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Of Pebbles, Politics, Mind, and Matter: Chapter 4
The story so far:
A young and brilliant recluse develops a theory of thought and decides to put together a mind-mimicking algorithm based on it. During the process of testing it, he unknowingly steps into a world of intrigue and power-play. When facing the prospect of being physically eliminated, providence, in the garb of his adversary's mentor, comes to the young man's rescue and makes him a city councilor in his deceased uncle's stead. Celebrity status lands him in another kind of predicament. A host of leading lights of the city begin wooing Charuchandra with a view of having him bound in wedlock with their respective daughters. The recluse takes recourse to his algorithm to outwit them but finds that it isn't able to imitate women's thought-processes. Interaction with his prospective wives-to-be presents him with an insight into this. Read on to know how Charuchandra manages to shake of the wooers, yet gets married at the end of this tricky maneuver.
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 you wish to revisit the third chapter at this point, please click on the following link:
If not, please scroll down to read the fourth chapter titled "Marriage and Ministering".
Chapter 4: Marriage and Ministering
Without exception, every happening leaves its foot-marks behind. Whether or not these footmarks are recognized correctly and the happening identified properly, depends on the talent, expertise, proficiency, interest, approach, and need of the person investigating it. With so many capabilities to excel at, it is a moot point that any happening could ever be deciphered in its entirety and reconstructed.
Some incidents, however, leave behind such stark giveaway footprints that even a person with average abilities can interpret them easily, and yet arrive at a wrong conclusion! This is what happened, when the intrepid double went back home that day, carrying with her the borrowed clothes of Charu, the false beard, and the wig, and inadvertently left the bag containing them upon the shoe rack.
The next person to get back home was her father, who examined the bag's contents, and immediately recognized Charu's clothes. So intensely had the members of the guild of prospective father's-in-law been wooing their quarry, that they were very well versed with all items in his wardrobe and those in his set of toiletries. But a false beard was something that they had never imagined could be part of it. This particular member - a junior officer of the diplomatic corps, was very particular about appearances and had been nagging Charu to shave off his beard, trim his hair, and do whatever that he wanted with his moustache. The false beard and the wig seemed to indicate the possibility - no the certainty - of the young man having heeded his advice. The junior diplomat was overjoyed. He would now be able to proudly present Charu among his circle of friends as his son-in-law-to-be. That was, however, for later. At that moment, he wanted to personally meet the young man and congratulate him, which was for him a devious way of congratulating himself. This was nothing less than a diplomatic coup.
Without taking a further step inside, he yelled for his daughter, who rushed out from her room fearing that her exploits of the day had become common knowledge and she was to get a good dressing down, only to find her father beaming at her.
"What is it, Dad?" she asked, perplexed.
"Why did you keep such an important piece of information from me all this while?" asked the father in false annoyance, adding to the already existing proliferation of falsity and confusion in the atmosphere.
"I didn't . . ." began the daughter, but was cut short by the father, who was not really looking for an answer.
"I am going to meet Charu right away to applaud, approve, and admire him for having displayed the courage to have his beard shaved. Do you want to accompany me?" the father demanded.
"But Dad, it is so late already. You can go tomorrow morning," replied the daughter, attempting to stall the man's departure.
"You want all the joy for yourself and leave nothing for daddy, is it? I am going there, whether or not you want to come," said the loving father with a naughty wink and retraced his steps to his car.
"Wait a minute, Dad. I will join you," said the frantic daughter and rushed back to her room. She put through a call quickly to Charu.
"Where are you now?"
"At home. Where else could I be?" replied the young man at the other end, casually throwing a pebble into the pond water, by whose bank he was seated.
"Is there a barber's saloon close by?"
"Go there this instant, shave of your beard, and trim your hair," she urged.
"What madness is this? Which saloon is going to be open at this time? It is two hours to midnight. And why should I do such a thing anyway?" he demanded.
"My dad is intending to come and meet you now. I am to accompany him. He saw my false beard and believes that you are now clean-shaven, as he always wanted you to be. If you can't find a barber, shave it off yourself."
"Oh! I don't have a shaving kit. Never had one," groaned Charu.
"This is no time to tarry. Get up and move," commanded the young woman.
"This was not part of our deal. You seem to be ordering me, as if you were married to me," complained Charu.
"If that were so, it would have been far worse. I am advising you as a friend. Do as I tell you, and immediately. I can't speak to you any more. Dad's waiting outside."
A few more pebbles found their way into the water, while Charu pondered his next move. He thought of using his decision-mimicking model to work out possible moves of his adversary under various scenarios, but realized that there was no time for that. A part of his mind urged him to abandon this charade and tell the interfering man on his face that he was not interested in any of the girls, and that they better mind their own business. Another part cautioned him that such a move could be disastrous. It was after all a matter of shaving off his beard, which would grow back in no time. The goodwill that he had been able to generate and build up over so many weeks would be lost by one impulsive action.
He forced himself out of his easychair, looked wistfully at the water in the pond and the mound of pebbles, and went to his room to have a last look at his beard in the mirror. Though he found comfort in the thought that it would flourish again very soon, what he had on himself at present was the original and unsullied tuft of facial fur with which fond remembrances of his entire lifetime so far, were intimately intertwined. He reminisced the inexpressible joy that he had experienced, when he had noticed the first few strands slowly and demurely making their way out of the skin under his chin. He was not yet fifteen then. Over the following months, the growth began to spread across the rest of his chin and cheeks and gradually began to bridge the gap to unite with the fur growing downwards past his earlobes. He was eighteen by the time they fused and formed one consolidated mass of black around his cherubic face. It had been an agonizing three and a half year wait for Charu. From then on, his beard had been his most prized possession. It was with great grief that he would compel himself to occasionally trim it, because errant strands would keep getting into his mouth along with his food. He had seen pictures of renowned men with long flowing beards and wondered how they would have managed. He had even written to a few of them, whose mailing addresses he had gathered with great effort, to ask them how they coped with the daily routine without being weighted down by their beards, and also how they maintained it. None had bothered to reply. Perhaps, they thought that it was a prank of some thoughtless and insensitive youngster.
One of the wooing men had gifted him a high-resolution digital camera recently. He searched and brought it out to take a few snaps and preserve them as fond remembrances. Unfortunately for him, the batteries held very little charge to allow him this luxury. He was also surprised that the batteries had run out so fast. It had been only a few days ago that he had charged them and hadn't used the camera since then.
The honk of a car at the gate at that moment, told him that he had spent too much time on the thoughts of his beard and it was time for action. He went to his mother who was preparing to retire for the night, told her that he was going to the junior diplomat's house on some important work, and slipped out of the back door. A short walk along the pond shore took him to a length of wall that faced a side street. He easily scaled it and walked away into the night.
A minute later, the doorbell at Charu's house sounded and was answered by his mother to find the junior diplomat and his daughter standing there.
"He has gone to see you!" said Charu's mother, surprised at the coincidence.
"When did he leave?" asked the man.
"I thought you should have seen him going out. It was only a few moments ago that he left," remarked the mother.
"See! He is as eager to see me, as I am to see him. Let us rush back home," said the elated junior diplomat to his daughter, and after having apologized to the older woman for having disturbed her so late in the night, the father and daughter duo hurried toward the parked car.
The daughter, however, knew better. Wanting to know Charu's whereabouts and the status and condition of his face, she tried calling him and failed to get through. A busy signal was all that her instrument could gather. It at least told her that Charu was on the job.
* * *
The young councilor in the meanwhile, had called one of his late uncle's dark brigade members - the ones who operated by night and played by different rules than their daytime counterparts. After Svamicharan Chimalgi's death, most of his men had shifted allegiance to Ratan Gordhandas. A few, however, had stayed loyal to the one who bore the name of Chimalgi and who had become the councilor in place of the earlier incumbent. That one had attempted to kill the other was a detail that they weren't too concerned about. Jerry Ranga aka Janardhan Ranga, was one of them. A strongly built man, finer things of life were beyond him. He could hew a fair sized log with one stroke of an axe, but could not pluck a flower from its stalk without crushing it. He could skin his adversary in combat with finesse, but could not shave himself without lacerating his face generously. There were niches of activities in which he excelled, but in most others he was miserable.
It was to the formidable Jerry Ranga that Charu turned for help.
"Jerry, I am in a bit of a bother and need you by my side," said Charu, speaking into his cell-phone.
"Tell me where you are and I will be there in ten minutes," said Jerry, leaving his half-finished dinner, wiping his hands on the window curtain, and walking to where his motorbike was parked.
"I am in the side street next to my house and need to go to a barber immediately."
"Why the hurry? Can't it wait until morning?"
"No, it can't. If I don't shave and show myself to one of the leading figures of this city within the next half hour, he is likely to file a missing person report with the police."
"What is all this, Charu? I believed that you were above all such nefarious activities. You seem to be changing," remarked Jerry Ranga.
"There is nothing nefarious about wanting to remove one's beard, is there?" asked Charu, annoyed.
"Certainly not. But wanting a barber at midnight and having to meet a person only after such an exercise, sure sounds weird."
"I will explain everything to you, but come and pick me up at once. Do you have any barber in mind, who could help?"
"Yes, I will take you to one."
Charu could hear a motorbike engine revving to life through the cell-phone and knew that Jerry was on his way. Judging by the reckless manner in which he usually rode his vehicle, Charu reckoned that Jerry would be with him much before the time that he promised.
The moment Charu terminated the call his mobile rang. It was Gordhandas' daughter.
"What is it?" asked Charu, gruffly.
"No need to be so grumpy," chided the voice from the other side.
"I am sorry. I am a bit tensed."
"What is the matter?"
"It is that junior diplomat. He has brought me out on the road in the middle of the night. But why did you call?"
"My dad has decided to forward your name to the candidate selection committee of the party and recommend that you be made the party nominee to represent the constituency, of which this city is a part, in the State Legislative Assembly."
"It is hardly a few months since I have been elected councilor. What is the hurry and need to fight another election? I am happy where I am. Anyway, why are you so eager and excited about it," asked Charu.
"I am your friend, dear. My dad's attention will be fully engrossed in doing all he can to ensure that you win the election. That would mean that he would have much less time pressurizing me to marry you, wooing you to marry me, and to set up, monitor, and oversee our dates," argued the politician's daughter.
"But that will only be a temporary reprieve. After the election, whatever the result be, it will be the same story again."
"No, if you win, you would have grown greater in stature than my father in the perception of the public, as well as in political circles. You will be able to handle the pressure that he gets to bear upon you, much more easily."
"Your reasoning is compelling, but I am in no position to decide anything at the moment. Let me grapple with the situation that I am in now and come out of it unscathed. We will see to your proposal later. Thanks all the same," said Charu and disconnected, as he heard the distant sound of a speeding motorbike approaching him.
As expected, the knight of the dark brigade rode in and screeched to a halt beside the waiting councilor in seven minutes.
"Hop on," he said, motioning towards the pillion.
"Only if you promise to follow speed limits," said Charu, nervously.
"You can't have everything. We have already lost a third of the time that you have been granted," said Jerry, with an impish smile on his lips.
The motorbike sped toward the barber's residence, the dark knight looking glamorous with his mane majestically flowing back in the wind, while the councilor pathetically clung to the rider's back, his eyes closed and his heart quailing. It was a five-minute ordeal, but to Charu it seemed an hour.
Predictably, the barber's house was swathed in darkness, the inmates having gone to bed.
"Jerry, there should be no violence of any kind. The man should not be annoyed. If he were to shave me bearing a grudge, the news would be out by the morning, and would make front-page headlines. My reputation would be at stake. If you involuntarily happen to hurt him in anyway, please apologize immediately."
"Will do, Charu. Not to worry," said Jerry, leaving the councilor standing by the bike and striding towards the barber's front door.
A few moments later, the sound of the door being pounded reverberated through the street.
"Knock softly. You will have the whole street awake with the noise that you are making," hissed the nervous councilor.
The switching on of lights in a few houses in the vicinity, confirmed Charu's fears. He moved away from where he was standing and into the shadows, not wanting to be seen by anyone. Jerry, however, didn't seem to be worried at all. This was a normal night-out for him.
The door that he was banging on opened and the sleep and fear laden face of the barber peeped out.
"Oh, it is you! What do you want at this hour? Is this the time to disturb anyone?"
"I have a man to be shaven," said Jerry, coming directly to the point.
"You can bring him in the morning," replied the barber and made to close the door.
Jerry stuck his booted foot into the gap between the door and the frame, and said, "I want it done now."
"I refuse," said the barber, vehemently.
A shove on the door sent it flying open, and the barber behind sprawling to the floor. Jerry remembered Charu's words of caution. He went at once to the fallen barber, lifted him to a standing position, and said, "I am sorry, man. But you don't seem to understand the urgency of my request."
The barber who was on the verge of acceding to Jerry's demand was emboldened by this strange gesture and instead stuck to his original stand. "I will not attend on anybody now. You can come back in the morning," he said, not as boldly as he did the first time, but daringly enough.
Other members of the barber's family had by now gathered in the room, and were vociferously objecting to this uncalled for intrusion into their privacy. Jerry responded to the situation in the only way he knew. A tight-fisted blow to the barber's mid-riff sent him sprawling back to the floor. It also muted the strident voices of his family members.
Jerry returned him to a standing position again and apologized. "I am sorry, guy, but you leave me with no option. Let us settle this amicably. Go get your implements and I will drop you back in half an hour. That is a promise. I am not asking this of you as a favor. You will be paid double."
"Do I have an option?" asked the barber weakly, massaging the place where Jerry's blow had landed.
"You don't need to ask, dude. I am waiting outside. Get ready in five minutes and join me."
Jerry joined Charu in the shadows of the street and told the councilor of his achievement. Charu was aghast.
"You will have to shave me, Jerry. Get the implements from the barber and we will head home. If he gets to know that I am behind his humiliation, I would have nowhere to hide my face tomorrow."
"Your uncle wasn't so," remarked Jerry, eyeing Charu strangely. "He would have done what I did, and would have been much more severe on that bloke."
"I am not my uncle, Jerry. If he had been in the situation that I am in, he wouldn't even have known how to handle it. Just do as I say. Get the barber's implements. I will be waiting at the end of the street. Pick me up from there. I don't want to be seen by the barber or by any of his neighbors," said Charu and hurried away.
Jerry Ranga walked back to the barber's front door as he was about to step out himself, grabbed the bag that he was carrying and said, "Plans have changed, dude. Get back to bed and have a nice sleep. Your things will be returned to you along with the payment tomorrow morning. Sorry for the disturbance."
The poor barber, happy to be let off, didn't bother to ask any further questions and quickly darting inside his house, bolted the door.
* * *
Charu asked Jerry to stop the motorbike by the kerb, when he felt they had put sufficient distance between the barber's house and themselves.
"What now?" asked Jerry.
"Shave me," said Charu.
"Here? By the roadside? Are you crazy?"
"There is no time to get home."
"I don't try shaving myself. The few times that I did, left me looking as if my face had been clawed by a dozen long-nailed women. I dare not try doing it to you. I get mine done a couple of times a week by the barber we met today," said Jerry.
"You have at least tried. I haven't even done that!" lamented Charu.
"I will get someone from our group who is adept at it, to come here at once," offered Jerry.
"Wait. I will call the junior diplomat's daughter who started this crazy affair in the first place, and find out what the situation is at her end. Perhaps, her father's unreasonable desire to see me at this unearthly hour has waned and I don't need to shave after all," said Charu, and called the person he alluded to.
"What is taking you so long?" the young woman's voice boomed. "Father is growing impatient by the minute."
"I haven't found a barber yet, but have all the necessary implements ready."
"Where are you?"
Charu mentioned the location.
"I think I have someone who can help you. He lives very close to where you are. I will have him meet you in a few minutes," said the enterprising woman and disconnected.
* * *
The boyfriend of the junior diplomat's daughter was a smart young man, very particular about his appearance, always well groomed and dressed, and well versed with the etiquettes of high society. He had been very sad and dejected the last few weeks. When his girlfriend, whom he truly and deeply loved, told him about her predicament caused by her father's irrational fixation upon Charuchandra Chimalgi as a prospective son-in-law, he had offered to come and talk to her father to sort out matters and seek her hand. She had cautioned him against such a step, saying that it would only make her father to become still more strident and rigid in his pursuit. She had also mentioned that Charuchandra had offered to help them out, and that over a period of time, all will be settled amicably.
Things looked to be going smoothly for a while, but the young women from the guild of prospective brides seemed to be increasingly getting involved in neutralizing the intrigues being scripted by their fathers in demeaning their rivals on one hand and wooing Charu on the other. They hardly had time for their respective boyfriends and even when they met, it had to be furtively, in some unromantic place, and for a few minutes.
It was therefore with a mixture of anticipation and dread that the boyfriend in question, took the call that was made by the junior diplomat's daughter.
"Listen, love. I have a job for you. A few paces to the right from your front door, you will find a motorbike parked and two men standing by it. One of them is Charuchandra. You will recognize him easily, having seen his picture many times in the newspapers. I want you to go and help him shave his beard. My father will bring the city down if he doesn't see Charu within the next half hour at our place and clean shaven," explained the junior diplomat's daughter.
"What madness is this? And what do you take me for? A barber? Why can't Charuchandra shave himself?" demanded the exasperated boyfriend.
"He has never done it before, love."
"You seem to know a lot of things about him. I can see your interest in me waning already."
"Believe me, darling! It is nothing like that. It is an emergency and you are the only one I can turn to for help. You always used to say that you would do anything for me. I am only asking you to do something that you do every day to yourself. Shave. Why can't you help a needy man? It is a mark of magnanimity. Please love? For me?" The young woman put every bit of persuasive power that she possessed behind her entreaties, lacing them with a liberal dose of endearments.
The man wilted; his heart melted.
"All right. I will do it for your sake, but just this once. Don't ever ask me to do it again, even if it were to be a life-threatening crisis. One more thing, I am not going to use my shaving kit on him."
"Don't worry, sweetheart. He has brought his own."
"You seem to be aware of everything he does. Are you sure that you still love me? Or am I just being used?" asked the boyfriend, the stemmed misgivings flooding back into his mind once again.
"I swear, darling. I still love you and always will. Just help me out this time. Please."
The man and his suspicions were vanquished finally and comprehensively, and he rushed out of his house to find Charu.
Over the next twenty minutes, during which the involved and tortuous effort of de-bearding a virgin face was accomplished with the utmost care, a strong bond of friendship had been established between the provisional barber and his conditional customer.
"It is time we evolved some definite strategy to end this charade and bring some sense into these old men who are out to woo you against your wish. Do you have any ideas, Charu?" asked the man who had de-bearded him.
"Yes, I think I do. It isn't my idea really, but one provided by one of these old men themselves and developed upon by his daughter who saw it as a way out of the impasse. They want me to be my party nominee to the by-election to the state legislative assembly. If I am elected, I will be way above them in status and have a position in that strata of society, where their influence would be minimal. They would not dare indulge in the kind of nonsense that they presently do. I had my reservations about taking this step. But now, I am veering round to the view that it would be a good solution. Will all of you - the members of the aggrieved boyfriend's guild - help me with the election campaign, so that my success, which I see as our success, will transform from a possibility to a certainty?" asked Charu.
"We certainly will, Charu," assured his newfound chum. "I personally know all the other five guys who are respectively involved with the daughters of the five oldies, other than this junior diplomat that we are going to meet very soon. I will tell them what a wonderful person you are and are not the kind of guy we imagined you to be. I am sure they will wholeheartedly pitch in for electioneering work. There is as much stake in it for them and me, as is there for you."
The accretion of yet another set of six persons for a specific purpose gave Charu the speculative confidence, that it would surely be achieved. The catch was that there would customarily be another journey to the brink and back. Having experienced two such already on a single day, Charu dreaded facing another too soon. The second one was yet to end.
But end it did, when Jerry Ranga deposited Charu and his chum at the door of the junior diplomat's residence and sped away.
"What took you so long?" asked the diplomat in a concerned voice, rushing out of the house, as if to embrace Charu, but stopped short on seeing his chum. "Why is he here?" he added, frowning.
"He is my friend," replied Charu, enjoying the diplomat's awkwardness. All these days he had been at the receiving end. He could sense the tables turning now.
"Since when has he been your friend?" demanded the diplomat.
Before Charu could answer, the chum answered, "About a year now. We met at a common friend's place and have become chums now."
The news was a shock to the diplomat. In his state of consternation, he even forgot to look at Charu's clean-shaven face properly. He had eyes, loaded with loathing, only for the chum.
"I strongly suggest that you keep away from this man, Charu. You don't seem to realize that you are inviting trouble," cautioned the diplomat, his eyes still fixed on the chum.
"And I strongly suggest that you don't insult my friend, particularly in my presence," remarked Charu, getting into the act and putting on a hurt and angry countenance.
"You are playing with fire, Charu. This man is after something of great value to you."
"I have no possessions to worry about. He has nothing to take away from me."
"The future, Charu! Consider the future. You will have many possessions then and he has an eye on them," said the diplomat, trying his best to convey what he alluded to without actually saying it. The poor man had no idea that Charu, the chum, and his daughter, understood every word he said and their disguised meanings, and were thoroughly enjoying the exchange.
"Let us leave this place, buddy. This man is being unreasonable, unpleasant, and abusive," declared Charu, taking his chum's hand in his, and walked away, leaving the fuming junior diplomat standing at the gate.
The bond of friendship between the two shaven-friends, further strengthened, as they walked hand-in-hand, through the deserted streets, until they parted at a crossroads towards their respective residences.
The junior diplomat, however, refused to accept defeat so easily. Not for nothing had he been posted in the country's embassy in a foreign land, ostensibly as the cultural attache, but actually looking after counter-intelligence activities. He was not fooled by the show of bonhomie between the two supposed chums and believed that it was a plot hatched by one of his adversaries in the prospective father's-in-law guild. He would beat them at their game. This was his game and he was a specialist. The plotters stood no chance.
A good sleuth would begin by suspecting everyone, including himself. Parental affection blinded the diplomat from considering his daughter as a possible suspect. The daughter made him even blinder by putting on a show of being greatly anguished, and locking up herself in her room for the night.
* * *
A week, and then another, passed in relative tranquility. Charuchandra Chimalgi's nomination had been accepted and he was now the official nominee of the party for the election to the lone vacant seat in the state legislative assembly, caused by the earlier incumbent having moved on to the national parliament as a member of the upper house. Ratan Gordhandas believed that he had left his competitors far behind in the race of acquiring Charu's love for their respective daughters. The others, though feeling disadvantaged, continued to persevere without giving up hope. They were forced to be seen as lending support to Charu's candidature, for any dissension on their part at this juncture, could be construed to be opposing their prospective son-in-law and marring his chances. Members of the other two six-member guilds were in high spirits, and eager to go into electioneering mode, whenever called.
It was then that an unexpected visitor called at the once-dilapidated-but-now-renovated ancestral home by the banks of the sparkling pond, on a Sunday morning. Charu had left early for Gordhandas' place, to finalize the agenda for the election campaign, which was to begin from the following day. The visitor had been in the vicinity even earlier, but had waited at a safe distance, half-hidden behind a tree trunk, waiting for Charu's departure. About a quarter of an hour later, the visitor had ambled over to the house and rang the calling bell. It was the junior diplomat.
It was Snigdha who opened the door. Charu's mother not keeping too well over the weekend had prompted her to come over the previous evening and stay on to look after the ailing woman.
The visitor introduced himself and asked to see Charu's mother. Snigdha looked up the person suspiciously, asked him to be seated in the antechamber, and went in to inform the old woman. A few minutes later, Charu's mother hobbled out into the room, supported by Snigdha, who helped her into a seat.
"Ma'am, I have to come to warn you about the danger that your son is exposing himself to. I believed that he was a simple and honest person, which he was, until he got into the company of the likes of Ratan Gordhandas. He has now turned as wily and dangerous, as that man."
Charu's mother didn't like the man, the instant she saw him, and now, her dislike only increased listening to his insinuations.
"Why are you so concerned about my son? I believe that he doesn't see your daughter anymore. Then what interest can you have in him?" asked the old woman.
"What you say is true ma'am, about your son not meeting my daughter anymore. I am only a well-wisher and would hate to see a bright young man like Charuchandra fall into bad company and waste his life."
"You needn't worry about my son. We are there to take care of him. The other shameless girls too would realize their foolishness shortly after failing in their attempt to lead him astray."
"That is exactly the point I was coming to, ma'am. Someone is instigating the girls into doing whatever they are upto. I wanted to expose that person and save your son from certain ignominy, if he carries on the way he is now," said the junior diplomat.
"That is enough, sir. You may leave my house now. It may as well be you, who is instigating this. And don't bother to pay another visit, because you will not be welcome," said Charu's mother, indicating that she had no intention of continuing the dialogue any more.
"Here is my calling card, ma'am, if ever you were to change your mind. I will only be too willing to help," said the junior diplomat getting up and extending the card towards the old woman.
Before she could respond, Snigdha grabbed it and said, "Thank you. We will keep it in mind."
The manner in which Snigdha reacted, made the diplomat to look at her appraisingly and the old woman to direct a glance of silent reprimand. His experience in handling counter-intelligence activities, suggested to the man that there could be a chink in the armor of the opponent here, which he could exploit. He bestowed one of his friendliest smile upon the younger woman, nodded curtly at her older companion, and left the place.
The diplomat was not mistaken in his assessment. Toward the afternoon, he received the call that he was expecting.
"Sir, this is Snigdha from Charuchandra's house," said the female voice at the other end. "We too want to get Charu out of the clutches of those interfering young women and their scheming fathers. Do you have any specific plan in mind?"
"Yes, I do. And you are going to have a very important part in it. But tell me, how are you related to Charu's family?"
"I am his distant cousin and it was his mother who brought me up."
"Is that all?" asked the diplomat pointedly.
"What else could there be?" retorted Snigdha, evenly. But if her interlocutor could have seen her face then, he would have easily concluded that the woman lied. She had managed to control her voice, but her face told a different tale, which the diplomat could not see.
"All right. Here is what I want you to do. Keep a tab on the movements of Charu, particularly those when he goes out with the girls, and keep me informed."
"Sir, I have work to attend to and cannot be possibly be following Charu all the while. I would lose my job," protested Snigdha.
"Can't you take a few days off from work? I am not expecting you to be going around the city tailing Charu. Just be at home and eavesdrop on his conversations with these women. Your foster-mother is ill. That will be a good ruse for you to stay back at Charu's place and not be present at your place of work for a few days. I am sure you can do this much for the sake of Charu's future, can't you?"
"Yes, this I certainly can, and I will. Good day to you, sir," said Snigdha and disconnected.
The counter-intelligence specialist complimented himself. He had had many successes during his tenure in the foreign country. But this assignment seemed the most satisfying - even if it was a self-imposed one. He would yet get Charu for his darling daughter. He suspected that Snigdha too had feelings for her cousin beyond what she was willing to admit. But he was confident that it would be a minor irritant that could be easily brushed out of the way.
* * *
Snigdha took to her new assignment in earnest. Charu was surprised to find her playing the role of a charming host, whenever anyone came to meet him. She had so far, normally kept aloof, and would shun the presence of the six young women. Now, she indulged in small talk with them and even planned outings, once her foster-mother was well again. Every evening, details of her data harvest for the day would be promptly relayed to the junior diplomat. When the news that the young women met Charu all together, in perfect accord and in a bonhomous atmosphere reached the master sleuth, he was perplexed. This was a new twist to the conspiracy, as he saw it. He assumed that the other five had connived to wreck his daughter’s steady relationship with Charu and that her boyfriend too was part of this plot. Why else would Charu, whom he had cultivated to the extent of having him shave his beard – which had been his lifelong possession, suddenly snap all contact with his daughter? He wondered whether he should share this information with her, but decided to wait, until he had definite proof, not wanting to increase her agony – for that is what he believed the poor, miserable girl to be going through.
The evidence that he sought was not long in coming. Snigdha called the following Friday to say that the entire group - Charu, the five young women and their boyfriends, as well as the boyfriend of the diplomat's daughter, were planning a recreational outing at a resort that was about a hundred kilometers away in the neighboring state, as a stress-buster in the midst of their hectic campaigning for the elections, which was a week away. Each pair was to reach the destination separately before daybreak - Charu and his chum being the odd one - as an all men duo, spend the day at the resort, and return in the cover of darkness.
The junior diplomat saw his chance. He would strike at many targets with a single move, and achieve his goal as well. Summoning his contacts in the press corps, he promised them a scoop that would get the readership of the newspapers and periodicals that they represented, soaring to unprecedented levels. In return, he wanted them to reserve a little space at the end of their reports for some information relevant to the scoop that he wished to include. The mutually favorable pact was concluded is secrecy, the fanfare and celebrations reserved for the aftermath.
Everything was in place for the stealthy operation. The newsmen had taken up positions at the resort on the previous night itself. The diplomat was to start an hour before daybreak on Sunday and drive down to the place of action. Members of the opposition parties that had put up candidates against Charuchandra, but had absolutely no hopes of winning, were told very discreetly that they might see a turnaround in their fortunes. The rumour was that the expected frontrunner in the ensuing election was not as virtuous a person as was made out to be. The junior diplomat had intended to break the news to his daughter after his triumphant return from his covert campaign. But it so happened that the young woman, disturbed by the noise that accompanied her father going through the motions of getting ready for his crusade against calumny, stood at the front door as her father was about to step out.
"Where are you going at this hour, Dad?" she asked.
"To restore your love to you, dear," replied the father proudly, and went on to narrate all that had transpired so far and what he intended to do in the remaining couple of hours of the operation that remained. "Everyone will desert that unfortunate man after today. Only we would be left standing beside and supporting him. Charuchandra will have no option but to accept you and swear lifelong allegiance to us," declared the father confidently and hurried along.
The mass of information took a few moments to sink into the young woman, as she stood by the door, watching her father drive away. Realization of the enormity of the possible fallout of her father's actions, made her swing into counteractions of her own. She called her boyfriend and told him all. "Leave the resort separately and head back to the city as quickly as possible, through a different route. Don't take the highway, or you could run into my father," she cautioned.
Her next call was to Snigdha. She blasted her and told her what a fool she was to let Charu down this way.
"Where is he now?" asked Snigdha, feeling miserable.
"Hopefully safe. But tell me, do you really love Charu, as my father suspects?"
"Then why didn't you tell him so?"
"I couldn't get myself to."
"And you have seen the consequence of your reluctance to speak your heart out. Take my advice. The moment he gets home, confide in him. Will you?"
"Yes . . . I . . . will . . .," said Snigdha, in hesitation.
"Or do you want us to woo Charu on your behalf, as our fathers did on ours. I must warn you that it could prove disastrous for you."
"No, I will," replied Snigdha. Though her answer was more resolute this time, her voice was rather weak.
The diplomat's daughter assumed that Snigdha was overcome by emotion, which made her voice to choke. Not wanting to distress her further, she disconnected.
Not only was Snigdha's voice choked with emotion, she was also overcome with guilt and shame at what she had done. The instrument slipped out of her hand and she dropped to the floor unconscious.
* * *
Charu and his friends returned to the city without any incident and dispersed to their respective places. The junior diplomat and his handpicked newsmen and lens-men, waited long for things to happen that never did, and returned back red faced.
The diplomat lost a few friends that day.
Charu reached home to find Snigdha sprawled on the floor, unconscious. He immediately called Jerry Ranga to make arrangements for her to be shifted to a hospital. The diplomat's daughter had called Charu to inform him of her conversation with Snigdha and he knew what the reason for her collapse was. One of the reporters, curious to know where exactly Charu was, had come snooping to the councilor's residence and saw a woman being carried in a stretcher into an ambulance which sped towards the hospital with its siren wailing and its read beacon swirling. The reporter followed it.
Snigdha was admitted to the hospital, her condition was diagnosed to be trauma caused by shock, and she was advised two days rest at the hospital. Charu remained by her bedside. Their love for each other that had remained dormant under layers of familiarity, surfaced and bloomed. As they sat hand-in-hand on the hospital bed, the stalking reporter discovered the ideal moment for a photograph. It was followed by a short interview.
Snigdha was asked about the shock that caused her to collapse. When she wavered, not knowing what to say, Charu managed the situation by revealing that he had shaved his beard off, intending to give her a surprise. Snigdha, never having seen him before without one, was shocked to find a supposed stranger at close quarters and had collapsed. When asked by the reporter about what their relationship was, Charu unhesitatingly replied that Snigdha was his fiancÃ©e and that they were soon to be married.
The next morning's newspaper carried the scoop on the front page. The reporter, a sentimental guy, was blown away and floored by the care shown by Charu for her fiancÃ©e and eulogized it. The headline of the scoop said, "If you need such care for your constituency, then cast your vote for Charuchandra."
A wave of goodwill for their caring hero, coursed through the city's inhabitants. The six members of the prospective fathers-in-law's guild felt the rug being completely pulled away from under their feet. Not only had it been pulled away, it had also been rolled, packed, and secreted in an irretrievable place. With only four days to go for the elections, the only manner in which they could have continued to be in the reckoning was to express their happiness at the turn of events and hope for a miracle, which they knew would never happen. The diplomat was denied even that option.
Charuchandra Chimalgi won the elections by an unprecedented margin of votes over his nearest rival.
Musing over the events that led to this conclusion - seated at his favorite place and indulging in his desired activity, Charu recognized the extent of contribution the women had made to his success. His decision-mimicking model for women still had some glitches, which he had not been able to remove. An all-encompassing understanding, an idea that would identify and encapsulate the basic difference between the thought processes of men and women had eluded him.
There were many lists that he had come across that had enumerated the eight, fifteen, or twenty-four basic differences between men and women - depending on the manner of interaction that the researcher probed; or lists that identified the ten things that men looked for in women or the twelve traits that women looked for in men. Charu felt that they were not comprehensive and concise enough.
But now he felt he had found it.
Men were driven by all that the word "only" stood for. They wanted exclusivity in everything, except when it came to other women.
Women, on the other hand, were driven by all that the word "also" could be identified with. They could be accommodative, sharing, caring and also given to hoarding, amassing . . . The sharing however, did not apply to their own men.
These briefs appeared all encompassing, satisfying the sentimental as well as the technical requirements of such a differentiation.
Lounging by the pond, he made the necessary corrections to his algorithm on his laptop, and tested out the results in the background of all that had happened over the last few weeks. It worked perfectly.
* * *