IN SEARCH OF A HOMEMAKER
Satinder Singh was one of the richest land owners of Gurdaspur district in the state of the Punjab. He owned over 200 hectare of richly fertile land in the doab region known for its effective canal system. Though the Zamindari system was abolished long back in India, the land owners crafted means to hold on to excess land in connivance with the land record authorities.
The big landholders in India influence the lawmakers with their brute monetary prowess. Lording over scores of bonded labourers, they live an ostentatious life like feudal chiefs. Thus when Satinder’s wife gave birth to a male child, there were large scale celebrations in his village with liquor flowing unabatedly and dancing troupes and band of eunuchs entertaining the villagers for several nights. The newly born child was named Rajinder Singh.
Satinder Singh, himself a rustic farmer wanted to bring up his only son in an elitist ambience. He wanted to groom him to become an educated landlord and a sophisticated businessman. He therefore put Rajinder in an elitist famous boarding school in Kasauli, a small town in Himachal Pradesh. Satinder Singh would visit the school couple of times in a year and give handsome donation to the school. That enhanced the image of young Rajinder. The teachers and the principal of the school treated him as a privileged student.
Rajinder grew a well built tall lad and a promising tennis player. He was in the school team and with the influence of his father, he became its captain. Rajinder passed out from the school as a bright and handsome young man. Satinder Singh was proud of his son.
Rajinder was enamoured with glamourous army life and was keen to join it. This was not in consonance with his father’s plans who wanted him to take care of the family farm and the distillery he had newly set up. Satinder Singh was aware of his advancing years and therefore wanted his son to assist him in managing the estate. But Rajinder was adamant to join the army.
“Babey! Do you want me to see happy?” Rajinder asked his father.
For Satinder was unsettled by the question. His eyes welled up.
“Son! For me there is nothing more important other than your happiness. If you are happy by joining army, go ahead. I too will be happy.”
Rajinder took the entrance examination and was selected for training in the National Defence Academy, Pune.
Rajinder did exceedingly well as a trainee cadet. He was a robust and agile cadet with remarkable grasp of military manoeuvres. In the final term of training he was short listed to command the passing out parade. Rajinder was very happy and so was his father. But then ill luck struck them. A week before the passing out parade, Satinder Singh died in a car accident. It was a very sad and hurting moment for Rajinder.
His mother wanted him to leave army and look after the estate. It was a difficult choice to make. Rajinder had to choose between a career in the army and responsibility of looking after his estate and his ailing mother. He was pressured to choose the latter. A disappointed and bitter Rajinder returned to Gurdaspur with shattered dreams.
Rajinder was averse to farming and a greenhorn to handle the complexities of a distillery. His ambition to hold the coveted ‘sword of honour’ in the passing out parade haunted him. Money was no attraction for him, which his father had left in plenty. He was a restless soul spending most of his time outdoor to assuage his hurt feelings.
Over the years, Rajinder recovered from the heart break. He joined city’s elite club and spent most of his time there. His ailing mother gave him space to get over his grief before asking him to get married.
“Son, I am not sure how long I will survive. It is my wish to see you married. You need someone to take care of you after I am gone.”
Rajinder was not prepared for it. He felt destiny was cruel to him in snatching away the glory and happiness of his life. He was in touch with all his batch mates who were now officers in the army and would go out of his way to invite them and entertain them in a generous way.
The distillery was doing well since liquor consumption was ever increasing in the prosperous state of the Punjab. Rajinder decided to enhance its capacity by installing another distillation plant. That required the sanction of the district authorities and the excise department other than the patronage of political bosses. He sought the appointment of the district collector to present his case. On the appointed day, Rajinder reached the collectorate with his senior manager much before time. They were made to wait for more than two hours. Rajinder was at the edge of his patience but was advised to keep his cool by his skilful manager who was accustomed to bureaucratic obduracy. It needled Rajinder’s ego further to learn that the district collector making him wait was a lady officer.
Anjali Shrinivasan was the collector of the Gurdaspur district; an officer known for efficiency and honesty. Rajinder expected a word of apology from her for making him wait that long.
There was none.
Anjali heard him and examined his papers.
“On the face of it, the documents seem to be OK. I will recommend your case to the excise department. They have the final say in the matter. Please see me after six weeks,” she summed up the meeting.
The much needed sanction was received though after a longer wait than promised. Rajinder now wanted to hold a function to commission the new plant. He invited the minister in-charge of the excise department, the excise commissioner and the district collector.
Anjali Srinivasan belonged to the all-powerful Administrative Service. She was fair, slim and tall and she was beautiful. Besides, she was a pleasant conversationalist. Rajinder was attracted towards her. He found out her daily schedule and learnt that she played tennis in the evening. That was a welcome coincidence. Rajinder took out his tennis racquets and became a regular to the tennis court. It was not very long that Anjali was impressed by his skill, stamina and suave manners. Tennis brought the two closer.
Anjali belonged to a conservative Brahmin family from the South. Whereas she was awed by Rajinder’s opulence, the latter was overwhelmed by her élan and charm. Their courtship flourished into intimacy. One evening Rajinder invited her to his place and introduced her to his mother as his friend. The old lady understood the nuances of their relationship. She was pleased to see Anjali and wished, her son married her.
Rajinder and Anjali were married with great pomp and show not witnessed by the people of Gurdaspur in their living memory. It was the talk of the town with almost all senior bureaucrats and several ministers landing in Gurdaspur.
A year later when orders were issued shifting Anjali to another district, Rajinder used his political clout to get the orders rescinded. The young couple were elated by their success; Rajinder giving all credit to his political reach.
A couple of months later Anjali was selected for a fellowship by the University of Duke. It was a highly prestigious fellowship, one that would help Anjali in the furtherance of her career. Anjali was quite excited; it was a momentous occasion but Rajinder wasn’t enthused.
“Why do you want to go away? We have everything one needs in life and it is in fact time we have a family,” he argued.
Anjali was flummoxed at the suggestion. But she was not prepared to concede.
“Perhaps you don’t understand how significantly this fellowship will impact my career? Family can wait, the fellowship will not. Let’s think of raising the family after I come back,” she said with a sardonic smile.
Rajinder wasn’t convinced. Pressing his point further, he said, “Please try to understand ... I am not a male chauvinist... I am making a rational suggestion. Everyone considers you a brilliant officer. Time now, you prove to be a good homemaker.”
“I don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” Anjali retorted and then added sarcastically, “You think my career is of no importance?”
“Frankly speaking, I do think that way. In fact, it is time you left the job,” Rajinder shot back.
Anjali was furious. “Look, I am dedicated to my career; can’t ever think of quitting midway. You should have known before marrying me.”
Both were adamant. They had frequent altercations widening the fissures in their marital life. One evening after a serious altercation, Anjali shifted to the circuit house and flew to USA three weeks later. She didn’t even come to see Rajinder or his mother before leaving Gurdaspur.
Rajinder’s self-esteem was hurt. The hurt was grievous, taking him to a point of no return. He wrote a nasty letter to Anjali followed by a divorce notice. Anjali never thought the situation will worsen to that extent. Though the divorce notice pained her, she signed her consent and sent it back to Rajinder.
The two were divorced after a married life of three years.
Rajinder’s mother couldn’t bear the shock and left for her heavenly abode without seeing a successor to her family.
Rajinder shifted from club’s tennis court to its bar. He became an alcoholic neglecting his duties towards his business and the farm. He would be the last man to leave the bar; mostly helped by his chauffeur or at times by his friends who enjoyed his perennial hospitality.
Excessive drinking finally landed Rajinder in a hospital.
Amarjeet was a trained nurse in the multi-speciality hospital where Rajinder was admitted. She was a young and dedicated nurse considered highly proficient by her seniors even at a young age.
For six days Rajinder Singh was in the ICU under constant watch of the doctors duly assisted by Amarjeet. He found her around attending to him whenever he came to senses. Rajinder was impressed by her dedication and fell in love with her.
That was the beginning of a new story.
After discharge from the hospital, Rajinder kept in touch with Amarjeet. He would go to the hospital and look for her. Amarjeet knew that he was a rich businessman of the town and her sixth sense alerted her that he wanted to meet her for reasons beyond professional care. She discouraged him politely but Rajinder wouldn’t give up.
One day when Amarjeet was taking coffee in the hospital canteen, Rajinder came over and took a seat beside her.
“Can I talk to you for a few minutes?”
“Of course, you are welcome.”
“Not here. Can we meet outside ... any day when you are free?”
Amarjeet was reluctant. She wanted to stay away from him but Rajinder pleaded relentlessly.
They met in the district club. Rajinder told her about his life and that he was a tired person and wanted to get rehabilitated and that he wanted her help in it.
Amarjeet guessed his intentions and pointed out the inequalities in their background. “We are poor people,” she conveyed to him in many words. Rajinder simply shrugged off.
“I don’t want more wealth. What I am looking for is a life companion. Please think it over,” he pleaded.
“Look, I lost my mother when I was very young. My father didn’t remarry. Instead, he brought me up. Now it’s my turn to look after him in his old age. He is my responsibility,” Amarjeet portrayed her family picture.
“I understand. In fact, he can live with us. I have a big enough house.” And then he requested Amarjeet to take him to her father. “I would like to meet your father and seek your hand.”
Amarjeet took Rajinder to her place. Her father was a small time haberdasher. The father daughter duo lived in a small room in a downtown locality.
The old parent was flabbergasted. He was overwhelmed that the richest man of the town was asking for his daughter’s hand. “We are impoverished people ... not anywhere near you ... can’t ... even dream of ...” the old man couldn’t complete as tears rolled down his crumpled cheeks.
“I like Amarjeet and that’s enough. I want your blessings.”
They met few more times. Amarjeet had started liking him and told him one day that she was agreeable to his proposal.
Both of them went to Amarjeet’s place and apprised her father of their decision.
“I want it to be a small affair, a quiet marriage in a Gurudwara.” Rajinder’s suggestion was accepted by the poor parent.
That evening Rajinder and Amarjeet went for a dinner. They were sitting quietly musing over their future life. Rajinder wanted a child from her at the earliest. He wanted her to be a full time wife, a genuine homemaker.
“Amarjeet, I want you to be free from all encumbrances to give your full time to our family... I mean after marriage there is no need to work.”
Anjali was stunned by the suggestion. She never expected Rajinder would ask her to quit her job.
“Why should you work? We have enough to live a comfortable life.” Rajinder said laying emphasis on his affluence.
Amarjeet was shocked at the logic advanced by her future husband.
“How can you talk like this? You think we can weigh everything in terms of money. I am rendering humble service to the society for which I have been trained. Besides, all of us have right to cherish an ambition beyond money.”
It was now Rajinder, astounded and gaping at her fiancée. . He could not believe that a girl from a poor origin could deprecate his opinion.
“I mean, why should you slog when I can take care of all your needs? We can travel all over the world, lead a luxurious life,” he fumed.
“Sorry, you are wrong here. Money cannot substitute human values. I have a duty towards the society; I cannot pawn it for my personal comforts,” Amarjeet said and left leaving Rajinder alone at the table.
Rajinder Singh, the rich man of Gurdaspur is seen again in the bar until late hours, waiting for someone to take him to his palatial house.