Big Brother Commands
Big Brother Commands10 mins 269 10 mins 269
Ramachandran was my grandfather’s contemporary--- a year or two younger than him. He was the third of a batch of six brothers. Third, or was it the fourth or fifth—I am not so sure--- because it did not really matter. The only person who really mattered was the eldest brother Surendran, and of course, their mother. In a land where the Mother Goddess is revered as the symbol of ideal womanhood, the principal devotee at almost all times is considered above board. Hence Surendran, the eldest, ruled the family with a strong whip. His commands were those of the mother herself and none would question them. In the absence of a father to balance the situation, the remaining five brothers trudged along the path chalked out by Big Brother Surendran.\
Oh no, it was not as bad as it sounds. Financially, no doubt, the family faced severe constraints in the absence of a breadwinner. But their deceased father, having been in the service of the ruling family and having maintained a reputation for honesty, integrity, and loyalty, the higher-ups saw to it that the family was not left in the lurch. Hence, the expenses on the education of the brothers were taken care of and all of them grew up to be bright and steady boys. All except perhaps Kumaran, the youngest. It was not lack of intelligence that made him different from his brothers but rather too much of it, that made him stop short time and again before following brother Surendran's commands. Thus, well-wishers, while lauding the family for the spirit of unity, and Surendran for his leadership and planned handling of a difficult situation, used to shake their heads sadly while mentioning Kumaran. If only he realized the value of sound advice and guidance, if only he had the good sense to see the wisdom in his brother’s decisions. But Kumaran did not cause any serious ripples in the smooth functioning of the household. Besides, he was still too young to exert his independence and the family was also confident of its oneness.
Days passed by and so did years. Surendran, as expected, became a graduate in an age when colleges were few and educated were rare and revered. But then jobs were also hard to find. Finally, he came across an advt. for the post of a teacher in Calcutta. As luck would have it, he was selected for the job, and soon, with the eldest settled more or less well, the family began to see a glimmer of hope. One by one each of the brothers started passing out of college, a degree in hand. Surendran used his contacts to bag a teaching post for the second in line—Raghavan. When it was Ramachandran’s turn, he too managed a job along with the elder two. With three earning members and considerable resources getting pooled in, Surendran decided that it was time for him to leave his job and go abroad for higher studies. He could do so because by then the fourth and fifth in line—Gopalan and Aravindan had also started earning.
Call it good fortune, call it wonderful and meticulous planning, one by one each of the brothers was able to go to England for higher studies. All except—you are right--- Kumaran, the youngest. He had a well-paid job as a teacher in an English medium school in Calcutta, which also provided him living quarters within its premises. Meals were taken care of by the school canteen and one of the school maids took care of the maintenance and upkeep of the house. Being a happy-go-lucky person, he was popular among the boys and the staff. So why on earth should he leave all these and follow his brothers to England to pursue higher studies when he was not even ambitious? He thought over it repeatedly. He could not see the logic of it. So humbly, very humbly, he conveyed these sentiments in a well-chosen carefully worded letter to big brother Surendran.
What! The audacity of the little shrimp! Does he think he has the brains to counter big brother’s plans? This was what the stunned expressions on the faces of brothers number 2,3,4 & 5 said when they heard Surendran read out Kumaran’s letter.
“But brother, I’ll explain to him,” started Raghavan meekly
“I am sure he will understand his mistake”,----bleated Ramachandran.
“No”---There was a touch of finality in Surendran’s tone. “Kumaran has become too big for his boots. He wants to make his own bed. Let him lie on it. We shall not discuss it again. I do not want to hear of him.”
Surendran got up and walked to the door. He stopped, turned back, and gave his final word.
“You may convey this to him”. And he was gone.
The four brothers looked at each other, misery writ large on their faces. Kumaran, their little brother, had always been an inseparable part of their lives since childhood. And now------.But what he did was unpardonable. He went against the decisions of brother Surendran---Surendran who had always been their mentor. How could he do it? And so, Kumaran slowly slipped out of their lives.
It was not easy, by any chance, for Kumaran too. He read Ramachandran’s letter with a heavy heart, remorse gnawing into him. He had indeed committed the unpardonable. He had hurt big brother Surendran and had fallen from grace.
England proved to be a window out into the world for the brothers. Their vision broadened and so did their view of themselves and others, through interaction with people of all walks of life, all races, nations, and social standing. Soon the five brothers completed their courses and settled in jobs of their choice. This new life was suiting them well. But one gloomy, rainy evening when the four younger brothers were seated before the fireplace, chatting cozily, Surendran boomed in
“What do you think you are doing?”
“What…what…what happened?” stammered Gopalan
“What did we do?” pleaded Aravindan
“Don’t you remember,” said Surendran sternly, “why we came here in the first place? We came here for higher studies---not to settle down here. Our studies are over. Now we are going back home. So start packing up. Our ship leaves on Monday. I have made all arrangements.”
As usual, without waiting for an answer Surendran got up to leave.
“But, our jobs….” started Raghavan.
“Yes, this is so sudden…” continued Ramachandran.
“Did you say something?” he asked softly with steel in his voice
“Oh no, we have to do the packing,” replied the brothers
“Good” and the matter was closed
Once in India, the five brothers received heroes’ welcome from friends, relatives, and society---after all, they were ‘England returned’ the highest rung in the social ladder.
Their mother’s happiness knew no bounds. True, she used to shed tears for her youngest in the privacy of the work area but not for long because her eldest was preparing to drop another bombshell soon.
My grandfather being a close friend of the family visited the brothers. They were seated in the main hall. Over a cup of steaming coffee, grandfather casually asked them about their plans for matrimony as they were considered the most eligible bachelors in town.
Surendran gravely answered for all.
“No such plans. The arrival of a bride brings with it the end of unity, of oneness in the family. Do you know what was the greatest strength of the Pandavas which led to their victory? Their unity! It was because they had one common wife--- not five different ones who pulled them apart in different directions.
Grandfather was amused.
“So are you planning to have a common wife?” he laughed.
“No, better than that. We are planning to continue as bachelors. No woman, no disunity, no separation of brothers, and ultimate breakdown of the house.
“How does your mother feel about it?” grandfather asked quietly.
“Why, we are doing this in her interest. With five daughters-in-law in the house, she will have no peace and will gradually lose her identity and give up on her own. We cannot allow that to happen.”
Grandfather had no words in return.
“ Do all of you feel the same way?” he asked in the air.
As if in reply, the four younger brothers looked down and then out of the window as Surendran nodded vigorously and exclaimed, “Why not!”
This fantastic decision was soon to create ripples. It became a major issue and the talk of the town in a few weeks. Meanwhile Kumaran, our long-forgotten youngest had a sweetheart Lata in the neighborhood, whom he had kept under wraps. When Lata heard of the strange decision, she got panicky. With five elder brothers remaining as bachelors, how could she ever hope to get married to the youngest? She conveyed her feelings strongly to Kumaran and even suggested that he approaches her father for her hand. Kumaran was in a fix. He would have to either lose his Lata or else destroy his relation or what was left of it with his brothers. He chose the obvious. He agreed to Lata’s suggestion and soon the wedding date was fixed. In a short, polite letter to Surendran, he informed him of his marriage, begging for his forgiveness as well as blessings.
“Never mention his name in this house,” was Surendran’s order. It was duly followed.
As was expected, not a single member of the family attended the wedding. Only their mother, pretending to go to the temple, went near the marriage site, watched the couple from afar, and gave her tearful blessings.
Years rolled on—10,15,20. The brothers assumed senior positions in their respective professions. But where mother was concerned, age was catching up. She could no longer cook or run the house with the same ease that she had felt earlier. One day, feeling weak and exhausted after coming back from the temple, she collapsed.
“Mild attack. Needs a lot of rest. No strenuous work” was the doctor’s advice.
Prompt and meticulous care was taken and the sons employed a cook-cum-housekeeper the very next day.
The household routine carried on without serious problems, but mother grew weaker by the day. No treatment seemed to work and after a couple of months, the brothers faced what they had always dreaded. She passed into the unknown---an era elapsed. The house loomed large before the brothers and her absence echoed from all around. Surendran kept to himself. After a discussion, the four younger ones approached him.
“We were wondering—do we really need this big house and the services of the cook?” Raghavan took up the topic.
“Won’t it be better to lock up the house and take a room in a lodge where meals are also provided? So we can do without a cook. It will be less expensive,” joined in Ramachandran.
Surendran closed the book he was reading and looked up purposefully. He removed his glasses and polished them.
“We cannot remove the cook. I am marrying her.”
What! Wasn’t it a staggering blow!
“But it was you who asked us not to get married,” --- Gopalan’s voice found a new strength.
“We wasted 20 precious years of our lives in forced bachelorhood-----------all for you” ------Aravindan’s voice was also rising and he couldn’t care less.
Surendran raised an eyebrow
“Yes, I asked you not to get married at that time. Well, now I am giving you full permission to get married. Go ahead----find your brides and tie the nuptial knot.”
“Find our brides? Indeed, in our late 40s and early 50s, where do we find brides?” the brothers spluttered in unison.
Surendran seemed amused.
“Can’t you see? at 55 I found the love of a 35-year-old. I am sure you all will find your soulmates somewhere.”
Thoroughly shocked and disgusted, the four brothers staggered out of the house, cursing Big Brother under their breath and all their years spent in obeying his commands. They felt abused, cheated. Their hearts reached out to their youngest sibling whose fiery sense of independence they sadly lacked.
So when Kumaran, in his mid-forties was looking for college admission for his children, his older brothers in their late forties and early fifties were looking for brides.
True, their story had a positive ending as all four of them ultimately did get married to somebody or the other somehow. But the golden years of their lives were spent in carrying out orders instead of establishing their identity and carving out their future. Was it worth it?