Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Postscript of A Will

"Has everyone come?" asked the lawyer.

The men and women assembled in the room turned their gazes at each other.

The middle-aged man wearing a pince-nez wore a mischievous smile on his lips as he queried, "What did you say?"

The irate lawyer stared at the questioner for a moment as if wondering why the man didn't wear his hearing aid, especially when his ears were free from the burden of carrying his glasses (thanks to the pince-nez!). Gathering his patience, he said in a raised tone, "I just asked whether the people concerned have all come."

"Your question sounds legally precise only after you have reworded it now" remarked the questioner, obviously not needing a hearing aid, "because I find that quite a few of the people present here have no business to be here at all!"

"And you are one of them!" came the quick repartee from a middle aged man sitting next to him. An old lady joined the attack against the snide remark of the young man by retorting, "Let not anyone claim monopoly to the legacy of the deceased person."

As some more people were getting ready to join the altercation, the lawyer intervened firmly and put a stop to the wrangle. "Who has a claim to the legacy and who doesn't will be known presently, on my reading the will. In the meanwhile, let not anyone make judgements about who should be here and who shouldn't."

As others enjoyed the lawyer's dig at the man with the pince-nez, the lawyer with a smug feeling of having gained control over the situation, mockingly sought the approval of the audience to go ahead "Now, will you people allow me to start reading the will?"

"Please go ahead but for heaven's sake, spare us of the legal verbiage and confine yourself to the core. I am a little scared after looking at the voluminous pile of papers in your hand" remarked another member of the audience.

"If only you will stop lecturing to me on how to do my job and start listening to me for a change, I will be able to complete my job in time" snapped the lawyer in a tone of rebuke. "For your information, the will is very short, straightforward and precise. There is no legal verbiage in this will. The will was drafted by the deceased Sundaram, who as you all know, never studied law. The will is terse. It comprises just one sentence. But.."

The lawyer stopped, with the air of a raconteur pausing a story at the point of suspense and surveyed the gathering with a gleam of sadistic satisfaction. Everyone had their eyebrows raised, with their eyes reflecting their anxieties and impatience over the unfolding of the suspense.

"But..." continued the lawyer in an affectedly cautious tone, ".... there's a story by way of the postscript of the will."

"Story?"

"I never knew that my uncle had a flair for story writing!"

"May be he has willed his properties to the one who will get his story published!"

Reactions varied from wild amusement to cynical despondency.

"Sharpen your hearing faculties. I am going to read the will now."

The reign of suspense was instantly established.

In the next few seconds, the sharpened ears were rocked by an explosion. The shock and frustration resulting from learning the contents of the will manifested themselves in unrestrained tirade and vilification.

"Fantastic nonsense!"

"I have always considered Sundaram to be a little eccentric but I have never imagined that he would drive himself so crazy!"

"Hypocrisy of the highest order!"

"A deliberate act of sadism with the intention of making fools of all of us!"

The lawyer enjoyed the fireworks for a while and then said, "If you have finished expressing your reactions to the will, may I proceed with the story - I mean - the postscript of the will. Those of you who want to listen to the story and give your reactions to the story as you have, to the will, may stay on. Those who can't stand verbiage, legal or of other kind, are free to leave.

The lawyer waited for a few minutes. No one was inclined to leave. Everyone appeared to be eager to learn the answer to an exciting puzzle that defied their understanding.

The lawyer began to read.

He was about twelve years old at that time. He was studying in the sixth standard. He had a puny appearance for his age but intellectually, he had outgrown his age.

In the classroom, he was able to catch up with the teacher at a faster rate than the teacher was able to deliver his teaching. Having grasped the subject in its entirety even at the beginning of a lecture, he found the teacher's elucidations superfluous. Even as the teacher was trying hard to get the ideas planted in the minds of the students by harping on the theme, the boy would be thinking ahead on the subject, his thoughts taking dips at further depths of the subject. When the teacher completed his presentation, he won't be aware of one of his students having developed a level of understanding of the subject deeper than his own.

His aptitude for Science was particularly precocious. As his Science teacher demonstrated some experiments with a sense of pride as if he himself had designed those experiments, the boy would watch them with his eyes widened in excitement. When he witnessed the spectacle of a piece of Sodium metal glowing brightly and swimming fiercely in a tub of water like a speeding trawler resulting in a colourful show of chemical reaction, he would feel as if he was journeying into an exciting new world. Some of his experiences would make him feel that he had discovered the purpose of his life. In the nights, sleep would elude him as his mind would be chewing the cuds of such experiences and his body would feel electrified.

As he learnt more of the amazing facts of Science, he began to experience a sublime feeling that appeared so divine and so much out of the world.

It was the English class. There was a lesson on Isaac Newton in his English prose book. Since he had already got acquainted with Newton as one of the architects of Modern Science, he evinced a special interest in that lesson.

How did Newton become such a great scientist? The boy had been told earlier that Newton had made his greatest discovery about the gravity of the earth by a sheer accident - instantly hit by an inspiration on witnessing the fall of an apple from a tree. But when he learnt Newton's life history in his text book, he came to realize how Newton had devoted his entire life to the cause of Science, how he pursued his ideal with a single minded devotion and how painstaking his efforts were towards his search for the Scientific truth. This realization planted in his mind  the seeds of an idealistic life in pursuit of Science, a life emulating that of Newton.

Newton - What devotion did he have for Science even as a boy! Starting with the study of simple instruments and devices by disassembling and reassembling them and using the knowledge gained in the process to invent  revolutionary devices like the Windmill, the Telescope etc. through diligent research and relentless pursuits, toiling for days and nights together, he went on to discover scientific truths that revolutionalized  not only Science but the lifestyle of the world as well.

Suddenly, a quirky thought passed over his mind. For a tiny fraction of a second, he saw himself as an image of Newton on his mental screen. Even as this thought flashed through his mind, his whole body was filled with a sense of excitement. He asked himself, 'What would I be doing now, if I were Newton?' He couldn't arrive at an answer. But the question continued to haunt him. And every time, the question came up in his mind, he experienced a new sensation.

After this reflective experience, his interest in Science became more and more intensified. He felt the urge to learn everything about the universe, the forces controlling it and the various parameters governing the functioning of the universe. His school textbooks on Science did not quench his thirst. The laboratory experiments that excited him earlier now appeared like games designed to amuse children.

The acquaintance he made with some Science journals in his school library grew into an intimate friendship. His new "friends" carried him to many new amazing worlds whose very existence was unknown to him all along.

Time passed by and he was also passing over the grades mechanically. Since he was not paying much attention to textbooks, he was not able to score well  in the examinations but he was getting through them and moving up to higher grades all the same.

He never took much interest in reading newspapers but would browse through the pages casually since he had been told that he should keep himself updated with the current events. One day, one particular news item attracted his attention. It was a news story about the award of Nobel prizes in various branches of science. As he was reading the names of people selected for various disciplines, he was stirred by a unique feeling. The screen of his mind came alive instantaneously and he saw certain images flashed on it.

Though the images were somewhat hazy, he was able to identify the figures. There were Newton, Einstein, C.V.Raman.......and....... Unexpectedly, he saw his own image popping up on the screen. And coinciding with the appearance of this image, a desire spurted out from the depth of his mind. And the desire instantly expanded and filled his entire mind. It didn't stop growing till it reached the top of his scalp. Then, it was no longer a desire. It became a determination, a pledge, a commitment and the raison d'etre for his very existence in this world. 'I WILL GET A NOBEL PRIZE IN SCIENCE.'

As he realized the spontaneous conception of the ideal, he became aware that his life had a new meaning. The question of how to transform this ideal into reality didn't bother him. The 'how' factor appeared irrelevant and superfluous. All that mattered was that he had accepted the ideal. He had no doubt that he would be able to realize his ideal.

He failed in the school final examination that year.The subjects of History and languages which he had neglected undid him. Though this setback did not affect his pursuit of Science, it hit him by stumping his higher education.

Even as he was trying to salvage his position by concentrating on the neglected subjects and preparing to clear them in the next attempt, he was struck again by the intransigence of his father. Like King Dasaratha realizing one fine morning that he was near the end of his life and that it was time to crown his son Rama*, his father wanted him to give up his studies and take over the family business. The son's protests and pleadings were to no avail, his failure to pass the school leaving examination proving a handy weapon in the hands of the father.

Though forced to abandon his studies and look after the family business, he did not give up his ideal. He hoped that he would be able to soon convince his father that he had no aptitude for business and return to his field of interest.

But he was struck by fate yet again. His father's sudden death shifted the family burden entirely on his shoulders. He had no choice except to carry on the task of managing his family business. Pressed externally by the burden of the family business and internally by the burden of his cherished ideal, he was just treading on.

Years passed by. He got married and had a son. Though inextricably entrenched in his family business, a part of his self was trying to pull away and dive into the orbit of scientific research. He didn't achieve any remarkable success in his business but was not a failure either. But the deep wound in his heart inflicted by the impact of the heavy blow struck on his ambition remained unhealed by the passage of time. Like Milton who lamented on his failure to make use of the faculties given to him by God, he was also constantly brooding over the scattered pieces of his dream. He was discharging his responsibility mechanically, acting from a sheer sense of duty.

His son was about 12 years old and had entered the secondary school just a year back. One day, he ran to his father exclaiming "Dad, dad!...."

"Yes...?"

"Dad! We need not buy matches for our house hereafter."

"Why?" quizzed the puzzled father.

"I have found a way to create fire without the use of matches."

Even before the son could complete his explanation, the father had a spark of excitement rising in his mind like the flavour of the arth rising up immediately after the first few drops of rain hit the ground. The spark kindled a fire that instantly engulfed his entire body. With his mind feeling light after many years, he encouraged his son to spell out his 'discovery,'

The boy didn't explain it in words but demonstrated it in action.

It was a simple act of focusing the Sun's rays through a magnifying glass on to a piece of cotton and inflaming it. It was a well known experiment but the excitement and enthusiasm shown by the boy in performing the feat electrified the father's spirits. His mind was invaded by a puff of fresh air forcing open its doors and windows that had remained closed for the past many years.

"Hey  Newton!"

He lifted up his son and tossed him fondly. After all, his ideal had only faded but not been completely effaced. His dream was still alive. Here was his son - a product of his own flesh and blood - who had emerged to carry the torch forward. His son would avenge his failures and turn his dream into reality.

For the first time in his life, the son saw a cheerful father. He never knew that his father could smile and be so enthusiastic and affectionate.

He started preparing his son to the task ahead. He made his son gradually understand what was expected of him. Initially, the son was not consciously aware of the onerousness of the task before him. As he grew older, the import of his father's message slowly dawned on him. And the understanding did not please him. Though he was too young to think deeply on such matters, it was clear to him that his father had been totally out of touch with reality. After all, for him, the demonstration of creating a fire using a lens was only an exciting play. It was astonishing to him that his father could misconceive a simple act of fun to be a display of his aptitude for science. The truth was that he found Science lessons to be highly incomprehensible and consequently abominable.

But he didn't have the courage to tell the truth to his father.

However, the truth came to be known to his father eventually. When the news of his son not getting promoted to the next grade because he failed in Science (of all the subjects!) reached him, he realized that he had been holding on to an illusion about his son's capabilities. It was like a shattered hope magically getting fixed up into its original shape only to be shattered again. The disappointment that struck him for a second time was severe in its intensity like a second heart attack. And he did not survive the second attack for long.

As happened in the case of his father, the son also had to shoulder the burden of running the family and taking over the family business at a young age. The son took over the reigns of the business with a feeling of guilt - the guilt of having frustrated his father's hopes.

Time kept its pace, unmindful of the turbulence of human minds.

If there had been a Nobel prize for business, he would have been a strong contender for it. Though accidentally thrown into the world of business, he found that he had an innate aptitude for business. He developed the business that was being lukewarmly run by his father into an empire within a short time. He used several strategies like expansion, diversification, forward integration, backward integration etc. even though he had no academic or professional knowledge about these concepts. He emerged as one of the leading businessmen of India within a couple of decades. 'Business India' once chose him as the 'Businessman of the year'. He was in the  'Fortune' list of top five hundred businessmen of the world. The rewards, recognitions and honours that befell him were many. However he remained as a person with an active physical body and a septic mind.

The shadow of guilt resulting from failure to work for his father's ideal was constantly haunting him, making his achievements inconsequential and his very life irrelevant. Since he considered his life to be a meaningless existence, he did not turn his attention to marriage and family life, considered essential for a meaningful life.

As he was desperately pondering over a way to preserve at least some pieces of the shattered dream of his father that had been constantly whirling around him ever since his father's death, he saw a spark entering his mind from nowhere.

The spark slowly evolved into a beautiful flame - a flame that would incinerate the heap of guilt that has accumulated in his mind and serve as an everlasting glow illuminating the greatness of his father.

His father wanted to become a Scientist and win the Nobel prize for Science, a goal that might have been attained by him but for the waylaying by the fate. Then he wanted his son to accomplish what he couldn't. But the son was totally unfit for the task.

Yet, he could make the world link the Nobel prize to his father.

"I will the institution of a prize named after my father 'Sadasivam Memorial Prize for Science' which will be equal in both monetary value and reputability to the Nobel prize. This prize will be given for the same branches of Science for which the Nobel prize is given. I leave all my movable and immovable properties listed in Schedule 1, to the trust that will be constituted for this purpose, as per the terms specified in Schedule 2."

The lawyer paused for a while and looked at the gathering. Someone was heard cursing the deceased man.

(Written in the year 1982)



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