Who was Raja Harishchandra?
"WHO was Raja Harishchandra?" Amit asked me abruptly, as I sat on the lawn sipping my tea and reading my paper.
The question was simple enough. I was about to reply, "He was a truthful and honest king." But I managed to stop myself.
A reply of this sort would lead to questions about truth and honesty and I would then be forced to hand down rules: You must be truthful, you must be honest and the like.
Amit was six years old. And six year olds remember. I would have to come up with an innocuous reply. But it was not a battle that I could hope to win.
He would eventually come to know the truth about me, his father. Perhaps, it wouldn't matter so much. After all, Model Town was full of people like me. There could be no fingers pointing at me. So why not just give him a straight reply and to hell with the consequences. He would grow up and understand that I had tried. God knows I had!
When it had happened the first time many years ago, I had bellowed and railed against the culprit. I had cursed him with the choicest expletives. I had thrown the envelope with its wad of currency notes right back at the man. I had summoned the peon and asked him to fetch the security guard.
When the security guard trooped in, I had ordered him to kick the man out of the office and break his legs if he ever tried to come back. Yes, I had done all that. I had thrown Mr. Kashyap out.
A week later, Mr. Sharma had asked me to come to his office. Across Mr. Sharma's table sat the man I had thrown out Mr.Kashyap. An easy camaraderie prevailed between the two of them.
"This is Mr. Kashyap, Anuj," Mr. Sharma said. It wasn't just any introduction. I knew the man, all too well. I nevertheless nodded stiffly. "He is one of the most important government contractors of the district. He has also been an MLA in the past."
Mr. Kashyap, in a very gallant gesture, extended his hand towards me. I hesitated and then held out my own limply.
Mr. Sharma continued, "He has told me about the `incident' last week. I have explained to him that you are new. I have approved his tender and he has agreed to forget the whole thing. I trust that in future, you will cooperate." I looked at Mr. Kashyap again. He wore a smile that seemed to be developing into a sneer. Both Mr. Sharma and Mr. Kashyap got up and Mr. Sharma saw Mr. Kashyap out.
I stood rooted to the spot, staring blankly at the bare wall in front of me. My reverie was broken by a question from Mr. Sharma, "Anything else, Anuj?"
"No, Sir," I muttered. He then pushed an envelope towards me. "For you, Anuj. From Mr. Kashyap." he said. I picked up the envelope and walked out.
Someday, I would tell Amit this story and he would understand. He would see me as a victim of circumstances and understand my compromises.
In the meantime, he would have grown used to the "extras" that I could provide him designer clothes, watches, computer games, cars, mobile phones, expensive holidays. Ray-Ban, Benneton, Ford, Rolex these names would roll off his tongue with ease. He would speak of them like they were his old friends.
If the truth ever dawned on him, he would be forced to weigh his options and make his compromises. Friends like these are not easily parted with. He would cave in and we would continue to plod along merrily. Yes, that was what would happen.
"Who was Raja Harishchandra, Dad?" Amit asked again in an impatient tone.
My mobile phone also began to buzz just then. "No relation of ours," I said with finality and walked away to take Mr. Kashyap's call.
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