The Path Unexplored
Creative Cafe Prompt
“All good things are wild and free.”
― Henry David Thoreau
I was born into a crime family. While that sounds dramatic, my childhood was no different from those of my friends. I did what all children did, got into the same kind of trouble and went through the adolescence with similar frustrations and challenges.
As his only daughter, I held a special place in his heart. Even with his busy life, he would drop me to school every day, albeit with numerous bodyguards with barely concealed weapons.
“M.A. Psychology,” he would proclaim by way of introducing me. I felt like I had won an Olympic gold medal. A natural orator, talking came naturally to me but was tongue tied with the demonstration of his pride.
My brother, a few years younger than I was, never saw this side of him. Maybe that’s why he became a hard-headed ruffian though he was a smart and resourceful boy.
Whenever I visited home, my father sat me down next to him and talked at length about his businesses, his rivals and about the hundreds of people who lived and died by his command. I remember the sunlight streaming through the vertical bars and casting zebra -like shadows on his creased forehead. At eighty, he had a full head of jet-black hair. Well over six feet tall, he was still an imposing figure. His gentle eyes belied the violence he was capable of. Not once had he raised his voice to me. Growing up, my brother would get a corrective tap on the head once in a while, but never me. Though I knew it was true, it was hard to believe that this gentle giant once disemboweled a man and watched him bleed to death while ruing the blood splattered on his crisp white dhoti.
There was one man my father looked up to all his life. A spiritual guru. We called him ‘Ayya’. No one knew his real name. Ayya never aged beyond fifty in my eyes. He appeared without notice, stayed a couple of days and left without telling anyone. Conversation was non-existent with Ayya and often my father and him sat in comfortable silence for hours.
I was drawn to Ayya and the sense of peace he radiated. He treated me like a daughter and played along as I questioned him about his spiritual powers which I considered bogus.
When my father’s time came, he died as he lived; proud, unbowed and on his own terms.
Our family lawyer summoned us to father’s study. The ancient desk behind which life and death decisions were made stood as a mute spectator to the unfolding events.
Mr. Advani had served my father well for over fifty years. He knew more about our family’s dealings than anyone else. A kindly smile played on his lips as he stroked his bald head.
“How are you dear?” he pointedly addressed me.
“I’m doing okay, uncle,” I responded.
“We’ll go through the will. A few surprises,” he chuckled.
My mother said nothing. She knew what was coming but kept her counsel as she had done all her life. Not once had she questioned anything my father did.
Mr. Advani read through the will like he was reciting a prayer. After a dramatic pause, he continued “To my daughter, Radha, I leave the family businesses.” Then he proceeded to name the various companies.
I glanced sharply at my brother. He seemed distracted and turned when he saw my eyes piercing into him.
“It’s for the best,” he said with no trace of malice in his voice.
I knew this was coming but faced with the legal words pouring forth from the will, I didn’t know if that’s what I desired.
“What if I don’t want to do it?” I enquired.
Mr. Advani looked taken aback. “Who else will run it?” He gave my brother a dismissive look.
“Can I take some time?” I persisted.
“For what Radha?” He was addressing a petulant child.
“I don’t know. I just need some time.”
“I’m not sure what will change, but okay. I will oversee the businesses for the next few weeks as a favor to your father,” Mr. Advani conceded.
It was a victory, however temporary.
The next day Ayya appeared out of thin air as was his wont. He sensed the turmoil in my head. I didn’t even have to say anything.
“You are meant for great things, child,” he said in his calm voice. “Do what you think is best. He will take care of the rest,” he went on, thrusting his index finger upwards. He pressed his right palm on mine. With a smile, he closed his eyes and wouldn’t say another word.
I lay awake all night. The criminal aspects didn’t bother me. I had grown up with it. But, the path seemed too choreographed. Too perfect. I wanted something more.
The next day, the priest invited me to speak at the temple on some of the scriptures. Growing up, he and I discussed god and religion and he thought it would be a good idea for me to expound my knowledge to the good people of the city. I welcomed to opportunity to take my mind off my impending fate.
That night, people sat enraptured by my talk about life, death and the journey of the soul. The words flowed through me and an unknown strength filled my body from within. The funny part was I didn’t believe in anything I was saying but it felt good to talk.
When I finished, there was a hush. Then as one, the crowd rose like a tidal wave and were upon me. The priest and his assistants put up futile resistance. People were trying to touch my feet, the end of my robe, anything they could lay their hands on. Those unable to reach me fell on the floor in worship. I stood agape. I had no idea what I had done.
The multitude cleared and the haggard-looking priest came to me.
“Your words are like magic Radhaji,” he gushed. I flinched at the ‘ji’ which was a sign of respect. I had known him since I was a little girl. “You need to talk in the ashram,” he said.
“Why?” I asked still dazed by the maelstrom of devotion.
“Many big people come there. You need to talk to them,” his voice lowered to a whisper “Big people pay big money.”
“What money?” I was still confused.
“You come tomorrow,” he said and went away.
I spent a second sleepless night. The next evening, I went to the ashram. Some sort of a celebration was in progress. Bright flashing lights illuminated the large hall. Incense burned along the path. Flowers and garlands decked the doorway. The loud speakers blared chants.
I wondered what festival it was.
As I made my way towards the hall, the priest and some of his associates rushed out and directed me to the side of the building.
“You do not enter from the front entrance Radhaji,” the priest said in a deferential tone.
He guided me through the side door, up a few steps and stopped near a tall blue curtain. “Wait here,” he requested and walked on to the adjoining wooden stage.
“We are pleased to have with us Radha Maata (mother) who will enlighten us with her wisdom today,” he announced.
I peered out to see who he was addressing. To my shock, the hall was filled with a thousand people.
“What are you doing?” I hissed at him. He smiled back and then with much ceremony took me to the stage to a large throne-like contraption. The seat was made of red velvet and satin. Painted gold shone from the hand-rest and the intricate legs.
I was transfixed. A searing anger welled at the priest for springing such a nasty surprise.
Not one to be defeated by any situation, I began by asking the seated audience questions on life and their philosophies. As they responded, I gave them my own deep insights and my warped wisdom. I could see the wonder in their eyes. Some had tears as I got into the act with a vengeance.
A few hours later, when the crowd cleared, I sat exhausted on the throne. The priest signaled me to follow him. I hoped it wasn’t one more of his tricks.
It was a surprise but something I had not expected. A large brass container stood in a corner. As I drew closer I realized it was filled with money, gold chains and even a couple of diamond earrings.
My father’s life of hardship and violence flashed before my eyes. The alternate path of evil involved neither.
This was easy money.
I made my choice.
Prompt: “Between two evils, I generally like to pick the one I never tried before.”― Mae West (№: 45: Two Evils)