Continued from “Turn at the Bend”
Chapter 8, Book Two – ‘Dharma and Moksha’ of Jewel-less Crown: Saga of Life
Next morning, when the creeping hot rays woke up Suresh, he opened the door to thank the sun for the wake-up call. But, finding Vidya loitering in the lawn, he felt embarrassed. When he apologized profusely, she smiled her pardon in all sweetness. Ascertaining his preference for tea over coffee, she went to fetch him some steaming Laoji carrying the picture of him in his kurta and pajamas. And he couldn’t but help glue his eyes on her leggy frame accentuated by its shapely bottom.
When she went out of his view, supplanting his admiration, the scenario of Shanti Sadan invited his attention. Getting a full measure of the sprawling facility in that golden backdrop, he thought that the ashram-like architecture gave it the look of a model village.
“You seem mesmerized,” she said as she reappeared with a thermos flask.
“It’s amazing,” as he said, so he conveyed the feeling with his eyes as well.
“I’m gratified,” she said with a feeling that suggested that she understood his feeling, conveyed through his body language
“Why burden me further?” she said going into his room.
“Do you think I would ever do that?” he said following her into the room. “I was just off-loading a little of mine.”
“Let’s go to the Lord for mutual relief,” she said serving him some tea.
“Give me half an hour.”
“What I grant,” she said smilingly, “is but twenty-nine.”
“Thank you,” he said, “it makes it easier by a minute.”
“I didn’t get you.”
“Why,” he said sounding casual, “won’t that make us meet one minute early?”
“You are interesting really,” she smiled as she left with the Thermos.
Returning in a maroon Kanchi silk sari, she found him rearing to go. As she apologized for failing to meet the deadline, for a penalty, he suggested a round around the compound.
“Why not suspend the sentence till you get a like punishment from me?” she said with a smile. “Then we can make the round together.”
“Well, in that case,” he said smiling. “I won’t mind annoying you.”
“So, here we go,” she said leading the way.
When they reached Shanti’s bronze, he gazed at it and thanked her for her empathy for him. As they went round the premises, he complimented her for her professionalism and congratulated her for the upkeep of the place.
As they headed towards the Satyanarayana Swami’s temple, they soon found themselves on the main road. Noticing that they were attracting the attention of all, he tried to distance himself to spare her the embarrassment. At that, she increased her pace to make a statement. But, when they reached the rocky staircase to the Lord’s abode, he fell behind on purpose, and she too didn’t seem to mind.
When in the end, they joined the queue to the sanctum sanctorum, the devotees around mistook them for newlyweds. When they reached the deity for darshan, the pujari too invoked the blessings of the Lord as he would for a married couple. Pleased by the faux pas, they both prayed to the Lord for vetting the pujari’s invocation. Later, they picked up the prasadam and had it for their breakfast in seclusion.
“I’ve never tasted anything better before,” he said, savoring the sweetish wheat preparation.
“It’s believed that the life of those who have it would be uniquely sweet,” she invented a legend as an expedient.
“I shall have more of it then,” he mocked greediness.
“I don’t think,” she said mischievously, “it’s the partnership spirit.”
“You’re an interesting company.”
“It all depends,” she said coyly, “on the company.”
He wondered whether her allusion was about the Lord or him, and dared not hope in spite of her apparent courting.
“You made me realize,” he said, “I need a friend like you.”
“Why, haven’t you got one?”
“You know how hard life has been on me,” he said, “and now hope itself is beyond hope for me.”
“Why live in the past when the present is inviting,” she said alluding to the pujari’s faux pas. “Didn’t the Lord bless you to rebuild your life?”
“Tell me honestly,” he said pointedly, as he could hold no more. “Can you forget my past?”
“Well, didn’t I forget mine?” she said, as she felt hesitant to be forthright in her reply.
“What is your story,” he said tentatively, “if you can tell me?”
“If I won’t tell you, to who else will I?” she said having developed second thoughts about the deviousness of her evasive talk.
“I would like to hear,” he said with a strange sense of relief, “now and here.”
Making him feel at ease with her empathic gaze, she proceeded to narrate her tale of predicament and its aftermath.
“That’s the spirit really,” he said in admiration.
“What is it compared to yours?” she said augmenting her statement with facial expression. “Isn’t your life remarkable in every way?”
“Thanks for your high opinion on my low life,” he blurted out in spite of himself.
“Oh, don’t say that,” she took his hand instinctively.
“Thank you,” he said in gratitude, and added in hope, “but, why haven’t you made good of your great escape!”
“By marrying, you mean,” she said coyly.
He nodded his head as much to convey his agreement as to indicate his own mind.
“I lost myself in work,” she said in all earnestness, and added after a pause, “Who can understand that better than you?”
“I know,” he said reminiscently.
“Besides,” she said as though to tempt him, “I hadn’t met a tempting one.”
“Is it my gain?” he felt like saying, but thought it would be too forthright for her comfort. And for want of a better response, he just looked at her in adoration.
“How am I to know, guruji too never broached the topic,” she said in a way that sounded he might as well take up the issue with his father.
“Whatever, you’re wonderful,” he said unable to hide his admiration for her.
“Do you know,” she said as her gaze matched the ambience of his mood, “I’ve been your fan for long?”
In that euphoria of their emotion, as mere words would be superfluous, he impulsively extended his hand to her. Seemingly holding the same view, she grabbed it and pressed it as though to put all her love into it and as his gratitude got the upper hand, he cupped hers in all tenderness. At that, she made it square inducing tears of oneness in their eyes. Even as their tears trickled down to their clasp to cement their fellow feeling, they shed more of them for the same reason.
When they realized that they were attracting undue attention, they were constrained to release their hands while still holding each other’s eyes. And as the prasadam they partook expended itself to energize their interaction, they got up to go to Shanti Sadan for rejuvenation. On the way back, goading her to keep pace with him, he raced down the steps as though to announce his new-found joy to the world at large.
After their meal, while she left to attend to her pending work, feeling idyllic, he idled in bed until his tiredness invited sleep for relief. Waking up fresh after a while, he freshened himself and reached the mess for some refreshments. Sipping some tea, he chatted with the chef who gave a great account of Vidya. As her praises of his beloved boosted his own ego, he was pleased with the state of affairs so soon after his release.
‘Oh, how Vidya makes it easy for me by dispelling my fears,’ he went into contemplation. ‘She’s all empathy for me, but is she in love with me? But what of her body language, won’t it convey her longing for me? And isn’t the ardor of her love so transparent in her eyes? Would she accept, if I propose?’
As the question of his proposing to her raised doubts afresh in his mind, he went back to square one in the tantalizing game of ‘hide and seek’ of love.
‘Am I mistaking her pity for empathy?’ he began wondering. ‘Am I misreading her admiration for my dourness as an admission of her weakness for me? Am I not taking her for granted?’
Thus feeling low, he was feeling sad when Vidya came greeting him spiritedly.
“I thought you won’t be up so soon,” she said.
“The aroma of the tea woke me up,” he said pointing at the teacup.
“I was a little tired,” she said though joyously. “After all, I had kept pace with you.”
As her infectious vivacity made him hopeful in spite of his melancholy, he said, alluding to the saptapadi, ‘Don’t they say walking a few steps together would demonstrate solidarity?’
“Seven to be precise, isn’t it?” she said as she sat opposite. “What about some coffee with me?”
“I find tea here like they serve in the North,” he said. “I will have more of it.”
‘The sooner you love coffee, the better it is for us,’ she said, alluding to the prospect of her setting up an Andhra kitchen in his Delhi home.
“Why not, if only you serve me?” he said picturing their future.
“Won't I deem it my duty?”
“That’s appetizing!” having said in hope, he soon sank into doubt.
“What happened to you?” she enquired concernedly.
“Don’t worry, it will come to pass,” he said melancholically, helping himself with the tea that was served in the meantime.
“Come, I’ll show you my place,” she said wanting to divert him from his gloom.
“I would love to,” he said as he got up, “knowing that it would be elegant.”
“Thanks for the advance compliment!” she extended her hand.
“Guide me then,” he said, grabbing it.
As she showed her modest tenement, she reminded him that she owed it to him in every way.
“Don’t you know that gratitude is burdensome?” he said, as if cracked by the last straw on his burdensome back.
“I’m sorry,” she said taking his hand. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, pressing her hand warmly, “I made you feel sorry.”
“I would like to dance for us,” she said to help relieve his bitterness.
“I thought of asking you myself.”
“What stopped you then?”
“I thought it might sound familiar,” he said tentatively.
“You’ve hurt me really,” she said mockingly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said, as if to underscore that their predicament was the same.
“I’m sorry I made you feel sorry,” she said as though to show how they spoke the same language.
“Why not we erase sorry from our mental dictionaries?” he said in hope
“Don’t we have to put our minds together for that?” she said, smiling.
While she was readying herself to get into the arena, he goaded her with his admiring gaze. When she pulled the fall of her sari to accommodate her payals, he fell for her lovely feet that came into his view. Admiring their taper, as he felt like showering them with kisses, she part-pulled her sari to tuck it at her waist, inviting his eyes to rivet on her exposed legs. Enthused by his enamor as she tightened the pallu over her chest, her breasts made their presence felt in their robust form to distract his attention. But to rein in her bosom, as if it turned wild by his ogling, when she tucked the pallu too, at her navel, her lissome frame showed its hourglass shape.
Sensing that he was charmed by her charms, as she prolonged his pleasure by toying with herself a little longer, he found himself savoring her every nuance in his mesmeric stare, prompting her to dance at her artistic best to the delight of them both. While the sensuous mudras appealed to his romanticism, her sensual movements sharpened his passion to possess her voluptuous frame. As his desire galloped, she reached the crescendo.
“It’s transporting,” he said, as she was untying the payals.
“Thanks, but it would be better on stage with the accompaniments.” she sounded apologetic as though she couldn’t give him her best.
“How I wish I’m a part of that.”
“Why not you sing and see me dancing to your tune,” she said turning naughty.
“What if I induce missteps?” he said probingly.
“What makes you think so?”
“If we get into that discussion,” he said resignedly, suddenly seized by despair, “it may lead us nowhere.”
“Surely guruji would show us the way,” she more than suggested the solution to his predicament.
“Whoever said man shouldn’t go by woman’s words is a moron,” he got up in excitement. “Let me go to him right now.”
“I’ll follow in your footsteps,” she said, all pleased.
When Suresh raced to Vanaprastham, he found his father waiting for him.
“How do you like your Shanti Sadan?” guruji greeted him warmly. “Hope we’ve come up to your expectations.”
“It’s out of the world to say the least,” said Suresh excitedly. “I wouldn’t have thought of any better.”
“It’s Vidya’s show all the way.”
“She's great really,” said Suresh. “We can leave all to her.”
“That's true,” said guruji, “but what about you?”
“I know,” said Suresh, “you know the best.”
“If you haven’t given your word to any,” said guruji heartily, “I’ve someone in my mind for you.”
“If it’s Vidya,” said Suresh as if he was pleading that she be made his wife, “it would be a windfall for me.”
“I was rather keen on her from the beginning.”
“But will she agree?” said Suresh, but his eagerness was not lost on the guruji.
“I will find out readily,” said guruji with an air of expectation. “I better send for her.”
“She’s expected here anyway,” said Suresh and instinctively looked out and said. “Here she is!”
“Wait in the library,” said Gautam having welcomed Vidya.
Sitting restlessly in that seat of learning, Suresh was nervous with expectation. Soon, unable to bear the suspense, he felt like eavesdropping on their conversation. But, as his sense of decency resisted his instinct from venturing, he was gripped with expectation. But when he sighted her stepping out of his father’s parnasala, as his fears resurfaced, his heart sank. Seeing her advance towards him, beset by doubts, he looked the other way. However, as she came up to him, he lowered his head as though it got heavier by his fears.
“Guruji wants us both,” she said, putting it all succinctly.
“Thank you,” he sighed in relief.
“Yours truly,” she said coyly, signing off his letter of anxiety.
“Why not a pinch for a proof?” he sought her hand.
“Mind we’re at Vanaprastham,” she said moving away.
“Tell me how my fate was decided at my back,” he said, as they walked towards guruji’s parnasala. “I love to hear that.”
“I wish you put your love for better use.”
“What a romantic chiding?” he said moving closer to her.
“Let me concede being flattered,” she said smilingly. “Guruji told me that he always felt we were made for each other. Seems he was bogged down by the uncertainty of the situation. Had your release been delayed, he feared my youth would be wasted. So, he thought of balancing our interests and hoped for your remission before I turned twenty-four. Thanks to Satyanarayana Swami, we met well before the deadline, and the rest is history in the making.”
“Why are you shy,” he said heartily finding her coy as she finished, “having turned the leaf?”
“Guruji feels,” she said lowering her head, “our nuptial night should be sanctified in Misty Nest.”
“Oh, I understand his pain,” he said with moist eyes, “and his pleasure that lies in the hope of your beautifying my life.”
“I'll take it as my mission,” she said wiping his tears.
“If I’m not greedy,” he said, “would you make it so in all births to come?”
“Well,” she said mischievously, “tell me that after the seven-year itch.”
“I can’t believe my fortune really,” he said taking her hand. “Oh, what a woman I’m going to have for a life partner!”
As he tried to fold her into his arms, she reminded him that they were not yet out of the ashram but, just the same, she increased the pace as though she was in a hurry to reach her destination. Once they reached the parnasala, she dragged her feet, but nudged by him at the threshold, she stepped in joyously. And welcomed by guruji, together they bowed at his feet.
“God bless you with a blissful life!” caressing their heads, the guruji said in a choking voice. Moved by the tenor of his tone, as they lifted their heads, their tear-filled eyes came into his dim view as his own eyes were welled with tears of joy. Overwhelmed by that momentous moment, none of them could utter a word for long.
When guruji led them to swamiji, as the seer took the betrothed in his arms to bless them with a blissful life of hundred summers, Gautam prayed to the Lord to grant that to them. After dinner, the seer asked them to be on call for an early wedding. Bidding the venerated heads goodnight, the excited couple headed to their sojourn as though towards heaven itself. When they crossed the ashram gates, Suresh grabbed Vidya’s waist.
“It’s like you’re in the wait,” she said turning coy.
“I love you,” he said, choked with emotion.
“I always loved the thought of loving you,” she said coyly.
“I’ll respect your seniority.”
“Thank you boss,” she said smilingly.
“But am I permitted to say so?”
“I don't think its any playboy joke,” she said winking at him.
“Well, I want to be a homebody.”
“Any body in any home, that's the playboy joke for you," she said smiling.
“You're impossible really!” he said in all admiration.
On their short walk, made longer by their desire to hang on together, they discussed their plans that stretched well up to the bringing up of their children.
“Why not we should build a ‘Sneha Gruha’ or two,” she said impulsively, “as an orphanage.”
“How I wish I had thought of it myself,” he said kissing her hand that he still held.
“Won’t it come naturally for a woman, her being an orphan?”
“It’s my promise,” he said squeezing her hand. “I shall forever make you feel that you’re my equal.”
“That I know you would,” she said kissing his hand. “I’m lucky really!”
“I want a favor from you.”
“Be a man,” she said smilingly, “my he-man.”
“But, it's the woman who seems to wield the real power in this man’s world,” he said in half jest.
“Don’t worry; I’m no power hungry,” she said winking at him, “though I’m hungry otherwise.”
“Won’t that suit me?” he said while returning her gesture.
“You know, I’ve kept my kuchipudi on hold all these years,” she said. “I want to be a performing artist now. That way, my small change should supplement your big purpose as well.”
“That’s the favor I wanted,” he said enthusiastically. “You can count me as your lifelong fan.”
“Thank you,” she said and kissed his hand, “I take it as your favor.”
“Oh, how excited I felt when we met!” he said reflectively. “And then how the anxiety began to kill!”
“It’s no different with me,” she said, leaning her head on him, “the despair of hope.”
When, they reached the room, he tried to lock her in his embrace.
“Wait till the wedding,” she said, giving him the slip.
But seeing him sulking, she moved closer to him and crooned into his ears. “You’re welcome to have me in your dreams in the meantime. Goodnight!”
“I need a base for that!” he said as he whacked her seat.
Thrilled, as she ran all the way to her tenement, he stood rooted in wonderment.
Continued to “A Day to Remember”