Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 13
Continued from “Poignant Moment”
When the postman came to deliver Sandhya’s letter that March end, Roopa nearly grabbed if from him to his amusement.
Pardon me for my negligence in spite of a couple from you. With my exams nearing, I wasn’t in the right mood to write to you. But now, there’s great news to convey to you.
I was engaged only this evening to Raja Rao. Yes, I’m not able to believe it myself! We happened to meet in Delhi when I went there. Why imagine, it’s an arranged match, with a little bit of love thrown in by us to spice it a lot.
He is an architect in Delhi, and my father thought it fit to entrust me to his constructive care even as my heart is enthused by his romantic designs. There’s only one jarring note, though, as you know. I have to move over to Delhi, far away from you. I’m hopeful of coaxing him in time to land in Hyderabad. The wedding is slated for 7th June and needless to say, I need you here before the countdown commences.
Convey my regards to my brother contained in this, need I say, the letter of my life. However, I shall send the customary invitation card to Mr. & Mrs. Sathyam in due course.
My love to all of you.
Ever yours in waiting,
Roopa reread Sandhya’s letter that induced myriad feelings in her – while gloating over her mate’s fortune in finding the right man, she was depressed visualizing the effect Sandhya’s marriage might have on her own life.
However, struck by the sentence in Sandhya’s hand, ‘why imagine things, it’s an arranged match, with a little bit of love thrown in by us to spice it a lot’, Roopa began thinking, ‘Can there be a sweeter way to state one’s love. Isn’t everything about Sandhya sweet for that matter? Sweet too must be the beau she has chosen. Why, Raja Rao could be smarter than the guy who attracted her here. Intelligent he must be for Sandhya wouldn’t suffer fools. Surely he must be a dynamic character, as she doesn’t fancy sluggards. Somehow his name too sounds nice though old fashioned. But Sandhya could have made ‘Raja’ his pet name that is for sure. Oh, how am I to address him! Raja might sound too familiar, isn’t it? All the same, Rao would seem too formal, won’t it? But how does he look after all?’
She tried to visualize Raja Rao’s persona as per her own proclivities but soon enough gave up in despair for want of any picture of her own dream man. ‘Why didn’t it occur to her to post his picture? Or at least, she should’ve written a line or two about him as her love perceived him,’ she thought at length. ‘She surely would have a joyous married life. Oh, isn’t it reason enough for my rejoicing. But then, they would be far away in Delhi. I won’t be able to share her blissful moments. How can it be helped, after all?’
The thought of the distance depressed her all the more after her visualization of their joy, ‘Besides, won’t Sandhya’s ardor for her man insensibly dampen her ardency towards me, sooner than later?’
As she was startled at that, the fear of an erotic gulf between them froze her
‘No, it won’t be the case,’ she tried to revive her spirits as she recalled Sandhya’s words. “I love you enough to need you too”, that’s what she promised, didn’t she?’
‘What if the aura of Raja’s virility casts a shadow on her lesbian leanings,’ it dawned on her to her despair. ‘Oh, if I were to lose her, what would I be left with to live for? How cruel that would be for me. But what else could I do than keep my fingers crossed.’
The melancholy of the moment brought the memories of her family, and she found reminiscing, ‘Could there have been a better couple than them that ever parented? But how do we their children fare? Suguna and her husband are a contented lot, living within their limitations, one might call them colorless, but of what avail is all the color in life, if it can’t provide a shade of happiness to it! Well.’
As though to contrast her own life, she thought about Chandrika, ‘Didn’t she dare to be different and staked everything for love. What love should’ve given her in return?’ Compelled by curiosity, she thought of writing to her to attend Sandhya’s wedding, even as her thoughts turned to her brother, ‘Well, he wants to become an engineer, good luck to him, and how I craved to be a doctor.’
Recalling Rukmini’s fondness for her as her childhood memories came in torrents, she thought, ‘Perhaps, she’s the luckiest of us all, well, the dead have no problems to contend with.’
However, her reverie was broken when Ramu arrived towards the evening, and said, ‘I thought Sathyam would have come back by now.’
As she said, ‘It’s time for him to come,’ they heard Sathyam’s Lambretta.
‘I’ve some mixed news for you,’ said Ramu. ‘Sadly, my plans to acquire a unit here fell flat in the end, but thanks to the second string of my bow, I could take over one in Madras. We would have loved to be here but well, the opportunity lies elsewhere.’
‘Wish you all the best,’ said the Sathyams after congratulating Ramu heartily, ‘though we’ll miss you.’
‘You know,’ said Ramu, embracing Sathyam, ‘that our feelings are no different.’
‘I know what a tight schedule it could be. Still I hope you would spend some time with us before you leave,’ she told Ramu, and turning to Sathyam, she added, ‘Sandhya’s marriage is slated for 7th June.’
‘Good news galore,’ said Sathyam. ‘Who’s the lucky guy?’
‘Raja Rao, an architect from New Delhi,’ she said.
‘Sandhya’s smart in choosing an architect,’ Ramu said heartily. ‘Now she needn’t pay for the design of her sweet home.’
‘For yours,’ said Roopa in jest, ‘we can ask him for a decent discount.’
‘That would be a favor,’ said Ramu amusedly.
Seeing the satisfaction in Ramu, Roopa began to envision the measure of Sandhya’s happiness, only to end up thinking about her own unfulfilled life, ‘Why did life fail me, after all? Why has it denied me that life-filled moment to let me feel fulfilled?’
That midsummer though Roopa was in heat to meet Sandhya, as her apprehensions about losing her mate after her marriage bogged her, she felt like postponing the trip to Kakinada until the very end. However, as her love for Sandhya prevailed over her fear of her self, she set out on her journey as scheduled.
‘I’ll be there by the 5th Godavari,’ said Sathyam, as he waved her off at the Secunderabad Railway Station that 15th May.
On reaching home the next morning as Roopa hit the pillow, her parents thought that she might have had a sleepless journey. However, finding her languid even by noon, said Janaki, ‘I’m surprised you didn’t rush to Sandhya. Are you ill or what?’
‘I’m a little lazy. Maybe, it’s time I left,’ she said, and wondered. ‘What is bothering me after all?’
Before she could get a clue to her lethargy, Sandhya came in like a hurricane.
‘I couldn’t wait any longer,’ said Sandhya enticingly.
‘I’ve never seen her so dull,’ said Janaki as she left them on their own.
‘Congrats,’ said Roopa extending her hand, though besieged as she was by a strange transformation brought about by Sandhya’s sight.
‘I won’t have it that way,’ said Sandhya mischievously folding her hands at her back.
‘Don’t you know I’m cut up with you,’ said Roopa feigning anger, ‘for not writing about the valor of the man who captured your heart.’
‘I wanted you to figure it out yourself, so that I can have a second opinion,’ said Sandhya mirthfully. ‘In fact, I’m not going to let you see his picture till you see him in person.’
‘How unfair!’ said Roopa, ‘I’ll warn him that you are clever by half like when pinned down on the back yet you claim a win by crossing her legs over the victor’s back.’
‘He’s too smart to outsmart both of us put together,’ said Sandhya with a smile of reminiscence.
‘Then,’ said Roopa enthusiastically, ‘it should be interesting.’
‘What’s lacking now?’ crooned Sandhya, pushing Roopa’s head into her valley.
‘Why are you dull, my lovey?’ said Sandhya finding Roopa numb in her embrace.
‘I don’t know,’ said Roopa melancholically, ‘but I’m out of sorts really.’
‘I can understand what’s bothering you,’ said Sandhya with conviction. ‘Though I can visualize what his love might mean to me, I know I need you as much as I would need him.’
‘Thank you darling,’ said Roopa in gratification. ‘I love you all the more for our love.’
With the fears thus dispelled from her mind, Roopa went on devouring the lips that uttered those reassuring words. Then the rosy lien on their love seemed to have lent a new vigor to their libido as they indulged to the hilt.
When Chandrika landed a week later, Janaki turned sentimental all again, ‘She brought it upon herself, this ostracized existence. We can neither invite them to our house nor can we go to their place.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Chandrika, assuring her mother, ‘things are changing.’
‘I don’t see any,’ said Janaki and went into the kitchen in sobs. ‘But how I wish they do.’
‘I love to hear about your love life,’ Roopa couldn’t hide her eagerness.
‘We’ll come to that later,’ said Chandrika, ‘but tell me how your married life is.’
‘It’s routine,’ said Roopa, ‘with the capital R.’
Then suddenly Janaki rejoined her daughters with a rejoinder, ‘One shouldn’t forget the fuss Roopa made about the match. And you didn’t heed our advice.’
‘Why do you rake up the past?’ Ramaiah, who was within earshot, reprimanded his wife.
‘One must know that the path of the future is laid on the tracks of the past,’ retorted Janaki.
‘Let’s go to Sandhya’s place,’ Roopa proposed to her sister after a while.
The moment they stepped out, Roopa was impatient, ‘Tell me now.’
‘Life in a nutshell is challenging as well as charming,’ said Chandrika. ‘It’s as though the complexities of life are compounded in exogamous marriages. At times, it feels that the risk was worth taking, and on occasion, it seems it’s all a bad bargain. There would be depressing moments to go through as well as exciting events to gloat over.’
‘Save mine,’ said Roopa a little disappointed. ‘I suppose, that’s the way with most marriages.’
‘No way,’ said Chandrika in explanation, ‘inter-caste marriages would throw up myriad problems. We encounter sensitive situations and face peculiar pressures alien to the arranged unions. To make it worse, there are external factors that could upset our apple-carts. All of us have personal preferences steeped in our upbringing that are shaped by our respective communal ethos. In endogamous marriages, the commonality of cultural attitudes could limit the deviations in personal proclivities. But the exogamous marriages won’t have the in-built limit switches to keep the couple on course. We have to fend for ourselves in the pathless woods of personal prejudices. The spouses should be on guard always, lest some casual remark of one should hurt the communal sensitivities of the other. All this would only mean that one couldn’t be his or her natural self in a given situation. On the positive side, however, it makes us more responsive to others’ sensibilities.’
‘Now I can understand,’ said Roopa who was all ears for Chandrika.
‘Once we opt for an inter-caste marriage,’ Chandrika continued, ‘it’s as if we have burnt our bridges and cold-shouldered all shoulders to cry over. Unable to relieve ourselves from our pressures, we only help them build up to the breaking point. We cry in the privacy of our dwelling, afraid that the world would laugh at us if found wanting. Though it might provide a vent to the woman, it would invariably vex the man for that tends to suggest to him that it’s all his making. We develop a siege mentality and imagine everyone wants to see us fail. We feel as though the world doesn’t want us to succeed so as to make an example out of us for others to desist from venturing. All this puts pressure on us to make it right as though marriage is a task to be fulfilled. Forced to restrain ourselves, we interact selectively stalling our social integration.’
‘Don’t his people support you?’ Roopa asked with concern.
‘In a way yes,’ said Chandrika nostalgically, ‘but those who happen to come close to us tend to be a hindrance than of any help. If the wife were to be from an upper caste, then the man is congratulated, making her feel humiliated as a symbol of the caste conquest. Well, one should understand their psyche burdened by their collective humiliation occasioned by the age-old exploitation of their women by the men of the upper castes. Seen from their perspective, it’s as if one of their clan has in some way avenged for all of them by roping in an upper caste female for his cohabitation. If on the other hand, the marriage were to be morganatic, then they condescend to descend as though showing her place in the privileged setting. In subtle ways, the society, by and large, would ensure that we carry the cross with the odd-couple complex all along.’
‘Well,’ said Roopa in apprehension, ‘what’s your balance sheet like?’
‘On the whole,’ said Chandrika, ‘it does seem a profitable account, though it needs quite a lot of reconciliation.’
‘I hope you aren’t regretting.’
‘Oh, no,’ said Chandrika sincerely. ‘If I’ve to decide all again, I might think twice over, but yet go the same way. The thrill of being different gives a halo to our marriage in spite of everything, though the pressures constantly lead us on a razor’s edge.’
‘What is he like?’ asked Roopa.
‘He is quite mature,’ said Chandrika as her affection for him filled her voice. ‘It’s his maturity and my motivation that’s carrying the day for us. Otherwise, we would have called it quits a long while back.’
By the time they reached Sandhya’s place, Roopa was excited about the challenges that her sister’s life posed. However, in time, seeing her sister’s adventurous life against the backdrop of her dull marital existence, she felt depressed all again. That they didn’t find Sandhya at home only further spoiled her mood, and as they walked back home, Roopa kept mum all along.
‘I’ll take you to the doctor,’ Janaki told Roopa as they had their lunch. ‘Don’t go anywhere in the evening.’
‘Why, what for?’ Roopa feigned innocence.
‘Don’t you realize,’ scowled Janaki at Roopa, ‘its nearing two years now, and there are no signs of it yet.’
‘What’s the hurry?’ said Roopa unable to share her mother’s anxiety.
‘Who knows?’ said Chandrika in jest, ‘Maybe, they’re having an extended honeymoon.’
‘When would your tummy show up?’ said Roopa to Chandrika.
‘Bear with us,’ said Chandrika, laughing. ‘We are at it.’
Many a time, it did cross Roopa’s mind that a child should have filled her emotional void. However, Sathyam, in spite of his disappointment, felt that a trip to the doctor was premature.
Continued to “Veil of Fate”