Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 9
Continued from “Threshold of Temptation”
Sinking into the sofa on reaching home, Roopa closed her eyes as if to eliminate the environs, and began to focus her thoughts on the object of her agitation. ‘This is yours by right,’ she recalled Ravi’s words as she felt for the pearl on her breast. Finding it in the left cup, she retrieved it like a treasure and posited it on her palm in adoration. Then gazing at it lovingly, she recalled his complement, ‘In terms of money it costs next to nothing, but it symbolizes beauty at its very best, seen through a connoisseur’s eyes.’
‘Those were the words of a confident man who is handsome as well,’ she thought endearingly. ‘How his eyes glowed the moment they fell on me! Didn’t his demeanor evidence the conviction his compliment carried.’ While the alluring praise endeared the pearl to her receptive mind, her innate vanity was catered to by the accomplishments of the man who presented it thus. She bowed her head, as though in reverence to it, and kissing the thing with affection, she held it by her lips while reclining like the reigning queen.
‘What he should’ve thought of me, for accepting it?’ as it occurred to her at length, she recoiled at that. ‘Haven’t I given him scope for hope? Oh yes, I did.’ It was only time before she was distressed that she had compromised her honor, and terrified, she dropped the pearl. ‘That’s why he stressed that we meet again. Oh, why did I allow him to take me for granted?’ She felt ashamed. As she got vexed with herself, she resented the very thought of him.
It’s the character of man woman chemistry that feminine tendencies catalyze male proclivities. Carried away by the euphoria of her coquetry, man begins to woo woman with hope. With her vanity thus addressed by his advances, she turns flirtatious, furthering his passion for her possession. In the excitement of the moment, should he transgress the threshold of her sensitivity, fearing she had compromised her honor, she sinks in shame. Thereafter, she withdraws from him to brood over her infirmity, and in the end, as though to atone for her moment of weakness, she cold-shoulders him altogether, making him wonder what went wrong in the midst of his conquest.
Picking up the pearl from her lap, she flung it through the window as though to sever her humiliation. ‘It must be his device to entice women,’ she cursed herself for having given a poor account of herself to him. ‘Why did I fail to fling the thing at him, then and there? Had I done that, it would have given him the real measure of my true worth. Instead of showing him his place, I gave him cause to think in terms of conquest. What a shame! But why did I allow myself to get carried away? Surely he would have taken me for a flirt or a slut even for all that. Oh, how I compromised myself.’
As she was smarting under her perceived humiliation, it occurred to her shock that Tara was a witness to all that. And that pulled her even more. ‘What might she have thought of me? Won’t she take me to be a flirt? What a disaster that a fellow woman should be privy to my waywardness. How can I face her ever?’
‘For all I know, he could be her convenient cousin,’ as her thoughts insensibly turned to Tara’s relationship with the visitor, Roopa’s bitterness began to wane, ‘They seem to be on familiar terms after all. Her disheveled look and the time she took to open the door, that too in lingerie! Didn’t that give her up? It’s obvious that they were in the thick of it when I went there. Of course, her furtive glance at that Impala was a kiss and tell, wasn’t it? Obviously, he’s her paramour, oh, Tara!’
As the possibility of Tara’s infidelity inexplicably brought tranquility to Roopa’s mind, she began to review her own views about Tara. ‘It’s her affair any way, but what should be my stance? She appears to be good-natured and there is Yadamma’s word for that. Maybe, she has her own compulsions to take a lover, and why should it bother others, save her husband. Won’t he be in the know of it, after all?’
While the idea induced curiosity in her, Roopa tried to apply her mind to it, ‘Why, they seem to be making use of his nuptial bed for their illicit sex. Who knows, her man might be ignoring her whoring though privy to her peccadilloes. Maybe, that’s the compromise Tara was hinting at.’
‘Where would her friendship lead me to?’ thought Roopa trying to take stock of the situation. ‘Won’t Tara try to mould me into her fold, for company? Hasn’t she dropped enough hints already at that? Is it possible that I may as well be tempted in her infectious acquaintance? But am I hankering for any thrills by the frills? No, never! Am I not clear about that! Well, I’m not up for grabs for some playboy like this Ravi. Temptations may come and go but surely I would stick to my goal. Let there be no mistaking that.’
‘But how to go about with Tara?’ she thought at length. ‘Well, she is refreshingly intelligent and ineffably attractive and I have come to enjoy company, have I not? What sense does it make to forsake the pleasure of her friendship when I’m steadfast in my resolve? But, can I avoid the peril that Tara poses? Why not I take it as a challenge for the true test of fidelity is coming up trumps in the face of temptation by a seducer, let my craving is for romancing with that elusive he-man of my dreams and not to lust as the mistress of some moneyed. That’s for sure.’
However, baffled by her own sympathy and understanding for Tara in spite of her questionable character, she thought, ‘one is supposed to be critical in these matters, isn’t it?’ She was still lost in her reverie when Sathyam came home in the evening. As the sight of him brought back Ravi into her mental focus, her perceived humiliation at the hands of the trespasser made her feel disdainful about her man.
‘Are you ill?’ enquired Sathyam anxiously, seeing her distraught.
‘I have a headache.’
‘Wait,’ he moved into the kitchen, ‘I’ll make some coffee for you.’
‘Don’t bother,’ she followed him.
Aided by her resolve to bury the past, Roopa soon enough got over that nightmarish experience.
Roopa was daydreaming about Sandhya’s amour, that afternoon, when Tara came calling evoking mixed feelings in her - while her presence irked Roopa for its association with her humiliation, her persona tickled her own visualization of lesbianism with her.
‘Ravi is all praise for you,’ said Tara at length, with an eye for Roopa’s reaction.
Having noticed a subtle change of expression in Roopa’s face, the result of her effort to be indifferent, Tara continued, ‘He swore that he didn’t come across a more charming woman than you.’
‘Would you mind,’ Roopa changed the topic, ‘some tea for us now.’
‘Why not we have it later,’ said Tara not wanting to lose the momentum, ‘if you please.’
‘When are your kids back from school?’
‘Around four,’ said Tara eager to get over the nice talk.
‘Yadamma says they’re lovely,’ said Roopa, ‘like you.’
‘Why not you see for yourself?’ said Tara laying the trap. ‘Shall I send them to you?’
‘No, thanks,’ Roopa was forced to say, ‘I’d come sometime.’
‘Welcome,’ said Tara, ‘but just out of curiosity, are you thinking of taking up a job?’
‘Frankly,’ said Roopa, ‘I don’t hold a degree.’
‘Impressed as he’s with you,’ Tara began tentatively, ‘Ravi is keen to have you as his personal secretary, and the salary shouldn’t be a constraint, that’s what he said.’
‘Thank you,’ said Roopa, ‘but I’m not for it.’
‘I think,’ said Tara in her attempt to lure Roopa, ‘it’s too good an opportunity to let go. I tell you his business is growing by leaps and bounds, so you can take your advancement for granted.’
‘I told you,’ said Roopa to dissuade Tara, ‘I’m not a graduate.’
‘With your assets and abilities,’ said Tara not giving up, ‘that shouldn’t be a handicap. Frankly, any boss would consider himself fortunate to have you under his wings and it should be smooth sailing all the way up.’
‘It’s true that I’m not experienced in life,’ said Roopa as though to bring that to an end. ‘Just the same, I guess his offer won’t further my idea of life. I’m sure, we can find many meeting points to keep meeting.’
‘I respect your feelings,’ said Tara resignedly, ‘and would love to keep holding your hand of friendship. You can count me as a well-wisher.’
Then the conversation then turned general, and Tara left after quite a while, leaving Roopa to ponder over her double life. At length, pleased with herself for having resisted the seducer as well as the seductress, Roopa felt vindicated. But she was unmindful of the fact that in overcoming the temptation, she allowed her resolve for fidelity to get dented.
Feeling lazy that spring day, Sathyam bunked office, and as was her wont, Roopa went out to pick up some book from the library to the refrain of the librarian that ‘Madam does justice to her subscription’.
When she came back, she found Sathyam reading a letter that she thought was from her in-laws.
‘How’s everyone?’ enquired Roopa.
‘It’s from Chandrika,’ he said, having read it by then.
As he gave it to her, she went through that expectantly.
My dear Roopa,
I hope this letter finds you and my brother-in-law in fine spirits.
We got married this morning at the Registrar’s Office. Only our parents as well as his were present as witnesses. We both missed you to say the least. As you know, if not for your accommodation, we would not have made it at all. However, I did not insist on your presence, as it would be embarrassing to you in your in-laws’ house.
The first thing I am doing after reaching home is to pen down my gratitude to you. Whatever happiness life affords me from now on, I know that I owe it to you.
We will be leaving for Madras next week as he got a job there. After going there, I will try to find a placement for me.
Meanwhile with love,
PS: Sandhya called on us yesterday and says she misses you as ever.
‘I think,’ said Roopa softly, as she folded the letter, ‘you should’ve left it unread for me.’
‘I thought,’ he said, taking offence to her statement, ‘there may not be any secrets between spouses,’ which she took it as a taunt, given the nature of the news the letter contained.
‘It’s not about secrets but about courtesies,’ she said coolly. ‘Moreover, it’s not my secret either. Just the same, you shouldn’t have read my letter.’
‘Don’t teach me manners,’ he tried to defend himself, aggressively though. ‘I don’t see anything wrong with it. As your husband, I feel I’ve every right to know about your affairs.’
‘I don’t think,’ she said coolly, ‘that by being your wife, I have lost my identity. I hope you would respect my feelings in future.’
‘Are you suggesting,’ he said volubly, ‘that I am an insensitive character?’
‘I stated a fact,’ she said vexed herself. ‘No more, no less.’
‘Maybe,’ he said provocatively, ‘you’re afraid that I would catch more of the skeletons as they fall.’
It’s a behavioral pattern with many, in that having committed an indiscretion in the first place; they tend to assume an aggressive posture to provoke an argument, as though to obliterate the origins of their misdemeanor that led to the ordeal.
‘It’s not fair,’ she said trying to be composed.
‘Oh! You talk about fairness,’ he raised his voice. ‘Now I know why you were married off in such haste, dropping you from the college mid-course and all that.’
‘Well,’ she said defiantly, ‘there is Ramu’s parallel, isn’t it?’
‘His affairs,’ he mouthed words for an argument, ‘won’t affect us but your sister’s would.’
‘If that worries you,’ she said tersely as she went into the kitchen, ‘you’re free to divorce me.’
The unexpected turn of events shocked Sathyam, and he realized that it was all of his own making. He thought of apologizing but his pride came in the way of compromising with his wife. As a way out of his predicament, he went out, as though to give her time to cool down.
When he came back, he found food was laid on the table but saw Roopa lying in the bed.
‘Oh, come,’ he said going unto her, ‘let’s have dinner.’
‘I’ve no stomach for food now.’
‘Without your eating,’ he said, sitting beside her, ‘do you think I would fill my belly?’
She got up without a word, and he followed her to the table. After that silent dinner, seeing her make a bed for herself in the hall, he said persuasively, ‘Let’s forget about it.’ As she didn’t respond, he repeated himself, if only more earnestly.
‘Maybe,’ she said preparing to lay her makeshift bed, ‘it’s easy for you.’
‘I am sorry,’ he said sitting by her side.
‘By now I know,’ she said pushing him aside, ‘your sorriness is meant only to obtain bedtime favors.’
‘It’s not the case,’ he pleaded, ‘I am really sorry.’
‘Last time too you said the same thing,’ she reminded him. ‘How am I to know that you’ve mended yourself?’
‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating, isn’t it?’ he said submissively. ‘Henceforth you would find me enslaved to my queen of hearts.’
‘Promise me,’ she stretched her hand with the palm outstretched, ‘that you would never hurt me.’
‘I, Sathyam, the once obedient son of Pathrudugaru,’ he said taking her hand, ‘and now the devoted husband of Roopa Devi, solemnly affirm not to hurt my better half in any manner whatsoever and etc.’
‘If only you were to hurt me again,’ she said as though she were cautioning him while he pulled her into his arms to affect her surrender, ‘you can write me off forever.’
‘Could I ever forgo your favors?’ he said as she coyly sank into his embrace. In surrendering herself thus, she ensured his surrender forever.
It’s the irony of woman’s life in that she tends to turn her assets to her own detriment in that while her psyche seeks to see her man strong; her instinct tries to weaken him.
Continued to “Sandhya’s Sojourn”