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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

THE COMPLETE MAN

“Georgie, you should eat your medicines.”

“Yes, you must,” they all agree.

His brothers Luke and Sam are here to make him take his anti-depression medicines regularly. So are his former classmates and childhood friends, Ravindran, Sanjayan and Gopi.

Georgie is acting strange. He is depressed. He won’t go to work. He lies all day in bed and reads strange, spiritual books. He knocks on people’s doors and says weird things. Things like:

“They are coming for us. Don’t open the doors.”

“There is a riot going to happen. Close all doors.”

“The Americans are going to bomb us. George Bush is coming. Take shelter. Go to the maidan and lie flat on the ground.”

He imagines things and thinks they are for real. He wasn’t like this, his brothers Luke and Sam agree. In fact, Georgie was the most brilliant of the three. A good student, a good sportsman, a good marksman, a good speaker, a good… in fact… good at everything he did. He would score maximum runs for the Red House he led in school, win hundreds of marbles in games, win the elocution and memory competitions, come first in the art and writing competitions, and still stand first in class.

Everybody was jealous. Jealous that he was so talented and they weren’t.

“He was good in everything?” Ravindran, an artist who now has a cult following in the advertising profession reminisced. He is content with the way life has treated him, with a lot of money and fame. For him Georgie is now the past, though he felt sympathetic. He remembered the time they would spend together in the school compound chasing butterflies, and Georgie laughing his good natured laugh. He doesn’t deserve this, he thought. Secretly Ravindran was jealous of Georgie in school . He always tried to outdo him in drawing and painting and each time he failed.

*****

The school term was about to end. Ravindran, captain of the Yellow house, was worried about his house’s performance. They would add up the scores in the art and writing competitions and his house would be last in the list of honors. His main rival was Georgie, captain of the Red House, and nobody could beat him in drawing, painting and writing.

Slyly he made a plan. He tackled Georgie rather roughly from behind during the afternoon football game prior to chasing butterflies. George fell and his hand was sprained and had to be cast. But he came back for the art and writing competitions with his hand in a cast. He scored well and took Red House far ahead of Yellow House. Ravindran had lost face.

*****

“Georgie, you should eat your medicines. You shouldn’t worry about what America or George Bush does. It’s their worry,” Sanjayan said. Sanjayan is now a chief executive of a newspaper group, and is widely traveled. Around him there is the smell of success, which is actually the smell of the various expensive colognes he buys when he is abroad.

“No. It’s my worry, no? My children are growing up. I have to support them, no?”

“But first you got to go to work and earn, to make your children secure, like this you have no security only,” Luke the elder brother says impatiently. He seems an impatient man.

*****

Back in school Sanjayan was the goal keeper of the Blue House and he was also a part of the humungous jealousy that Georgie generated in students of AFAC School (students of a rival school expanded this to “After Farting Attending Classes.”) He couldn’t understand how Georgie could do everything he did with complete dedication and seriousness. If he sets himself upon scoring a goal, he did it with an intensity that was frightening.

He was terrorized by Georgie’s appearance anywhere near his goal post. Georgie’s marksmanship was unerring and he could maneuver himself from any angle to score a goal. No goalkeeper was safe with Georgie around. Jealousy rose like a tide inside Sanjayan.

So when Georgie came menacingly towards him during a friendly football match, he saw his chance. He dived, collected the ball and gave it a kick in Georgie’s direction, aiming it at his face. The aim was accurate. The ball hit his face, and Georgie fell down. The kick of the ball had taken him by surprise. His nose bled and he had to be carried away to the school office before Luke came to escort him home.

******

“He was so brilliant, I was scared of his brilliance,” Gopi says. Gopi heads a knowledge process outsourcing project. He has a fetish for expensive shoes and casual wear.

“Yes, I, too,” Ravindran says.

“But he is still intelligent. He needs your sympathy and he would be all right,” Sam says. Sam is the younger brother, a softer version of Georgie. All brother look alike.

“That’s why we are here,” Gopi says, “I thought he would be someone very big some day. Not like this.”

“What do you mean?” Georgie asks indignantly. He thinks the people gathered in the room are a bunch of hypocrites, and knows what they have done to him. How dare they talk about him this way, as if he was some object, a dog that wouldn’t obey its master?

Georgie prefers not to say anything. He keeps to himself. He listens and listens to everyone’s opinion of him, and grows more and more estranged. Why do they talk about me thus? He wonders. This loneliness had turned into self-absorption, and then into seeking solace in drinks. When the world cut him out, he wanted to cut them out, as simple as that.

But a hypocrite such as Gopi seems to be provoking him too much today.

“He was so quiet and so dedicated to his work,” Sanjayan says, “He would solve algebra sums in no time, and I used to take my doubts to him.”

“This one here is the biggest hypocrite of all,” Georgie thinks. Gracy, his wife makes an entry, balancing a tray in both hands. She puts the tray down on the teapoy and with her slender arms passes tea around the room.

“You all tell him, no? I say to him take medicine, take medicine, all the time. He won’t listen to me, only.”

“You shut up, don’t talk,” Georgie tells her.

“I won’t shut up. You shut up. What?”

“If you don’t shut up, I will shut you up,” George’s face darkens with rage.

“People, imagine how I live with a man who talks this way,” Gracy says to everyone, “I don’t want to live with him. I will go to the police.”

For a moment Georgie looks like he would throw something at Gracy, but he doesn’t. He has a sweet nature, everyone knows.

Instead he says, “Does anyone know what that means?” He points to an elaborately framed picture on the wall. The picture shows a man and a woman, standing close together with an intimacy that could only mean they are lovers.

Everyone present shakes their head.

“The complete man. I wanted to be a complete man, once, perfect in everything I did,” his voice is inaudible.

There is a moment’s silence, as the meaning sinks in. His friends and his brothers look at each other and then at the brilliant man, now the antithesis of his own perfection.

“But, look at you, what complete? You are hardly a man,” Gracy’s harsh voice cuts in and then she ambles towards the kitchen.

*********

Gopi was the boy with writing abilities in school. He fancied himself as a future writer. But competition was stiff from Georgie. A love for literature and fine writing bound them. They used to exchange classic novels in comic format that they would borrow from the lending library paying Rs 1.50 each. Thus they would get to read two classic comics for the price of one.

One day Georgie had exchanged the comic version of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe with Rajendran’s Superman comic without informing Gopi. He came to know of this. Georgie confessed it was his fault. But, jealousy was a big thing, eating into their little personas, especially when they were children just forming the iron-cast personalities of their future lives.

Gopi stopped talking to Georgie. He thought that was the best way to punish him. He didn’t know what harm he had done. Georgie is hurt so easily, he has a tender mind, a tender soul. His soul cried for his friendship with Gopi. It was years later that they started talking.

Now as Gopi sat before him everyone wondered how he had succeeded when Georgie had failed. Gopi owned a car, a large flat, and wore expensive dress shoes. But Georgie’s house was barren, the paint was peeling and he wore dusty slippers.

*********

“Georgie you must eat your medicines,” Gopi says.

Georgie can’t take it anymore.

“See this jealous hypocrite. See what he is saying. Have you all no shame, where were you when I was really in need?” Georgie couldn’t control his words, he has lost touch with reality.

His friends and his siblings sit with mouths agape. Shock: disbelief: incomprehension.

The room falls silent. They do not talk for a long while. They realize they are all guilty of what happened to their brilliant friend/brother Georgie. If only they were a bit kinder to him forty years ago, in school, at home. They are all comfortable in their jobs and careers they have selfishly carved for themselves over the years, but they never even thought of the cruelty they had inflicted. Georgie was like the punching bag in the school gymnasium. Now that it’s too late, they realize that their words echo with hypocrisy, and their attempts at helping Georgie seems like a big sham.

The tea grows cold, the steam stops rising from the rims of the cups. They all rise to leave and Georgie escorts them to the door.

“Anyway, thank you for coming, so kind of you,” he says at the door.

1 comment:

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