Jun 24, 2009
“You will have to make him understand!” Somappa sounded venomous. “I rule this place and my constituency. Rama Rao has taken utterly a stupid decision to fight the election against me. He does not know my capabilities.”
“I will make him understand.” Raghu assured.
“I have a soft corner for the poor, the oppressed and the downtrodden.” Somappa continued. “I would not like to trouble them. But they should know their limitations. I believe in ‘live and let live’ theory of life, provided I’m allowed to live my way of life. Let him withdraw from the election.”
“You must have seen enough of me.” Raghu pressed the muscles of his shoulder. “In this town no one has the guts to reject my advice.”
“You believe in your venom.” Somapaa pushed a few thousand rupees into Raghu’s pocket. “And I believe in you. Our friend Shiva is sitting inside. You may take his help if required.”
“I may not need his help. You can trust me.” Raghu disapproved the proposal.
“Anyway have couple of drinks.” Somappa showed the way.
“Thank you.” He could not say no.
Raghu stepped into the room on his left. Shiva was sitting with couple of thugs. The bottle on the table was partly consumed. Awkwardly a chair was offered to him. Their aversion towards Raghu was evident. Somappa’s reliance and confidence in Raghu always made them uncomfortable. They kept a jealous watch on his activities. The uneasiness reflected in their envious and vicious looks as if they wanted to sink their teeth into his flesh. But then they knew he was physically strong and mentally resilient. He was venomous enough to destroy each of them.
Raghu was well aware of his strength. The ordinary snakes survived at his mercy. Even the most powerful snakes preferred to avoid him. The deadliest serpents had always moved out from his way.
Shiva prepared a drink for Raghu.
“You are planning to terrorize a retired school teacher. The task is not easy. You might need our help.” Shiva deliberately teased him.
Shiva’s friends joined the laughter. Raghu was irritated by the noise. He consumed the drink in one gulp, slammed the empty glass and pulled Shiva’s collar.
“Are you challenging my mettle?” He clenched his teeth.
“I am sorry.” Shiva nervously folded his hands. “I did not mean to hurt you.”
“Do not try to hurt a venomous snake.” Raghu pushed him back and took his second peg.
Shiva attempted a shrill sound through the pursed lips. He looked at the swords which were hung on the wall.
“Why are you hissing like a snake?” Raghu was irritated.
The glass was emptied. The images of Shiva and his associates disappeared from his mind as he stepped out of the house from the back door. His image in the town was tarnished for violent nature and criminal record. People feared his ruthless vandalism. He grew up with petty fights in the locality and ended up being a school drop out. The village community gymnasium was his favorite citadel. He pumped iron for hours to gain the muscle power. His professional life began with loan recovery assignments by threats and unacceptable methods. Violent physical means were used in achieving the objective. The regular conflicts with blowing fists and weapons took him closer to police circle. He remained under their observation. This was the moment the local MLA Somappa rescued him by grabbing him into his confidence. The protection given by Somappa helped Raghu in keeping the cops away from the range. The bond was further strengthened after he was married to Sheela who was a worker and tenant in Somappa’s acres of farm.
People found hardly any difference between the fury of Raghu and poison of a cobra. He was capable of inflicting the noxious sting. But this time his target was Rama Rao, the retired school teacher. Rama Rao’s dream project to start a college for the town was in structural stage, largely dependent on grants and donations. All of a sudden a splinter group had pushed Rama Rao as their candidate in the forthcoming legislative assembly election. The majority of the town was poor and they wished a change in the leadership. Rama Rao’s image was centered on social service and uplifting the common man. His ordinary and lower middle class background fitted perfectly to the aspirations of the mainstream.
The values shared by Rama Rao and the society in large was Raghu’s least concern. His chief was Somappa and he was completely committed to the command of his ruler. He was determined to accomplish his mission and coercion was his only weapon. Raghu moved his feet at moderate pace towards his shed.
Raghu’s hut was not very far away from Somappa’s palatial house. A fresh water river was flowing facing Somappa’s lavish patio. Thick line of coconut and areca nut plantation was well spread behind Somappa’s house. After walking for a kilometer he was led to a narrow path which separated the multiple squares of sugarcane field. It was evening and the scattered workers were returning home. A strong wind was blowing between the blades of sugarcane. The gateway to his hut was on the other side of the lake where the river was getting connected to the lengthy lagoon.
He crossed the wooden bridge and reached the entrance of his small house. Raghu was greeted by the sound of a crying baby. His seven months old baby was left all alone in the cradle.
“Where is this stupid lady?” He was infuriated by his wife’s absence.
“I am in the bathroom” The reply came from Sheela.
He went closer to his child. His attempts to soothe the baby turned ineffective. The baby continued to shed tears with the bawl getting louder. It tested Raghu’s patience and he could not take it any more.
“Shut up!” He screamed violently.
The baby must have had been caught by the spell of fear and as a result immediately stopped crying. Sheela stepped out from the bathroom and looked at the baby. She sensed the anxiety and apprehension emitted from infant’s expression.
“What did you do to my baby?” She snapped in distress.
Raghu remained quiet. He tugged the currency from his pocket and handed it over to his wife. She followed him when he walked across to the middle room. A dagger was pulled from the wooden cabinet.
“Why do you need the knife? What’s your plan?” She questioned him in disapproval.
“I have told you enough number of times.” He placed the dagger in his pocket. “Your duty is to look after the house and the baby. Don’t try to be my controller!”
“I have seen enough life of this small town.” She was discontented. “The leaders are misusing your venom for their personal gain. We have to think of our child and find a way to get out the clutches of the exploiters.”
“You are thinking too much.” He ignored his grumbling wife and walked towards the kitchen.
Raghu was thirsty. He drank a tumbler of water and came out of the house. The sun was setting below the western horizon facilitating the way to the darkness. He took long steps on the wooden bridge and entered the narrow path which divided the sugarcane field. On his way he developed the urge to urinate. He ensured that nobody was around. A hissing noise greeted him as he discharged the urine and turned to his right. The spot caught his eye.
A dark cobra had blocked his way. The hood was displayed by flattening the neck. The hiss was loud and clear. The forked tongue was flicking as if picking up the molecules in the air. Raghu did not lose his nerve. He was never ever terrified by the sight of snakes. The spectacle of the whispering snake angered him. The rage gripped his mind and body. His eyes spat venom. Raghu put his step forward like an offensive player. The threatened cobra moved back, folded the neck ribs and disappeared into the sugarcane field.
He was least startled by the incident. It had happened in the past. Snakes preferred to avoid confrontation with Rahgu. They would lose the confidence to hurt him. He continued his swift walk with the hope to kill Rama Rao’s fortitude during the negotiation. Though he had not prepared himself for the encounter, he was well acquainted in dealing such situations.
His strides slowed down in front of an old-fashioned house of wooden roof and traditional tiles. The gate squeaked while pushing in. It was 8:00 pm. He knocked the door. The sixty five year old Rama Rao appeared within couple of minutes.
“Who is that?” Rama Rao’s wife curiously inquired from the back.
“I do not know.” Rama Rao observed the unexpected visitor.
“I do not care if you know me or not.” Raghu literally pushed the old man back, moved in and closed the door.
“Who are you?” A puzzled Rama Rao held his nerve and examined the visitor.
“My name is Raghu. People say I am as poisonous as a snake.” He did not like Rama Rao’s affectionate look, but continued his means of inflicting the fear.
“Please sit down.” Rama Rao showed chair. “You seem to be having a liking for your nick name. I have heard of your stories. I know your wife Sheela’s family too. You are living in a house given by your landlord Mr.Somappa. Could I please know the reason of your unexpected visit?”
Raghu was somewhat frustrated by Rama Rao’s unruffled reaction. The scene lacked the anticipated fright.
“Normally I talk very less. My hands act faster than words.” He sounded wicked. “But just because you are retired school teacher I am trying to explain you.”
“What different does it make?” Rama Rao questioned him. “Why do you offer the leniency for a retired school teacher? If the sting of your poison is what waits for me in my destiny, I am ready to accept it. But first and foremost I do not know the cause of your resentment.”
“The legislative assembly election is fast approaching.” Raghu rushed to the point. “Somappa has been the MLA for this place and no one has dared to oppose him since several years.”
“So the legacy is in danger by my contention.” Rama Rao took charge. “I got your point. You are here to advice on behalf of Mr.Somappa and you want me to withdraw my candidature.”
“You may call it an advice or a caution.” Raghu removed the knife from his pocket and struck it hard on the wooden table.
The knife had cracked in. No one spoke for a while looking at the upright knife on the table. Rama Rao’s wife standing at the kitchen door moaned and stepped back in fear. Rama Rao somehow managed to restrain from the anxiety.
“The reflection of a real threat is always scary, isn’t it?” Raghu ridiculed him. “Do you think I am branded as snake just for the heck of it? I am capable enough to sink my teeth into your flesh. Why do you want to antagonize my leader? The life would be hell for you…..If you want peace and harmony, learn to be good to Somappa and he would be kind to you. I am not sorry to demoralize you.”
“How can you demoralize me?” Rama Rao retorted strongly. “You are being dominated, subjugated and exploited by Mr.Somappa. When your liberation is under question, how can you demoralize me? You would be sadly demoralized when you realize the truth!”
Raghu found it harder to understand the words of Rama Rao. He was left puzzled for a while.
“At times we fail to understand the awful truths of oppression.” Rama Rao turned magical with his words. “First and foremost you should comprehend the veracity of your existence. Listen to me…. You are not wicked as you imagine. You have been projected as evil by your leaders who create venom in you and manipulate it for their own benefit. Actually I like you for the fact that you are not two faced.”
“Stop kidding…. Why would you like me?” Raghu was astonished.
“You claim that you are as harmful as a snake. I appreciate your truthfulness.” Rama Rao sounded affable. “At least you are not deceitful. But human society is dominated by hypocrites who prefer deception. They show what they are not. They present a genuinely honest look, but carry bagful of poison in their heart and wait for the opportunity to strike hard. I would rather prefer you.”
“I do not understand what you say.” Raghu’s bewilderment continued.
“On the personal front we have no reason to hate each other.” An infectious grin appeared on Rama Rao’s face. “If we have any dogmatic or pragmatic differences, let us sit and sort it out… Meanwhile I appreciate if you could join for supper. If the food is delayed often I get the attacks of sweating, dizziness and palpitation. I suffer from hypoglycemia, which is a pathologic state of low blood sugar. We can continue our discussion while eating.”
“You may eat, I will wait for you.” Raghu hesitated.
“Come on… There is no need to feel shy.” Rama Rao got up and signaled his wife.
While getting up from the seat Raghu felt weak in his legs. ‘Am I too suffering from low blood sugar level?’ The thoughts bothered him. He did not have the past experience of eating with any scholar. He was always shunned by the sophisticated and the cultured section. The opportunity of joining them for food never existed.
Rama Rao showed Raghu the way to the wash room and then he joined his wife in arranging the food, vessels and plates on the dining table.
“Why are you offering milk to the cobra?” Rama Rao’s wife whispered in his ears.
He just smiled and ignored her. After washing his hands in the kitchen and he met Raghu at the dining table.
“My food is very simple.” He explained. “We are vegetarians. I hope you don’t mind. You may eat the rice, but I avoid rice during the evening meal. I prefer unleavened flatbread with vegetable curry. We do not have any wine bottle to entertain you.”
“Do not worry, anything will do.” Raghu’s mind had turned empty as he struggled for words.
Rama Rao’s wife seemed upset and resentful. The hospitality offered Raghu perhaps had caused the repugnance.
“Let us come to the point.” Rama Rao returned back to the topic. “We have to analyze the reality before jumping into any conclusions. My biggest dream is to build a college for the poor. We have formed a trust, the land is arranged and the funds are coming in. This is my objective of life. It is true that I am contesting the assembly election and I take no instructions from Somappa. My application to contest is recommended by a group who believe in uplifting the oppressed. If they ask me to withdraw, I would definitely pull out. I would not mind. Believe me I do not carry any political ambition. If you think that you can justify my withdrawal, you may meet the group and convince them by persuasion or by force.”
“How can I address the group?” The idea made him ill at ease.
“You carry the reputation of being fearless in nature.” Rama Rao reminded him. “Then what bothers you to address a group? Bullying an individual is always easier than intimidating a group of people…… Isn’t it? Does this make you fearless?
“You tell me… How can I satisfy Somappa?” Raghu’s voice turned feeble.
“How long do you plan to live like a slave under an irrational leader like Somappa?” Rama Rao searched straight into Raghu’s eyes.
“………” Raghu could not reply. He looked down. Rama Rao continued his speech. His voice had a tender and magical touch. It created some kind of sense in Raghu’s vacant mind. The affectionate chord had stirred the emotions of a hardhearted thug. Initially he was contained, but step by step, little by little was caught by the warmth and finally was completely captivated by Rama Rao’s infectious charm.
“Don’t allow yourself to be exploited by the leaders.” He cautioned him. “They exploit you until you carry the venom in your muscles. The day when your fangs get weak they will chuck you out. It could be too late. You and your family would be destroyed…… But if you have the will to save your self, I am ready to help you.”
“What do you want me to do?” Raghu waited for the reply like a naïve child.
“I have an option for you.” Rama Rao expressed with conviction. “This is best chance for you to unleash yourself from Somappa’s slavery. You must be aware of my college for the poor project. We have the land and boundary wall is already built up. We are looking for a guard who could protect the place day and night. The accommodation for the security too is available. Once the college is built you may extend Sheela’s service in the cleaning department. Anyway you should be able to support your family from the salary. You and your family will earn respect in the society. You should think of providing good education to your children. Most important the environment will cut you off from anti-social elements. The cops will stop bothering you.”
Raghu got up, stepped into the bath room and washed his hands. The impurities were removed. The body, the mind and the soul had undergone the process of purification. Perhaps his fangs were cut short. He felt as if he had been sanitized by squeezing off the venom….. He had lost himself when he was young. The anti-social elements had plucked him swiftly into their clutches. The steady progress ended up with tag of being a henchman to Somappa. But here was a chance of a life time to get back into the mainstream. He had undergone enough of harassment from the police and now the very thought of it, sapped his strength.
Raghu came out from the washroom.
“What do you think?” Rama Rao pushed the fruit basket.
He picked up a banana without any reply. The banana was peeled and consumed. The upright knife on the table took his attention.
“I may not need this anymore.” He pulled the dagger and gave it to Rama Rao.
“I will keep this as a tribute to our warmhearted alliance.” Rama Rao accepted it. “We have a college trustee meeting by coming Monday. I will strongly recommend your appointment and you may meet me by 6:00 in the evening. Until then please keep it completely confidential.”
“I will. Thank you very much.” He folded his hands. The interaction and the hospitality had transformed his psyche into lowliness.
“You may take this torch.” Rama Rao offered him the flashlight. “Light is required. The night is quite dark. Snakes actively move around. You take care.”
Rama Rao tapped Raghu’s shoulder. The physical touch stimulated the affection and compassion. Raghu was completely incarcerated by Rama Rao’s charisma which was infectiously tender and magical.
While on his strides towards Somappa’s house he was enthralled by the newfound exuberance. On the way a known auto rickshaw driver picked him and left him in front of Somappa’s villa. He did not speak to anyone on his way. Without wasting the time he walked into the inner room. Shiva and his friends had too much of alcohol which had affected their speech and movement. Somappa was sitting separately alongside couple of his political comrades with glasses in hand. Raghu came closer to his master.
“Did you finish the assignment?” Somappa’s eyebrows went up.
“Rama Rao is not very keen to contest, if not for his supporters.” Raghu pleaded. “There is a group which has shown the audacity to challenge your position. Rama Rao is ready to withdraw if the faction tells him so.”
“Stop kidding!! You have been tricked by Rama Rao.” Somappa mocked at him.
Siva and his gang readily joined with a loud laughter. Raghu was tormented by their demeanor.
“I am not a kid to be deceived by Rama Rao.” Raghu remained serious. “It is advisable to stay away from Rama Rao!”
His stern reply baffled Somappa. ‘Was it a word of advise, caution or threat?’ All remained speechless, waiting for the corollary.
“Would you like to have a drink?” Somappa changed the topic.
“I am tired, I want to go home.” Raghu refused.
“You may go after the meal.” Somappa instructed him.
“I already had my supper. I have to go now.” Raghu turned his back.
Raghu domineered with rudeness and arrogance when he dealt with the world. On the contrary just like a typical cobra he always remained polite to his master. But today’s behavioral pattern indicated a strange turnaround.
Normally he would prefer the back door while getting out of Somappa’s house. Today he walked out of the front entrance perhaps indicated some kind of deliverance. Somappa got up, came closer to Siva and whispered in his ears. Siva’s drunken state of mind was on a lofty high. He chattered an eccentric whistle while getting magnetically attracted by the swords.
Raghu continued his walk at a fairly brisk pace. His attitude transmitted the excitement of his renaissance. The past was over. He was awakened by his new master who promised the resurgence of an unsullied tomorrow. The redemption from corrupt master was in the close corner.
When he reached to the narrow lane between the sugarcane fields a quiet indistinct utterance cautioned his ears. This was similar to the hissing noise of a snake. He had seen a cobra at the same spot a few hours back. Raghu stopped and withdrew his next step. The poisonous snakes did not terrify him in the past. But now he was dismayed by the lack of confidence. The fury to attack the snakes had fizzled out.
He searched for the torch in the pocket. His attempts to switch on the flash light turned futile. The illumination did not occur perhaps due to mechanical fault. Raghu was dreadfully caught in the darkness surrounded by the flustering hiss. The confusion intensely escalated. Instinctively he believed that multiple numbers of cobras had encircled him. He looked for the dagger which was not there.
His heart pulsated in exertion, throbbing into a fast rhythm. He was left intimidated, unsettled and demoralized. All of a sudden his skin was pierced by a violent physical assault. He gasped for breath in acute pain. His fangs did not have the zip. Raghu lacked the venom required for a counter attack, slowly exhausted, turned unconscious and collapsed.
“The dangerously venomous snakes could be made harmless for our benefit.” A voice vibrated in the darkness. “The fangs removal is an option but they re-grow. I believe in detaching the venom glands after putting the snake into sedation…….My informers have been more than helpful. When Raghu gains his consciousness he will believe that he was assaulted by the associates of his old master. He will remain loyal to us forever!”
The decree was delivered by the man standing behind the miscreants with a cryptic yet an infectious, tender and magical undertone.