The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 1, 2001
Life Ties

Willingly trapped and controlled
by a master puppeteer
Taru Bahl

AS an infant, Akash’s dark piercing eyes followed people around him with a hawk-like predatory quality. He was a perceptive child. Unlike children of his age, he preferred to sit quietly and watch the world of grown-ups. Moreover, it was never difficult. He had an effect on them. They sought him out, talked to him, bribed him with chocolates and books, hoping to win a smile of appreciation from him.

His grandfather was an astrologer. His father was not keen to follow in his footsteps so he changed town and vocation, enrolling in the Army. Akash was drawn to the occult and all things spiritual. He was fascinated by human psychology and knew that he had the gift of the gab. His elementary knowledge of palmistry and numerology had boosted his fan following in college. Like the Pied Piper, students and teachers had hovered around him, glad to be granted an audience. He had used that attention to gauge the hold he had over them and was elated to see that they hung on to every word he uttered. They insisted he give them miracle cures. When his words came true, they returned to pay obeisance. He used favours, goodwill and support to win the politicised college election and had a violent innings as president, using muscle-power and arm-twisting tactics to mould public opinion and notch up extra ratings on the popularity index.


After seven years of chaos and notoriety, he decided to find something respectable to do. He wanted to be famous and hobnob with those who mattered. He wanted to be privy to all the information that he could lay his hands on and control the lives and destinies of as many people. He started informally reading hands, counselling distraught people and offering remedial cures. Piya, a bright energetic company executive, heard of his ‘healing’ powers and brought her mother to see him. Her mother had been depressed since her father’s death and had lost the will to live. The electrifying vibes from Akash magically reassured her. As visits became more frequent and conversations longer, Akash found himself responding to Piya’s suggestions. She worked for an event management firm and knew how to pitch products, reach target groups and was confident of what tools/strategies to employ for maximum visibility.

Akash’s holistic body-mind-spirit studio was launched based on a concept created by Piya. It got noticed and helped him notch-up an impressive initial clientele. Meanwhile, Piya’s mother was getting better and was soon on her feet. There was now no reason for them to continue with Akash’s ‘sessions’. As the days slipped into weeks, she hoped her mother would get a relapse and she would get an opportunity to meet and talk to Akash. His presence was soothing. As she talked to him of office or tensions revolving around relationships, she found her anger dissipating and a clearer perspective emerging. She had to see him. Only he with his familiarly aromatic office, soothing voice and piercing eyes could see and understand the enigmas and mysteries that lay buried beneath layers of her own skin.

She could no longer hold herself back. Akash seemed to know exactly what was wrong. His soothing words lifted her spirits. She bounced back to normal within a fortnight but didn’t stop seeing him. There was no romantic attachment between the two. Yet, Piya knew she could not do without him. She confided every miniscule detail of her life, taking advice on all dilemmas and doing nothing without first checking with him. His long phone calls soon began to intrude into her life upsetting her mother, brother and fiancé’. When they saw that she was losing her ability to think for herself, they tried telling her that he was a fraud, a god man and a Machiavellian character who had deviously trapped her in his clutches but she would hear nothing of it.

Piya gradually moulded herself into being the person she thought he wanted her to be. His silent approval was sacrosanct. Friends and family resented his influence over her and goaded her to break free. She pooh-poohed their concerns, saying she wasn’t trapped in the first place. Everyone other than her noticed that she was a changed person. She was no longer bubbly and brimming with ideas. She was spending more time at his office, streamlining his work, organising his files, attending to his clients, designing his websites and mapping out his future. Her engagement broke up and she moved out of her mother’s home, taking up a paying guest accommodation. She couldn’t handle the daily bickering and questioning.

Thanks to the blind devotion of those who thronged the place at all hours of the day, Akash began to overestimate himself. He started believing he was infallible and had supernatural powers. Piya had heard stories of his viciousness, especially when someone criticised him. They said he could single-mindedly chart out a destruction plan and kill you without soiling his own hands. She knew he didn’t take too kindly to people who switched allegiance. But the rest couldn’t be true. Till she saw him carve out the perfect plan of demolishing not just the political career of a lady politician but also her reputation, family life and everything else that was dear to her.

That he could spill the beans on someone who had been a favourite client for over three years was difficult to believe. He was the same man who could put on the façade of being so gracious and well bred. She tried mellowing him down. So what if the lady in question had spun unpleasant tales about him? Couldn’t he take the good with the bad ? There were after all others who thought the world of him. The final straw came when she overheard a conversation on the telephone extension. In crude language he was talking to a senior party worker of the opposition, telling him in lascivious detail his clients’ misdemeanors, together plotting her downfall. For the first time Piya was scared.

As fear gripped her, she knew she had to get away. What if he got to know that she was betraying him? Would he let her go so easily ? Wouldn’t his spectre haunt her? She tried dismissing these thoughts from her mind. He had been a good friend, standing by her when her nearest ones had deserted her. He couldn’t harm her. She would move away but not scoot like a coward.

Through the Internet, she landed a job in Pune. When formalities had been finalised, she told him and was met with a cold accusing stare. He said, "You are not asking me if you can leave, you are telling me". He tried exerting emotional pressure offering the lollipop of business partnership. She stuck to her guns. She wanted to get back to the corporate world.

In the days that followed, it was difficult to take decisions without seeking his stamp of approval; holding back without reaching for the phone, rushing across and unburdening all that was welling up inside. She had to get him out of his system. She had to get over her crippling dependence on him. She had to break free and stand up for herself once again. He continued calling her up in Pune for awhile, even made a hurried trip trying to coerce her into returning. Most of the times, he was accusing, reminding her that she had let him down. Piya was gentle but firm. She had to do her own thing. She still valued him as a friend but she wanted to be left alone for a while so she could put her life in order and figure out what she wanted. She wanted to do this without him. She knew his ego was hurt. He had lost his most ardent admirer. But this time she wanted to restore her ability to think for herself, introspect, assess situations and take corrective steps in the way she deemed fit. She wanted to be out of his clutches, free of his control not because he had let her go but because she had chosen to break free. If their friendship was real it would stand the test of time.

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