It Runs In The Family
Padmanabhan, better known as Enfield Padmanabhan for he had once owned an enfield bike servicing station was one of the premier automotive parts dealers in the city. But that was in the beginning of his career n the auto parts industry when he landed in Chennai from Kumbakonam with wife and baby daughter in tow. Nowadays, regardless of the manufacturer or company, Indian or foreign, four wheeler or two wheeler, Mr. Padmanabhan invariably had a dealership for that particular vehicle. After twenty years of doing business he was now the retail king of the automobile industry- all brands under the same roof. Sometimes his peers in the automotive industry whispered between themselves that no one had a better grasp on the overall view of how the industry was faring than Padmanabhan. And not only locally, for every month or so Padmanabhan would fly off abroad visiting automotive fairs worldwide to try and grasp the arising and future trends in the transportation field to get in on the ground floor of any new innovation. For all that Padmanabhan didn’t have a large family -just the wife and daughter he came to Chennai with all those years ago, to set up an independent business.
If you thought that only Mr. Enfield Padmanabhan was the go-getter of their family you are far off the mark, for his wife Sudha was as equally ambitious as her husband but her chosen sphere of expressing her talent was on their daughter Tara. Ever since Tara was born Sudha had completely devoted all her energies to making Tara as accomplished a person as can ever be. She lived, breathed and dreamt all the time about how her daughter could be molded into being the person that Sudha had always wanted to be. From the time she woke up in the morning till the time she went to bed, every segment of Tara’s life was strictly regulated- French class, tennis class, college, music class, dance class everything had its proper time and place in her daily life. She had no free hour left to divert her mind into useless thoughts which might lead her astray from her mothers ambitious plan for her future. She was dropped at college in the mornings and picked up at college at the stroke of the bell by Munusamy their most trusted family driver from the same village as Padmanabhan. She never went anywhere, including her friends houses, without Sudha or Munusamy accompanying her. Her friends were all vetted by Sudha who often weeded out the undesirables and independent thinkers among them.
In short Tara led a robotic life under constant supervision being told what to do and how to do it, all the time. The only time she had rebelled, or leastwise had tried to rebel was when she qualified for a merit seat in a government medical college but her mother Sudha had put her foot down and refused to allow her to join medicine. Sudha had been most insistent that her daughter not join any professional course but only some women’s only arts college for a bachelor of arts degree in some social sciences subject. While Tara screamed, cried and went on a hunger strike for almost ten days to be allowed to join medicine. In the end she gave into her mothers unreasonable demands and joined an arts college for a bachelor of arts degree in geography. No one ever asked Tara and she never offered any explanation for why geography.
Padmanabhan was relieved that the rebellion was finally at an end. He had left the whole management of the household to this wife and he was loath to interfere and supersede her authority in the vain fear that it would mean more involvement at home with lesser time devoted to expanding his business. Husband and wife were very happy when their daughter finally fell in-line and listened to them as she had done all her life. The only thing which puzzled Padmanabhan about the whole affair was why his wife was dead-set against medicine and refused to allow her daughter to step inside a medical college. Poor man he did not know that back in those days, before they were both married his wife Sudha had been a medical college student studying in a co-educational institution in the big city far away from their native place.There, she had fallen in love with a bus conductor named Altaf who had looked like a younger version of the then reigning filmy heartthrob, Superstar Rajesh Khanna and who worked as the conductor of the city bus which she took regularly to and fro from college to her hostel. Convinced that Sama Sastrigal her strict and orthodox father would not agree to the inter religious marriage, she had eloped with Altaf to Bombay as he had told her he had rich relatives there who had promised to get him a Gulf job. They were married at a roadside temple as soon as they had landed in Bombay and then they spent their honeymoon in a seedy lodge in Matunga.
At the end of ten days of a blissful life, Sudha had woke up one morning to find herself surrounded by a group of rough looking men who bundled her off in a tempo van after paying Altaf quite a large sum for those days. The next few days were still a hazy memory for Sudha as the last thing she remembered was Altaf standing there and waving goodbye to her as the van carried her away to Bombay’s premier red-light district. Her next few months were spent on her back with legs raised in the air, earning for her keep by servicing up-to twenty men a night and more. Until a kind customer from their native place Kumbakonam who had visited the brothel out of loneliness and was delighted to find a young tamil speaking girl to service him, had listened to Sudha’s pleadings and agreed to inform Sama Sastry of his missing daughters plight which he promptly did by sending a postcard to Sastry with a few brief details.
Sastrigal took the next train from Kumbakonam to Bombay and spending all his provident fund bought back his daughter from the brothel owner and took her straight back home discontinuing her medical studies abruptly. Within the next few months he had identified a relative boy from a near but poor family, called Spare Parts Padmanabhan who went around in a fish cart buying broken down scrap from garbage dealers to sell to local mechanics. Padmanabhan despite his ambitions was a failure at business and had loans all around the city with his lenders threatening to break his limbs one by one if he didn’t start repaying soon. In that kind of critical financial circumstance Sastri’s offer of settling all his debts if he married his daughter came like a godsend to padmanabhan. Although he had heard a few stories, common rumours around kumbakonam about Sastris daughter who had done something bad in the big city the offer of having all his lenders paid off and the chance for a fresh start in life prompted padmanabhan to close his ears to everything and marry sudha.
With the money that Sudha’s father gave him as dowry Padmanabhan paid off all his debts and wound up his failed business honourably without declaring bankruptcy and finally decided to leave behind kumbakonam to move to chennai to make a fresh start in life and business. And that’s how Spare parts Padma turned into the honourable Mr.Enfield Padmanabhan the owner of a string of automobile workshops all over the country. Despite achieving success beyond even his wildest imagination in business, when it came to the home front the fact that his wife was not only better educated than him, but was the source of all his early seed money for the business was the reason that he left all the decisions of the household in her capable hands and never interfered in anything, including the welfare of his daughter. That and the fact that he couldn’t in good conscience accept even in his innermost guilty thoughts that his daughter, a healthy full sized infant, was born just six months into their marriage.
To get back to our story it was the day of Tara’s convocation ceremony when she would receive her graduate degree in the university senate hall from the state governor in his role as the vice chancellor of the university. The household was all up and in earnest from the morning. For although forced to study something she did not like, tara had nevertheless passed out with distinction and had achieved a university first and hence later this evening she would be getting her merit certificate and gold medal from the hands of the vice chancellor himself. By early afternoon sudha was all dressed up and ready, in her excitement she kept running up to daughter Tara’s room with multiple reminders of how she should dress, how she should walk , how she should greet the vice chancellor and turn to look at the audience as she received her certificate and gold medal, to better enable the professional photographer and videographer Sudha had hired to memorialize the proud moment. She also kept calling Padmanabhan throughout the day, often talking to his secretary to make sure that the great man was reminded to leave office early enough to reach the convocation hall in time to watch their only daughter receive her degree certificate, in fact the only one in their family to ever graduate with a degree. Padmanabhan promised to be there in time, even if he had to leave the entire office in lurch.
By seven PM tara was sitting there in the front row of the auditorium along with the best outgoing students of her batch who were supposed to be called early to the stage before the mass of the graduating students got their regular degree certificates. She had been primped, primed and dressed to kill by her mother and as she sat there she slowly used her hanky to wipe away all the extra makeup her mother had painted on her face. She knew that her mother and father sitting at the back of the hall in the seating reserved for parents and relatives would not notice anything’s amiss. As soon as there was a hububb in the hall and the audience got to its feet as the chief guest entered, Tara slowly slipped out of her seat and moved into the side aisle. She whispered to ther college mate sitting in the last row, “i really, really have to go pee, give me a missed call when the speech gets over” and she used the side door of the hall to leave towards the toilets.
But instead of entering the ladies toilet she kept walking straight on to the end of the corridor where there was a side entrance which looked unused. She let herself outside the hall paused to look back once at the hall where her parents sat inside all oblivious and then with a bit of a spring in her steps she walked straight to the carpark where her driver munusamy was lounging in the front seat of the car. She got in beside him boldly, which was a first for her as they had always been careful not to let sudha suspect anything. She laid her head with a sigh on Munusamy’s shoulder as he started the car and drove off in the direction of the railway station.
Tara gave a little laugh as she said “i thought that evening would never come, the way the day dragged so slowly. Have you got the tickets for the journey ?” Munusamy patted his pocket as he said “Two tickets on the mumbai express in different names. Tomorrow we would be near mumbai by this time and day after tomorrow we would be married there and start our family.” Tara replied without looking at him “Don’t worry, money should not be a problem, i wore all my jewels to the function like you said. My mom was very happy to see me wear them all”. Munusamy looked down at the head resting on his shoulder and thought with a glint in his eye “so this is the golden goose, you can pluck it till it gives and then sell it to make a tidy profit, lucky me”. And the car went steadily on in the night bearing daughter to the same fate as mother.
P.S. If you are puzzled by the title and ask me what runs in the family? The answer would be “Stupidity”