Sivaraman was the last person whom I would expect to catch in a dim corner of a bar sitting before a glass of whisky and contemplating the sun waiting for the earth to reappear after a mythical deluge that had drowned the earth for some forty days.
‘The sun is an eternal lover,’ he told me as I sat down opposite him. ‘The earth is the beloved. Unfaithful beloved.’ He sighed like a Shakespearean furnace. ‘But the infidelity is due to helplessness. The flood is beyond the earth’s control.’
Sivaraman had met his old girlfriend that afternoon. She was the unfaithful earth that had emerged after the deluge.
Megha was her name. She was the daughter of Bhargavan who was the caretaker of the Gopika estate where Sivaraman had joined relatively recently as the accountant. Gopika’s owner, Somasundaram, worked in Dubai though he was an ardent Indian nationalist who hated Muslims with all his heart. Gopika stretched across acres and acres of orchards and vegetable farms. Bhargavan was her caretaker for many years. His salary was a rather meagre sum. But he lived quite a king-size life. Soon after joining Gopika as accountant, Sivaraman discovered the source of Bhargavan’s mysterious affluence. Bhargavan was stealing Gopika’s wealth by underreporting her produces. For example, when Bhargavan sold 100 kg of vegetables the records showed 80 kg.
By the time Sivaraman solved the mystery of Bhargavan’s affluence, he had fallen head over heels for Megha. Since love is blind, Sivaraman did not see the dishonesty of his would-be father-in-law. Megha was happy with her would-be husband’s partial blindness. Everyone was happy, in short. But universal happiness is a myth and it does not belong in the world of real men and women.
Sivaraman’s father was diagnosed with some ailment that required a surgery. The young accountant did whatever he could to arrange the money required for the surgery. He sold his mother’s gold bangle and borrowed from all his friends who were not many. He was short of a few thousand rupees. He requested his would-be father-in-law to lend him the required amount.
‘Why do you need my help?’ Bhargavan asked. ‘You’re the accountant. A small manipulation in the accounts is all that you need.’
Sivaraman was not happy with that innovative idea though it came from none other than his would-be father-in-law. But he had little choice. The surgery could not be delayed. So the account was fudged. The Indian nationalist amassing Muslim Dirhams in Dubai wouldn’t ever feel, let alone know, the loss of a few thousand rupees. Moreover, what Sivaraman did was nothing in comparison with what his would-be father-in-law was doing again and again. Morality is comparative, Sivaraman had learnt from his political leaders who always justified their beastly deeds by comparing them with what someone else did in the past. Babur did this and Nehru did that and so on. Present politics became right or wrong in comparison with what Babur and Nehru did.
What Sivaraman did not know, however, was that there are some universal principles that you can’t ignore except at your own peril. If Satyameva Jayate still remains the national motto in spite of 73 years of relentless and escalating assaults on it by the country’s patrons, there must be something universal about it. Maybe, where your father’s surgery is involved your would-be father-in-law’s example eclipses universal principles.
The surgery was a grand success. After all it was performed by the best surgeons in the most advertised multi-speciality hospital in the city. These surgeons don’t make blunders and then justify them by comparing them with what Akbar or Aurangzeb did.
Life returned to normal once again. Sivaraman’s father was back home making a rapid recovery. Bhargavan continued to underreport Gopika’s produces. Sivaraman maintained Gopika’s accounts without fudging them. Megha flirted with Sivaraman on WhatsApp.
Then one day Sivaraman asked Bhargavan for his daughter’s hand.
‘How dare you!’ Bhargavan thundered. ‘I won’t give my daughter to a thief.’
Sivaraman was stunned. He explained that he was no thief, that he had fudged the account just once and that too for his father’s sake, that he ardently believed in the universal principle of Satyameva Jayate. Bhargavan would not listen to any of that.
A few days later Megha’s WhatsApp chat came. ‘Forgt me. Fathr hs arrangd my marage with smbdy workin in Dubai.’
A silence as ominous as the one that descends in a court just prior to the pronouncement of the verdict descended between Sivaraman and me. Even the whisky in our glasses looked despondent and anxious at once.
Frustrated love is the cause of many a good man’s doom. I thought of Majnu and Devdas and was about to think of Romeo when Sivaraman said, ‘I had almost forgotten her until I met her this afternoon.’ After a moment he added like an afterthought, ‘You can never forget your first love. That love is the primordial affinity between the sun and the earth.’Megha had returned from Dubai with her husband on a holiday. Sivaraman saw them during the wedding reception of a common friend. Megha’s husband was totally drunk. He couldn’t even stand on his own feet. Megha stood beside him holding him tightly close to her to prevent him from falling down.
Sivaraman soon found out that the man was a wretched alcoholic. ‘But his business is doing well in Dubai,’ the informer said. ‘He has many wives too there. Lucky guy.’
Devdas rose from the marrow of Sivaraman’s bones. After all he lived in a country where history repeatedly rose from its grave with bloodlust like a restless vampire.
‘I’d have been such a loving husband,’ Sivaraman confronted Bhargavan straightaway. Bhargavan was also attending the wedding reception.
Bhargavan looked at him with unconcealed scorn. ‘He may be a drunkard but not a thief,’ he said and walked away solemnly.
‘And I came here,’ Sivaraman said to me. ‘A drunkard but not a thief.’