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The mother i never knew, p.8
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       The Mother I Never Knew, p.8

           Sudha Murty
 
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  Gauri said, ‘What will you tell him—that you are the son of his father’s second wife? Have you forgotten your promise to Bhagavva, Anna? What will you do if he gets angry with your father?’

  ‘I’ll tell him how Father tried to contact his mother. I’ll convince both of them that it was all a tragic misunderstanding. I’ll even try to give them the money that they should have received when Appa died.’

  ‘But what if they ask for more?’ she persisted.

  ‘I know what you’re thinking. Bhagavva won’t ask me for anything, I’m sure. I’ll tell Shankar that I’m doing this for Bhagavva and my father. If I give their family half of what Appa left for me, he can get nothing more even through legal means.’

  ‘Amma will say that this is foolish.’

  Venkatesh sighed, ‘I know that this is not the wise approach. But sometimes, we need to be unwise and still do what’s right, Gauri.’

  ‘All the best, Anna, but be prepared for the storm.’

  That night, the family gathered at the dining table for dinner. Shanta ordered the cooks to lay the table and leave. She wanted to discuss family matters and didn’t want the household help to overhear. She began with a question to her husband, ‘Haven’t you finished your work in Hubli yet? Who’s going to take responsibility for Ravi’s new company and his wedding?’

  ‘Ravi’s opinion is paramount for his marriage. And when it comes to planning and investing, you really know what’s best for the company.’

  Shanta pretended to be annoyed, ‘You just thrust everything on me. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Ravi needs investors for his new company.’

  ‘Yes, we will need at least one crore,’ Ravi said. ‘Of course, my partners will also pay their share. These days everything has to look exclusive and glamorous to attract global clients.’

  Venkatesh turned to Shanta, ‘I don’t know anything about running a software company. The two of you can do as you see fit.’

  ‘Actually, I don’t have ready cash,’ Shanta replied. ‘I paid a lot for the cardamom estate in Coorg recently. Since the stock market is on an all-time low these days, we can’t sell shares now. But I have an idea—we have rented out both the Ganga and Tunga complexes. What do you think about vacating one of them and using it for Ravi’s company?’

  ‘But then our rent will be halved.’

  ‘So what? At least, we won’t have to invest initially.’ Shanta continued, ‘We have other expenses coming up, too. Ravi and Pinki like each other and would like to get married soon. We have to sponsor their engagement, while Pinki’s parents will take care of the wedding. We must spend at least fifteen lakhs considering our status. All these worries haunt me in my sleep.’

  Poor Shanta! She couldn’t sleep despite her wealth.

  ‘But why do we need to spend fifteen lakhs for an engagement?’ Venkatesh wondered out loud.

  ‘We have to consider Veena’s status and ours too. We must buy Pinki expensive gold sets. Moreover, the engagement must be in a five-star hotel where we will gift silver items to all guests and arrange a big dinner spread for them. It’s going to be a lot of expenditure.’

  ‘Not necessarily, Shanta! Grandma’s gold is still there in the bank. Neither Gauri nor you have ever worn any of it. Why not give it to Pinki? We can also set up a shamiana in front of our house instead of paying a hotel. Don’t treat the engagement like a business deal. We don’t have to spend money lavishly.’

  Shanta was livid, ‘If Veena learns about your plans, she’ll refuse to give her daughter to us. You’ll never understand what it means to build relationships and run a business. What do you know? You’ve been sitting in Hubli all along!’

  ‘Actually, I’ve been doing something different there. I have learnt so much about my father in the last month.’

  There was something in Venkatesh’s voice that made Shanta and Ravi sit up and take notice.

  Venkatesh started at the beginning, and as the story unfolded, both mother and son stared at him in absolute disbelief.

  11

  A Father’s Debt

  By the end of the narration, neither Venkatesh nor Gauri could hold back their tears.

  However, there was a smirk on Ravi’s face. ‘Well, I’m impressed,’ he said. ‘Though our grandfather had two wives, they didn’t know about each other. He was a smart old man, wasn’t he?’

  Shanta asked her husband with her customary cold caution, ‘What do you want to do about it?’

  ‘I haven’t yet told Shankar and Bhagavva about my findings, but I know that they live in extreme poverty and I want to help them. That’s the least I can do.’

  ‘How much?’ she asked.

  ‘Fifty lakhs. They can buy a house with ten or fifteen lakhs and they can use the rest for their children’s education and marriage, or Bhagavva’s medical treatment.’

  Shanta and Ravi exclaimed in unison, ‘Fifty lakhs!’

  ‘I inherited two sites from my father after his death—the Ganga–Tunga complexes. Besides that, he left me gold in the bank and several fixed deposits. Today, Bhagavva and her family are in a really miserable condition and I should give them what was due to them at the time of Father’s death.’

  ‘But we’re not responsible for their situation,’ Shanta said angrily.

  ‘You are right; we are not responsible at all, but when I inherited my father’s property, I also inherited his share of mistakes. Appa failed in his duty towards them. We can’t undo the past, but maybe we can make their lives a little easier, especially since we have so much wealth. There’s no legal proof of their wedding, there’s only a newspaper cutting of the accident and Appa’s picture; but there is a divine court of law above us where our souls are the witnesses.’

  ‘Stop talking about God and our souls, Dad. Let’s be practical. We can’t give them anything right now,’ Ravi said.

  Venkatesh said, ‘Why not? Haven’t I toiled for this home too? Thanks to your mother and her investments made from the Ganga–Tunga rent we received initially, we’ve earned so much more in the last twenty years. Don’t forget that the start-up capital came from my father.’

  ‘Relax, Dad. Don’t get emotional. Didn’t you hear what Amma said? At the moment, we have financial problems of our own and yet, you are willing to give away fifty lakhs to someone for the sole reason that he resembles you. We all know that Grandfather was afraid of his mother. Maybe he had an affair and the old woman is simply making up a story. Why should we bother about her or her child when our grandfather himself deserted her? I feel like laughing at you. You may give him twenty thousand and close the issue.’

  Venkatesh knew that his son was clever, but he hadn’t known that he was heartless too. Ravi felt no compassion or empathy. What kind of a man would his son be in the future?

  For the first time during the discussion, Gauri spoke. She said, ‘Anna, I think you are right.’

  Venkatesh turned to both his children and asked, ‘What’ll you do if I give away either the Ganga or Tunga complex to Bhagavva?’

  Ravi replied calmly, ‘I’ll go to the court. That’s our ancestral property and you don’t have the right to just give it away without our consent. You can only donate money or property that you have earned on your own.’

  Venkatesh was disheartened; his son was prepared to go to court against him and put the family honour at stake for fifty lakh rupees. How could two children raised by the same parents and in the same environment be so unlike each other, he wondered.

  Shanta didn’t say anything, but Gauri rushed to her father’s rescue, ‘Ravi, what about our family reputation? Besides, stop for a minute and think about it: Anna is right. Let him give fifty lakhs to Bhagavva who has suffered her whole life only because she was unfortunate enough to get married to our grandfather. Imagine her agony!’

  Ravi turned his anger towards Gauri, ‘It’s very easy to advise others. W
ill you give away your share of the property just like that?’

  ‘Without a second thought,’ pat came her reply. ‘Anna is not asking anything for himself; he’s trying to compensate for the wrong done by his elders. If you want, I’ll give fifty lakhs from my share of the inheritance. Anna’s happiness is more important to me.’

  ‘Do you know the value of fifty lakhs?’ Ravi snapped at her. ‘I’ll tell you. It is a well-furnished four-bedroom house in JP Nagar, or a decent-sized site at Koramangala, or enough capital to start a new software company. If you put fifty lakhs in a fixed deposit, you’ll get an income of forty thousand every month! And you want to join your father in giving that kind of money away to some old woman! It’s foolishness.’

  Without waiting for a reply, Ravi glared at Venkatesh and stomped out of the room.

  Shanta stood up, ‘Look, our son is right. If you give them fifty lakhs now, they may ask you for more later. It’s better not to give them anything at all in the first place.’

  ‘No, Shanta, trust me,’ Venkatesh said. ‘Shankar is not that kind of a man. Come with me and meet the family once. Then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.’

  She shook her head, ‘It doesn’t matter whether I meet them or not. I refuse to give them anything. But if you want to give them something, please give them whatever you want out of your own savings. I don’t mind that at all. Goodnight.’

  She too walked out of the room.

  Father and daughter were left alone at the dining table. The food had become cold. Gauri put her hand on her father’s shoulder in an effort to comfort him, ‘Anna, don’t get upset. I knew how they’d react.’

  ‘Gauri, I was going through some old photo albums before dinner. I saw pictures of my marriage, my birthdays and my thread ceremony; everything was celebrated with so much pomp. I couldn’t help thinking of Shankar who is only a few years older than me. He was completely deprived of a father and a carefree childhood. I feel bad.’

  ‘It’s getting late. Please try and sleep now. We’ll figure out something in the morning.’

  Venkatesh said, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel horrible about not earning more money than I did. Your mother indirectly hinted that I earn less than her. The rent from the Ganga–Tunga complexes was credited to my account, but years ago, I made it a joint account with her and now she uses it for all her investments and businesses. Today, she told me to use my personal savings when she knows very well that my only other account is my salary account, which doesn’t have a fat bank balance. I spend most of what I earn on charity. There’s only five lakhs there.’

  ‘It’s okay, Anna.’

  ‘How is it okay? Both mother and son will surely take out all the money from the joint account.’

  ‘The banks are closed at night. Come, let’s go to sleep and deal with this tomorrow.’

  Gauri held his hand and dragged him to the bedroom. Venkatesh was reluctant to sleep there. Today, he felt that his wife was the ugliest woman in the world. Finally, he went to the guest room, but sleep was far, far away.

  Shanta was awake in the bedroom too. She knew that her husband had gone to another room to sleep, but she didn’t care. She fumed, ‘An old woman in a village somewhere tells him a story and he believes that she’s his father’s first wife. Even worse, he wants to give her fifty lakhs. He’s so gullible! It’s easy to give away your wife’s earnings. He should first try to save some money himself.’

  Shanta was also annoyed with Gauri, ‘She always takes her father’s side. Our family is divided into two obvious factions. I’ll contact our lawyer tomorrow and make my will.’

  In his bedroom, Ravi too was spending a sleepless night. ‘Men are usually practical. It’s my misfortune to have a father like Anna. Instead of helping me with my career, he puts obstacles in my way, and my foolish sister agrees with him. This world is about the survival of the fittest. Sometimes, we are compelled to use others as ladders to success. Anna is stupid to even think of giving away money like this,’ he thought.

  *

  The next day, Venkatesh received a call from the head office during his morning walk. He had been transferred back to Bangalore. But he was not happy.

  When he came back home, Shanta and Ravi ignored him. They didn’t want to talk to him. Gauri called out, ‘Anna, come here. I’m upstairs. There’s a phone call for you.’

  When he went up, he found that there was no phone call for him. Gauri motioned for him to peep out of the window and he saw both mother and son heading out to work. He asked, ‘Gauri, why did you lie about the phone call?’

  She smiled, ‘Because sometimes lies beautify our lives.’ She added, ‘Here, Anna, take this.’

  She handed him an envelope. When he opened it, he was surprised to find a cheque for forty-five lakhs in Shankar Master’s name. He was speechless.

  Gauri laughed at his expression, ‘Amma had invested in a fixed deposit of one crore rupees in my name to avoid income tax, or maybe it was for my marriage. Yesterday, when Ravi asked if I would give money from my share of inheritance, I thought about it again at night and realized that I don’t mind it at all! I don’t want someone to marry me for the sake of a crore or a nursing home. I want a boy who wants to marry me because he likes me. I want a smart boy, of course, but not someone like Ravi. Otherwise, my life will also be like yours.’

  Venkatesh was proud of her. His daughter was much wiser than he had ever been at that age. He asked her, ‘Gauri, your mother will find out about this. You know that. What will you do then?’

  ‘I haven’t stolen this money, Anna, nor have I given it away to a cause that I don’t believe in. I’m not afraid of her or anyone else. No matter what people say, I’ll always follow my conscience. It doesn’t change with rank or money and it doesn’t fade like fame or beauty. You have taught me that.’

  Oh, his little Gauri could even talk about philosophy!

  She continued, ‘Anna, you can take the five lakhs out of your account and give them a total of fifty lakhs.’

  ‘Why did you do this, Gauri?’

  ‘That’s so easy, Anna. You want to pay back a debt that your father owes somebody. I want to pay back a debt that my father owes too.’

  Tears rolled down his cheeks and fell on his daughter’s hands. She didn’t wipe them, but smiled and leaned against her father. It felt like a burden of generations had been lifted off their shoulders.

  Mukesh

  1

  The Fall

  It was mid-March and almost the end of the skiing season in Lausanne. Mukesh was not a stranger to this beautiful Swiss city that boasted a panoramic view of the Alps on one side and of Lake Geneva on the other. When he was younger, he had accompanied his father on business trips to Switzerland many times. While Appa was busy with his meetings, Mukesh would explore his surroundings. During one of his visits, he had learnt to ski and enjoyed the sport from then onwards, but never really became good at it.

  Today, he was sitting on the deck of a resort, drinking hot coffee and feeling too lazy to ski. He admired the Alps and the reflection of the sun’s rays on the snow-covered peaks. The mountains looked silver. He heard the squealing of young children next to the deck and peeked sideways to find six kids playing in the snow, trying unsuccessfully to build a snowman.

  ‘This is such a contrast from Bangalore,’ he thought to himself.

  His mind wandered to his father, Krishna Rao—a self-made and soft-spoken gentleman, known as Rao Saheb to others. He had come from humble beginnings and had worked hard to become who he was today. Rao Saheb owned a huge garment export house called Mukesh Exports in Bangalore. Though he was not very highly educated, he knew every aspect of the business like the back of his hand.

  Mukesh’s parents had wanted him to join the family business, but he did not. They were surprised when he had studied history, language and art and had become a programm
e executive at BBC in London, where he was responsible for covering India’s culture and heritage section. Nobody in the family had ever majored in history before. After Mukesh’s employment in London, his older sister Neeraja and her husband Satish, a litigation lawyer in Bangalore, had helped Rao Saheb with the export business.

  ‘Hey, look at me!’ Mukesh heard a faint and familiar voice. He glanced around and saw Vasanthi waving at him from a short distance away.

  Mukesh smiled and waved back at her.

  She was wearing appropriate winter gear along with a pink headband, ski goggles, pink gloves and a pink jacket. She was so good at skiing that nobody would ever guess that she’d grown up in Mysore in a conservative family that discouraged girls from participating in sports.

  He wondered, ‘Is she really the same woman that I got married to?’

  Fondly, he recalled the first time that he had met her. He had come to India on a holiday to meet his family and a friend had invited him to Mysore to judge a painting competition. Vasanthi was one of the participants there.

  When Mukesh had seen her for the first time, he had not been able to take his eyes off her. She was slim, fair, tall, and had long, straight hair that fell to her waist. It had been love at first sight. She was the girl he was going to marry! Amidst all his feelings, he had simply forgotten to see or judge her painting.

  During the two days of his short stay in Mysore, he had gathered information about her. He had learnt that she was the youngest daughter of a pandit and had three older sisters. The family was orthodox and lived on a meagre income.

  Mukesh had come back and told his family about Vasanthi. His father had agreed immediately without even seeing the girl. His mother, Sumati, had raised her eyebrows and had given him a naughty smile, ‘Now I know that my Munna has grown up.’ His older sister, Neeraja, had asked him to think about it and take it slow. She had been worried about the vast economic difference between the families. Her husband, Satish, had remarked, ‘When girls from poor families get married into rich ones, their attitude changes. With this girl’s background, she may siphon money off quietly or buy things for her parents’ home.’

 
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