The Narrator

  

                                                                        

                                                                                   Fifteen

                                                                              MANPASAND

 

                            

    Tara, Vilas, and Osman are looking at the next candidate, Mr. Uttam Bajaj.  The profile says:  "A nouveau riche contractor-cum-devloper; very popular with politicians and bureaucrats for his generous bribes and gifts." Vilas: "Madam, go out with him to dinner so that you can check him out at close quarters."

Tara, picking up the phone:  "Good idea."  She dials Uttam's number and talks to him:  "Which restaurant did you say?  Oh! ok, suits me fine."  Puts the phone down and says with a giggle, "He's inviting me to my own restaurant."

    In Tara's restuarant, later in the evening.  Uttam comes to the restaurant early.  As soon as he enters, he starts flashing about his money, tipping people, including the door man. Manager:  "Welcome, Sir."

Uttam:  "I have to meet a very special guest here tonight.  I want your best table, that one near the window."  Slips a 100 rupee note into his hand.

Manager:  "Of course, Sir, it is yours. Is your guest a lady or a gentleman?"

Uttam:  "Lady, of course.  Now listen.  I want absolutely special service today.  And in the end I want you to say that everything is compliments of the house.  Say something like, `A special friend of Mr. Uttam is our honoured and respected guest.' We'll settle the bill later.  Understand?"  Slips another 100 rupee note.  Manager nods.  Uttam walks to his table and sits down with evident satisfaction.

    About twenty minutes later, Tara arrives.  As soon as she walks in, the whole restaurant springs to attention.  Uttam is very pleased, thinking that it is because of his manipulation.     When a waiter seats her at the table, he tips him a tenner. Tara looks amused at Uttam's generosity and the waiter's embarrassment.

The Manager says falteringly:  "So nice to see you here, Madam. What a pleasant surprise.  I wish you had told us earlier that you would be dining with us."

    Uttam beams, thinking that all this attention and courtesy is because of him.  He says:  "Have you come here before?  They seem to know you quite well."

Tara:  "Yes, I come here once in a while."  With a mischievous twinkle in her eye, she adds, "Just to keep an eye on things."

    The innuendo is lost on Uttam who, as usual is consumed with self-importance.  "I come here very often," he boasts, "everyone knows me here.  Did you not notice the superior service you're getting."

    "Yes, now that you mention it," Tara plays along, "I did notice a special difference today."

    Throughout the dinner, Uttam keeps tipping lavishly.  One by one the staff members of the restaurant come to greet Tara and he tips all of them.  Finally, the Chef himself comes.  This is a rarity even for Uttam.  He smiles proprietorially and gives him a 100 rupee note.  The Chef squirms as he is forced to take it. 

    In the end, Uttam asks for the bill.  The Manager jumps to attention and says, "Compliments of the house, Sir." Uttam, triumphantly:  "I hope you enjoyed yourself, Taraji." Tara:  "I should be asking you that, but you know you're spoiling the boys a lot with your excessive tipping.  It's not good for business in the long run."

Uttam, still not catching on:  "I am sorry, I don't understand." Tara:  "But, surely you must know that all your tipping wasn't necessary--at least today.  You'd have got all this without paying a penny."

Uttam:  "What do you mean?"

Tara:  "Don't you know?  I own this restaurant."

    Uttam looks shocked.

 

    Tara, Vilas, and Osman are sitting around the table discussing the previous evening. Vilas:  "How was your dinner Madam?"

Tara:  "Uttam kept throwing his money about pretending that he was the host in my own restaurant."

Osman:  "Yes, I found out from the Manager that he had come

there earlier, to bribe the staff to take good care of you!"

Tara:  "Poor chap."

They laugh.

Vilas:  "But, Madam, if I might ask, so what if he made a fool of himself?  What did you actually think of him as a human being?"

Tara:  "He's shallow.  And consumed with self-importance.  He thinks that all one needs in this world is money.  Money might help when one is trying to secure a big contract, but there's such a thing as human relations.  Here money takes second place.

    "I detest a vulgar display of moolah.  Uttam, I'm afraid, is too crude, too obvious, too loud for my taste.  He lacks delicacy, mystery.  Understand?"

    Both Vilas and Osman nod vigorously.

Tara:  "Ok, who's next?"

Vilas:  "Not next, Madam, the last."

Tara:  "Huh?"

Vilas:  "With this last prospector, we come to the end of our short-listed candidates.  But if you like we can always

readvertise."

Tara:  "No, no, please.  It's well and good that this is the last one.  I am getting tired of this ­tamasha­ myself."

    The profile indicates a serious scientist with an outstanding academic and professional record, about 32 years old.  This is Dr. M. Sudhakaran, a telecommunications expert.  He has an M.Tech. and Ph.D. from M.I.T., U.S.A.  He has already won the Bhatnagar Award and been honoured with a Padma Bhushan.

    Tara looks fascinated:  "This one seems totally different. But he might be too serious or too intellectual for me.  Anyway, let me give him a try."

 

    Dr. Sudhakaran walks down the corridors of his Institute, a white overcoat over his shirt and tie.  He greets people familiarly. A glimpse of him in the lab, with eager research scholars listening to him with rapt attention, reveals that he is a good and popular teacher. His RAs are utterly dedicated to him and his project. Much later, around 10:00 pm, he walks briskly through the beautiful, but now dark campus, to his apartment building.

    He lives in a well appointed three bedroom flat, overlooking the sea.  His home is sparsely, but tastefully furnished.  It gives an impression of neatness and quiet elegance, without the least note of vulgarity or opulence.

    Sudhakaran is a man of striking looks, not handsome, but very distinguished looking.  Broad forehead, tall, slightly on the thinner side, but very agile and graceful in his movements.  He has piercing grey eyes, which look both intelligent and compassionate.

    At home as in his lab, he's mature and considerate.  He is especially attentive to his aging mother.  After he changes, he stretches out in his favourite chair, his window overlooking the sea, and puts on a record of Mozart's concertos for violin and piano.  In short, seems to be a serious man whose credibility can hardly be doubted.

    In the background, the theme song plays softly, as if to underscore this point.

 

    In the same flat, a few days later.  Sudhakaran and Tara have returned from their dinner date.  They walk in happy and flushed, obviously quite impressed with each other.  He puts on Schubert's "Trout."  As the delicious notes rise and fall, their haunting melody flooding the apartment and overflowing towards the vast

sea outside, they have coffee, which Sudhakaran makes himself. Tara thinks, "What an extraordinarily gentle and caring man! Such manners, such intelligence, such taste.  I'm half in love with him, with his mind."

Sudhakaran: "So, Ta ra, what are you thinking of?"

Tara:  "First of all, thanks very much for a lovely evening. Everything was perfect, not only this evening, but ever since I've met you.  I want to ask you only one thing.  Suppose we get married, what will happen to your work as a scientist?"

     Sudhakaran looks at her with some surprise.  Obviously, she doesn't understand the importance of the work he is doing at his Institute.

Sudhakaran:  "Of course, it will go on."

Tara:  "But what's the need for it?  I have so much money that you can set up your own industry or lab if you chose to."

Sudhakaran: "But that's not what I'm interested in doing.  I want to continue my research."

Tara:  "Well, we'll see." Sudhakaran, looks more puzzled, but changes the topic graciously. "Let me bring to you the most precious person in my life:  my

mother."

    Excusing himself for a moment, he wheels in his old mother. Tara is surprised to see her.  The old lady is an invalid but quite firm and intelligent in appearance.  They talk. She's taken back to her room.

 Tara:  "Who looks after your Mother when you're abroad?"

Sudhakaran:  "Yes, that's been a problem.  You see, my mother became an invalid only last year.  After that, I have not left her alone.  Of course, I have help in the house, but actually, this is one reason I want to get married soon."

 Tara:  "That should be no problem for us.  The best possible medical attention will be available to her around the clock."

Sudhakaran: "But that's not the point.  She's lonely when I spend long hours in the lab.  She needs more companionship.  It would be nice to have a daughter-in-law around.  And later, some grandchildren.  I want her last days to be filled with laughter and happiness."

Tara is silent for a while, but then brightenes up:  "Don't worry.  I'll find a way out.  I always do."

 

    Later in the week, the two good friends, Tara and Mohini are together again.  There's such an easy familiarity and affection between them that it's clear that they really enjoy each other's company.

    Tara:  "I am very happy today.  It seems that I have at last found the man I was looking for.  He is decent, considerate, very well-behaved, not at all pretentious--and what's more, he's almost a genius."

Mohini:  "I am glad that it is working out for you at last.  But what does he say?  Are you sure of his response?"

Tara:  "But of course.  Am I not the most sought after and supremely eligible woman im Bombay?  Did he not himself apply in response to my advertisement?  What else can he say but yes? Right now, in fact, Vilas is with him trying the finalize matters.  Papa too will be back in another week.  He's been delayed a bit in Dahanu, which suits me just fine.  By then, I would like to have the invitation cards ready."

    There's a knock at the door. Vilas and Osman enter.  They look subdued.  Is something is wrong?

Tara:  "What's the matter?  You two look as if you've just broken somebody's engagement."

They exchange glances and look even more downcast.

Vilas:  "Madam, I am sorry but we don't have good news for you."

 
  Copyright © 2005 - Makarand Paranjape