GAMES THAT MEN PLAYThe wayward drizzle outside finally made up its mind, it slowly picked up pace and settled down to a steady drumming rhythm on the tiled roof. A couple of hours back, as if on cue, the electricity department cut off the power for the entire village. Suggi Raju sat huddled in the corner of the wet and humid room. He did not even bother to replace the protective glass of the kerosene lamp as the occasional gusts of wind were threatening to blow off the solitary flame in the room. This brave little flame was a metamorphic symbolism for him, of the similarly flickering flame of life outside in the rains, which was at the risk of being extinguished any moment now, by the winds of fate. Suggi Raju suddenly remembered that, the bundles of hay that he stored in the upper loft of the cowshed would be getting wet. He involuntarily reached out to grab the gunnysack that he used as a raincoat, to check on the hay and the solitary cow in the shed outside.
The futility of his action suddenly struck him and he let out a resigned sigh and stopped himself. He let the gunny sack fall onto the floor right onto the puddle of rainwater formed from the one of the numerous leaks from the roof. It no longer mattered to him. He went back to his corner of the room and started looking at the flickering flame of the kerosene lamp.
His mind was in turmoil, will his very carefully calculated and executed plans bear fruit? Will fate once again intervene and thwart his plans? It really did not matter if the coin that he tossed threw up a heads or a tail, either of the outcomes would be a win for him.
Suggi Rajus thoughts were now totally concentrated on his son Ranga Raju, whom he sent out on a do or die mission. Ranga Raju was partially wet, as he patiently hid himself under the insufficient cover of the awning behind the cattle shed. The half a dozen cows, some with calves settled down on the floor and were lazily chewing cud, neither bothered with natures furry outside nor the actions of the humans around them. Occasional flashes from the streaks of lightening illuminated the image of a young robust man tense and shivering wet. With one hand he held tightly onto the thick partly wet blanket that he covered himself from head to feet, while in the other hand he clutched the wooden handle of the brand new sickle. He had spent hours in the day sharpening it to a very keen edge for the job that was to follow in the night.He could make out the faint sound of the diesel generators running somewhere, in the back ground. This was one of the few of houses in the entire village that enjoyed the luxury of diesel generated back up supply of electricity. The drone of the generators helped sustaining the burning rage in his heart as he patiently waited to make his next move. Meanwhile in his dilapidated house Suggi Raju kept staring at the flame, while he ruminated over the events in the past that led him to the present situation.Suggi Raju and Koti Rajus were distant cousins. Their common lineage went back to a common forefather a few generations back. Their grandfathers were brothers. Suggi Rajus father was one among six brothers, while Koti Rajus father was the only son followed by a sister. This unequal distribution of the boys and girls in their respective families was probably the first reason for the unequal distribution of fortunes. The philanthropic nature of Suggi Rajus father only added to Suggi Rajus misfortune. Suggi Rajus father managed to inherit only a fifth part of the ancestral property, Whereas Koti Rajus father inherited almost all his fathers property. Suggi Rajus father was a nave and good natured man. The villagers and other relatives played on his weakness and like the bandicoots in the fields, managed to slowly and steadily to gnaw away the property little by little. By the time Suggi Raju was big enough to understand and stem the losses, the inheritance had dwindled to a mere three acres of agriculture land. Although, both their respective fathers managed to maintain a cordial relationship, it was not so between the two cousins. The stark economical difference between them was too obvious. Koti Raju went to the private convent school in the town to complete his twelfth standard. Whereas Suggi Rajus schooling in the village government school ended when he was in the fifthKoti Raju was always immaculately in dressed in silk shirts ironed pants, while Suggi Raju could wear them only on very special occasions. Koti Raju only went to the fields to lord over the scores of hired farmhands toiling in the fields. Whereas Suggi Raju had to toil alongside the couple of old hired hands in his meager holding. The childish rivalry between the cousins only grew stronger and bitter as they grew up into young adults, and reached a peak with the advent of Kanakam in their lives.
Kanakam was the youngest daughter of Bucchi Raju, a marginal farmer of the village and also a distant relative of the cousins, a typical situation where half the population were remotely related to each other.He had lived a good and prosperous life once, but by the time he got his four of the six daughter married off, his financial situation dropped down drastically. He still had Kanakam and Parvathi to be married.Suggi Raju saw Kanakam for the first time at the village jatra. The chirpy girl was barely into her teens and was accompanied by her younger sister. They were haggling with the bangle seller, to buy two sets of bangles but their father had given money enough for just one. Neither sister wanted to own the bangles at the cost of depriving the other. Dejectedly they turned away without buying them. Suggi Raju who was observing the scene quickly went to the seller and had a word with him. The Bangle seller called back Kanakam and pretended to give in and sell both the sets for the prize of one. Latter Suggi Raju paid up the rest of the amount to the seller. The Happiness and radiance on Kanakams face brought a certain unexplainable feeling rose in Suggi Rajus heart. A year later the bangle seller let onto the little secret to Kanakam. Kanakam formed a soft corner for Suggi Raju. As if it were a natural progression love blossomed between the two. Small things like these did not go unnoticed by the nosy villagers, whispered rumors made the rounds. Even Koti Raju heard of them and a certain emotion of jealousy took root in his heart. Meanwhile a close relative brought a proposal for Suggi Rajus elder sister. It was a very appropriate match for her. The boys parents and other elders came over to see the girl and finalize other important matters. The boy liked the girl and it was assumed by default that the girl liked the boy. They quickly came to the dowry negotiations. Suggi Rajus mother agreed to give up all her gold ornaments for the daughter. Next in the list came the demand for two acres of land as part of the dowry. Although it would mean that Suggi Raju would be left with just two acres for himself, he agreed to it without hesitation. The demand for two lakhs cash became the stumbling block. Suggi Rajus father was hesitating when Koti Rajus father stepped in. Brother dont let this good proposal slip away, as for the cash dont worry I will take care of it he assured. You can return it back as per your convenience. Suggi Rajus father being a man of principles agreed and got the transaction signed on a stamp paper. By the time all the formalities of the marriage were over Suggi Rajus father had incurred a debt of three lakh rupees to his cousin. This debt was almost a forgotten thing as Suggi Rajus father was never able to raise the amount and neither did Koti Rajus father ask for it. Years passed by and the minor skirmishes between the cousins continued. On occasions Koti Raju had the upper hand vis-a-vis his financial advantage, and occasionally Suggi Raju won, with his wit and physical prowess. During those days Suggi Rajus mother fell seriously ill and the father and son watched her die a slow death as they could not afford the medical expenses.Kanakam was just out of her teens. And the villagers whispers about Suggi Raju and Kanakam were getting louder. One fine day Suggi Rajus father raised the topic with Kanakams father Bucchi Raju. Although Bucchi Raju readily agreed and expressed his joy at the proposal, he said he wanted a years time, till he sold off his crop and arranged for the money for the marriage. A couple of months latter Suggi Raju and his father were surprised to see Bucchi Raju at their house quite late in the night. Suggi Raju welcomed him into the house with all due respect; blushing all the while at his would be father-in-law.Bucchi Rajus with a crest fallen face, blurted out the whole story to the father son duo. When the news of the proposed alliance of Kanakam to Suggi Raju reached Koti Rajus ears, he informed his father about his desire to marry Kanakam. Bucchi Raju was summoned by Koti Rajus father and was coerced into agreeing to the proposal. They did not want any dowry and also all the marriage expenses would be borne by the boys side. Bucchi Raju never even deemed it necessary to take Kanakams opinion in the matter. Before Suggi Raju and his father could say anything Bucchi Raju came up with a face saving proposal, he wanted to give his youngest daughter, Parvatis hand in marriage to Suggi Raju to make up for this helpless mans forced betrayal.
Suggi Raju was aghast on hearing this Villainy of Koti Raju. He stormed out of the house, in a fit of murderous rage. Suggi Rajus father became very agitated and angry at first but the gentle persuasion of Bucchi Raju slowly made him to see sense in the whole proposal. For one this was the best opportunity to repay the moral debt of Koti Rajus father help during his daughters marriage. And second this way Suggi Raju still gets to marry Bucchi Rajus daughter so what if it was Parvathi instead of Kanakam who was as beauti