Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 3
Continued from “Realities of Life”
It was a two-storied building in a by-lane of Chikkadapally, a rather congested locality in Hyderabad. Its owner, Padmavathi, was a widow in her early fifties. She let out much of the space to bachelors ‘to augment her pension’ as she was wont to maintain.
‘Bachelors are any day better,’ she would aver, ‘for they cause little wear and tear, all the while being elsewhere.’
Her tenants, for their part, showed an unmistakable preference for her dwelling. With both her daughters married off, and with no one at home, she rarely left the reclining chair in the portico. ‘The rent includes watch and ward for the lady doubles up for a watchdog,’ the lodgers joked amongst themselves.
And for her part, Padmavathi made it clear to them all that she would suffer none of any nonsense. Though she used to aver that all boys were equally dear to her, she was partial towards Sathyam, her tenant for well over six years. While believing that Sathyam was sincere by nature she felt that others were only behaving not to risk eviction.
Having been held up at his desk in the Sate Secretariat that evening, Sathyam was late in coming to his lodging. Not finding Padmavathi in the portico, he was a little surprised. As he went up, he found an inland letter in the door latch. Realizing that it was from his father, he hastened into his room, and even as he started reading it again, he heard footsteps on the stairs.
‘Oh, she’s coming up,’ he thought indignantly. ‘How she craves for news and gathers the same as a rag picker would rubbish from all corners!”
“What writes your father Pathrudugaru?”
“Usual stuff,” he replied dryly. “We’re okay, are you okay?”
“It’s time you got married,” she said zeroing on the subject matter of his father’s letter, as if on cue.
“There’s a match it seems,” he replied reflexively.
“One should get married when still young,” she said, and added as though to justify her plain features. “But do remember the old saying; anxiety accompanies a beautiful wife as she attracts all and sundry.”
Having given him a bit of her mind, she left abruptly, as though she were late already for airing the news.
Sathyam read the appetizing portion of his father’s letter once again.
‘We all feel there is a suitable match for you. The girl is Ramaiahgaru’s youngest daughter. He works at the Head Post Office here, and is my friend’s colleague. We are all impressed with their family and our astrologer says both your horoscopes match to the tee. Moreover, the girl is very beautiful. If you like her, I would be done with my duty. After all, it’s time you got married. Take leave for a week and come as early as you can. Your mother wants you to spend some time with us.’
‘Moreover, the girl is very beautiful,’ he read aloud; and repeated again, as an encore to his ears. After all, he was particular that his wife should be a beauty; and made it clear to his parents.
Instinctively he remembered Vani, his erstwhile colleague, and his thoughts turned to her. He always wondered whether beauty and grace were at competition in her persona. How he used to daydream about marrying her! However, his desire to cut a figure only made him diffident in her presence. Moreover, his anxiety to impress her with his wit made him only dumb in her audience. While nursing his calf love, he used to wonder about her reciprocity. As though appreciating his fear of rejection, his eyes felt shy to convey his desire while his lips failed to address his love.
‘An arranged marriage brings the woman into man’s life on his terms,’ he thought presently. ‘And that gives a head start to marital romance, giving a short shrift to the uncertain courtship.’
He wondered whether this girl - he was disappointed that his father failed to mention her name - could be as beautiful as Vani. However, he couldn’t help wishing that she might be better looking. ‘After all, it’s the woman’s desirability that makes man covetous,’ he thought. ‘Besides, the allurement of woman’s beauty gives meaning to man’s life. And provide substance as well. A man’s job is half done if he has a cute wife for she doubles up, as a beautiful mother to ensure the children wouldn’t be ugly. Propelled by that welcome prospect, Sathyam boarded the train in beatitude the very next day.
Pathrudu’s message that they would be coming for the pellichupulu that Sunday set the ball rolling at Ramaiah’s house. As the day of reckoning dawned with hope in both the households, Roopa became the center of attention in her home, and the subject matter of discussion at Pathrudu’s place. Janaki insisted that Roopa oil skinned before her bath, and left her only after having shampooed her hair with some soap nut water. Sandhya however, descended on the scene when Roopa was still in the bathroom. After her bath, as Roopa wanted to come out, she found herself bolted from without. Readily realizing that Sandhya was playing pranks on her, Roopa began to fret and fume from within. At length, Sandhya removed the latch and rushed into Roopa’s room only to leave her mate stranded in her petticoat. However, it was only after Roopa’s desperate entreaties that Sandhya let her in, and as though for recompense took her into a palliative embrace.
“Soon your Prince Charming would have a feast or two for his eyes,” said Sandhya admiring Roopa’s assets.
“That is if you keep me without my sari,” said Roopa trying to loosen herself.
Debate ensued, with Janaki too joining in, regarding the ‘sari for the occasion’ for Roopa, and finally the consensus emerged in favor of the chocolate silk with a snuff border. After the lunch, as the countdown started, Janaki was at preparing a garland of jasmines to adorn Roopa’s plait as Sandhya toiled to tame her friend’s luxuriant hair. Such was its profusion that Sandhya’s delicate fingers seemed overwhelmed.
“A hair like this is sure to ensnare any soul,” whispered Sandhya to Roopa.
“If my hair has substance,” said Roopa looking back at Sandhya endearingly, “your bob has style.”
“She would be really lucky if they agree,” Janaki interrupted their mirth.
“Doesn’t she sound like a stuck up gramophone?” said Roopa in jest.
“Getting a girl married is no joke these days,” Janaki addressed Sandhya. “He’s their only son and they’re propertied as well. The parents are hale and healthy, not needing the daughter-in-law’s nursing. Moreover, the boy is in the government service. He won’t be hard up for cash with people lining up to line his pocket. One can be sure about that.”
“Bribe is bad mummy,” said Roopa mockingly. “Know that from me.”
“How could it be bad when it is the norm?” Janaki sounded dismissive. “All said and done, it’s a man’s affair. Why should a woman poke her nose into it?”
“If man gets the boot,” Roopa protested mimicking, “won’t it pinch the wife’s leg as well?”
“Moreover, his father has five years of service left,” Janaki resumed the resume, “and the boy is just twenty-eight. From what we’ve heard, he has no vices, to name any. He’s neither the club going sort, nor the card playing type. He knows how to count his notes and keep them clean. Well, a disciplined bringing up one may say. Any girl should find him a safe bet to say the least. We’re lucky to come across such a match these days when everyone is going head over heels to go astray.”
Seeing Roopa unmoved, Sandhya thought that the bride was not half as excited as her mother, ‘She has always been like that, would think of crossing the bridge only when she comes to it.’
When Chandrika joined them, after toying with some special preparations in the kitchen, Janaki said, “Hasn’t she brought all this about, though by default? Well, everything is for our good only, as the saying goes. I’ve been praying that she could make the best out of a bad bargain.”
“Don’t worry,” said Chandrika dryly, used as she was to her mother’s deprecation of her condition.
Everything was in position by the time the guests were expected that evening. Nevertheless, Chandrika and Sandhya were barred from Sathyam’s sight lest they should distract his attention from Roopa. However, they might satisfy their curiosity by peeping through the window as and when the party arrived. And Pathrudu did troop in with his party at the appointed time.
After making them seated in the hall, Roopa was ushered in immediately to beat the impending durmuhurtham. As she squatted on the mat, Roopa stole a glimpse of Sathyam only to place her eyelids on guard for the rest of the rendezvous. On the other hand, Sathyam couldn’t take his eyes off Roopa for he found her out of the world. Besides, the very thought that she could be his wife whetted his appetite. He found her exceedingly charming even with her head dropped and eyelids drooped. Savoring her beauty, he noticed the plain gold stud on her shapely nose. He felt a diamond would make her resplendent and thought of presenting her one during their first night.
“Silence isn’t always golden,” Ramaiah interrupted Sathyam’s daydreaming. “You may as well talk to her.”
“Why embarrass her,” fumbled Sathyam.
Then Ramaiah engaged Sathyam in conversation about his work and times, apparently for Roopa’s ears. However, as Sathyam betrayed his uncouthness and paraded his mediocrity as though to supplement his ungainly look, Roopa was truly put off. Meanwhile Durgamma, Sathyam’s mother, moved closer to Roopa ostensibly to converse, however with the intent of feeling her legs for possible abnormality.
“What do you do in the spare time?” Ramaiah continued his interview, unmindful of Roopa’s apparent disinterest in that.
“I make my meal,” Sathyam said and instinctively looked at Roopa.
Noticing that she tried to suppress her smile, he felt embarrassed, and Ramaiah thought if fit to end his ordeal. As Pathrudu and party left after a while, promising to get back soon, Janaki started her monologue again, if anything, with greater conviction. However, the rest mobbed Roopa for her reaction.
“He’s not for me,” said Roopa shocking her mother.
“Have you gone mad or what! What’s wrong with him?” said Janaki. “He’s well-built and is not ill shaped either.”
“Why place the cart before the horse?” said Ramaiah to preempt frayed tempers. “Even if they like her, well, it all depends on the dowry they demand.”
Stung by her mother’s reaction, Roopa retreated into her room as Sandhya followed her to confabulate.
“If you were me,” Roopa asked Sandhya, “would you marry him?”
“I haven’t seen him that way,” said Sandhya, a little surprised.
“And that means,” said Roopa, “you aren’t impressed either.”
While Sandhya kept mum, Janaki cribbed all along. Roopa for her part prayed that Pathrudu would ask the moon for a dowry, and kept her fingers crossed.
“They Okayed Roopa, without dowry at that,” said Ramaiah, as he came home the next evening, as though soliciting a ‘yes’ from Roopa.
“Roopa, think again,” pleaded Janaki. “One shouldn’t shun fortune when it beckons on its own.”
“Why not look for another match?” Roopa sounded pleading.
“But why reject this one,” Ramaiah seemed persuasive.
“I’ve nothing against him,” Roopa said as a matter of fact. “But I’m not enthused either.”
“Don’t be hasty, think again,” pleaded Janaki. “We all feel it’s a fine match, and you know that we wish you well.”
“No, he’s not my man,” said Roopa wishing that they spared her.
“Maybe, he’s a simpleton,” said Ramaiah, who seemed to have read his daughter’s mind, “but do realize he’s young and has a long way to go.”
‘If something isn’t presentable at its ninety per cent, it wouldn’t be much different either at cent per cent,’ thought Roopa but to buy time she said. ‘Give me time to think.’
However, after dinner, Ramaiah went up to a brooding Roopa in the verandah.
“If you’re not interested in this match, so be it, but if I don’t show you life as I’ve seen it,
I might be failing you,” he said in all earnestness. “Matrimony is a vague hope nursed by the young minds. If marriages are made in heaven, I’m sure the gods would take the realities of life into account. In marriage, it’s only after consummation that couples come to appreciate the true meaning of married life.
In spite of its infinite possibilities, life has its own limitations. As you would realize, mostly it is situational in its reach and breach. As one incident doesn’t encompass life, ardency is not the only opportunity that marriage affords women. As you could guess, maternity is gift-wrapped by heaven for married women. Marriage is so much more than a private affair of the spouses. Know it’s an extension of the family that ushers in a new family. Gratification in marriage is multifaceted as well as multi sourced, like the success of a child can obliterate a lifetime of parental failures. Believe me; a couple could feel that their life was worth living just for the sake of that moment.
In the good old days, alliances were struck based on parental preferences. One might even say prejudices. Inclinations of the children didn’t count; when married, they were too young to have a mind of their own anyway. I know times have changed, and I’m not holding a brief for the bygone era any more. However, I guess neither the new waves have washed any wisdom ashore.
The doors of opportunities in today’s world have led to the advent of the salaried classes, with the attendant disparity in incomes. Social status seems to have shifted its focus onto the white collared. This insensibly upset the marriage order of yore, amongst the families of the communes. These days every maiden seems to feel that her wedlock is not secure unless engineered by an engineer! Parents too have come to equate their daughters’ security with the sons-in-law’s bank balances.
Every bachelor, forget about his own eligibility, has come to imagine that the bridal world is at his feet, to be kicked at his will. An Alanaskar Syndrome so to say! Well, in his unceasing search for someone better, even the pretty ones fail to get his nod till the law of diminishing returns catches him up by the scruff. Then with his eligibility on the wane and despondency on the raise, he lands up with a languid dame for all the sprightly in the race would have married by then. Of late, boys and girls are getting married past their prime, they being victims of the compulsions of their own making,’ he paused for her reaction.
As he found her attentive, he continued. ‘All said and done, nature seems to have loaded the dice against the maidens. One may like it or not, they are the perishable fruits of the marriage market to be disposed off well before they tend to rot. Even otherwise, it does often happen that a maiden would shun a Gog in time, only to opt for a Magog, past her prime, wasting her time in the meantime. In the final analysis, shorn of their shirts, all men are ordinary, save the extraordinary. Moreover, the odds against spotting the right man remain the same even if chance were to bring him to your doorstep as a prospective groom. Ignoring these realities can land one in the deserts of life, chasing the mirages of hope, of course until there is hope. If cultural prejudices produced child widows those days, social aberrations lead to the proliferation of spinsters these days. When maidens cross their mid-twenties, they find to their consternation that men whom nature meant for them by the logic of natural selection, were indeed bending towards the younger ones, tending them to fend for themselves as singles.”
Ramaiah paused for Roopa’s response and seeing receptivity in her demeanor, he continued.
‘Moreover, there is another angle to marriage; it is fallacious that parents wish idle comfort for their daughters, in their married life,” he seemed to philosophize. “I would rather prefer that you lend your husband a helping hand to build the structure of your married home, brick by brick, hand in hand. In that lies a woman’s true fulfillment in marriage. The boys have proved to be no wiser either, failing to appreciate the joys of sharing the toils as just married. It’s a pity grooms should think in terms of furnishing their bachelor dwellings as if their brides are the paying guests.”
Carried away by his own rhetoric, he reached out to her to help her enlarge her vision. “Weddings have come to symbolize the vanity of the society. Designations of the grooms, conveyed in conversation and carried on the wedding cards, have become the new nomenclature of alliances. It’s as if business firms get free mileage when bachelors on their rolls get married! Who says there are no free lunches? The status of the fathers-in-law too is brought upfront as though to suggest that no protocol was breached. Alas, marriages are being turned into public melas from the family functions they used to be! I know you can appreciate that pomp and pageantry may adorn a wedding but it’s the warmth and love that sustain the marriage.”
Realizing that he reached the threshold, he paused for a while before he crossed it for her sake.
“As for married love, know it’s the man who overwhelms his mate,” he forced himself to tell her, “and nature in its wisdom induces woman to get drawn to the man who deflowers her. You couldn’t have failed to notice intelligent women adoring their mediocre husbands. You must also realize that happiness is not an accompanying baggage of marriage; couples have to mould it with insight and imagination. If anything, the woman has to put in the greater effort, but the rewards could signify the specialty of her life. Try to understand what I’ve said so that you can see life in its proper perspective.”
When he concluded the brainwash, Roopa was mystified by his rhetoric. After he had left her, she tried to weigh his words against her own inclinations.
Her innate urge, accentuated by the male attention she received, brought her femininity to the fore. The attractions she experienced and the fantasies she entertained shaped a male imagery that ensconced her subconscious. Her envision of a he-man ennobled her self-perception as a female. Insensibly, confident carriage came to be associated with the image of maleness in her mind-set. Her acute consciousness of masculinity only increased her vulnerability to it, making her womanliness crave for the maleness for its gratification. That persona she envisioned as masculine, she found lacking in Sathyam.
However, though she felt that much of her father’s expansive exposition was sensible, as her heart remained steadfast to her dream man, she developed second thoughts. In her predicament, she recalled that Damayanthi had reasoned that marriage would uproot a woman from her dreams to transplant her in her man’s life. Thereafter, woman’s marital fulfillment could induce a life force in her, enabling her to develop new roots in her in-law’s environs. Soon as she would lose mobility, and with it her contacts with the past cease, so, Damayanthi maintained, that friendship between maidens was a mist that marriage would evaporate.
Roopa thought of seeking Damayanthi’s advice but unable to bring herself to confide in her, she found herself closeted with Sandhya.
“If I were a man,” said Sandhya in jest, “perhaps, you wouldn’t have had this problem.”
“Had you been married,” said Roopa jokingly, even in her state of confusion, “I would have forced myself as your fellow-wife.”
“God save that poor guy,” laughed Sandhya.
“Why poor when he’s doubly blessed?” said Roopa in jest, and was enamored by the idea of their love triangle. However, having come to the reality of life readily, she sighed and added, “Well, it’s neither here nor there. Tell me what I am to do now.”
“As you know, my mother says that love is a product of the married mind,” said Sandhya as though parroting her mother’s wisdom, “while romance is the enterprise of the spirited heart. Since we find our mothers in love with our fathers, we may as well follow suit, and end up being fond of our husbands. I know you’re romantic by nature, but you should realize that for the best part, life is humdrum by circumstance. Perhaps, it all boils down to this; where your romance with life should end and the appreciation of its reality begin. It’s for you to draw your own line.”
“Maybe, I am romanticizing life, but he’s too insipid to inspire,” said Roopa feeling helpless. “Looks like my expectations from life are out of tune with the realities of my fate.”
“Check up if you’re holding the mirror of fantasies to the realities of life,” said Sandhya, leaning on Roopa affectionately.
“I’m sure you too wouldn’t have seen him any differently,” said Roopa resignedly. “Well, as my well-wishers feel that the match is good, maybe I should match my mood as well.”
“Compromise is the cornerstone of life, isn’t it?” said Sandhya in all empathy.
“Looks like it’s the millstone of my life,” muttered Roopa resignedly. “I wish I had your disposition of life, to be happy.”
“Don’t you worry,” said Sandhya, taking Roopa’s hand, “I will share every burden of your life to ease your life, all your life. This is a promise I mean to keep, all my life. After all, haven’t we vowed to disprove my mother’s theory about the brevity of female friendship?”
“Oh, Sandhya,” cried Roopa hugging her friend.
“Believe me Roopa,” said Sandhya, solacing her soul mate, “upon the tears of our friendship.”
“Won’t I need your friendship more than ever?” said Roopa contemplatively. “With an uninspiring husband in the offing, you’re the only hope of my life. It seems the first throw of the dice showed up for our vow. I hope our destiny ensures that your husband would empathize with our friendship.”
When Sandhya wanted to respond, Roopa closed her lips with her hand as though she wanted to hear nothing to the contrary.
For the impending wedding of Sathyam and Roopa, the concerned clans soon clustered in their respective homes. Her sisters’ satisfying remarks about the alliance and her brothers-in-law’s flattering compliments about the groom further increased Roopa’s self-doubts. ‘Am I being overcritical,’ she thought. ‘After all, everyone feels he’s fine.’
On the other hand, Sathyam’s relatives, in their hordes, who came to grace the occasion, gossiped in groups.
“Something must be amiss with this miss,” guessed a relative whom nature cursed with a cynical mind as well as a caustic tongue. “One could see love is very thick in the air these days, as girls are falling head over heels for boys on the campuses. Thanks to the influence of the movies, most of the girls have started saying yes to premarital sex without a care. It’s said that doctors are doing a brisk business at the abortion clinics. But, the truly wise catch the gullible guys for sons-in-law before their errant daughters show up the symptoms, and when the chips are down, the past is passed off as a premature issue.”
Maybe, he would have continued to enlighten his third cousin about the sleaze in the cities, if not for the summons the latter received from his better half. However, sensing an unintended scandal in the making, Pathrudu’s family huddled up to devise a counter before it got out of control. ‘We liked the girl, and wanted the marriage hastened. After all, Sathyam’s health was suffering thanks to the hotel food and all,’ was the news that was put into circulation. As the corrigenda carried conviction, the conjecture collapsed.
A couple of Sathyam’s friends and few of his colleagues made it to the marriage, ‘in spite of their busy schedules’ as Sathyam’s mother bragged, and one of his friends who had managed to see Roopa, announced at the bachelor’s party that evening, ‘Sathyam is going to have a wife of our dreams.’
“I wish I had a wit like yours,” said Sathyam pleased.
‘Why forget Ramu,” said another, “I’ve never thought he would fail to turn up.”
“How I miss him,” said Sathyam, ‘as luck would have it, his sister’s marriage coincided.”
That summer night, the kalyana mandapam was truly lit up. Even as they welcomed the guests, Chandrika and Sandhya, who stood at the entrance, perfused them with rose-water. Women, of all ages and sizes, in their colorful silk saris, dusted for the occasion, were seen fluttering as if to attract attention of those gathered. Some men in the traditional dhothi, worn for the occasion, were found rooted to their seats for they were keen not to be seen ungainly for want of habit. Conventional film songs orchestrated for the occasion rent the air, enlivening the gathering. As boys ogled at them, some maidens were seen putting on airs, and let loose by their gossiping parents, all the brats had a feast of a time.
Soon, Chandrika and Sandhya were on the dais behind Roopa in her madhuparkam, to raise her plait as Sathyam tied the nuptial knot. When the ordained moment arrived, Roopa bent her head to enable Sathyam do the needful.
“It’s the only time when woman bows to her husband,” commented Pedda Purnaiahgaru, the octogenarian almanac man, “to enable him to tie the knot. Afterwards, she would raise her head, only to see that he does not raise his again. She could be counted upon to ensure the hands that tied the nuptial knot are forever tied to her apron strings.”
The marriage hall reverberated to peals of laughter that the statement induced. Soon though, the guests left after congratulating the couple, leaving the relatives to hang around for a little longer, till they could find a corner to lie down. However, the just married were awake a long while to go through the assorted rituals.
Continued to “Turn at the Tether”