Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 11
Continued from “Sandhya’s Soujourn”
Once in Delhi, Sandhya found the winter severe and the rehearsals taxing. Nevertheless, the prospect of participating in the prestigious parade excited her no end. And to uplift her spirits further, her parents wired their coming to the capital to watch the spectacle.
Then came the Republic Day, and the nation was wont to celebrate. Marching on the Rajpath that 26th January morning, Sandhya envisioned Roopa glued to her TV set. Besides, she was conscious about the presence of her parents, somewhere in the crowd, waiting to see her march past them. The thought that her dear ones were savoring her every step enhanced her grace and enlivened her vigor in her smart gait.
Soon, a thrilled Sandhya, made it back to the camp, and waited for her parents in all eagerness.
When the delighted Kalmalakars came to pick her up, she was overcome with emotion in that joyful reunion.
‘We’re proud of you, dear,’ said her parents patting her.
‘I’m glad you’ve come,’ she nestled to her mother.
‘Are you put up with our Rao uncle?’ Sandhya said getting into the Ambassador.
‘Of course,’ said Kamalakar.
‘Oh, how he used to tease me in those days,’ said Sandhya, as the Ambassador headed towards Chanakyapuri. ‘If only he had a son, he would have made me his daughter-in-law, that’s what he used to say.’
‘In fact,’ said Damayanthi, ‘he recalled that as he received us yesterday.’
When the Ambassador came to a halt in the portico of the Madhava Raos’ house, they came out in welcome.
‘Here’s a smart girl for us,’ exclaimed Madhava Rao leading them into the drawing room.
‘Charming as well,’ said Chitra Rao who was all in admiration of Sandhya.
‘Oh, how I regret,’ said Madhava Rao in jest, ‘that we didn’t adopt a boy.’
‘We can still have her in our family,’ said Chitra who got a brainwave, ‘if she’s married to Raja Rao.’
‘No doubt it’s an idea,’ seconded Madhava Rao. ‘They should make a fine pair.’
‘Is the search on,’ enquired Chitra, ‘for a suitable boy?’
‘Now that she’s in the final year,’ said Damayanthi in contemplation, ‘it’s time we began the hunt.’
‘What’s the hurry?’ questioned Sandhya coyly.
‘Perhaps you’ll change your mind,’ said Chitra as though to put ideas into Sandhya’s head, ‘after meeting my nephew.’
‘It looks like you’re rooting for him,’ said Kamalakar thoughtfully.
‘That’s true, and his resume speaks for itself,’ said Madhava Rao. ‘He’s a Civil Engineer from IIT, Powai, and did his MS in Architecture at Brooklyn. Now he is a Senior Architect at Pioneer Architects, the market leaders. It’s rare to come across someone with his talents. Above all, he has the ability to think. And that should make him a good captain to steer ashore the marital ship through troubled waters. However, he’s twenty-eight, if that’s an objection, as Sandhya could be barely twenty.’
‘I would say,’ Chitra seemed to tempt Sandhya, ‘he’s handsome to the bone and romantic to the core.’
‘What about his family background?’ asked Kamalakar showing his interest in the matter.
‘Govinda Rao, his father is a GM in Larsen & Toubro’s Bombay Plant,’ said Madhava Rao. ‘His mother Visala is a fine woman. His sister Hyma and her husband Ranga Rao are both doctors, and they run their Nursing Home in Bombay.’
‘Are they propertied?’ asked Damayanthi.
‘Like us,’ said Chitra, ‘they too hail from Konaseema. They have an old house and some coconut plantations still at Kothalanka, looked after by our uncle Thimmaiah. If not well heeled, they are more than middle-class. What’s more, they’re quite cultured and good-natured.’
‘Your satisfaction is our satisfaction,’ said Kamalakar, ‘what do you say Sandhya?’
‘I would still say,’ she said shyly, ‘where is the hurry for that unless you want to drive me away.’
‘He usually drops in on holidays,’ said Chitra, pleased at the welcome development. ‘Just the same, I will ring him up.’
As Chitra was dialing his number, Raja Rao came in as though the aunt and the nephew were on telepathic terms.
‘Auntie,’ he said, unlacing his shoes in the ante-room, ‘I hope sambar is on the menu.’
‘Oh, think about the devil,’ said a delighted Madhava Rao, ‘Raja, come in and meet our friends.’
As Raja Rao entered the drawing room, Sandhya’s inquisitive gaze greeted his eager look. She could discern his piercing eyes acquire a lively look in interaction, which she later realized was frozen in her mind’s eye. She found him masculinely evocative with that romantic face of his. She felt that as his tall frame and broad shoulders made him look athletically handsome, his medium dark complexion imparted a rare virility to his persona.
The customary round of introductions over, Kamalakar asked Raja Rao, ‘Why architecture for an IITan?’
‘As a child I had been to many South Indian temples with my parents,’ explained Raja Rao. ‘The temple architecture seems to have left a lasting impression upon me. Though, it’s much later that I realized the possibility architecture offers as a profession. As you know a well-designed dwelling contributes to the quality of living.’
‘He has an intellectual bent of mind,’ thought Sandhya, while her parents seemed visibly impressed with his eloquence.
‘What are your hobbies like?’ Damayanthi took over as the interviewer.
‘He’s jack-of-all-trades,’ Madhava Rao complimented, ‘with a grasp on various subjects, including psychology.’
‘By inference,’ was the Raja Rao addendum, ‘a master of none.’
‘Of course, with his ability to think,’ said Chitra as though to stress upon the obvious, ‘that’s no handicap.’
‘What about your chess?’ asked Kamalakar, himself an ardent player.
‘Before I got into bridge,’ said Raja Rao, ‘I used to concentrate on chess. These days, whenever I find myself at the chessboard, I play more with my hand than head.’
‘Interesting,’ wondered Kamalakar.
‘Like chess,’ theorized Raja Rao, ‘bridge too is a scientific game. While chess is all about cold logic, in bridge, in spite of your grasp of the game, the element of uncertainty lends charm to it.’
Finding that Sandhya wasn’t taking her eyes off him, Raja Rao said, ‘You seem to be a keen observer,’ and added after a pause, ‘How do you find Delhi?’
Seeing the smile in his eyes, she felt shy, but said nevertheless, ‘It’s Capital.’
‘Your economy of expression,’ he said with a smile, ‘is admirable.’
‘You must be a well-read person,’ said Sandhya in admiration.
‘Whatever little I read,’ said Raja Rao, ‘I read well.’
‘His reading includes,’ said Madhava Rao, as though for Sandhya’s ears, ‘hand-reading as well.’
‘Would you like to show me you hand?’ Raja Rao asked Sandhya.
‘I don’t know if it would interest you,’ she said trying to gauge his feelings.
‘We’ll find that out after dinner,’ he said with a smile.
While all moved into the drawing hall after dinner, Raja Rao stayed back in the dining room as though to remind Sandhya about her engagement. Getting the cue, she rejoined him and without a word stretched out her left hand for his take.
‘May I have your right hand,’ he suggested as though getting her onto the right track.
‘When did you take to palmistry?’ she asked him, as he was feeling her palm all over.
‘When I could imagine the possibilities,’ he said, looking into her eyes.
‘What do you mean?’ she sounded suspicious.
‘I mean the possibility of holding hands,’ he said tantalizingly, ‘to read in between the lines on them.’
‘Oh,’ she withdrew her hand, ‘you’re cleverer by half.’
‘Never mind,’ he said, ‘you’ve a fine hand that’s promising too.’
‘This,’ she said teasing him, ‘could be your stock prediction.’
‘Never before with the same conviction and feeling,’ he said not to be outdone.
‘You’re truly impossible,’ she said in that mock frustration in which a woman looks beautifully helpless.
‘Honestly, let me see what it portends,’ he said, reaching for her hand.
‘Why are you so curious?’ she said withholding her hand.
‘Just to ascertain,’ he said looking into her eyes, ‘your marriage prospects.’
‘But,’ she continued as though under the spell of his charm, ‘how does that concern you?’
‘Why,’ he said, ardently looking into her eyes, ‘am I not a bachelor?’
Dropping her eyes involuntarily, she let him take her hand consciously.
‘Lucky is the guy who marries you,’ he said tentatively.
‘You are supposed to predict my future,’ she said to point out the faux pas ‘but you’re speculating someone’s fortune.’
‘Hi Sandhya,’ yelled her mother, ‘the newscast is on. Perhaps, we may find you in the visuals.’
‘Oh, she’s there,’ said Raja Rao spotting Sandhya in time, ‘Graceful really.’
‘Thanks,’ she said joyously, turning her head towards him, ‘for your compliment.’
‘I think,’ said Raja Rao as he got up after the newscast, ‘it’s time I got going.’
As he got ready to go, he wished them good night.
‘Good night,’ said Sandhya, inviting his attention.
At that, their eyes met to convey their disappointment at the impending separation.
‘Make it for dinner tomorrow,’ said Madhava Rao who had by then sensed the infatuation that gripped his nephew and the guest.
‘I would love to,’ said Raja Rao, looking at Sandhya, as her eyes seemed all of adoration for him.
After Raja Rao had left, Madhava Rao asked Kamalakar, ‘Don’t you okay him?’
‘I feel he’s a marvelous guy,’ Kamalakar pushed the ball into Damayanthi’s court, ‘what do you say?’
‘I do agree,’ Damayanthi kept the ball rolling, ‘but it all depends on Sandhya, doesn’t it?’
‘We’ll know that from the horse’s mouth,’ Madhava Rao said with the exaggerated manner of a compere, ‘right now.’
‘If you feel that he’s right for me,’ she said coyly, sinking her head into ‘The Illustrated Weekly of India’ that she was holding, ‘he’s fine for me.’
‘Leave the rest to me,’ said Madhava Rao in all excitement, ‘and contact your purohit for the sumuhurtham.’
As the elders began recounting the like incidents of matchmaking they had heard of, none took note of Sandhya slipping into the guest room to be on her own.
Lay up in the bed, Sandhya tried to fathom the persona of the man that induced love in her heart. ‘But what about him?’ she thought at length. ‘Why, surely he’s enamored of me.’
She fondly recalled his disappointed look when he got up to leave, and the way his eyes glowed with life when Madhava Rao asked him to come the next day. ‘Was it not owing to the prospect of meeting me again,’ she thought endearingly. ‘Why, it’s clear that he’s fascinated by me.’
‘But would he like to marry me? Were it possible, for him it’s no more than a calf-love in the euphoria of our youthful interaction?’ she became doubtful and dispirited at that. ‘Why, he’s smart and is pretty sure of himself, isn’t he? For all that, he could be a ladies’ man and not the marrying type, who knows?’
‘Am I already in love with him? Of course, isn’t there something in him that is fascinating,’ she tried to fathom his persona. ‘Is it his face? Oh, have I ever seen a romantic face like that before? Well, won’t it compel women to admire him even as it evokes pity in their souls! Isn’t it that unique feature of his face that makes his a rare persona?’
‘Oh, there’s much more to his personality than his physicality,’ she contemplated. ‘There’s a flowing ease about his manner as well. Though he appears casual, he doesn’t look indifferent. With all his accomplishments, he doesn’t put on any airs. I wonder how he manages to look so confident without being arrogant! How does he sound so firm but without appearing adamant? Above all, his persona personifies romanticism, doesn’t it? A real he-man if there was ever one.’
‘It’s as if in his thoughts,’ she thought coyly, ‘I’ve myself become a romantic! Oh, if only I become his wife, won’t I turn passionate as well?’
As her imagination surged into romanticism, her thoughts turned to Roopa. ‘Oh, I’m doomed. He’s a silly guy’ - she recalled Roopa’s words. Having met the man who excited the dormant romantic in her, Sandhya understood the true import of Roopa’s predicament. The exciting prospect of her marrying Raja Rao enabled her imagine the disillusionment of Roopa’s life as Sathyam’s wife. ‘Though I could always feel the state of her mind then, oh, it’s only now that I’m able to visualize the pathos of her heart.’ she thought melancholically.
Caught in the conflict of hope for herself and despair for her mate, her heart seemed to have turned to love for solace much before sleep could provide it for her.
Continued to “Poignant Moment”