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Sunday, December 22, 2002

Life Ties

Destroyed for following the selfish ways of the heart
Taru Bahl

MISRAJI was in the money-lending business. At first glance his operations seemed dated but on closer examination one discovered he was offering a plethora of services. He had a strong presence in the market and was endowed with a sharp business sense which allowed him to diversify into related fields. He had a turnover which was multiplying just as quickly as the interest he was charging on his open market loans. Though he chose to be based in smaller towns like Indore or Ranchi, he had offices in major Indian metros, along with an overseas representation.

A middle school dropout from a poor family, Misrajiís father was a peon in a sugar mill in UP. His father had died because of an untreated liver disease and his married sister had to tolerate a hellish marriage because his parents could not meet her husband's demands. Financial insecurity had, thus, affected his childhood, making him acutely aware of the role of money. A networker who had, over time built linkages with powerful politicians and businessmen, enabling him to gain a foothold in a high risk trade. The sheer power of money helped him carve out a social net where favours could be exchanged and wealth created. On the one hand he compromised on business ethics, while on the other hand he made huge donations to charities.

 


His entire office looked like a shrine with deities adorning walls and niches, giving the impression that sethji was a deeply religious person. Marriage to a local MP's daughter further bolstered his clout. Misrajiís weakness was his dependence on women. In their presence, he didn't have to work hard to impress or show off. Lacking academic and social skills, Misraji found dealing with men stressful, while women made him feel important. His office was dominated with women secretaries, accountants and receptionists. Since they were from a slightly lower middle class background, their jobs mattered to them. This gave him a false sense of security. With them, he could be himself. They laughed at his jokes, pandered to his whims and hung on to each word he said. Misraji was helpful whenever they applied for leave, had a domestic crisis or wanted an advance.

He loved citing the example of the late actor Vinod Mehra, saying, "like my screen idol, I like to lend sanctity to every relationship. Whenever I have fallen in love with a woman, I have married her." Obviously, his these 'marriages' were neither legal nor recognised in the eyes of society. They did not complicate his life, at least not in the initial years. His wife silently bore the burden of being the neglected wife. Her parents and in-laws rallied around her, giving her the importance which her status demanded but expressed helplessness where Misraji was concerned. A simple woman, it was a painful existence for her but she reconciled herself to it and decided to stick on.

Most of Misrajiís 'wives' had worked for him. At the end of ten years, he had been 'married' three times, excluding his first legal wedding. Each of the women were housed in the different cities which he travelled frequently to. He provided for their comforts, servants, cars and made them directors on his companies. Two of them sired him a son each. Both sons were legally adopted by him.

Trouble started brewing when all the women wanted to be seen publicly with him. Each wanted to assert her superiority. While they accepted his dividing time between them, when it came to making public appearances at major functions or office get-togethers, they all wanted to be present. Soft-hearted, Misraji caved in under pressure and with each passing appearance his tensions mounted. Putting all the women under one roof, on one occasion had its share of fireworks, besides his public image was the greater casualty. After the initial novelty wore off in the social circle where he was envied and much talked about, he soon became a caricature. People still did not laugh at him because he had helped out most of them in their hour of need but they did feel sorry for him, cursing the women instead. They could see his downfall in the not-so-distant future.

It was quite a sight to see his new wives struggling to catch his attention, running to do his bidding, if only to tell the world that they had a hold over him. All through this, his first wife quietly sat through the ordeal, with one or two older family members, leaning on them for moral support, feeling sorry for the spectacle her husband was making of himself. Clearly now, it was the women who ran his life. She could have used her father's influence to set him right or jeopardise his business. She could have thrown him out of the house or insisted that he keep the sordid mess out of her hearing range, but she chose to turn silent. She swallowed her pride, told herself to persevere and diverted her mind towards religion. Some of her volatile family members called her an escapist but she saw sense in that.

With two daughters to marry off and her own uneducated background, she knew she could neither compete with the office girls nor was she strong enough to break free.

Meanwhile Misraji's life was getting entangled more intricately in this self-created maze. The financial drain of maintaining his women was beginning to tell, as also the fact that the finance business was under pressure. There were huge defaulters and the market conditions were bad. Recovering money was difficult and it was legitimate in his trade to avail the services of toughies or recovery men. In one particularly nasty case, he was attacked. His physical injuries weakened him and the fear resulted in frequent bouts of hallucinations. He started resisting social interaction preferring to operate via the mobile or by calling staff to his residence.

Through this period, it was his wife who was a pillar of strength. It was too late to make amends. Even if he wanted, he could not do away with the other women. That nuisance value would continue. Would he have to live a life of regret or could he begin afresh ? The answers were with him. The fact that he had woken up to these realities would, in their own way, help him to find a way out of the maze. Hopefully.

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