My Friend Mani (Fin)

Continued from My Friend Mani

We went to Mani’s home next evening. We took chocolates and a couple of board games for his two children- a boy and a girl- who were the same age as our girls. For Shikha we took a length of dress material and a book on machine embroidery patterns. This was the first opportunity we had of repaying Mani for all he had spent on us. Moreover, a little salve never hurts.

Our first impression of her was unpleasant. She had a quarrelsome, pinched face. She looked at us with ill-disguised suspicion and hostility. The only word I can use to describe the house and the three occupants was SHABBY. The house was shabby… the woman wore shabby clothes… the kids wore faded and much repaired shabby clothes. They did not look like they were the family of a financially well-off man. It was obvious that they presented the sorry aspect deliberately to shame Mani.

The two children seemed much under their mother’s influence and sat subdued and quiet. Even the chocolates and games did not lighten their faces. It was the sight of those poor kids that made me want to shake that woman up until her teeth rattled in her head. I couldn’t imagine anyone that malevolent and vicious. Did she not see what her own prejudice towards Mani was doing to her children? Why was she poisoning their tender minds so?

Half an hour was all we could tolerate there. If Mani was the embodiment of the phrase Pleasing Personality, Shikha was the embodiment of the opposite. Ritu agreed with me. I promised myself that I would never try to patch things up between Mani and his wife. We didn’t get much of a chance anyway.

A week after our disastrous visit, I was offered a plum assignment in Australia. I was asked to join in fifteen days and stay there for the next four years. I would not have been able to wind up my affairs if Mani hadn’t helped me. He was miserable at the thought of losing the only family he had ever known. Twice he tried to dissuade me from going. When that didn’t work, he told me to go alone and not take the girls with me. He was brokenhearted when I couldn’t agree. We too were sad and the girls were inconsolable. But it was an awesome opportunity we didn’t want to miss.

We tried to keep in touch with Mani but it was very difficult. He was not internet savvy and we were too busy to write. One year later, I got an email from the friend at whose house we had met Mani. He told us that Mani and Shikha had finally got divorced. I can’t say I was sorry. In fact Ritu and I had wondered too why Mani was carrying on with Shikha. We had never said anything to Mani because an outsider can never understand the nature of the bond between a man and his woman. For whatever reason, if Mani wanted to continue in the relationship, we surely had no right to suggest that he terminate it.

We returned to India just two months ago. As soon as we settled down, we tried to contact Mani. We found no trace of him. He seemed to have disappeared into thin air. In desperation, I tried to find out where his wife and kids were. They too had disappeared.

Last week, while we were on a shopping trip, Ritu saw a new boutique and we both went in. We were shocked to see Shikha in the owner’s chair. Even more shocking was the change in her. She was well-dressed, cheerful and pleasant. There was no trace of the woman we had met. She recognized us and greeted us with quiet composure.

Her face had lost its pinched look. She smiled easily and looked confident and happy. In answer to our query, she told us that Mani had moved to Bangalore and was now living with his brother’s family. She insisted that we visit her home and have dinner with her. We were about to refuse when she told us there are things she needed to tell us. We agreed, not anticipating the shock we were to get.

Shikha’s home was a modest two bedroom flat. The kids came and greeted us. The change in them was as surprising as that in Shikha. They were no longer the ill at ease, fearful and subdued kids we had met. They looked as if they had never had a day of unhappiness in their lives. Ritu and I were bewildered. The three of them then began their tale.

Mani was a perpetrator of financial disasters. He was a leech who didn’t let go of his victim until the last drop had been sucked off his body. He knew financial planning like the back of his hand. When someone entrusted him with their money, they would find that Mani had helplessly and inefficiently let their money slip through his fingers. They never knew that it ended up in his pockets. He laid his plans so carefully that even the most exhaustive investigation only pointed to bad luck, nothing else.

His confident and charming manner managed to keep a steady trickle of victims flowing but it was getting difficult. Even when he made a killing, he never contributed to household expenses and splurged the money on himself- buying expensive clothes, shoes and electronic gadgets for his exclusive use. If they dared to touch any of his things, he would beat them. Yes, Mani beat his kids brutally- frequently with his belt! Ritu started to cry bitterly. Even I was devastated.

Mani’s household was run on the money Shikha managed to eke out from her sewing. Whenever he needed money to maintain a facade of a financially successful man, he sold off her jewelry. By the time they got divorced, nothing was left. What Shikha didn’t say in words was very obvious to both Ritu and I. Shikha too was Mani’s victim. He had sucked her dry like all the rest. He spat her out when she had nothing left to give.

He would often beat Shikha and the kids and take their school fees off her because he wanted money to impress a new victim he was fattening. I cringed with shame when I realized that it was her blood and sweat money with which Mani had bought goodies for my girls.

The man who was the first one to rush to the assistance of a friend in a medical emergency, refused to take his own daughter to the hospital when she became the victim of a hit-and-run. While the child’s treatment was going on and Shikha was running from pillar to post looking for blood donors, Mani disappeared. She decided that day; she would divorce him.

According to Shikha, we were saved because we left town suddenly. Mani was not able to execute his plan to milk me. She knew his modus operandi well and desperately wanted to warn us when we had visited them the first time. But neither she nor the kids dared open their mouths or he would have beaten them all later.

It was after she got a divorce that her nightmare seemed to get over. She applied for a loan with the help of a friend and set up her own boutique. She had created a good clientele while she worked from home. Her boutique took off within months of inauguration. We had noticed in the boutique that Shikha was flooded with orders. She directed her tailors with an expertise that showed how well she knew her job. When her eyes rested on her children, we saw a look of pride and quiet repose on her face.

I promised to tell the story truthfully; the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We didn’t want to believe Shikha’s story. We clung to our own ideas about Mani. We fired burning questions at her. At one point in the ‘discussion’ I also, I am ashamed to admit, I told her that it was convenient for her to say all this because Mani wasn’t there to defend himself.

She replied patiently. She answered our rude questions accusations with patience and composure. She gave us the names of two of Mani’s previous victims to confirm her story from. She invited us to investigate for ourselves and find out Mani’s truth.

Slowly, we began to realize that she wasn’t lying. Her words rang with sincerity; her manner was quiet even in the face of our  disbelief. We couldn’t ignore the fact that her sole desire seemed to be to clear the bad impression Mani had given us of her, nothing else. She wanted nothing from us; she had no axe to grind either way- whether we believed her or not. We had to believe her.

If I had a tattoo of a 3D mosquito, I’d occasionally slap it, just to make sure a real and cunning mosquito wasn’t camouflaged there as cover to drink my blood with impunity.

~ Jarod Kintz

The incident taught us a big lesson. We were honest enough to admit that a charming and attractive man with excellent people skills had clouded our judgment. We couldn’t see the trap he had laid for us through his lies and insincerity because he spoke them so winningly. What was unforgivable was that we believed the lies of that charmer and looked askance at Shikha!

Our evaluation of her was based a lot on the way she came across. We never stopped to think even for a moment how incredulous Mani’s complaints were. We even refuted the evidence presented to our eyes. The reason was only this- the man with a charming personality had bewitched us. The shallowness of our evaluating criterion could have brought us to nothing but this gross error of judgment.

Wasn’t he a winsome character, my friend Mani?


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My Friend Mani (Fin)

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31 thoughts on “My Friend Mani (Fin)”

  1. Pingback: My Friend Mani | Serenely Rapt

  2. So I was right. Your words in this post described Mani in such a manner that if I could get hold of him I would have killed him. There definitely are such people roaming around us and it is very difficult to not fall into their trap.

    1. Rekha, This story is modeled on someone I know once. And the way that man behaved with his wife and kids has been exactly copied for Mani. Only, his poor wife is still living with him though his kids are grown up now and have left home.

      I’d happily kill him too.

  3. The facade and the reality. Rightly or wrongly, I never really trust anyone readily when they talk easily of emotions. My experience has been that genuine emotion tends to be inarticulate – except in the movies.

    Though, to be sure, it need not necessarily mask such villainy. I really wonder at such people. Are they so poverty-ridden in mind that they would rather be certain of evoking fear in those around them, as the only means to ensuring that it is not indifference? Seems like a lot of sorry excuses of humanity surround us – people who either have no hope of being loved/liked OR people who have the warped notion that fear and hatred are more valuable than affection and love OR, God Forbid, people who have no notion that there is any difference between fear and respect.

    Well-narrated, Dagny!

    1. Suresh,

      I’m not surprised you wonder about this. I wonder too. What kind of an upbringing do they have, people like Mani? What warps their mind quite so badly? How come they remain so… clueless? Can you imagine the ‘dis’ease of their inner world?

      Thank you for the wonderful comment Suresh. It is a pleasure to exchange thoughts with you… always. 🙂

  4. Hmmmm….. That’s an I-thought-so hmmm. Yeah people who appear ‘all good’ are truly not to be trusted. A tiny bit of a character quirk often proves that the person is genuine. I feel horrible for the real-life Mani’s wife. Wish her kids would have helped her out.

    1. You are right Tulika. But we get taken by such people sometimes. The real Mani’s wife had her own coping mechanisms. Her kids just flew the nest… no looking back. Which is a lot more tragic than all the rest. 🙁

  5. LOL! I am sorry, I can’t help but laugh. I know a few such Mani’s and your description describes all of them aptly 🙂 There are never people without a hidden agenda. Most of them anyway 🙂 Me – I have none! 😛 (Or so I say!)

  6. Well, Mani was of course too good to be true. I am generally quite skeptical of people who are extra extra nice towards others. It just can’t be 🙂 Thank God, I haven’t had a chance to meet someone like Mani yet. And hope I never will. But seriously, one has to marvel at the skill of such people who can hide their true colours so well and make a fool of innocent believers.
    Interesting that you titled the story “My Friend Mani”, even though you knew how it will end 🙂

    1. I named it like that because I wanted to give the impression that the protagonist Raman was mocking himself for ever having considered Mani a friend. I wanted to give a feel of his rage with himself for getting duped by a con artiste. 🙂

  7. I am wary of extra-nice people and a small shadow of doubt had crept reading the earlier part. People like Mani are sick in their mind and there is no potion to cure this ailment. His wife er his ex-wife changed in demeanour after their parting. May she and the kids live in peace.A very fine narration Dagny.

    1. Thank you Kalpana. You are right, there is no cure for this sickness. One wonders what their world- view is, what kind of experiences they’ve had to be so tunnel-visioned. It is sad really…

  8. Wow, that was quite some story, and that is quite a character behind the nice guy image that Mani portrayed. Although I am yet to meet such a person myself, I have heard enough of con artists like this, although none who were cruel to their wives and children as well, like Mani is.

    1. Yes, I guess Mani went a few steps beyond what a normal con artist goes. It makes you wonder where they come from, these terrible people.

      Thanks for reading Jai…! 🙂

  9. What I am glad is that the truth came out. Cause I have seen such lonely souls suffer in silence cause of such ruthless beings.

    Good narration, and I sure do hope this is fiction and such creatures did not actually come across in your life.

    1. Ruchira, It is fiction but Mani’s character was modeled on someone I have known myself. He was a very, very charming man. But such a cad!

      Thank you for coming by…! 🙂

  10. I thought something was wrong somewhere…thought was true story…need to be very careful with what kind of people we meet and what their motives are..these days, you can never easily trust someone.

    1. The story is not true Prudhvi, the characterization is modeled on a real person. And yes, we need to be careful. We must never ever draw conclusions until we’ve heard both sides of a story. No matter how believable a person sounds, the other side always has a different view-point.

      Thank you for reading this. 🙂

  11. When a stranger tries to get so close to a family, visits them almost everyday, its reason enough to draw a line and stay away away…. i personally feel that be it family or friends, a balance should always be struck, never let anyone cross the line with you…. this story is a perfectly example of how we should be cautious in life.. nice one Dagny!

    1. Thank you very much Seeta. As you said, when people come too close too quickly, prudence is surely advised. 🙂

  12. Wow!! What a twist in the tale! I must confess that someone visiting a family everyday was too much for me, but I didn’t see this ending coming!

  13. You have filed it with a ‘story’ tag and it was well narrated. It sounds so familiar and that is what is so sad and strange about this story, almost with a moral. We have all had our share of Mani’s in life.

  14. Ah Dagny! I got suspicious of Mani in the last installment. You are right. If sometimes people seem too good to be true then they often are. There are many such people around us who have ulterior motives, their pretty smiles and even prettier words notwithstanding. I think the only way to protect ourselves is to sever all contact with such people to avoid getting hurt. That is what I normally do. Part ways and keep it that way. Of course, what I would like to do to them is another matter altogether :D.

    1. Your last line made me grin. How like me you are! 😀

      People like us have always been called rude because we refuse to waste our time with people who add no ‘value’ to us in any way. We are called judgmental and arrogant.

      But people like us are okay with it, aren’t we? 😀

      1. Totally, Dagny! I have been called rude, fake, two-faced and worse especially by ignorant souls who really know nothing about who I am. More often than not it elicits smiles from me because i know that someday they may realize how stupid they are and then will feel like kicking themselves :). Yes, I am rude to people who deserve it. I have no qualms in admitting that. Like we say in Hindi — poori duniya mein achchayee ka theka sirf maine thodi hee liya hai :).

        Absolutely okay to your last question :D.

        1. Like you, I too have been called all manner of things- and never given a damn. I do wonder though. How do they expect us to give credence to their unsupported accusations? How stupid do they think we are? 😀

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