Of Pebbles, Politics, Mind, and Matter: Chapter 3
The story so far . . .
A reclusive and scholarly young man formulates a theory of thought and develops a computer algorithm to mimic the decision making processess of people about whose backgrounds he is well aware.
It is quite often that one finds well-meant and well laid out plans going awry, and their outcome manifesting in a manner that one never imagined. This is what happens with young Charuchandra when he finds himself marked for murder by his manipulative uncle. Providence, in the garb of his uncle's mentor, comes to his rescue, who decides to make Charu a public representative to succeed his deceased uncle.
Read on to know about the whirlpool of worldly worries that Charu finds himself thrown into and the manner in which he attempts to escape from it.
If you wish to revisit the first chapter at this point, please click on the following link:
If you wish to revisit the second chapter at this point, please click on the following link:
If not, please scroll down to read the third chapter titled "Worries and Wisdom".
Chapter 3: Worries and Wisdom
It was about thirty minutes later that Charu opened his eyes. He remained dazed for a few moments, and then the events that preceded his loss of consciousness came flooding back. Cautiously he squatted on the grass and then slowly got to his feet, looking around all the while for any sign of the presence of his uncle. A glance towards the gate indicated the absence of one of the two vehicles that he had seen being parked, which provided the reassurance of venturing out of the place, where he was concealed.
He debated with himself on whether he should check on his friends in the hope that any one of them or both were still alive and could yet be saved. The urge of self-preservation advised him to run from the place. The sense of responsibility advocated that he go to his fallen friends. The latter emotion prevailed, buttressed by the comprehension that the elder Chimalgi was not around.
The sight that greeted him as he neared the door, rapidly tilted the scales between the contending sentiments. Gangadhar and the man who had fired at his friends, lay just outside the door, as they had fallen, their skin having turned ashen from the plentiful loss of blood from their bullet wounds. Charu's gaze shifted in the direction of his two friends, whose bodies continued to be seated in their respective chairs. Looking at their open and unseeing eyes, with bullet holes between each pair that made them appear to have three eyes each, Charu had no doubt that there was nothing for him to do there.
He turned back and made to run, but his legs felt heavy. Terror was beginning to gain on him once again. He frantically called Ratan Gordhandas' number again.
"Where are you Charu? I have been waiting for you for almost an hour now," demanded the senior party official.
"Sir, four persons have been shot. I don't think I have the strength in me to make it to your place. Can you come here, and also inform the police?"
"Are you hurt?"
"Who shot them?"
"The last of them by my uncle, while the other three were killed by the man whom my uncle shot."
"Did Svamicharan see you?"
"No, sir. I lay concealed in a bush outside. As I was starting to leave for your place, the killers came in."
"Are you willing to testify against your uncle?"
Charu paused for a moment. Though he had no great liking or love for his uncle, the elder Chimalgi was still the closest relative that he had, apart from his old mother. But he realized that it had come to a situation where only one of them could survive the aftermath of the day's events. It was to be him or his uncle, and the choice was obvious.
"Yes, Sir. I am willing to do so," Charu heard himself telling Gordhandas.
"Good. I will be there shortly. Do not touch any object or go near the bodies. The police would want things to remain as they are. And do not worry. You will be safe," assured the seasoned politician from the other end. Such situations were not new to him. Four decades in the rough and tumble of politics, had made him experience all manner of situations. The fact that he had survived them all and risen to a senior position in the party, spoke of his ability to consummately weather all such storms.
* * *
"Charu! Please wake up. There is an urgent matter on which we need your input," said Gordhandas' voice, as Charu struggled to get his eyes to open, while his fatigued body tried its best to thwart this attempt.
It had been close to daybreak by the time the police had completed their investigations and Gordhandas was able to bring Charu to his place. The exhausted young man was asleep as soon as he was conducted to a guest room and allowed to rest. The police had wanted the matter to be kept under wraps, until they could apprehend the elder Chimalgi, and had sought the Bhandari family's cooperation on the matter, which was readily granted. But try as they may, they couldn't locate the accused. He appeared to have vanished from the scene.
A seemingly inadvertent remark by Gordhandas' valet that Svamicharan Chimalgi had called about midnight, alerted the senior politician to the possibility that the accused may already be aware that he was being sought and may have fled. This complicated matters. That is when it struck him that Charu's computer model could be used to analyze and figure out what kind of decision the fugitive ex-councilor may have arrived at, if he knew that the police were on his heels. And that made him wake up Charu, hardly an hour after he had fallen asleep.
The valet's disclosure hadn't been all that inadvertent. He was in the employ of two persons simultaneously - with Gordhandas as a household help and with Svamicharan Chimalgi as an informer. He had overheard Charu's first conversation with his official employer and had been trying to contact the unofficial one to pass on the message. By the time he could get through, much had transpired at the Bhandari outhouse, but now, the murderer suspected that there had been a witness to his deed and the muffled gasp he had heard at the scene of crime may not have been the sound of a nocturnal creature after all. He was at that time on his way back to his smoky den. The informer's revelation made him take a detour and wait in a dark alley not far from Gordhandas' residence, which Charu would have to pass to reach his intended destination. Svamicharan meant to ensure that his nephew never reached there and instead reach him to more exalted realms.
The informer got informed of further developments, which were of a nature that pointed to the inevitability of his unofficial employer's downfall. He decided to turn a new leaf in his life, turn a good guy and retract from his indulgence in infidelity. The immediate effect of this transformation was that Gordhandas and the police were now wise to the likelihood that they were dealing with a man who knew that he was being suspected and pursued. The element of surprise that they believed was with them, was now lost.
The bleary-eyed researcher began to tweak his model to accommodate for this changed scenario. The cursor blinked, while the algorithm went through its complex logic. After what seemed a long time for the those who waited impatiently, and which was in reality less than a minute by the clock on the wall, their wristwatches and the timer on the computer, the monitor screen was adorned with the following conclusion:
"The subject will ambush and eliminate the individual whom he believes to be a witness, before the witness reaches the safe haven offered by his benefactor."
"But this scenario is already past," growled the police officer, who had not taken kindly to Gordhandas' suggestion of using a computer model to simulate the decision making process of the accused.
"Wait!" exclaimed Charu. "The inputs that I recorded did not include the detail of all of you having come to the scene of crime and brought me here and the accused being aware of this fact. Give me a few minutes, and I will record them."
The senior political leader nodded. The police officer growled some more, unintelligibly. Charu, his sleep and exhaustion having been vanquished by the excitement of putting the model to use in a real life situation once again, worked zealously.
Another round of cursor-blinking and impatient-waiting followed. It took more than double the time than it usually did, as if it was double-checking its conclusion, before sending it to the computer monitor to be displayed.
"The subject will kill himself, rather than surrender before the law, which he does not recognize or respect."
The deduction was short, but chilling. It set the police officer also pondering. "If the man had lain in ambush, had come to know that his cause was lost and killed himself, it should have happened on the way between here and the Bhandari outhouse. It should have most likely been somewhere close to this place," inferred the officer aloud, and grabbing his communication instrument, alerted his junior officers. "Check every street and alleyway leading into the main road between Mr. Gordhandas' residence and the Bhandari outhouse for the vehicle of the accused. Start your search from our end," he ordered.
Then turning to the party leader, the officer said, "Sir, if our assumptions were to be true, a pre-requisite for it to be so would be the presence of the ex-councilor's informer among your staff. Your valet is my prime suspect. Will you permit me to question him immediately?"
Gordhandas mused for a moment. The man had been in his employ for many years now. If Chimalgi were really dead, then he would prefer the matter to rest and not hazard the possible exposure of his valet as an informer, which would surely lead to an official break of trust and cordial relationship and his termination from service. On the other hand if the ex-councilor were alive and escaped, allowing the valet to be privy to his own movements and actions, it would compromise his position. Political prudence dictated that he had the man arrested, but past association prodded him to be lenient.
"I urge you to grant me permission, Sir. It will greatly help in quickly solving the case," pressed the officer, which decided the matter for the wavering politician.
"Go ahead," replied Gordhandas.
The valet was interrogated and the details of his complicity came pouring out. Not long after, one of the junior police officers called to say that the missing vehicle had been found with the body of Svamicharan Chimalgi, who appeared to have shot himself in the head. It had been the fastest cracking of a case by the police department of the city in its recorded history.
Ratan Gordhandas saw an ideal opportunity in this happening to greatly enhance the public image of his party's candidate for the election to happen in a few days, as well as his own. The following day's local newspaper carried a photograph of Charuchandra Chimalgi that covered half the front page. The report below bestowed all credit for the solving of the case upon him and provided a moment-by-moment narration of the events of that fateful day. Inevitably, there was also a mention at the end that Ratan Gordhandas has been Charuchandra's mentor - a statement that surreptitiously attempted to transfer the credit bestowed upon the party candidate to another recipient.
It was exactly six months from the day that Charu and Parsvanath had began working on the research project together.
Charu never got to read the report about himself, because he never had time to call his own from then on, until the end of the election process. Had he read it, he would have been forced to believe that the person mentioned in it was someone else and the happening was straight out of a popular thriller movie.
The outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion, but none expected the margin of victory that the winning candidate obtained. Charu won it more than convincingly, with the tally of votes of none of his opponents going beyond the figure of hundred in an electorate comprising of almost half a million voters. Utilizing the wave of popularity that coursed through the city for Charu, Gordhandas dropped subtle hints with the powers that be at the university that Charu should be awarded the doctoral degree for his research work, which he happened to also prove to be workable in a real life situation. He had all the mandatory credentials for being considered for such an honor, if the Bhandari family had no objection to it, as the research work was originally and officially to be done by Parsvanath.
The Bhandari family believed that they were highly ingratiated to Charu for first having tried to save Parsvanath's life and later, having single-handedly brought the culprit to justice - as made out by the newspaper report. They had no objection at all. Councilor Charuchandra Chimalgi was awarded the doctoral degree at a glittering ceremony at the university, which had society's decorative icing, cream and crust in attendance, without exception - as well as a sizeable number of individuals equatable to its soft spongy underside.
He was henceforth addressed as Dr. Chimalgi, Councilor, and the general refrain was that, it was only a matter of time before he would rise up the political hierarchy.
The dilapidated ancestral house by the stinking pond received a much-deserved facelift. It now looked as good as new. The waters of the pond regained their pristine character, with the latest water purification technology used to restore it back to health. Charu's humble request of having a truckload of smooth flat pebbles to be dumped along its banks for his exclusive use was immediately complied with.
* * *
The correspondence between the number six and significant happenings in his life started to increasingly intrigue Charu, particularly after his near-death experience and its consequence. He began to wonder whether he could have a decision-analyzing model developed for himself with the so-far mysterious role of the number six factored in.
The thought, however, remained as one. He was no longer the young man with an unkempt beard, dreamy eyes, little wants, and all the time in the world to pursue his quest for knowledge.
He was now, the most eligible bachelor in the city - well qualified, highly esteemed, and with important social connections. Wealth was the one missing element that would have conferred a perfect score of eligibility. But people believed that with all other components in place, this one wouldn't be long in coming.
Interestingly his two major wooers weren't specimens of the fairer sex, but the respective fathers of two young women, who saw a good opportunity in furthering the prospects of their families through such an alliance, which essentially meant themselves. Being steeped in traditional thought and practices, they believed that whatever enhanced their standing in society was good enough for their families as well, as they were the assumed heads of the respective families by virtue of their hierarchical positions in them. Strangely, they also supposed that Charu owed his allegiance to them.
The front-runner among the two, in the context of relational proximity was Ratan Gordhandas. He considered Charu to be his "find," and hence rightfully his. The young man had the potential of being molded into the likes of a statesman politician, the kind who adorned high ceremonial offices, but could be manipulated either openly or covertly by their more ambitious and wily colleagues. Every political dispensation required a few such people, and those who could influence them, generally got to wield real power. They were amiable public faces of the real power behind the throne. Gordhandas believed that he had found his ideal public face. He wanted to have it secured by having it as his son-in-law. What his daughter thought of Charuchandra, did not matter to him.
Professor Praful Bhandari, the late Parsvanath's grandfather was a man who had this unshakable conviction that pedigree and performance were inseparable. It was only the pedigreed who performed; the others were just that - steeped in mediocrity, insipidity, and unoriginality. When he found that Charu outshone his grandson in every manner in the context of the latter's research activities and was the main initiator, conceptualizer, and developer of the model, it took him a while to accept it. He had Charu's antecedents checked and found that his great-grandfather's uncle had been to England to study at Oxford, which provided his hurt ego with some ruse to justify Charu's brilliance.
However, he couldn't yet accept Charu being conferred with a doctoral degree for a research work that was officially to be his grandson's. He had been powerless to have it stopped. But he resolved to do the next best thing. He would make Charu a member of the family. If pedigree wouldn't perform, then the performer would be pedigreed! There was a solution to every problem, seen from the right perspective.
There were several other contestants who constituted the set of prospective father's-in-law. Among them were leading industrialists and businessman, lesser known political heavyweights, influential government officials and god-men - who had only recently forfeited the trappings of family and society for elevated pursuits, but continued to look down occasionally at their former domain by force of habit.
Paradoxically, the set of young women who aspired to be Charuchandra's wife had just one member. It was an orphaned and distant relative - by the name of Snigdha, who had come to live with them as a child and grown up at the ancestral home, but was now living independently and working as a clerk in one of the many smaller business establishments. And she had not expressed her heart's desire to anyone, including the person that it yearned for.
Charu wasn't disappointed or troubled by the state of affairs he found himself in. He generally shunned women, his mother being the only one he had been close to, knowingly. Unknowingly, he had also been close to Snigdha, but never bothered to give that relationship a name or analyze its possible ramifications. With her moving away to live separately, the frequency of their meetings and the intensity of their association - if it could be called so - also diminished. The chief instigator of his avoidance of female company and association was a notion that had found refuge in his mind, when he was still a child, and had been allowed to develop roots and firmly install itself by a combination of circumstances and his own nature. It was that women were the cause of all worries. He had aspired for a worry-free life and religiously kept away from the supposedly inexhaustible source of worries.
It was, therefore, highly disturbing for Charu to be suddenly confronted with so many proposals for marriage. The only aspect of comfort in it was that men were the one's making it on behalf of their daughters. He wasn't required to deal with women, at least not yet.
But it soon became obvious to him that he could not hold his position against the tide for too long. And the surge that he could see coming was one of gigantic proportions. He realized that, if he resisted it, he would surely drown. He had to gingerly maneuver his way through the swirling waters and hope that his power of analysis and deduction would help in keeping both women and worries at bay.
The mind-mimicking model that he had developed and had successfully used to save himself eralier, seemed to be the ideal means of tackling this tricky situation, once again. Charu dedicated himself to his new task in earnest.
Gathering data to build up the profiles of his prospective father's-in-law was no trouble at all. While he had to adopt every manner of surreptitious method to obtain details about his late uncle, the men he was profiling now, voluntarily parted with all the information that he sought, in the misplaced conviction that pleasing their prospective son-in-law would transform him into a real one.
To begin with, he used this anticipatory power that he had over his tormentors to avoid meeting them. He could foresee, when they would come to him with the next installment of overtures, which would take many forms - material inducements, potential pelf, ornate eulogies, or affected endearments. When circumstances forced him to grant them an audience, he learnt how to graciously refuse whatever was offered. But this acquired ability only caused the favor-seekers to admire him all the more, and increase the frequency and intensity of their frantic endeavors.
Charu decided to alter his tactics. He began to pit them, one against the other. With their thought processes bare before him, it needed only a subtle prod here or a delicate nudge there to trigger a conflict of serious proportions.
The mention that Professor Praful Bhandari enjoyed a cup of coffee and a nice conversation with the leader of an opposition party at a gathering in the club, made Ratan Gordhandas see a sinister political conspiracy being hatched to undermine the sway of his party in the constituency in general and his own influence in particular.
A casual comment that the secretary of Gordhandas had visited the residence of the university student union president, whose father happened to be the secretary's cousin, set the university management headed by Professor Bhandari to suspect that the students were being incited to call a strike to disrupt classes.
Every member of the exclusive "Prospective Father's-in-law Guild," as Charu termed this group, found themselves at odds with all other members. Suspicion has this uncanny tendency of being able to feed on itself, yet grow in strength. If there were to be a helpful agency to encourage it on its hyperbolic growth-path, it causes havoc in the lives of those caught up in its path and Charu conspired to play this role very well, ably aided by the thought-mimicking model.
The conspirator rejoiced. His tormenters were fully engrossed in their internecine scuffles and had much less time to beleaguer Charu with their marital schemes. They continued to seek his advice to get the better of their opponents, but that was something that Charu enjoyed doing, as it helped him in honing his theory and model.
However, his euphoria was short-lived. The daughters of the members of the "Prospective Father's-in-law Guild" were a disconsolate lot. They had been ordered by the parents to put all their activities of the romantic variety directed elsewhere on hold, until the matter of which one of them was to be the presumably fortunate one to net the most eligible in waiting, was unquestionably decided. They were told that their respective fathers were making considerable efforts to secure the preference of the marked groom-to-be and it was only a matter of time before they prevailed over their lesser colleagues.
The daughters had quite different views and convictions. They were very certain about two things - they would ensure that they would not marry Charuchandra Chimalgi, and that they would abide by their father's wishes, until such time that this crisis was resolved. But with the fathers combating each other rather than concentrating on the job at hand with a view to settle it - one way or the other, the distraught daughters were getting desperate and by coincidence, each of them independently decided to seek Charu's services.
The newly anointed councilor, found himself assailed by six young women one fine winter morning, as he lay basking by the pond bank in the warmth of the soothing rays of a fog-veiled sun, and blissfully flinging pebbles into its serenely rippling waters. The usually calm demeanor swayed to the other extreme, turning almost hysterical at this sudden and unexpected onslaught of this mutinous set of elements of the opposite sex.
The young women too were initially embarrassed to find themselves there all together, but soon recognized that they were all on a similar mission and were situational siblings, yoked under the same constraints, and restrained alike by their overbearing fathers. A new guild was given birth to instantaneously -"Victimized Daughter's Guild," so named in Charu's mind, but otherwise anonymous yet real, bound by the commonness of cause, that sought refuge and deliverance at the feet of Charuchandra Chimalgi.
The recluse was but a man, and though not romantically attracted by any of them, he found the state of being surrounded by six young women to be not such a bad thing after all. It was also highly gratifying to the ego, to be approached by so many people seeking help, and there was novelty here - he would be analyzing the logic behind the thought process of a woman for the first time. Not that he expected it to be very different from that of men. The notion that the brain in men and women were in any case, so similar, and hence meant to process information in the same manner, was his untested conviction. Though the young women had not spelt out their respective wishes yet, he was under the false impression that they wanted him to decide which one of them would be best suited to be his wife.
It was therefore, a rude shock when he was told that none of them were keen on such an alliance, that they had their own love affairs, and that they wanted him to help them out of this predicament. And that was an affront to his ego. Even though he was Charuchandra Chimalgi, he was still a member of the male sub-species. He winced, recoiled, grimaced, squirmed, and writhed, all at the same time, but within himself. His face displayed no emotion. Even if it had, it would have been lost in the lush wilderness of his beard.
Intending to profile them individually and analyze their thought processes, a task that he looked upon as a challenge now, he agreed to help them. They were assigned specific time slots to report, the first one being given an immediate appointment.
When he was finished with this preliminary exercise by the evening, he worked through the night to match answers that each of them were made to write down for a specific set of questions, with what the model came up with, after being primed with their attributes. To his utter consternation, very few matched, and this was Charu's first and thoroughly confusing exposure and introduction to the world of women.
He pored over books that described the psychological and physiological differences between men and women. That their brains were differently wired and also a bit differently shaped, was a revelation to him. At the conclusion of his investigative studies, which was not a one-night stint, but a sustained effort spread across many days, the discovery about the nature of humans and the two distinct models in which they occurred - men and women, was even more profound. The bases for all differences between the two models could be identified by the need of the male to disperse seeds and that of the female to nurture the nascent life that a seed initiated. The basis was essentially biological, with the gene as its driving force.
Feminists could complain about inequality and machos could justify it. But existence, which had a definite agenda, didn't care for such trivialities on a global scale, though these tendencies were effectively, manifestations of the same basic drive to balance localized inconsistencies. Once equilibrium was attained, feminists and machos would disappear from the scene, only to appear somewhere else, where a new imbalance would have occurred. The bottom line was that men and women were different, their roles in the process of evolution were different, and hence their brains, which managed and directed all their activities, were different.
The pursuits of seed dispersal, domain protection, and providing sustenance, required single-minded, objective, and focused thought, while those of gestating, birthing, nurturing, and maintaining a household necessitated a multi-level thought process.
Obviously, with so many functional differences, there should be anatomical dissimilarities as well, surmised Charu, and went on to pore over still more books to identify and understand them. He learnt that the central nervous system in a human brain was made of two components, termed as white matter and grey matter. White matter was made of myelinated axons, which connected the various grey cell areas of the brain to each other and carried nerve impulses. Grey matter was made up of nerve cell bodies, which processed these impulses and generated responses. Grey matter would be the brain's computers, while white matter would be the cables connecting them, thought Charu. And it was overwhelming to know that there were 160,000 kilometers of such white matter cabling inside an average human brain.
It was said that men had more grey matter in their brain, while women had more white matter. This would mean that men had more processing power and women had better connectivity, which corroborated another finding that in general, women were better at multitasking, while men had a better and faster problem-solving capability.
There were many other structural differences too between the brains of the two human models. It was said that the frontal lobe of the brain, which housed decision-making and problem-solving functions, the hippocampus, which was involved in short-term memory and spatial navigation, as well as the limbic cortex, which regulated emotions, were proportionally larger in women. The last bit of detail made Charu sit up. He had always wondered what made his mother shed tears in bountiful measure, whenever she watched poignant scenes in a movie or a television serial. Later, he had realized that it was a common trait in women. Now he knew the culprit - it was their extra-large limbic cortex.
Men scored over women in the size and consequently the functions associated with the parietal cortex, which processed impulses from the sensory organs and was involved in space perception, and the amygdala, which controlled social and sexual behavior. These anatomical sub-organs were partially to blame for the aggressive behavior in men.
It was also said that scans brought to the fore the fact that men used less of their brain and only one side of it to solve a problem. They were focused on their objective. Women however, used both sides of the brain, the white matter connectivity between the two sides of the brain being one of the reasons for this, and worked towards a solution that was more broad-based. Charu suspected that, one of the practical manifestations of this peculiarity was what made the six young women to be disinterested in him. While their fathers only had their personal ambitions in mind for seeking an alliance for their daughters, the women had a whole lot of other considerations.
Slowly, but surely, Charu was making great strides towards becoming a complete man, at least in thought. Nature had created man and woman as complements to each other. Together, they were complete. Their physical union brought forth their tribute to existence, for the joy of realizing this wholeness. The understanding of the other, gave rise to balanced thoughts, which was another form of homage to the great wonder called life.
His mind-mimicking model for women underwent significant modifications, in the light of all that he had imbibed and they began to mimic reality with an acceptable degree of accuracy. Glitches remained, but Charu believed that they would be ironed out in the course of time. He had taken six months for developing the first model, being a man. He could justify taking a few more months for the second, not being a woman.
To develop a model satisfying a set of test data was one thing. Its application in real life was quite another. Charu was aware of this, but was not prepared for its consequences.
* * *
Charu's mother was not a happy woman lately. The abrupt influx of so many young women into her chaste son's life, made her very disturbed. He now regularly trimmed his beard and moustache; made use of a range of deodarants, exuding a different aroma at each time of the day; wore colored clothes, shedding his former exclusive preference for whites; and seemed to be making an effort to stimulate and control his uncooperative motor mechanism of vocalization. The mother, who would constantly grieve at her son's utter disinterest in normal worldly matters, now began to continually lament his total turnaround, not being aware of the real nature of the interface between her son and the host of young women. Though there was deep affection between mother and son, expressive warmth and verbal communication was nearly nonexistent. Most times, one had to divine the intentions, likes, and dislikes, of the other, which led to situations such as the present one.
The only other person that Charu's mother felt close to and confided in, was Snigdha, whom she had nurtured and lavished her love upon, when the now-young-woman had come to live with them as a little girl. She was also aware of Snigdha's feelings for her son, though the young woman had not expressed them openly. This was womanly expertise, a factor yet to be recognized by Charu and included into his model.
Snigdha answered her foster-mother's anguished call and lent her shoulder for the older woman to cry upon. She too shed unseen tears. From this common and shared sorrow was born a mutual resolve to confront the circumstances head-on and rescue and reclaim their prodigal Charu.
Battle lines were drawn: some clear and provocative; others that were discrete, subdued, nebulous, and even misleading. Bugles were sounded: some that threw an open challenge; others that wrapped venom in affable expressions. Weapons were unsheathed and held at the ready: some evil looking and menacing; others seemingly innocuous, yet equally dangerous and lethal.
Charu's mother and Snigdha declared open war against the bevy of beauties, with a misplaced reason. The bevy reciprocated in kind, with only that as the reason. The young women resorted to the technique of sabotage to thwart their fathers, while the fathers fought among themselves and presumably the whole world, to secure Charu for their respective daughters. Charu shifted allegiances as the situation demanded - now cavorting with the beauties, now consoling his mother, now advising a prospective father-in-law, or at other times frenetically working on his software model to frustrate each of them by turn. It was a free-for-all situation with every one having to pay a heavy price in terms of time and effort. With frequently changing loyalties, it was difficult even for the computerized decision making model to come up with dependable suggestions. Charu too was reduced to relying on instincts rather than on logically reasoned measures to make his moves, as the others did.
It was an ideal scenario for utter confusion and it was so indeed. Charu had, however, come to believe on the basis of his strange association with the number six, that even though there were likely to be bizarre and perilous situations, which he would be required to ford across, the end result will always be in his favor, whenever this number was in anyway linked to such situations. There were six members each in the two guilds that he was grappling with. He was sure that he would certainly be made to go to the brink, before being pulled back; perhaps, not just once, but many times, while this phase lasted, and finally installed on a higher station of life. The conviction was no doubt a palliative, but the pain of standing at the precipice repeatedly was no less agonizing.
The first push to the brink occurred not long after, and sooner than he had expected. Ratan Gordhandas and Praful Bhandari, being the most assertive and aggressive of the protagonists, wanted Charu to take their daughter and granddaughter respectively, out for dates, the time and place for which was to be decided by them. They also intended to have tables booked for the couple in advance. The others too made such demands, but were less insistent, and allowed the choice of place and time to the concerned couple.
The masquerading lovers believed that they could manage it. If being seen in public together, satisfied the girl's parents or grandparents, then they would play along, until an opportunity presented itself to assert themselves. But they had discounted the possibility of two or more guardians fixing the same time of the day on the same day at as many different places for their dating rendezvous.
If something - and particularly of the awkward kind - could happen, then it certainly would and at the most inappropriate of times.
Of the many theoretically possible subsets of protagonists considered two at a time from a set of six, it had to be Ratan Gordhandas and Praful Bhandari, who were involved in this generally unlikely happening. In addition to booking tables in advance, these two elders also made it a point to personally go and check whether their commands were complied with. Praful Bhandari being more urbane, would do his inspection from a distance and if satisfied, would quietly walk away. Ratan Gordhandas on the other hand, would come and share the table with the couple, have a hot cup of beverage, indulge in a bit of small talk, and then move on.
When the perplexing situation of two simultaneous dates at different places confronted them, one of the other four young women, one with a manly gait and stance, offered to dress up as Charu - sporting a false beard and moustache - and go with one of the two marked ladies. As it is bound to happen in such tense conditions, there was an inadvertent mix up, resulting in Charu going with Praful Bhandari's granddaughter, rather than Ratan Gordhandas' daughter, as originally planned. The reasoning was that the urbane man would conclude his investigations from a distance and the impersonating Charu would be able to manage the show, while the real one would be there at the table to welcome Gordhandas from close quarters for a cup of coffee. It was only at the last minute that they realized the swapping of places, but it was too late by then, even though they were located at not more than a five-minutes-walking distance from each other. The real Charu and his double, exchanged messages of encouragement over their mobile phones, and plunged into their respective acts.
Praful Bhandari, as was his wont, walked up to the entrance of the restaurant, glanced towards the table by the window that he had booked, confirmed that a large bouquet of red roses was placed on the tabletop, which he had ordered for his granddaughter on behalf of Charu, waved at the couple as they turned towards him, and walked away.
As he neared a crossroads close by and was waiting by the kerb to go over to the other side of the street, he noticed Gordhandas walking past. Their eyes met briefly and sparks darted between them. Quickly turning their noses into the air above them, they continued on, wondering what the other was doing at this hour and this place, which was generally frequented by youngsters.
Charu had waited at the table just long enough for Bhandari's receding figure to disappear into the crowd and then darted in the direction of the other rendezvous, which was an exclusive eatery at a large hotel. He hoped that he would beat Gordhandas to the reserved table there, but it was not to be. As he rushed into the corridor along a glass-paneled aisle that led to the eatery door, he spied the older man walking through it and disappear inside. He realized that the game was lost, unless the double had the presence of mind to do something quickly. To be available close by, if the need arose to create a diversion, he too walked into the eatery and sat by a table near the entrance.
From his vantage point, he could see Gordhandas and his daughter at a table in a secluded corner. Following their gaze, he located the double's presence at the food counter, with his back to them, toying with a mobile phone. As expected, Charu's mobile vibrated and he answered.
"Where are you?" said a feminine voice, filled with dread.
"At the first table, near the entrance. Head for the toilet in the corridor and I will join you there. Don't cut the link. Let us be connected until we meet," replied Charu.
He got to his feet to precede the double to the meeting place and found a hand on his shoulder restraining him. Looking up, he saw the smiling face of the industrialist, one of the other members of the Prospective Fathers-in-law's Guild, appraising him.
"I can feel a subtle and welcome change in the air, Charu. Gordhandas and his daughter are at one end of the restaurant, and you are alone here. Are you expecting someone?" asked the industrialist.
"Yes, someone from the city government to discuss an administrative matter," replied Charu haltingly. His manner of speech being naturally slow and slurred, the suppressed tremor and unease in his voice went unnoticed.
"Ha! I see that you are already bringing in some modernity into the government procedures by holding a meeting at a restaurant. Those mendacious and morose officials would generally prefer the confines of their dingy and dimly-lit dens where they revel in their deviousness," remarked the indulgent industrialist, patting Charu on the back. It was a godsend that he was able to find the man that he wanted his daughter to woo, alone at a table and in the proximity of a rival. He wasn't going to let go of this opportunity. He would bring into play all the charm and persuasive skills that he could marshal to further his cause.
In the meanwhile, the double had relinquished his post by the food counter and was seen taking a detour towards the entrance, with three pairs of eyes keenly following him. Stealing a glance at the table where Gordhandas presided, proved to be an undoing. The older man latched on and held attention, his eyes enquiring what his quarry was upto, who quickly raised the little finger indicating that the loo was his intended destination.
"I should teach him better manners," muttered Gordhandas to his daughter. "Even if his need is uncontrollable, he should maintain decorum in public. Raising a little finger and walking with an almost womanly gait isn't the done thing. I have great plans for him. How would you like the idea of his being made the party candidate for the upcoming election to the Legislative Assembly? If he wins, of which I have no doubt, he could even become a minister."
Gordhandas' gaze had momentarily strayed from the double and dwelt upon his daughter, and she, in turn, grabbed the opportunity and held it.
"Yes, Dad!" she said, excitedly. "That will be wonderful. I will make him agree to this proposal immediately."
"Do you think you can do that? Has your equation with him evolved to a level where he would listen to what you say?" asked the eager father.
"Yes, Dad," said the daughter, putting up a great display of coyness.
"Then why don't you convince him to agree to have the wedding immediately?"
"Yours with Charu, of course!"
"No, Dad. The wedding should be held after he wins the election to the legislative assembly. He shouldn't be encumbered by extraneous thoughts when he is involved in something so important."
"What extraneous thoughts?"
"You know what I mean," said the daughter and winked.
"The kids of these days have thrown decency to the winds. Raising a little finger in public to display one's abdominal discomfiture; talking to one's own father unashamedly about 'extraneous thoughts'; I don't know where this is all leading to," said an exasperated Gordhandas, and then remembering that he had been on the trail of his prospective son-in-law, looked around for him. The quarry was nowhere in sight, having made good his escape, under the cover of the distraction provided by Gordhandas' daughter.
Charu, who had been following the developments from his seat at the table by the entrance, heaved a silent sigh of relief, as the double rushed passed him. It was now time for him to leave too. Taking a leaf out of his double's book, he raised his little finger at the face of the industrialist, who still had a restraining hand upon Charu's shoulder, smiled wanly, forced the hand away politely, and went in the wake of his double. The two conspirators converged at the men's.
"Thanks," said Charu, holding the double's hand.
"Anything for the cause, but it was close," replied the other with a nervous nod.
"Why don't you change over?"
"At the women's, next door."
"You wouldn't dare entering that place dressed as a man, would you?"
"Women can dare many things when the need arises," said the other defiantly. "You better add that general trait into your model the next time you happen to tweak it. I can handle my affairs without your help and suggestions. You go out and handle yours. Gordhandas will be waiting impatiently for his missing protÃ©gÃ©."
Charu stood staring at his double's back, as she walked out of the door, brimming with confidence.
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