A short story by Dr L.Prakash

 

Money can’t buy you happiness

Paternity is a matter of great pride and pleasure, but my pleasure was marred because my wife of two years died due to the complications of childbirth. Sneha was probably the prettiest girl baby god had ever created and her toothless grin helped me to get over the tragedy. To be a single parent is not easy but I tried my best. I wanted to ensure that my love for Sneha remained undiminished and thus did not remarry. She too loved me as only a daughter could, and ours was one small happy family.
It was not easy to juggle the responsibilities of a busy physician and a dedicated father, but somehow I did my best. I ensured that Sneha did not lack anything she desired. My pampering probably spoilt her, and made her fiercely independent, landing me in a situation that I faced a few weeks after her eighteenth birthday.
She had grown into a pretty young lady, almost as tall as me and as pretty as her mother. The streak of stubbornness she had possibly inherited from me, while the attitude of not beating around the bush was decidedly from her mother. My late wife always came to the point even before a hello. Sneha had fallen in love. She had chosen a boy. She intended to marry him. Not straightaway, but probably in a year or two. She made it absolutely clear that I was only being informed. Neither my opinion nor permission was being sought.
The choice was made after careful deliberate considerations and she made it clear that she would not be changing her mind. No wonder you would be as surprised about this long preamble as I was. Why was she being so long winded about it? If she had found a mate, it was something to be happy about. Even before she sought my permission, why was she on her defensive?
Why was she talking about my disapproval even before she had sought my approval? It did not take me too long to find the answer. The boys name was Rajni and he drove an auto rickshaw. I suddenly cursed myself for not giving in to Sneha’s persistent demands of buying her a small car. You are being spoilt. Being a rich doctor’s daughter does not give you a right to be pampered like this. After all, you study in an arts college. There is no harm in you taking an auto or a bus like others.
She had heeded to my advice and had fallen in love with an auto driver of all people! Basically I don’t have anything against auto drivers except for the fact that I consider them as worst scum on this earth. I had expected to find a surgeon, air force pilot or an IPS officer as my son-in-law. But times had changed and very recently a super hit Tamil Movie, which had run house full for a whole year, had a story in which a millionaires daughter elopes with……… guess who? An auto driver!
The fiery dialogues spoke about love transcending boundaries. Love conquering the rich-poor divide. Love uniting a millionaire’s daughter with an auto driver. I had watched the move with my daughter and had seen her wipe her tears during emotional moments. At that time, I had absolutely no idea that a similar tragedy would strike me in real life not too far away!
After she had exploded the bombshell, she made a gracious offer. She would be happy to invite Rajni home for dinner. I could see from close quarters what an exceptionally fine young man he was! I was in no mood to socialize with the lowlife like Rajni. The mere thought of this obnoxious specimen beneath humanity sitting on my mahogany dining table eating out of our Wedgewood cutlery made me puke! But I was a physician who had to bear a hundred patients each day. I had mastered the art of controlling my expressions. I thus beamed out a wide paternal smile and told her that what was good for her was good for me. However, I told her that I was extremely busy for the whole of the next week.
I assured Sneha that I was extremely anxious to meet Rajni and promised that we would fix up a time sometime after next week. Anyway she was not planning on an early marriage. Something in my tone might have alerted her! After all, she was my daughter!
Nothing you do within the next week is going to make me change my mind. I have decided to marry Rajni and there is no going back. Daddy! I love you and want you to love the person I love.
To say that I was devastated was quite an understatement. It is not that I was traditional or orthodox. I would not even have minded a Muslim or Christian, so long as he was educated and came from a decent family. But an auto rickshaw driver as my son-in-law was not something that I would accept. I loved Sneha too much to allow her to commit the folly. Nevertheless, I knew that she would simply not listen to my advice. She had already made up her mind that I would be biased in my approach. It was besides the point that she was probably right.
It took me a day to build up courage. I cancelled all appointments after four pm, and was at home in time for my daughter’s return from college. She saw my serious face and realized that I had cut short my clinic to talk to her. Yesterday she had talked while I listened. Today it was my turn. I told her that she might not value my advice because she had a closed mind regarding my opinions. It was also probably correct that I was a man of fixed ideas who did not understand the modern lingo of love. I thus made her a proposition. She need not listen to my advice, but she had to listen to some advice. I told her that she could choose her advisor. I would get an appointment. We would put our problem to the expert. We would listen to the expert and then decide!
Sneha did not loose her temper. She however laughed out aloud at the whole suggestion. She was also not happy at my referring to the issue as a problem. Rajni is not a problem daddy; it is your attitude, which is a problem. I have made a decision and I know that it is a correct decision. Why should I need an expert advice? I pleaded. I begged and cajoled.
Okay baby we will not call it a problem. We would call it a situation! Let us take one third party unbiased opinion about the situation. I want no promises from you. You need not follow the advice. But please listen to it.
So daddy, you say that I can choose an adviser of my choice?
Of course Sneha! You can choose anyone in the whole wide world, including Rajni’s mother or father.
But he has no mother and father.
I thought so.
What?
Never mind. You name a person, I will fix up an appointment, we will spend half an hour with him, and then you decide what has to be done.
Okay daddy, I choose Vinod Kumar.
What? Yes Vinod Kumar.
Vinod Kumar was the most unlikely advisor that you could get. He was a Kollywood hero, a teenage heart throb, and the super star. Incidentally, he had played the auto driver in the movie, which had so influenced my daughter. From the victorious smile on her face, I knew that she had won. After all, she was my daughter! But having made a deal, I did not want to go back. It took me five days to get an appointment. These film stars are either too busy or pretend to be so. Vinod Kumar’s secretary behaved as if he was busier than George Bush was. He was eventually able to squeeze us a 4.00 pm on a Friday. The venue was make-up room three, studio six, Vijaya complex. It was a tad unfortunate that he did not have too much time for us. He had to squeeze us between his accountant and a story session.
Sneha was all excited about meeting her dream hero in flesh and blood. I had met the hero once earlier and spent some time talking to him. I only hoped that he was convinced by my pleadings and would do as instructed. The accountant was not finished and we had to wait for about ten minutes.
Vinod Kumar’s face beamed out into a genuine smile of welcome as he recognized me. A seat and cool drinks were offered. Though the secretary had reminded me repeatedly that Vinod Kumar was extremely busy, he did not act that way. It was as if he had all the time in the world. Sneha started chatting up to him, and he was extremely friendly. I could not stand the suspense and finally blurted out about Rajni the auto driver.
Vinod not only shocked me, but also shattered all my hopes. His eyes clearly told me that he had not agreed to my scheme. His words to my daughter made things a lot clearer.
“Sneha! I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t care what doctor sir here thinks. I have thought about it for the whole of last night and have finally reached a conclusion that I simply cannot betray my conscience!”
“Sneha! Your father had already approached me yesterday and even offered me a significant sum of money if I dissuaded you from your love! When I had not agreed, he had appealed to my conscience. I had made him a promise that I would do exactly as my conscience dictated. That is what I am going to do now. What I am telling you does not have any bearing on the fact that I acted as an auto driver in the movie. I basically come from a rich family and would not even know how an auto driver lives or how well capable of looking after his wife, he is! But I know the story of an auto driver who fell in love with a rich girl. I don’t know if it is relevant to the situation at hand, but I will tell you the story nevertheless!”
My heart sank a few more centimeters and the way things were progressing, would soon reach my knee level. My doom and dependency progressed as Vinod Kumar told the story about a millionaire’s daughter falling in love with the uneducated auto rickshaw driver. My daughter’s smile poise and confidence progressed as the story did. There was no doubt that he was a consummate actor because his voice waxed and waned with the narration, occasionally attaining the huskiness which created a flutter is a million teenage hearts.
“Well Sneha! This story happened about fifteen years ago. Mangala was the only daughter of an industrialist who fell in love with a rickshaw driver who drove her to junior college. Those were the days when Madras was full of cycle rickshaws. Mangala was seventeen and Ganesh was twenty-two. It is correctly said that true love knows no boundaries and theirs was indeed true because it gave the daughter courage to express her feelings to her father. As expected, the old man was livid. He beat the girl black and blue. He also had goons breaking the poor rickshaw fellow’s legs. He made it categorically clear that his daughter was not marrying a cycle rickshaw driver.
However, Mangala’s was true love. She pretended to listen to her father while she patiently counted her days. Her eighteenth birthday was just seven months away. She bided her time and took action when she became a major. She did not elope with the boy. She walked with him to a police station and demanded protection against her father. The industrialist felt extremely humiliated and retaliated by disowning the daughter and disinheriting her. The girl married her beau at a registrar’s office. She was educated while he saw not. She insisted that he learn to read and write. Thus while he drove a rickshaw during the day, he learned to read and write during the night. Ganesh was otherwise quite intelligent and it was not difficult for him to pass his high school exam as a private candidate. By the time their first daughter was four years old, Ganesh had enrolled for evening college. Mangala had taken up a part time job.
They had another child, a boy this time. In nine years, Ganesh had qualified as an accountant. He started in a private firm and soon with his integrity and honesty became a partner in that firm. If you remember the bald spectacled gentleman who left when you came here? Yes! My chartered accountant. It was the same cycle rickshaw driver Ganesh who is now my auditor Ganesh Kumar!”
Vinod Kumar completed his story and my heart sank lower. Probably to my ankle level. I had lost both the bottle and the war! The consummate actor concluded.
“But Sneha! Things don’t always happen like this. Not all cycle rickshaw and auto drivers are like Ganesh. Some are rogues criminals like your beau Rajni too. When your father told me about Rajni, I decided to conduct discreet enquires. This fellow is a bad egg and has a police record as big as your left arm. Theft, robbery, molestation, intimidating, kidnap, drugs! He even faces two cases of bigamy and a warrant was pending for his arrest. My enquires possibly led the cops to him and he is now in Puzhal Central Prison…………”
I know! I know! I don’t have a right to be so happy. I also know that money does not usually buy you happiness. But in this case it had. All I had to do was to pay fifty thousand rupees to the actor for the two hours of his time. The police inspector however cost me five lacs because it is not too easy to fabricate a dozen cases against an innocent person!

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