UTK headquarters was adjacent to City Centre in Radhakrishnan Salai. It was a three storey building. Rathinam, Durai, Tamilselvi and other senior party functionaries sat in the 2nd floor. First floor consisted of administrative and accounts offices and small conference rooms. Ground floor was an auditorium which was used for party functions. It was also let out on occasions for rent for social functions.
When Murugesan reached the party quarters, it was around 7.15 pm and the parking lot was full. When he reached the auditorium, he saw Rathinam’s family seated in the dais.
Rathinam, Kamathci, Tamilselvi,Chandran, Meera….Durai was missing. The visitors were going one by one to the dais to wish Rathinam a happy birthday as well as to get his blessing. A huge cake was kept in the right hand side of the dais. Murugesan had read in the morning paper that the cake weighed 75 kgs to mark the 75th birth anniversary.
When Murugesan’s turn came, he wished Rathinam and prostrated before him to seek his blessings. As he got up, he heard Rathinam asking Meera
“Where is Durai? It is 8 o’clock. How long do we wait? It’s time to cut the cake.”
Meera said that she had been trying to call Durai for the past one hour and his mobile had been switched off. Murugesan hesitated for a few moments before leaving. Rathinam noticed his hesitation and asked him what the matter was.
Murugesan was not sure whether to tell them what he had seen in the airport.
Rathinam insisted. “What is the matter, Murugesan?”
“Sir….I …saw Durai in the airport…he was picking up….Vidya….the journalist….and they were driving out of the city…..”He whispered.
A grim silence fell on the family members.
“Where are you taking me?” demanded Vidya.
“Why are you so upset?”
Durai turned left and took the Vijayanagaram-Pallikkaranai road to OMR.
“For heaven’s sake….where are we going?”
“Yes…just a drive. We’ll have dinner there and return. I guarantee that there will be no outrage on your modesty….”
She laughed. He also joined.
After a pause, Durai started talking.
“I thought this election will be one on principles, on performance….How TDK mismanaged the State…How UTK can take it on the right course…It will be an opportunity to patch the dent on the party’s image….to rebuild its credibility…..”
“You are frustrated with the freebies that UTK has promised, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am. Is it not a legitimate frustration?”
“It is…But how would you otherwise handle the challenge thrown by TDK?”
“You’re talking like my father….I didn’t expect this from you.”
She placed her hand on his left hand which was on the gear and gave a gentle squeeze. “I understand, Durai….In fact as journalists we have been condemning this bad economic policy….I am proud that in spite of being a politician, you are able to think straight on this issue….But just imagine what would have happened if you had pursued this high moral stand. Media would have appreciated you. But you would have lost the people. They had faith in you. They were disenchanted with TDK. But the freebies would have forced them to vote for TDK. You would have failed to convert the goodwill of the people into votes. The State’s economy anyway would be ruined- either with TDK’s freebies or with your freebies. It is better that it is ruined with your freebies because you at least want to give good governance on all other issues…..”
“But how could you make this kind of compromise?”
“Durai, who does not make compromise? Remember the minority appeasement speech you gave in Thalakudi. Was it not a compromise? You chose Srirangam for commencing you campaign. Was it not a compromise?”
“But you are comparing those trivial issues with this….!”
“I agree. I just wanted to point out that the difference is only in degree, not in kind. The limited relevance of these freebies is that it has stopped TDK from retaining power. Period.”
“I am worried that this is just a beginning of a series of compromises….The vanity I see in my sister’s eyes worries me….”
Senthil was at the UTK headquarters with the Chennai reporter of India Times to cover the birthday celebrations. Murugesan spotted him as he was getting down from the dais.
“Hello Senthil…how are you? Looks like your boss is also in Chennai….”
“Vidya…I saw her in the airport. She is going places…”
“What do you mean?”
“Durai was in the airport to pick her up. Can you believe it?”
‘Vidya with Durai….and Durai was skipping his father’s birthday bash for her..’ Senthil was not very happy with the information.
A reporter of a Tamil newspaper who was standing behind Senthil overheard their conversation.