the rare gesture and thanked them heartily. We had a grand celebration that night.
As if it was not enough, I had another pleasant surprise – Seshadri’s sudden visit!
He was on some investigation duty at a nearby town and he had taken time off to surprise me. I had embraced him with an unbound joy, as we were meeting after a long time. He was happy to hear the good news about Latha. … I had introduced the Rasool family to him. I was pleasantly surprised to find him chatting with them, shedding his earlier reservations.
But when I enquired about Kalpana, he was evasive. Perhaps, she was still angry with her parents, I surmised.
We took a stroll after dinner, when I raised the topic again. “Tell me, man, how is dear Kalpana? Is she also in the family way, or you have quietly become a grandpa already?” I laughed.
He heaved a deep sigh. “You are my close friend, Murari. Who else can I share my grief with, if not you?” he said. And what he had told me had not only stunned me, but terribly upset me too.
Kalpana was a changed person after the marriage. She became dull and lifeless. Her anger against her parents having not been subdued, she showed no inclination to visit them, till date. She would neither answer their phone calls nor respond to their letters.
“Murari! Kalpana has not yet excused me for what I have done to her. She would not tolerate even our shadows, leave alone seeing our faces”. Seshadri said sadly. “Once your sister and I went to see her. Do you know what she had done? … She said, ‘Your daughter Kalpana had died with the marriage. Whom you see now is none other than a lifeless wife of somebody…so don’t ever try to visit me or call me. And no more letters, either, from you…’ Having said that she had shut the door on our faces even as we were spellbound”.
Seshadri broke down and cried like a child. I did not know how to console him… The parents were always well-intentioned and tried to do what they considered to be good for their offsprings. It was their children’s welfare that would be foremost in their minds – be it their marriage, or their career. And the children could hardly understand this…
The sleep had eluded me and Seshadri that night.
Seshadri was to leave the next morning. He said before leaving: “I feel both happy and envious of you, Murari. I remember I had ridiculed you for succumbing to Latha’s threats. By successfully brainwashing Kalpana, I considered myself to be wise. I thought I had won and you had lost the bargain… But, Murari, I now realize that what I regarded a win is in fact not a win, but an utter defeat. And your supposed defeat has turned out to be a grand winner. By going out of your religion, you have everything to gain – Latha’s happiness, relations and friends beyond your community. It has resulted in expanded horizons and unbound happiness for all… This is the real win, I should admit. My hearty congrats to you… Riding high on my ego, I have lost everything – my dear daughter, peace of mind”.
I could not help feeling pity for the poor man. What could one do for a person who had deliberately burnt his fingers?
I watched with a heavy heart as Seshadri receded slowly out of my sight.