Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 6
Continued from “Moorings of Marriage”
‘7Up Godavari Express coming from Visakhapatnam will be arriving in a few minutes on platform No.2 Platform,’ the Secunderabad Railway Station echoed to the ill-modulated voice of a male announcer.
“Just late by two hours,” said Meera sarcastically, after checking with her watch.
“God speed the railways,” said Ramu, who by then had finished four cups of coffee.
Relieving them of their weariness, soon the train came into view. When in time, it decelerated into the station; their spirits soared to the skies. Spotting Sathyam standing at the exit, they waved at him furiously to be noticed and when the train came to a halt, they paced up to welcome the Sathyams.
“Couple in the making welcome the made for each other couple,” said Ramu as he embraced Sathyam.
Soon, they moved out following the porters carrying the luggage, Sathyam and Ramu hand in hand and Roopa and Meera side by side, and once out of the railway station, they
got into the waiting Fiat arranged by Ramu for the occasion.
“We feel bad for not having come to your wedding,” Ramu addressed Roopa.
“It’s our loss no less,” Roopa replied.
“We shall make up for all that,” said Meera chirpily.
“If only she won’t lock Sathyam in their wedlock,” said Ramu in jest.
“You’ve said it,” jibed Meera with her beau.
“Let me see if you don’t tie him to your pallu,” Sathyam retorted on Roopa’s behalf.
As the Fiat stopped at the wicket-gate, propelled more by womanly instinct than any welcoming intent, Lalitha stepped out from the main one.
“We never had a more beautiful tenant,” said Lalitha sounding helpful. “Do not hesitate to ask whatever you need from me.”
Often, in human relations, one’s latent nature to help exudes in the face of a prospective friendship but when the acquaintance fails to cross the threshold of intimacy, inevitably the inclinations too go into hibernation.
As Roopa stepped into the modestly furnished penthouse, she felt at home.
“I can’t thank you enough,” said Sathyam in gratitude as Ramu and Meera had by then arranged the furniture and positioned the luggage.
“I think to start with, the bridal couple should handle better things than household articles,” Ramu said heartily. “Moreover, it was not such a hassle thanks to your landlady’s prattle, it turned out to be great fun even. I wonder how women won’t get tired of talking! Isn’t it the irony of man-woman equation that the least exposed to the world should have a better say in life?”
Ramu ran for cover as Meera advanced towards him menacingly and when she caught him by the collar, he said theatrically, “Excuse me for snatching your privilege.” As Meera cuddled him, pretending as though she were crushing him, Roopa couldn’t suppress her smile. The mirth around, though gladdened her heart, nevertheless, cast a shadow on her soul.
“What about lunch?” Sathyam wondered aloud.
“Meera will prepare some avial for us,” proposed Ramu. “How come we haven’t thought of coffee yet?”
“You know Sathyam won’t have coffee,” said Meera, still smarting from his tease, “and you’re busy abusing women.”
“What a coffee-like coffee!” said Ramu, as Roopa served them some filter coffee.
“The credit goes to you for getting the right mix of a coffee powder,” said Roopa
“The Coffee Shop is down the lane for you,” said Ramu, “Sathyam, you would be the loser if you don’t fall in line.”
“What next?” Sathyam thought aloud.
“Ryan’s Daughter,” announced Ramu, “I’ve blocked tickets for the evening show.”
“Looks like your fiancé is very enthusiastic,” said Roopa to Meera as they went into the kitchen to prepare lunch.
“He’s good at heart,” said Meera, “but obstinate like a child.”
“May I know,” Roopa tried to sound casual though curious, “how it all began?”
“He was my rude boss once,” said Meera smilingly, “but later I realized he’s a committed and hard working disciplinarian. When I realized how soft he’s at heart, I developed a soft-centre for him in my heart. In time, he declared his love and I disclosed mine.”
“I wish you all the best,” said Roopa extending her hand to Meera.
Soon they had a sumptuous lunch after which the betrothed left the newlyweds with a promise to meet at Liberty at 5.30.
After siesta, on their way to the movie, Sathyam took Roopa on his Lambretta to his old lodging to let her have a feel of his bachelor living, when riding pillion, she turned apprehensive as assorted vehicles whizzed past them. Moreover, she felt swamped in the traffic and worried about being hit from all sides, but soon, seeing those women, riding pillion, clutch at their men in a romantic fold; she ruefully recalled her own daydreams of yore. While Sathyam goaded her to get closer, holding the seat-handle for support, she sat erect, as though to distance herself from the reality.
As anticipated by Sathyam, they found Padmavathi in the verandah.
“Glad you’re married,” said the landlady after greeting them warmly. “But know I miss you sorely.”
“I told Roopa,” said Sathyam like the one freed from a necessary evil. “I had greatly enjoyed my stay here.”
“Roopa, no woman ever justified her name as you do,” said Padmavathi, bowled over by her beauty, “and he’s the best behaved man I know apart from my poor man.”
While Padmavathi pressed them to stay on for dinner, they excused themselves to go to the movie and Padmavathi allowed them to leave only after Roopa took the blouse piece she gave to commemorate that first visit. When the Sathyams reached Liberty, they found the engaged waiting for them.
Seeing Roopa engrossed in the movie, Sathyam didn’t disturb her with his witticisms. However, when it was intermission, he goaded her to go along with them into the lounge for refreshments. Overwhelmed as she was with the mystery of the love story, she preferred to remain in the auditorium as though to savor the setting.
“How did you like it?” Ramu asked Roopa as they came out in the end.
“It’s all so touching,” Roopa replied melancholically.
“After all,” said Ramu excitedly, “it’s a David Lean movie.”
“All said and done,” Sathyam sounded critical, “to me it appears odd that a married woman should fall in love with a stranger, that too, at the first sight. At that with a man who’s not even right in the leg! Well, seduction I can understand, but losing one’s head straight away and to part with the heart in a flicker is beyond me. Maybe, it could be the way in the West,”
“East or West human nature is the same,” said Ramu, “though it’s the cultural ethos that fashions our social mores. Openness could never be the sole cause of promiscuity and thus to picture the Western societies as loose is stupid, to say the least. On the other hand, our culture that frowns at the mixing of the sexes puts paid to the Cupid. If ever love is fuelled by furtive glances, the fear of a scandal straps the enamored to their respective seats. Even if some enterprising were to venture regardless, our way of life foils their bid to find a place for lovemaking. Yet, one hears, even here, of illicit relationships in spite of the hindrances. Of course, it all depends on the condition of one’s mind and the attendant circumstances of life.”
“You’ve the knack of winning arguments,” conceded Sathyam.
Roopa listened to Ramu with interest while Meera looked at him in adoration.
After dinner in a nearby restaurant, they parted with that exciting feeling associated with the flush of growing camaraderie among couples.
When the Sathyams reached home, they found that the landlord and his lady had already called it a day.
“It portends well,” said Sathyam to Roopa, “for our landlady may not be waking up for long to monitor our moves.”
‘Maybe, it’s a good omen for some eager couple,’ thought Roopa. ‘But what value fate could add to my life now? Well, as the saying goes, one never knows.’
Next morning, as Sathyam kick-started his Lambretta to make it to the office, Lalitha who waited at the gate to see his back, went up to Roopa.
“How do you like the place?” she enquired in a tone commonly assumed by all landladies while talking to their tenants.
“It’s a nice little place,” said Roopa who took to the penthouse from the beginning.
“For eight-fifty,” said Lalitha condescendingly, “you can’t get anything like this, anywhere in the city.”
“Maybe,” said Roopa, “you know I’m new to Hyderabad.”
“You can take my word for it,” assured Lalitha.
“I hope,” said Roopa, “you don’t mind having some tea.”
“I don’t mind,” said Lalitha as if in repartee, “if you mind about sugar.”
Over the cup of Lipton tea that Roopa served her, Lalitha enquired, “How are things otherwise?”
“I have nothing to complain about.”
“That’s the way it starts for a bride but come middle life and all that changes,” said Lalitha getting closer to Roopa as if to whisper in her ear. “Woman needs a large heart to put up with the problems that her mid-life poses. Having mooned away during the honeymoon, she finds her life souring well before she turns forty as by then her man would have developed a roving eye.”
“You seem to be generalizing,” protested Roopa as Lalitha paused for her response.
“It’s stupid to think ‘it’s not for me’ way, and smartness lies in taking precautions,” began Lalitha in an undertone as though she were recanting some taantric mantra to Roopa. “Don’t fail to keep your man in your grip or else he would slip without your ever knowing it. Strong though he would seem, man has his weak spots and weaker moments besides. Though nature blessed him to make it a man’s world, when it comes to the crunch, it endowed women with what that matters most to him. Hold your own when he needs you the most and you’ll find him prepared to pay whatever is your due. That’s the time to fix him, and in time he won’t be bothersome, if only to reach the goal of his passion.”
While Roopa sat perplexed as all that sounded alien to her ears, after more of the same, Lalitha said, “Aren’t you looking for a maidservant?”
“Can you find someone reliable for me?”
“I’ll get you a decent woman,” Lalitha promised and left as a neighbor called for her. The next day, true to her word, Lalitha fetched Yadamma, who looked twenty-five.
“Pay me sixty,” the prospect quoted after ascertaining the nature of the chores.
“When can you join?” enquired Roopa as she found Yadamma quite decent-looking.
“If you’ve any work left still,” responded Yadamma, “I’ll attend to it right now. Otherwise, tomorrow, sharp at seven.”
“Today being sapthami,” said Lalitha, “it would make an auspicious beginning.”
As Yadamma reappeared with the broom, Lalitha took leave to leave the field wide open for the maidservant.
“I also work at Taraamma’s house, she too is beautiful, but you are better,” Yadamma volunteered information. “She works in a star hotel and her husband in some private company; they have a boy and a girl. They live in a well-furnished house in the 7th lane. Like many she does not dump work on the maidservants to make hunchbacks out of them.”
Before Yadamma swept the house clean, Roopa realized that had a chatterbox for company, however, living as she was in an unenthusiastic mode, even the novelty of the city life failed to lift Roopa’s quality of life.
“I am getting sick,” Roopa complained to Sathyam one night, “sitting all day at home and doing nothing.”
“I believe,” he said in jest, “bookworms worm their way through life.”
“Good reading helps us visualize the failings of others with a feeling heart,” she said a little stung. “But reading alone wouldn’t make life.”
“I’ve seen a lending library nearby,” he said in smile. “It may keep you going till our offspring arrives.”
“I’ll find out, any way,” she said, and thought, “How come, I’m not craving to conceive?”
“I only hope,” he said as he took her into his arms, “your fictional characters won’t block your favors to this character.”
“You won’t find me,” she said dryly, “wanting in my duty.”
“I want your love,” he said persuasively, “though I value your commitment.”
“Isn’t being wife,” she said evasively, “a measure of woman’s love?”
“Yes,” he said resignedly, “wifely love.”
“Maybe,” she said in spite of herself, “marriage provides opportunities to love and be loved.”
“As the saying goes,” he said meekly, “once an opportunity is lost, it is lost forever. I hope it won’t be the case with us.”
“Let’s see,” she said resignedly, “what opportunities come our way.”
“I’m all for grabbing what’s on hand,” he said taking her into his arms, “while awaiting the future doles of fortune.”
It is the characteristic of the life’s curve that while hopes soar with its ascent, dreams nosedive in its descent.
The next day, when Roopa went down the steps, Lalitha, at the gate, invited her for a chit-chat. Promising to join her in time, Roopa went in search of the lending library that Sathyam said he had seen in the locality, but as she returned with ‘Good Earth’, not finding Lalitha at the gate, she felt, ‘after all the book might have something better to reveal than the good lady’s gossip.’ However, on second thoughts, she felt that Lalitha might take it amiss, were she to fail to peep in as promised.
As Roopa stepped in, introducing her warmly to her friend Sangeetha, Lalitha said, “didn’t I tell you Roopa that once let loose; these men lean towards loose women. You may know from Kusuma’s story how far life could take us women.” And as if on cue, Sangeetha resumed the tale of the out-of-favor-woman from where she had left it:
Kusuma tried every trick that Vastayana postulated in the kamasutra to lure her husband back into her bed but to no avail. However, she didn’t think of divorce as it would leave her fending for herself, hounded by men as an easy prey. So preferring the married plough in her mental furrow, she hit upon an idea to pin down the philanderer at home and approached her widowed cousin Purnima, who was above average and below thirty.
“See you’ve no male to fill the gap,” said Kusuma to her cousin without any prevarication, “and my man believes that by filling his belly at home, he’s satisfying my appetite as well.”
“That’s the irony of woman’s life,” lamented the widow, who was privy to Kusuma’s predicament.
“It’s the malady of our men,” Kusuma sounded sympathetic, “that they won’t marry widows and spurn divorcees, leaving both to rot in their paternal homes.”
“That’s why it’s said,” Purnima’s lament continued, “better be none than a woman.”
“But to what avail is all that having been born?” Kusuma said driving home her point. “I’ve thought about a way out for both of us. With a little bit of give and take between us, we can make the best of it for the rest of our lives.”
“What has a poor widow like me got to offer you?”
“It’s your vulnerability,” said Kusuma, however, losing the irony of it all in her own stance. “When my hubby finds a hapless widow for a guest, won’t he imagine the possibilities?”
“That will only complicate matters,” said Purnima unenthusiastically, “for me and you as well.”
“Consider this,” Kusuma continued with her enticement, “as he would stay at home trying to seduce you, I would be able to allure him back into my arms. Once he behaves himself, I would let him have your favors for a bonus. I hope you will agree that in our situation, it’s better to share something than to have nothing at all.”
When Purnima came camping at her cousin’s place, though in apprehension, said Sangeetha drawing the tale to a close, the man of the house began to feel more at home. True to her word, Kusuma made it a menage a trois with Purnima, and they, as the story ends, lived happily ever after
“You are too young to understand the intricacies of women’s lives,” said Lalitha to Roopa. ‘See how practical this Kusuma is!”
“Well,” said Roopa in wonderment, “it looks like anything could happen in life!”
“When it comes to love life, nothing worthwhile can happen in a man’s life unless woman concedes,” said Lalitha as though to make Roopa privy to the ingrained characteristics of the feminine fecundity. “But let woman just wink, and men in scores line up to prostrate at her feet to cater to her every whim and fancy. Well, once she gives in, the man makes her dance to his tunes in turn, so if a woman is careless in choosing her lover, it could as well spell trouble for her.”
‘How come I’ve never heard of such things before?’ Roopa thought leaving them, as it was time for Sathyam’s return, “Maybe the exposure in the metros would make women more pragmatic. Books might educate, but it’s the life that teaches.”
“Sorry, I was held up at the office,” Sathyam grumbled as he came home late in the evening. ‘The minister wanted some statistics, of course the irrelevant kind, and it’s enough for the secretary to be after me. Though quick at extracting work, they’re slow in rewarding the deserving. Even otherwise, the burden of work is borne by the likes of me, but the loaves of office are reserved for the scheduled castes.”
“They too need a place under the sun,” she said as she thought about Anand, “unexposed as they were to the light of life for so long.”
“Not that I don’t feel for them,” he said stoically. “But nothing should be done at the cost of merit. Anyway, there’s nothing that can be done about it so long as the politicians have an axe to grind with them.”
“Why feel frustrated,” she said helpfully, “when it’s beyond our control?”
“Whatever,” he said still smarting, “how can one suppress aspirations?”
‘It seems life’s balancing act lies in reconciling the aspirations and the attendant limitations,’ she thought but didn’t offer any comment.
“Why crib about the routine,” said Sathyam as though in reconciliation. “We would be having a gala time next Sunday. My colleagues came up with the idea of a picnic at Gandipet to felicitate us. As they insisted, I said yes, hoping you would agree.”
“Have I ever spoiled your party?” said Roopa enthused herself, and. thought. ‘Maybe, it makes sense to go out at times than brooding at home all the time.’
Continued to “Roopa’s En Passant”