Karna's Alter Ego

By Surendra Nath

Literary fiction, Young adult

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693
10 mins

The Supersession

Karna’s Alter Ego

Surendra Nath

CONTENTS

Foreword
1 The Dawn
2 Schooldays
3 The Promise
4 Romance in the Air
5 Work and Family
6 The Treasure Trove
7 The Lie
8 The Hapless Girl
9 The Tournament
10 Mother’s Sacrifice
11 Karma and Moksha
12 The Supersession
13 The Adoption
14 The Dialogues
15 The Hijack
*****

Foreword

Mohanty has spun a contemporary story and blended it with ancient legends. His protagonist, Vasu, belongs to the present time and happens to interact with the Mahabharata legend, Karna, and draws inspiration from him as he progresses through life.

Vasu is jinxed, a person destined to lose, but his idol Karna is always there to console him and prod him to carry on. The book is not a retelling of the epic; it is rather viewing the incidents of those times through a different lens. Mohanty breaks away from tradition by questioning the sacrosanct. His main character, takes the standpoint of the Kauravas, especially, that of Karna.

To believers, Karna is the legend of the past who visits Vasu, and to unbelievers, such visitations could well be the figment of a hallucinating mind. All the same, the appearance of the mythological character serves the noble purpose of uplifting the protagonist to an edifying level.

I have been wondering what the genre of this book is. Is it mythological? Or is it social, with a quotidian theme? Perhaps, spiritual or philosophical? Maybe, a thriller! It’s better you read it and find out for yourself.

I sincerely wish good luck to Mohanty in his writing career. I hope to see more of his books in print so that I may write more forewords for him.

Ruskin Bond
25th March 2015
*****

Karna’s Alter Ego
Chapter Twelve
The Supersession

VASU CONTINUED AS THE OPERATIONS MANAGER in the company’s Jaipur plant for six years. Having joined there from its inception, he was able to turn it into a profit making unit in the third year, a year ahead of the company’s projected schedule. Since he was visibly an asset, he was called to join their head office in New Delhi. Everyone was agog with anticipation that Vasu Sen would soon take over as the Vice President of the company.

While in Jaipur, there had been two developments, not so happy ones, on the home front. About a year and a half before he left for New Delhi, his mother expired – peacefully in her sleep, like she always wanted. And within a year of that, his father too passed away. Father seldom kept well and it was a wonder that he outlived his wife. But the happy development for Vasu was that Vrishali, having no other encumbrance, joined him, towards his last few months, in Jaipur, and after that they shifted to New Delhi. For six years, she had faithfully looked after his parents, true to her assurance; a sacrifice that had not gone unnoticed by Vasu. Both settled down to a happy married life in New Delhi. A year passed by and both were now looking forward to his promotion that was on the grapevine and somewhat overdue.

Vasu returned home rather late one night in the foulest and saddest temper. When his wife enquired, he simply grunted and said nothing. Vrishali knew when not to pester him. She knew he was having the blues, but this time the attack seemed of a much darker hue. She let him be and retired to the kitchen. Vasu picked up a bottle of whisky, turned the TV on and poured himself a drink.

Vijay Jaiswal was the root cause of his turmoil, his agony. After nearly 12 years in the company – Time & Time Watches (India) – he had received a jolt. And Vijay was the cause.

‘Don't drink too much, Vasu,’ his wife cautioned him. ‘Let this be the last one; you've got a busy schedule tomorrow. And you know, whenever you...’

‘I know. Whenever I drink too much I end up puking. Isn't that what you want to say? Now, leave me alone, will you?’ Vasu was in no mood for sermons.

Vrishali, his wife for almost eight years, put up with his rebuke and retired for the night. ‘Dinner is on the table. Remember to turn off the lights, when you're done,’ she called from the bedroom upstairs. She knew when and how much to talk.

He took a long draught and curled the corners of his lips at the taste. Ice... Ice would make it better, he thought. The drink was a bit stiff; a few cubes of ice would dilute it. But he was too tired to walk up to the kitchen. So he continued to swig the blend. He always took drinks in moderation and that too quite infrequently since the time his wife had moved in with him. But, on days such as this, a stiff drink helped him relieve the stress.

Vijay was the cause of his distress. Vijay had only been in the company for six years against Vasu’s twelve. Vasu had climbed each rung of the ladder step by step, while Vijay just came up the ‘elevator’, so to speak. Both were in the running for the post of Vice President.

Today, Vijay pipped Vasu to the post.

He was feeling so terribly let down that he neither had the heart nor courage to tell Vrishali the outcome of today's board meeting. Silently sulking, he took recourse to his drinks. He got up and fixed himself another drink, a small peg this time, with lots of ice.

He switched to CNN. ‘His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been chosen the President of the United Arab Emirates’, announced the newsreader. They flashed the picture of the new President with his name on the subtitle.

‘What! Another President! Great day! They all will remember it as their day,’ mumbled Vasu. ‘I shall also never forget this day, Vijay!’ he muttered, seethed in jealousy, and gulped another swig. ‘Bloody Vijay, that guy used to be my junior three years back,’ he cursed, emptied his glass and, quite mechanically, filled it up again.

He flicked the channel to Hallmark. ‘What time is it?’ he asked himself and looked at his little clock that stood on the bookshelf to the right. He noticed something strange in the favourite little clock of his. Should be around eleven o'clock, but where’s this number eleven? It had vanished. He brought the clock down from the shelf and took a closer look. The number had fallen off and was lying near six, partly covering it. How odd? he thought and got his tool box and sat down on the carpet to fix it, an efficient artisan of clocks that he had always been.

This clock had been with him for longer than his wife. In fact, he had created it, no, made it. That was when he had just joined the company as a junior engineer. He had been inspired by a picture of an antique alarm clock and had come up with an innovative design that combined the features of an old-fashioned clock with those of a modern one. It was compact, inside a gold-plated outer case and was studded with stones on its face. His prototype, named Gypsy, came in for a lot of appreciation, but, unfortunately, never went into production. Their company was a essentially a watch manufacturer and did not give much priority to clocks. So the clock, named Gypsy, one of its kind, came to stay with him, and stayed with him it had, for more than a decade.

Long time! It had been through many repairs and modifications – thanks to Vasu’s expertise. In all those years, he had developed quite a fancy towards Gypsy and even shared his secrets with it. There were times when he wanted to talk, but couldn’t find someone to talk to. He couldn’t always summon Karna just to chat, and in the bargain get lectured by the Mahapurush. Vasu too, at times, needed to lecture someone. ‘Why, Mr. Eleven, are you lying down here; what’s the matter with you?’ he addressed his clock while slurping some whisky and trying to repair it at the same time.

‘For number eleven, no one cares anymore. That’s the matter.’ He thought he heard someone speaking those words.

Who said that? Vasu questioned himself and looked around. There was no one. Did he really hear it or was it just his imagination? Or did it come from the television? He turned towards the idiot box. It was showing Roman Holiday. How many times can they flog this good old black and white classic! he thought. ‘Okay, we know - Audrey Hepburn, the princess and Gregory Peck, the commoner, they have a little romance,’ he started speaking to the TV as if it was listening to him. ‘And each returns to where they belong. But is there anyone alive who hasn't yet seen this movie? Who will tell you that, Hallmark folks?

‘Give me a minute, and I'll fix you,’ he turned to his Gypsy. ‘First, let me fix myself a small one.’ He refilled his glass, took a large gulp, and picked up his darling clock. ‘Let me see what's wrong with you, Eleven.’

‘Tis better you see soon. You've been neglecting Mr. Eleven all these years.’

He turned around again, with a start. No one was around. Did the voice really come from the clock? Clocks don't speak! Perhaps, the drink was getting into his head. All right, if it was a soliloquy, he decided to play on. ‘Come on, Eleven. What's it? Come on, out with it,’ he slurred with some liquor on his tongue.

‘Hasn't Eleven done his job with clockwork precision all these years? Hasn't he struck the hour, day after day, month after month, and year after year?’

Despite the alcohol in him, Vasu got to realise that he was not imagining. He was certain now that he was hearing a voice that was soft in the beginning and had gradually fallen in pitch to a baritone. It seemed familiar now. He looked up, and through the haze of drunkenness, he saw Karna sitting on a corner-stool, his ivory coloured robe camouflaged against the off-white walls. He wore a grin that was not natural of the forever serious Karna. Perhaps he was amused to see a tipsy Vasu.

‘Ah! Pranam Mahapurush.’ Vasu closed his eyelids and smiled equally amused at seeing the serious man smiling. ‘This time you’ve come to admonish me on behalf of the clock, haven’t you?’

‘But you cared not for Mr. Eleven of your clock. Rather, you cared for Mr. Twelve. That jewel, you put, on Twelve’s head. Does Eleven not do the same work? Why is Twelve up on top? Why can Eleven not go up there?’

Vasu smiled at the absurdity of Karna’s questions, having quite forgotten his own misery. Perhaps the whisky had done its act, besides, Karna had drawn his attention towards the clock, more particularly towards the number eleven in it. It was Karna who had tipped the number and caused it to fall off.

‘Advocating for Mr. Eleven! O Mahapurush, Eleven is Eleven and Twelve is Twelve. How can they possibly switch places and trade their functions, with each other? There is a scheme of things,’ Vasu argued, putting on a friendly smile.

‘What scheme of things?’

‘A scheme of things where each number does his job, and everything goes like clockwork. Eleven is doing his job perfectly well. That’s because he stands where he belongs. Eleven does not fit into Twelve's place. I suppose you understand that.’

‘I care not. That little jewel, I want, placed on Mr. Eleven.’

‘Vasu, are you still boozing?’ That was Vrishali from upstairs. ‘It's twelve o'clock already.’

‘Told you. About Twelve, even your wife is bothered. But none, about Eleven.’ Karna continued his mischievous chide.

‘Oh, will you keep quiet now,’ Vasu shot back at Karna and immediately realized his folly. He turned his face in the direction of his bedroom and called back, ‘Not you, darling. I'm done. I’ll be there in a moment.’

He drained the remaining whisky, staggered to the kitchen and got another empty glass. ‘Some whisky for you?’ he asked, not quite in his senses. Karna simply gazed at him with an amused smile that had been his typical expression that night. ‘Sorry, Mahapurush. I thought you are like me. Drink occasionally.’ Vasu went back into the kitchen, picked up a jug of water and returned to his spot on the carpet. After he poured himself a drink from the nearly empty bottle, he started to fix the clock.

Karna, picking up from where Vasu had left, asked, ‘And what’s the occasion, that you be celebrating today?’

‘Occasion... today? George Bush has been re-elected as the President of United States for a second term today, and that’s the talk all over the world. I guess you don’t watch the telly.’ Vasu flicked the channel to CNN. ‘There was another President, I forget the name, yes, look at the subtitles there, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the new President of the UAE. Good enough occasions, aren’t these? Cheers!’ Vasu raised his glass to the telly.

‘Hamid Karzai, was also finally declared elected today, as the President of Afghanistan,’ added Karna. ‘So, the day of the Presidents, you are celebrating. Are you?’

‘What? A third man also made it to the President’s post today?’ asked Vasu in disbelief, widening his already dilated eyes. ‘How did you know that?’

Karna pointed to the TV at the bottom portion of which another scroll announced Hamid Karzai’s successful bid as the President of Afghanistan. ‘But you didn’t answer me. What ails you, Vasu – Presidents or Vice Presidents?’

‘Nothing worse could happen to me today,’ Vasu opened up at last, melancholy writ all over his face. ‘There is no more soda left; I have to make do with plain water.’ He burped and continued ranting, ‘The day of my debacle, today. My clock without number eleven; whisky without soda; Time & Time without me.’ He completed fixing the fallen number, set the correct time and placed the clock back on the bookshelf.

Karna listened patiently. He knew what had happened to Vasu in his office today. It was Vasu Sen versus Vijay Jaiswal for the post of Vice President. The staff unequivocally felt Vasu should be selected for the post. ‘Vasu stands a better chance. He will make it; been in the company for twelve years, facilitated its growth, knows every bit of the business. The right stuff for VP,’ they gossiped. ‘Vijay? Nope. Relatively new, already seen a fast rise. This time, he’s got to wait.’

But when it came to the board of directors, they thought otherwise. Vijay Jaiswal was their choice – young blood, MBA, marketing background, has previous experience with competitors. Finally, this morning they announced his name. ‘Bloody Vijay!’ Vasu swore and gulped down the measure. Roman Holiday on the TV came to an end and immediately the next movie, Scott of the Antarctic, started playing. Still sitting on the carpet, he rolled the empty glass over and laid back to rest his head on the sofa behind.

‘Why not me? Why the hell not me?’ he groaned as the sour liquid churned inside his stomach. The half written application that lay in the drawer in his office zoomed into his mind – I have the honour to state that, since the Board did not consider my…He felt no need to bother if the wording in his letter of resignation was appropriate. All he needed was to complete it, sign it and submit it to the board of directors in the morning.

‘Vasu, my dear Vasu Sena, there is a scheme of things.’ It was Karna’s voice again that shook him out of his drunken haze. He was quite unable to hold his head steady; alcohol was doing the rounds within. He forced open his drooping eyes, in an effort to locate the speaker, who was now sitting on the sofa on which Vasu rested his head.

‘Hey! Vasu Sena. It’s me. Look here.’ Karna continued, ‘You love to give sermons. And quite well you did that, regarding Mr. Eleven, a while ago. But don’t you forget that in your world too, lies a scheme of things, where each of you does his job, and then like clockwork everything goes.’

‘Mahapurush, I got it,’ Vasu mumbled. ‘Thanks; got it. There is a scheme for me too, and I must stay my course and play my part, no matter what. But the schemes designed for me seem to be scheming against me all the time.’

‘Take heart Vasu. Worse things have happened unto others.’

‘There you go lecturing, pushing your autobiography onto me. I know, Arjuna passed you over every time. Now, which incident are you going to narrate?’

‘Assumptive, every time assumptive!’ rebuffed Karna mildly. ‘Countless people have lost out in their contests. By the very essence of any contest, it brings out a loser, as much as a winner. What is worthwhile is whether the loser gave the winner a good run or not. The winner is only noteworthy, if his opponent was equally formidable.’

‘You mean you were the most formidable opponent of Arjuna?’ said Vasu, still bearing a critical opinion about Karna’s intentions.

‘You’re being assumptive again,’ said Karna. ‘Captain Scott is the formidable opponent, I was referring to. Heard of him? Watch the film playing on your TV, now.’

‘Yeah, I heard of him.’ Vasu tried to search that name in his memory. ‘Did he discover, I mean, was he the first to reach North Pole, or maybe South Pole?’

‘Good! About Captain Scott, you vaguely remember. In his attempt, he failed, to reach the South Pole. Some losers are better known than their winning contenders. Do you know who was the first to reach the South Pole?’

Vasu thought for some time and admitted that he had no idea who reached the South Pole first. ‘But Mahapurush, I get your point. That foolscap paper goes into the shredder first thing in the morning. Why the hell should I resign? I’ll do my best at whatever I do.’ He smiled and rolled over on the carpet, delightfully accepting the revelation.

‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,’ he mumbled the last line from Lord Tennyson’s poem, as he slipped into a blissful slumber.

‘That’s what I came here for Vasu Sena,’ mumbled Karna, knowing well that Vasu, in his sleep, was no longer hearing him. ‘We need to seek in all corners of the earth until we find.’

As a consolation, Time & Time Watches posted Vasu in his place of choice, Bangalore, in a marginally elevated position with a substantial raise in salary. It was here that he had started his new working career, twelve years ago; it was here that he had first met Vrishali, nine years ago and had got married. They, at last, purchased a house in the Garden City, and were happy to be back in Bangalore, in a house of their own.

*****
Notes
Expedition to the South Pole: Capt. Scott of the Royal Navy led in an ill-fated expedition to discover the South Pole (1911-12). He came to know that another explorer, a Norwegian named Roald Amundsen, was following him on the same mission. Both the teams faced terrible weather and temperature conditions, and difficult terrains. On 14 December 1911, Amundsen’s team arrived at the South Pole. Scott’s team reached there, by a different route, 33 days afterwards. On their way back, on 29 March 1912, Scott’s team of five men died of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold. Eight months later, their bodies and Scott’s diary were found in a tent.

The Day of the Presidents: On November, the third 2004, George W. Bush was elected as the President of the USA for a second term. On the same day, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan was chosen as the new President of the United Arab Emirates. Hamid Karzai was also officially declared elected as the President of Afghanistan that day. Though Karzai was acting as the President of the newly formed democracy, the election results, which were under some controversy, were formally declared on that day.


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