‘So what you are you implying, Rama? That we are superior to others by simply being born in this caste?’ Venkat questioned Ramakrishnan with raised eyebrows.
‘I am saying we are different. Certain differences make us superior to others by its nature. Some gene pools have an inherent ability to absorb information and transform them into knowledge, while some have greater physical abilities. But isn’t brain better than brawn? We are different and thereby not equal.’
‘You are saying that if a tiger is ready to pounce on you, you will invite him to tea and try reasoning out with him rather than run?’
‘With my knowledge, won’t I preempt such a situation and avoid being at the mercy of the tiger in the first place?’ Raman replied.
‘So what about hard work and uplifting the downtrodden?’
‘Don’t work against nature. Instead work hard on your inherent abilities. People who are decision makers have to work hard in advancing their knowledge, while the skills men have to work hard applying this knowledge for the betterment of the society and all that is expected of a labourer is to work hard’.
He continued his sermon, ‘All should not try to be a lotus.
The hibiscus should be happy being a hibiscus and a lotus should maintain being a lotus. Won’t that avoid a lot of conflict in the world, Venkat? If each one married within caste, stay put in the place that God had demarcated for us and stop trying to usurp other’s power…..’ Raman trailed off to his ideal world.
Venkat, who stopped listening long ago, yielded to the spicy Mysore bondas prepared by Mrs Ramakrishnan.
In all of Raman’s 60 years, he believed and advocated purity of genes. He married his first cousin and so did his father.
Some even suspect this interfamily marriage was the reason that the couple was childless.
Having lost his parents in a car accident at five, he had been brought up by his orthodox maternal grandmother. Until he left for Anna University to do his engineering, he had been ensconced in his grandmother’s warm pallu. When the college hostel proved too claustrophobic to Raman, read too many ‘other people’, he sought refuge in his uncle’s house. He completed his studies from this safe haven and passed out of the college armed with an engineering degree and a wife (his uncle’s daughter, of course). Anyway, what mattered the most during his university days were his uncle’s passionate talks about his roots, the glorious past of his religion and their caste in particular. His uncle was a card holding member of an organization that claimed grandeur of a spectacular religion, responsible for every advancement in Science. From penicillin to a pen drive, from gravity to G-strings, they had been there, done that. Oops!!!
Apologies, not G-strings, G-force. No sexual references, please.
The particular organization considers copulation so loathsome that their members procreate using tears. Oh, my, (sigh) Glorious indeed!
To cut it short, Ramakrishnan imbibed those principles and like his uncle believed in the social hierarchy and breaching them was a sin. To them, the world was made of upper class educated men and the others. The others included their women too, daughters, wives, paramours and other animals (no offence intended on animals). Raman’s solution to world peace was purity of gene, very much similar to that of a moustached man from a faraway land. If everyone stayed in his own social compartment, however constricting or oppressive space may be, all was well. And peace would prevail. So what if a few thousands were crushed to death in the process? It was a pittance paid in the name of harmony. Move and marry within the class to prevent contamination. That’s why he married his uncle’s daughter.
The gentle breeze of Tiruvarur might have lulled Raman to sleep because Rukmini found Raman sprawled on the rickety cane chair sleeping, his head thrown back and saliva forming neat strings from his mouth to the ground. There were no signs of Venkat or the Mysore bondas.
‘Stupid man, calls me retarded and here he is like an upended cockroach with a serious oral hygiene problem’, she thought as she gently tried to wake him up.
‘Enge, enge, the fuse blew again, I think. Can you check it?’
Just when Raman was about to meet his upper-class Urvashi in his dream, he was jolted back to the reality due to an electrical malfunction.
‘Uruum..huh… Urvashi…. I mean..Venkat? he blathered.
His face contorted when he saw Rukmini, staring at him like a stunned deer.
‘What?’ He roared.
‘The fuse…’ her voice trailed off in fear.
‘That idiot, Saravanan, I asked him to come and sort it yesterday. Should never trust his kind again. All lairs and no respect for work what so ever. That’s why I never pay him on time.’ He cursed and made his way to the room where the electricity board was. He fumbled around in the dark to locate the fuse box and flipped it on. He turned to leave when he jabbed his toes against a small trunk case. He cursed in pain and hopped out of the dark room. As fate would have it, Saravanan came.
Saar, what Saar, playing hopscotch alone, huh? He jeered. That was it. Raman used the choicest bad words in Tamil that questioned Saravanan’s mother fidelity. Don’t ask why because when the indomitable Raman hurts his toes, all the mothers are brought into the scanner.
‘Take that bloody trunk away from there’ he yelled wincing in pain. Saravanan lifted the beaten up trunk case and asked where he should keep it.
‘On my head’, he retorted.
When Saravanan hoisted the trunk to carry out his master’s order, Raman shouted back in alarm ‘leave it in the passageway, you wastrel, and have a look at the fuse box’.
The electrician, having one-upped the old git, smiled to himself and carried on to inspect the fuse box.
The old trunk case was left on its own for a few days until later that week Raman was about to trip on it again. ‘Ei, woman, what is this trunk doing here. Trying always to kill me.’ he said to no one in particular as he dragged the truck to the verandah.
‘Mr. K.Madhusudhan’, it read. Raman ran his fingers over the tiny embossed strip stuck to the trunk. A very much useless padlock protected its contents that gave way in one tug.
‘Will it contain gold coins like in the movies?’ enquired Rukmini peering over his shoulder and in the process startling Raman out of his wits.
‘Stop creeping up on me, you woman’ he gathered himself and replied this is what happens when she sees TV serial from dawn to dusk.
‘This is the trunk my father carried it to Britain when he went to do his law degree there. It has been to more places than you, a 10 standard fail, could ever dream of. Now bring me my kaapi’.
He, then, smelt a whiff of ammonia tickling his nostrils. ‘Karmam, Karmam, What’s that smell? Has Maayi not turned up today also? Good for nothing woman. All their kind do is get drunk or get pregnant’ he mumbled.
‘Poor lass. She gave birth just last week. She said she will come tomorrow to clean Your Highness’ toilet.’ Rukmini protested meekly. Raman waved his hands in disdain and continued rummaging through the contents of the trunk. It contained some old books, some chit fund receipts and tattered paper clipping. He was about to close the trunk when he noticed a small bulge in the satin cloth pocket that was stitched to the inner lining of the trunk. He took out a two-inch cylindrical black case.
‘A 35mm film roll.’ He held his breath. There were several photos of his parents including the one he adorned every day with strings of jasmines. But he had no photos of his father’s London days and that roll could contain just that. Maybe photographs of him shoulder rubbing with white people? Maybe even some famous ones. Maybe he had dinner with a few of them. Not unimaginable at all. He was becoming very excited when Saravanan came up to sullen his mood.
‘What?’ he growled.
‘Payment saar, for the fuse box repair’ he grinned sheepishly.
‘Go and come back tomorrow. All you did was arrive after I flipped up the knob. Two hundred rupees for that. Go on. What are you staring at me for?’ he dismissed Saravanan when one brilliant idea crossed his mind.
‘Your brother is a photographer, no? Ask him to develop this film and bring the printed ones to me. I will pay for it all together’.
‘Saar, but it will take time to print, saar’ he hesitated, for he knew that the cheapskate would never pay the full due.
‘If you want your two hundred, get it along with the printed copies. That’s all’ he said in finality and went inside the house to savour his kaapi.
Rukmini held out the brass tumbler with steaming filter coffee, which immediately put him in a suitable mood to reminisce.
His father had spent about a year and a half in Britain doing his law degree had returned to marry his mother (his first cousin! Can Raman get any purer?). Raman had been born eight months later, quite a big child for a premature baby, his grandma would often say. They had been the happiest couple until death snatched them cruelly. He hardly had any memory of them except that his father made his mother laugh a lot, her chime-like giggle filling every room in the house.
But that was not what ate his mind now. He could not wait to see the printed copies of the film roll. He wanted to boast to Venkat about his enviable lineage, about how people of his kind contributed to the knowledge development of the country.
The next day, after his breakfast, he rummaged through the trunk’s contents again to see if he could find evidence to support his illustrious past, fortifying his argument in favour of his kind.
In his excitement yesterday, he did not notice that the silk pouch contained a few letters. He took them out to the Verandah and shouted ‘Kappi’ to his wife and settled down with the letters. It read as so
The film roll, the only memory of Christopher and I together, I hand it over to you as a symbol of my trust in you. I was shocked when you flew down to my rescue especially when I had declined your love only a year back. Chris is my first love and he is the reason I turned you down back then. Alas, here I am grieving with his child in my womb. I wanted to die too. But something made me call you and pour my heart out to you when he passed away. Now two weeks after our wedding, I want you to have my past because I want you in my future.
Thank you for saving my child and me from ignominy.
With all the respect
P.S. Please give me some time to fall in love with you. It must not be tough though, to fall for the person who saved your life and honour.
‘Ruku,’ Raman whimpered knowing that she would be peering over his shoulder. Rukmini could hardly hear him for she stood awestruck at the gentleman whose love went beyond physical possession and his lady who withstood a blow, very few could survive.
Rukmini combed Raman’s hair in silence assuring him that he would always remain her brattish child that she could never bear. Suddenly it struck Raman.
‘Aiyo, the film roll, the good for nothing fellow might have developed it by now. Hope he does not suspect anything.
Hurry up and fetch up Chappals, you imbecile.’ He hassled Rukmini.
He hurried towards his gate; when he saw Saravanan at a distance, a knowing grin on his face.
‘Saar, the black and white photos have come out very well, Saar.’ He hollered.
‘Only that the printing costs have gone up, it seems. It may cost 500 rupees or more Saar’ he added in delight when he saw his golden geese or was it a sitting duck?