Minotaur: Fourth Chapter (Sunil Sharma)

Minotaur (Sunil Sharma)

Chapter 4

It had happened many years ago.

The garden party was on. Fairy lights were strung across bamboo poles and over the trees. A live orchestra was playing the latest Spanish numbers. The buffet was spread out. Uniformed stewards, chefs in their caps, liveried servants were the human props. Ladies wearing diamonds were nursing the best French wines. Men, in dinner jackets, the Cuban cigars dangling from lips, holding scotch and nibbling succulent meat of the chickens, eyeing the women hungrily. The American ambassador and his tall, long-legged wife, surveying the crowds in an imperial haughty manner, which only the power couples could fetch, in a Yankee spirit and style. An American built-in arrogance to anything non-Yankee. Ambassadors from other countries. Businessmen. Politicians. Editors. Cream of the society. The upper-crust. And Father!

Handsome, rugged, glowing in his dinner jacket, the lord. The party was arranged in the undulating gardens, under a moon-lit wintry sky, a cold wind sweeping the remote suburb of the capital-city, at that hour of the shivering night.

Liquor flowed freely. Diamonds sparkled. Cigars burnt out quickly. Chickens were chewed and thrown half-eaten. The idea was to have fun.

Then, it happened. In slow motion. A waiter, turning around, bumping into Pa, the drinks and the tray spilling on his dinner jacket. Pa, already drunk and wild, looking in horror. The American ambassador saying, what a creep! And laughing the way only they can laugh. Then women started twittering. Followed by men, all thanked up. A huge laughter circulated among the guests and bounced off the swaying trees and the well-kept hedges. An uproarious laughter, masculine and feminine, mixed up, rising in crescendo, drowning out the soft music of the orchestra.

Pa, going white, ashamed and humiliated before his guests. Hi eyes, glittering and cold, lips set in a snarl, fists coming up and knotting into heavy punches, the punches flying and hitting the poor waiter in the face, on the mouth, in the stomach. Pa, wild, punching and kicking a prostrate bleeding figure. A Human Figure!

Pa’s bodyguards rushing and kicking the thin, hungry-looking young waiter. The son of a poor mother; the keeper of some poor suburban family living in a slum.

Pa taking out the revolver of the guars and aiming unsteadily. The American stunned, flying for the revolver and snatching it away, commanding: “Stop it! No fooling around with the human lives here.” “Mr. Ambassador! This is not U.S.A.! Get away! This is my country. I wanna teach this bugger a lesson.

The ambassador said quietly, “Do not mess with me, Joseph. Fight with your equals. You wanna fight. Come on!”

A hush fell. The drunken crowd just watched, expecting lot of fun. The American, angry and disgusted, took up a boxing position. Said to Pa, Come on, buddy, let us fight as equals.

Equals!

It was pure magic. Equal to the U.S.A. ambassador!

Pa grinned and relaxed. I am his equal!

“We are pals again”, Pa said.

The American relaxed and smiled. “No hard feelings, mate. We go a long way.”

Indeed!

The party resumed.

That night he saw two faces of the American culture. One, arrogant and royal; second, as the defending champions of the faith. The faith in the human rights, democracy, and equality. He also saw the underbelly of his own aristocratic culture. People of the lower classes do not matter. They are expendable. Cheap fodder to the rich. Shoot them. Trample upon them. Mutilate them. They have no machinery to fight back the sadness and inhuman oppression of the centuries. The poor were not persons but subhuman species only.

The people took refuge in the idea of a loving god and a fatalistic philosophy. They went on living and multiplying like mice and rodents. He was disturbed. How a loving and caring God can create an unequal world? He is the god of the rich. Why so much of cruelty? So much of irresponsible violence? Exploitation?

The 12-year-old sensitive, feeling kid had no answers to these troubling questions. The answers were to be supplied later by the same God.

Then there was another disturbing scene scarred in his kid’s memory, often recurring in his adult memory:

Hot humid afternoon. The city is taking its customary siesta. Nothing ever stirs in this sun-scorched land at this hour. A scalding wind is blowing. There is deathly silence in the vast rambling bungalow with outhouses for the servants. Bored and lonely, he is searching his puppy. The colonial-style bungalow, built on a raised ground, surrounded by lawns, is deep in the mid-day slumber. He searches all the vast furniture-stuffed high-ceilinged rooms where deep solitude lies curled up like kitten. Rooms, dark and cold, reminding him of the old tombs of the kings. Solid silence. He goes to Mum’s room. She is sound asleep! He searches the pool side, the flower-beds, and the thicket of trees. Slowly but surely he reaches the distant outhouses, off-limit to family and him, where sub-humans live. Most of them are bolted from inside. He goes around them. The backyard is all jumbled-up with junk and rusting things. Hearing strange noises, he peers cautiously through a half-open window, and sees most shocking scene. Pa, naked, on top of a naked maid-servant, both sweating, producing strange guttural sounds. Pa, grunting like an overfed pig. The woman, eyes closed, moaning and wildly thrashing her legs in the hot air, above the mounted master’s broad sweaty back. Pa, speaking tenderly to the spread-eagled woman panting and wriggling beneath his weight. He could not believe his eyes! Pa always abused and mocked the woman’s thin and short husband and often hit him on any slight mistake. A drunken Pa would shout at this woman and also beat her. But here he was now, in the hot weather, lying on top of her, calling her darling, dear, my pet. And the woman, no longer afraid, producing matching guttural sounds, biting and scratching Pa’s back like an attacking cat, and then suddenly saying hoarsely, “Deeper! Deeper! Faster!”, and Pa, thus commanded by the low-class maid servant, danced happily, moving his huge black hairy butt the way a bull does in a fight!

What if her man arrives?

But no! Pa had sent him, in the morning, to the far-off farm-house.

Ashamed, confused, bitter, the son came back and sat down in the veranda, waiting.

After an eternity, he saw Pa coming from the opposite direction. He has taken another route to the house! There were 2-3 route to the outhouses.

Pa was wearing a boxer’s shining velvet shorts and a white T-shirt and a pair of running shoes. He came up quite casually, humming a tune. His broad face broke into a wide grin: “Hey, Kiddo! What ya doing here? Get inside.” He did not answer. Pa did not wait and went inside. Then maid followed, quiet and docile as ever, eyes downcast, betraying nothing. She served tea and spoke respectfully to Pa, as Sir.

Was he imagining things! Was it Pa? Or some other bloke?

He told mum. Mum said nothing.

“You ask Pa. what was he doing there?” Mum, tall and pale, looked at him for a long time. Then he said softly:

“You will understand, once you become big like him. Now, go and play. Just forget it. I know what he does there and elsewhere. I cannot do anything. He will drive me out. I live for you, my son. For you only!”

Mum is in danger!

He tried to forget it but that event repeated itself regularly in his memory. One thing he understood. His mother was as useless in that household as the broken crockery.

In fact, nobody mattered there except hot-headed Pa. he was the lord and the master, presiding over the fate of everybody- animals included. A man of varied moods. Unpredictable. A man in love with himself. Pigging on food, liqueurs, cigars. Wearing costly clothes. Enjoying life. The rest be damned. A vicious violent man.

Of course, analysis came later. Much later. He came to hate the rich, the mighty for their brutal, animal ways that sickened his tender soul. He hated them all with the power and anger of a sensitive kid heart. The uncouth, boorish wealthy men who lived to make money and then indulge in their unbridle instincts, beyond any law- divine or earthly.

They are all filthy!

Then another scene.

He was fifteen. Tall for his age. Muscular. Big boned. Strapping. He attended the local fitness center. Took lessons in boxing, played table tennis, swam for an hour. Went for riding. Pa was very proud of him. Mum adored him. Girls screamed when he walked down the swimming pool or the sports ground. He was still a virgin and innocent. Half-boy, half-man, Pa would say and tease him.

The night was warm. There was no wind. The stars were blinking in the sky, half-asleep. He lay dreaming but was roused suddenly by a piercing wail. He woke up with a start. The wailing sound was coming from the bedroom, on the first floor. It took sometime to get his bearings right in that strange place. He got down and listened. Mum!

She was shouting and crying.

He flew up the stairs and reached the bedroom in an instant. The door was ajar. Pa, in his velvet shorts, his beer belly heaving, was beating the tall, thin pale-faced mum with a leather belt. She was cowering. Great sobs convulsed her poor beaten wretched body. Her whimpering, swollen face, brutal lashing, resultant bruised raw flesh combined to produce a strange combustion in his young athletic body. Burning with all the accumulated hatred for the hulking brute, the boy rushed in and stood before his batted mum.

“S-T-O-P it.” He commanded in a steely voice, devoid of emotions. He was drained of any emotions or even fear. Raging anger had, curiously, made him very quiet, in full control of his body and voice that was neutral and steady. Like the tiger on hunt! A top predator in perfect control and sense. This trait of his character was to become famous at a later stage. The only tell-tale sign was the twitching of his right hand, upper lip and the facial muscle.

Pa was totally jolted.

“What?” Hi confusion was all over his broad bloated drunken face.

“Touch ma and I am going to kill you!”

The voice was cool and low as if passing the message of somebody over the phone. Joseph was utterly shaken up. He could not react to this new home-grown danger. “I mean it. Raise your hand and you are a dead man.”

Instinctively Joseph raised the belt in the air and glowered at his towering son, still undecided and uncertain, his face flushed with drinks, breath coming in regular gasps. The son did not flinch or show any fear. He stood quietly and stared, face blank except eyes. Eyes that glittered with hatred.

Joseph said nothing and threw down his belt on the bed and went out.

In that single instant, he also realized an important lesson: any blustering bully, when confronted, will leave the arena immediately and show the world the cowardice that goes in the name of bullying universally.

A grateful mum said, amid body-wrecking sobs, “This country has no value for women. After marriage and producing kids, the woman is ruined here. Worst than garbage!” He consoled her, “Things would change for you now.” Then he brought her hot milk and ointments for dressing her cuts and wounds. Mum cried again for this filial tenderness and caring attitude of another male- her own son, her flesh.

This male arrogance and pervasive domestic violence, this objectification of women, turned him into a crusader of women’s lib and their rights.

But, that came later.

Next day, a chastened Pa called him. He did not show any defeat or resentment. They went fishing in the river, down the farm-house, and spent an hour there. A peaceful river flowed quietly amid natural greenery and deep solitude.

“Sorry, son”, Joseph said evenly.

They sat quietly, listening to the song of the eternally-singing river.

“You remind me off myself when I was your age”, Pa said softly. “Strong. Believer. Fighting injustice. I, too, challenged my ol’ man who, when drunk and violent, always beat my ma. I had always respected him. Never defied or answered back as was expected of sons then. He, too, loved me a lot. That day I lost my cool. I challenged him. He got the message. He was also a sensitive soul… I was full of young idealism then. But I lost all that on my way to the top. I grew hard-shelled. Competitive. Aggressive. And lost my early self somewhere.”

Pa swallowed hard. He took a sip of rum. “Life brutalized me as it did my old man. If I had not been competitive, cold and aggressive, I would have been swallowed up by the big fish.”

He looked across the river for a long time. “It is the system, my son. This system kills the very best in you and brings out worst. It smothers the finest values and seeds of young idealism. It turns around you and makes you the opposite.”

For a long time, Pa said nothing. They sat and watched the afternoon river, catching fish. The tall trees cast a long shadow over the clear waters of the river. Finally, Pa spoke, without any grudge:

“Today I will tell you what my old man told me here, many years ago. I love you, son. You did the right thing. You saved a soul from eternal damnation! You gave me back my early self. Now, I promise, I will never hit a weak defenseless person, your ma included.”

Pa, emotional, hugged him.

“Certain things rarely change. A son’s attitude towards mother. But the same son, when married, just forgets the same mum. And, now son, promise me you will never lose touch with your inner child. Be, what you are. My life is already over. You D-O-N-O-T allow any power to stifle your ideals.”

He promised. Pa, afterwards, kept his promise also.

That also a valuable lesson: people are not intrinsically bad. It is the system that makes them bad and ruthless and unloving.

This first lesson made him more tolerant towards people’s psychology.

In a way, life was preparing him for the destiny that was waiting for him.

The destiny of the leader of a semi-feudal, poor, colonized nation, waking up from its deep slumber, savoring freedom from that humiliating colonial rule.

Yes. He was destined to be the President of the same nation one day. That afternoon he could not realize all this.

These were my early memories. Of life spent in an upscale neighborhood. Wealth dripped from every corner there. Huge bungalows, colonial-style, with manicured lawns, an army of servants; high tea, a pure English culture. Then there was golf.

There was cricket. There were hunting parties. The wealthy spoke English in Oxbridge accents. They talked to servants in broken native language. They were the local sahibs and mem-sahibs. And they hated everything local. They treated the poor as the scum and fenced off the slums and deployed a whole army of guards to keep of the poor from their steps. Yet poverty surrounded them like a marching desert. The city’s slums proliferated fast. The poor poured into the city and colonized every open space. The migrants did all the mental jobs and were locked in a grim survival game.

The poor were the live dynamite. Ready to explode. But the new colonial masters were not aware of this danger. They had their villas and mansions and they were busy making money in a recently-freed nation where the poor were the cheap fodder, providing the new masters cheap labor.

While growing up in Anaconda, the capital of Newland, I saw lots of social contradictions. The rich maintained a strict class system. They beat their men-servants and easily slipped into their bedrooms, sleeping freely with the wives of these poor men, the scum of the earth. I could never understand this contradiction. They hated the men-servants and made these poor men’s wives and daughters pregnant. They had no problem in sleeping with the wives of the servants! In the rude humble hovels of the servants, at the back of their villas, no such class distinction acted s a barrier! Rather these women were treated as trophies and part of property. Any husband, who saw his wife in bed with the master and protested, was beaten or shot dead. But their own wives and daughters fared no better. They were just decorative pieces, gorgeous hostesses, producing children to keep the bloodlines alive, rearing children and looking after the needs of husbands and running homes like a competent female manager. They had no other value. Those who sought love elsewhere or had secret lover tucked away somewhere, if caught, were brutally murdered or disappeared. Naturally, very few, the native ones, were caught as the majority could not afford discovery by a jealous husband.

So, marriage was all about deception.

And pretensions! Men and women openly seduced. And played the game quiet well. Friends seduced their friend’s wives; the wives seduced their friend’s husbands. They would cut jokes at the expense of a cuckolded husband or a simple wife who knew nothing about wild escapades. Socially, they pretended to be decent, self-respecting folks who behaved in a stiff dignified manner. Naturally jokes about  infidelities, betrayals and cuckoldry were always the most popular conversation-openers on the cocktail-circuits; the reputations of the respected names being made or unmade over whisky by leery men, who gave highly juicy accounts of the wives of so-and-so stiff upper lips over there, sleeping with men much junior in age and rank. Most of these ‘free’ ladies were supposed to be insatiable in bed and had slept with every man in the neighborhood. Including a tall handsome chauffer!

“The poor fellow cannot control his young wife”, a man would say, “Everybody except this jerk knows about his wife who is always hungry for more. Ha, ha, ha!”

When this man, the narrator, would go to the loo, his friend would wink and say, “What about his gorgeous wife? I saw her yesterday screwing her own chauffer in the car!” they would laugh aloud. Then one of them would observe, “Oh! These chauffeurs are more lucky than us!”

And they would laugh again.

‘Course, not all of them were bad. Majority was like this. They believed in making money and enjoying life. Morality be damned!

Many sensitive women turned to religion, music, poetry or painting as a last refuge. They found identity in it, religion or the art, expressing their hidden feelings there.

Mum was one of such women.

Of her, later.

This type of double life always puzzled me. But, reading Turgnev and Tolstoy, I came to realize that this was the universal story of the rich and the wealthy across time and nations. A Hunter’s Sketches, resurrection, and Anna Karninna made a great impact on my mind. The American slavery scene was no different. The Roots tells this most vividly. Jefferson, too, is rumored to have fathered children out of a secret relationship with a black slave woman!

Another contradiction: these men talked about the sanctity of the native traditions but sent their children to U.K. and U.S.A. schools and colleges for a costly Western education!

They wanted a Western-educated, English-speaking class of rulers to continue and rule over the ‘native’, the poor vernacular-speaking people-their fellow countrymen. They wanted an elitist system and ensured that no power-sharing was ever done with the poor classes. This much for their public display of the patriotism!

This gap between the masses and their new masters, volatile in nature, proved to be tragic for our newly-liberated nation. The masters could never in fortified palaces that turned out to be as fragile as glass-houses on a mountain. The nationalist idealism that swept the country and drove away the Brits evaporated soon, giving birth to sullen anger and disillusionment. The rampant corruption, the ethnic divide, the crony capitalism and nepotism, the grinding poverty in land exploited for hundreds of years by the colonial powers produced a combustible material that needed just a mere spark! Once lit, these forest fire-fighting method. The demon, when roused from sleep, would not go underground without eating the human sacrifice. That is what the people believed.

It happened twice in my land. Twice it was torn asunder, convulsing with race-riots, arson and mayhem. Anarchy was loosed upon the world.

In a way, Newland mirrored the fate of many third world countries of Africa, South Americas and Asia.

In a strange way, it also mirrored the fate of another giant-U.S.S.R. the same set of factors, or almost the same, created conditions that led to the disintegration of an empire and of a global dream of the dispossessed. The giant, awake for 75 years or so, on his return journey to the underground, destroyed everything and left the huge nation in a shambles!

But then, every nation has its own resident Godzilla, who can go, on rampage! Or their own Jurassic Park!

The giant, the folk tale goes, sleeps in the underground, demanding human victims as sacrifice to appease his gargantuan appetite. He chomps down the live humans and slakes his thirst with their fresh blood and bones.

The giant, of folktales/ fairy tales, is the people power.

The sleepy underground giant is the symbol of the poor nation. His anger is extreme and appeasement bloody. The masses, once awake and angry, demand sacrifice of blood and limbs, and usher in a bloody revolution. Revolution is your giant! It destroys the old and brings in the new, leaving a bloody trail behind. But it always remains dormant like the mythical giant, hibernating in an underground cavern, invisible but powerful and wakes up hungry, once the conditions are ripe. Yet every dictator, every totalitarian system has always ignored it, becoming deaf to the rumblings of the earth, the tremors cause by an awakening giant, who chimes in the new order, over rotting corpses. Every dictator forgets the presence of the underground sleepy giant. I also did that. My buddy, Marquez, poetically evokes the same scenario in his famous book The Autumn of the Patriarch. I am no Marquez! This is not my province also!

Marquez is Marquez. I am I. but truth is same, only interpretations and the narrations are different.

Here, I recall Ben Okri. He says in The Famished Road that a spirit child nation, one that keeps being reborn and after each birth, comes blood and betrayal. How true!

‘Course, it took me many years to get the import of all this. The intellectual analysis came later.

Here, in this account, I attempt in my peculiar way to understand the origins and the collapse of the mighty ideologies of the 20th century, communism being one of them. Capitalism, Fascism, Nazism. The re-emergence of fascism. Fundamentalism of religious sort. These are mighty things and I am not as gifted as some others are. I am not Marx.

This is a general account where I try to straighten things out for myself.

Sorting them out.

Let us go back to the beginning then.


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