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The Ugly Truth

By pranavs All Rights Reserved ©


Chapter 1

When I told my wife I was filing income tax returns she said, “Good thing that you are doing. Hardly
anyone does it right these days.”

I smiled, acutely aware that I wasn’t declaring my renting incomes. And then a trail of thought followed.

My college featured an enormous economic gap among the students. The rich deliberately avoided the “others” who tried too hard to pay their tuition. In such times, one evening after cricket, Amit complimented and invited me to play with ‘the real players’. I paused to look at him. He was tall with a muscular build and had an air of authority in his hoarse voice. He had the face which felt familiar perhaps from a TV commercial or a magazine cover.

He belonged to the affluent group, and this invitation surprised me. The college environment and the intentional disregard between the two groups had created an enigma and curiosity about the wealthy. I wanted to peek into their lives; because who wouldn’t want to know how the rich lived when you are categorized widely as “others.”

From that day, life was fun. He was smart and engaging. We spent a lot of time together, and he’d entertain me with stories full of excitement. It felt like something kept dragging me into Amit’s life. All about him fantasized me, wanting to hear more. I wished to live life with such pomp. Everything was going slow and smooth when one evening he asked me if I had good clothes.

“Yes, But not of your standard though.” I felt a little embarrassed and offended.

“Ok. How much money do you have?”

“Enough to survive,” I said curtly. He stopped in his tracks, glared and demanded an answer to which I hesitatingly said, “I have one lakh as a fixed deposit.”

But before he said, “Great, then let’s go shopping,” I added that it was for my further studies. I enunciated that my parents had earned that money with a lot of difficulties unlike his.

He stared impassively for a moment and said, “Be in your best clothes. We are partying tonight.”

“I don’t drink, and neither do you. What kind of a party is it?”

With a chuckle, he said, “The usual one. You’ll see. And we don’t need to drink.”

On my way to the hostel, I wondered why he was so close to me. When I asked him, he only said that I was similar to him. And this confused me more. Then I wondered if it could be something more than money. Whatever he said was fine because I felt inferior to him and this ‘similar’ quote was
encouraging. From then I started to believe that I could be Amit.

Often, he’d pick me up on a different bike or car, and wherever we went, he made it lively. He was affable; people welcomed him lovingly. “Oh he’s very wealthy,” they’d say. “Only son to a great fortune,” someone would add. He knew how to deal with people. His charisma was infectious. In a group, he never failed to attract attention. Girls flocked around him trying their best to impress. He had the most gentleman behaviour I had ever seen, and it almost felt magnanimous. I was overwhelmed, but I wanted more. These circles accepted me as one of their own. It felt like I was finally celebrating life.

But how would I? Amit was a rich guy, and he will continue to be even after college. I wasn’t even moderately middle class. Maybe that’s why I wanted more of it. Perhaps deep down I knew that I wouldn’t have such excitement after graduation, so I was trying to make the most of it. Or was I trying to fake my life to be accepted in that society? I went so deep that even if I understood I was treading on the wrong path, I wouldn’t have wanted to change it.

In the final year, Amit had struck a job in the first interview and every person who knew him seemed happy. Few blokes threw a party that night and everything about this euphoric life changed.

Things were at their pompous best, and I found a charming girl to be engrossed in conversation with so I was unaware that few idiots restrained Amit and forced a colourless drink into him. Someone notified me of this “fun incident” and I immediately went there. He straight away anchored onto me and kept uttering, “Let’s go,” in a slurry way. I wanted to, but I had no clue where he lived. Amit never said. Further, he used to avoid topics about his family. He was not in a position to answer, so I
seated him in the lawn and went around asking a lot of people. Bizarrely, no one knew where he lived.

With zero progress I went to Amit, who was still reeling under the influence and hesitatingly, from his cell, I telephoned the contact ‘Mom’. I explained the situation as softly as possible and inquired the address.

By the time I reached the corner of the street, a strange fear had begun to set in. That was a slum, and it wasn’t even properly lit. I was worried if this was the right locality. More
than that, I was scared at the thought of Amit lying about his life. I did not want to entertain that thought.

As we moved further, I saw a woman outside her house between a red hibiscus and a mango tree, smiling in a weird but concerned way. Dressed in an overused cotton saree, she looked decent, but there was some strain on her spotty face which gave away an older look than she deserved.

She offered a nod, and we both took him inside, and on his way, he waved frantically at the guitar which sat in the sparse eastern corner of the house. His mother sighed and brought him the guitar which he hugged and played incoherently. She squatted beside the bed sobbing and massaged his hair. It felt like she deliberately avoided talking about the incident. She was apparently shocked at this drug tragedy.

I was shocked too but because of the surroundings. I stepped outside too confused to think, and she called me inside offering water and then, without looking back, I rushed out of that place. I walked an hour to reach my hostel, still trying to collect and process my thoughts. Next morning Amit coldly asked me to stay away. He threw me out of his life as easily as he picked me.

That night I barely slept. Thoughts of how he could live such a life kept hitting back. Everything about him was a lie. His actual life was an embarrassment to him. That was why he never talked about his home. But I failed to understand why he lived someone else’s life. What satisfaction did it bring? What was the need for this hypocrisy? I felt angry and upset about it unable to find the answers. By the time I could rest my eyes for the night, I understood what he meant when he said that I was
similar to him. We both were equally happy to live a life being somebody else. We both chose to live a lie. If he was a hypocrite, what about me?

The college had lost its enchantment after that. Life became dull and uninteresting. The affluent ignored me as I never existed. After three months, one late night, Amit was busted in a drugs case on the highway along with two other guys. He wasn’t under the influence; I didn’t doubt it. I went to
the police station wondering why he called me instead of a wealthy friend. When I reached, cops ushered me into a waiting room where he arrived handcuffed and carried an expression sans emotions. He told me, the parents of the other two immediately bailed them out, and now the cops accused him. His ‘friends’ mercilessly left him high and dry.

When I asked him if he was amassing wealth by doing this business, he paused and tried to hide his guilt by looking away. “He said he would acquit me for one lakh rupees,” Amit said, pointing towards a room in front of us, diverting the topic. “Remember when you told me about the fixed deposit? I need you to give me that.”

“I can’t do it,” I said firmly. I didn’t want to lie. I was furious and insulted. He wanted me for my money. He threw me away so that he would still live a lie, and now, he was begging me only because I knew his secret and could help him without damaging his double life. I assumed that he called no one from his circles fearing his true identity.

I continued to convince him, “I cannot give you the money, let alone for a bribe. But what I’ll do is get your mother here and we will figure out a way, legally.”

“No, don’t. I cannot afford to let her see me this way.” He spoke quickly.

“I am going to get your mother, and you will tell the truth tomorrow morning in court about those two friends of yours,” I repeated sternly.

“I can’t. No parent should be allowed to see their child punished.”

I was irritated to the core. “Stop this foolish magnanimity. Don’t feel great about yourself trying to help them.”

“I’m not.” He said emotionally, for the first time in the conversation.

“We are going to do what is right.” I did not look back this time.

I knew I was doing the right thing while he was misunderstanding this as a munificent bequest. On my way to his house, I wondered what made him decide to let go of the two shitheads. I felt he had no reason to do it except for the satisfaction of his benevolence. It was appalling to understand the lengths he was going to show off as the better person. Then a stronger and more motivated thought manifested. Was he doing it genuinely for the right reason? The emotion with which he rejected the idea to accuse those two was unadulterated. And then I wondered how he could be so selfless.

When his mother and I reached the police station, we were told that he was shifted to the nearest hospital. He hung himself in his cell. We immediately rushed to the hospital to find out he died.

When we left towards his house, after a tedious bit of drama and an elaborate legal formality, she narrated me with a multitude of emotions about his childhood, his likes, and dislikes. Every time she spoke I wanted to ask if she knew what he was doing or anything related to his adult and college life. The questions were hanging on the tip of my tongue, but I contained them forcefully. I told myself each time that it wasn’t the right moment. In actuality, however desperate I was to let his mother know that he was a fraud, I was afraid of learning that she knew it all along. The voice in my head said, “If he could successfully fool his mother, how hard is it to convince you? It isn’t your fault, and you are not a fool.” I wanted that to be true.

Amit’s mother, his Uncle and I were the only people attending the last rites. Her brother asked her to stay with him, and she agreed without hesitation. I stayed the night, and when I woke up, I saw her suddenly jump from her bed and rush towards his guitar which was in the same corner as earlier. She took it, dusted it and placed it back, smiling at it.

It was the first thought that came to her as she woke up. He was gone. And, soon, this bedroom, the house in whose eastern corner it sat, and the tiny garden outside with its gnarled old red hibiscus and the half-grown mango tree they had planted together, all those would be gone as well. It was the strangest feeling ever. I could feel it because I was feeling something similar.

I couldn’t sleep for days and even if I could rest my eyes a little bit; I visualized him hanging in my bedroom. When I was on my way with his mother to the police station, I was amazed by his selflessness. I thought he was trying to sacrifice himself for others’ happiness. Now I was shocked by his selfishness. He was only thinking about himself. He wanted to be the better person in the room.
What did he achieve? And, what about his mother? She had all hopes deposited in him, and he flung them right out unapologetically. I was confused between his love for his mother and the love for his fake life. If he had agreed to tell the truth about those two, he might have been released. Granted,
he would not be a part of the wealthy community anymore, but at least, he’d have a happy mother.
Did he love his fake identity more than his mother? Or did he love his mother so much that he did not want her to see him in such a situation? Both made no sense.

Years passed by, and I mingled with the society again. College was a turbulent past which I resolutely put away from my mind. But what lingered, was the desire to be accepted and to seek the attention of people. I found myself lying, gasconading, and showing off a phony persona when I wanted attention. Every time I tried to be someone else, my conscience would punch me in the gut and show Amit’s hanging body. The blows softened gradually, for I had convinced myself saying, ‘Everybody does it!’ ‘It’s not important; it’s a drop in the ocean.’ ‘I’m honest everywhere else.’

I was fooling myself to be accepted by the society. I was trying not to be myself so that the society would like me. If they did like me, it surely wasn’t me. Then what was I trying so hard for? If it wasn’t my original self which was accepted, what was the point? Why should I not be myself? I was the bigger hypocrite when in the evening after living a lot of lies I come home with the thought that everybody else is a hypocrite and lecture children to lead an honest life. I felt like I had lost my
personality or rather ignored it in the pursuit of societal acceptance and admiration. More often than not, I felt Amit wasn’t much different. Yes, I cannot live a complete fake life like Amit, but there will be situations where I want to be someone else. I hate the falseness in myself yet I embrace it
unwittingly. I hope that I’ll not try to pretend to be accepted or admired by the society because the one person I’ll be fooling more than anybody else would be me and that is outright stupid. I hope that I can change and live the way I am, both inside and outside. Life would surely be beautiful if I
knew exactly where to look. The ugly truth is I knew where to look all along- inside me.

Having said all that, I will still file my income tax returns without filing my rental revenues. Maybe that’s who I’m- a hypocrite.
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