Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 21
Continued from “Blueprint in the Offing”
That morning as the Minar reached Dadar, Raja Rao and Sandhya were all set to alight. Having exited from the railway station, aided by a couple of porters who carried their luggage, they hired a cab to Chembur. Soon, Sandhya stepped into that spacious flat to the warmth of her in-laws’ greetings.
‘How’s he behaving?’ said Gopala Rao in jest, taking himself away from ‘The Times of India’.
As Sandhya smiled coyly, enquired Visala, ‘How is everyone at Kakinada?’
‘All are fine,’ said Sandhya. ‘My parents were particular that I should convey their pranaams to both of you.’
‘Are the Thimmaiahs keeping fit?’ said Gopala Rao to his son. ‘Is the roof still in place at our house?’
‘They’re evergreen as ever, said Raja Rao, ‘and nothing seems to change in Kothalanka.’
‘She must have felt it funny there really,’ Visala smiled.
‘Oh, no,’ said Sandhya reminiscently, ‘it was all so wonderful, thanks to the grand couple.’
‘How’s Roopa? We all took to her a lot,’ said Visala appreciatively, ‘Hyma was just bowled over.’
‘She values you all no less,’ said Sandhya.
‘Are they acting on our invitation?’ enquired Visala.
‘Maybe, they would be able to make it soon,’ said Sandhya, and wondered. ‘But why did Roopa fail to tell me about it! Well, didn’t she lose her way in Raja’s charms? It’s nice that his family has taken to her too. And that helps, just in case.’
‘How’s Hyma and my naughty BIL?’ enquired Raja Rao.
‘They’re all so eager to spend some time with Sandhya,’ said Visala.
After having spent a mirthful day at her father-in-law’s house all day, Sandhya with her husband went in the evening to her sister-in-law’s place at Andheri.
‘You look exquisite,’ Dr. Hyma hugged Sandhya. ‘And how’s Roopa?’
‘She is fine,’ said Sandhya. ‘She’s all praise for you.’
‘We’ve heard that you’re great friends,’ said Dr. Ranga Rao. ‘It’s nice to have a friend like her. She’s quite impressive.’
‘Had she had her way,’ said Sandhya reminiscently, ‘she would have been well on her way to join your profession.’
‘Oh, how the medical fraternity,’ said Dr. Rao mimicking sadness, ‘missed a charming lady then.’
‘This is MCP syndrome,’ said Hyma in mock anger, ‘the inability to appreciate woman other than for her charms.’
‘Raja, it’s good you got married at last,’ said Perindevi, Ranga Rao’s mother, who joined them in the meantime, ‘and that too a nice girl.’
‘You look fifty at your seventy,’ Raja Rao greeted her while Sandhya bowed at the old woman’s feet who took a close look at her.
‘It’s courtesy my grand children. Think about the devils, and here they come,’ said the old woman affectionately as Prem and Preeti, aged five and three, flocked to her.
‘Don’t you remember me?’ asked Sandhya, inviting them into her arms.
‘You’re our beautiful Sandhya auntie,’ said Preeti while Prem remained shy.
‘Raja, I’ve heard that your father-in-law performed your wedding in style,’ said Perindevi. ‘By the way, how much dowry did your wife fetch?’
‘How I wish you were aware of the Archimedes Principle,’ said Raja Rao. ‘Just the same, you can appreciate that the more the groom is fascinated by the bride, the more he loses on the dowry. My father-in-law weighed me light for that.’
In the mirth that followed, as all eyes were on Raja Rao, none took note of Sandhya’s reaction to her husband’s banter.
‘It’s fun time with the relatives,’ said Raja Rao, as they stepped out of his sister’s place after dinner, ‘especially if wife is around.’
‘More so,’ she said trying to be sarcastic, ‘when her father is made fun of.’
‘You know,’ he said, cajoling her, ‘all that was in jest.’
‘Have I asked for your clarification?’ she said rather curtly.
‘So you want to hang me,’ he said tying his handkerchief to his neck, ‘without a hearing even.’
‘I only thought you’ve the gift of the gab,’ she said in the same vein. ‘And now I realize you’ve theatrics to boot.’
‘And you, in spite of your kaali avatar now,’ he said endearingly, ‘have the heart of an angel.’
For once, she seemed not pleased, and, in time, they boarded the city bus that barged in to the bus stop. After that long ride of silence they reached home. As Sandhya headed to the bed straight, however, after greeting her in-laws, Raja Rao followed suit.
‘Why make a fuss,’ he said turning her towards him cajolingly, ‘over some lighthearted nonsense.’
‘Who stopped you from finding a father-in-law who could have weighed you by gold?’ she turned her back to him.
‘I wonder how you took it all amiss,’ he said in wonderment. ‘Anyway, let’s forget about it. You’re God’s own gift to me, and you know that.’
‘Let’s forget about it,’ she said nudging him. ‘Good night.’
‘Sandhya,’ he said persuasively, ‘remember that sex is a gift of nature for both the sexes. If you start believing that you’ve more to give than receive in it, the woman in you would suffer as wife. Then, you’ll never be able to experience the joy of being a woman. Don’t ever demean lovemaking as an instrument of sexual blackmail. It helps you to know that sex is not about male satiation alone but is as much a womanly fulfillment.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ she said moved. ‘I’ll never make that mistake again.’
‘It’s not entirely your fault,’ he said, as he took her into his arms. ‘I should’ve known that any bride would be sensitive when it comes to her parents. You may know that I value your parents as much as I do mine.’
‘I love your mind as well,’ she said, melting in his embrace, ‘I’m proud of you, really.’
It is in the realms of man’s vision to ennoble his woman by enabling her taste the fruits of femininity rather than succumbing to her whims for his gratification with her allurements.
After grappling with Bombay’s gripping humidity for a week, the Raja Raos had to encounter New Delhi’s sweltering heat that June-end.
‘This is our sweet home,’ said Raja Rao, as he took Sandhya round that modest two-bedroom apartment and as if to buttress his feelings, she joined her lips with his.
‘It tastes all the sweeter,’ he said at length.
‘In our sweet home,’ she said leaning on his chest.
‘Basically I was a spendthrift, and besides, I never bothered to acquire things,’ he said, in explanation of the obvious lack of furniture and fittings in the dwelling. ‘But now I know that my bachelor ways won’t do any longer.’
‘Why don’t I take up a job?’ she said enthusiastically.
‘A thousand or more that you could earn may not be needed now,’ he said taking her into his arms, ‘but won’t be sufficient later if the need arises. I suggest you improve your qualification and acquire skills for a paying career.’
‘I always felt I’ve an aptitude for interior design,’ she said excitedly. ‘What about a diploma course.’
‘By that you can complement my work at architecture,’ he said approvingly. ‘And that is as and when we go on our own. Maybe, we could bring our package deals on board.’
‘It would be great indeed,’ she kissed him.
As she moved about the place thereafter, Sandhya felt the space was her very own. As though to express her gratitude to him for having given her that feeling, she enlaced him from behind, and said fondling him, ‘Now that I’ve got a home that I can call mine own, I’ve come to feel that I’ve an identity of my own.’
‘Why forget about me?’ he said in jest, and added, ‘It’s as well that we all need some space on which we’ve the lien. While man takes to his workplace, woman clings to the kitchen. Try asking a clerk to move his table to an inferior corner, he might not oppose but he would resent nevertheless. The mother-in-law syndrome is rooted mainly in woman’s compulsive need to reign in her home. When she is forced to share it with her daughter-in-law, she shows it in not-so-subtle ways. When it comes to a woman’s equation with her man, it’s said she might even share his bed with another but wouldn’t suffer a rival in her kitchen, strange though it may seem!’
‘I hope to mature by then,’ she said, and thought. ‘Why, am I not itching to share him with Roopa? Would it be any different sharing the kitchen with her?’
‘Given your sweet nature,’ he said affectionately, ‘I’m sure you would.’
For their first outing in the capital, that evening, they called on the Malhotras, members of Raja Rao’s bridge brigade.
‘Oh, you’ve a dealt GS for a wife,’ said Malhotra, obviously impressed with Sandhya. ‘I say, we missed you badly at Panaji.’
‘How did it all go?’ asked Raja Rao.
‘In the Swiss league,’ said Malhotra, ‘we failed to make it to the final round by just three VPs. I’m sure your presence would have seen us through.’
‘What’s with the progressive four?’ Raja Rao enquired.
‘It’s better forgotten but for MV Rao’s classic comment,’ laughed Malhotra boisterously.
‘What’s that?’ Raja Rao was curious.
‘Don’t you remember the ‘Queens of Trumps,’ began Malhotra mirthfully, ‘that ladies team from Bombay? They overbid LS against Sinha and Uday and went three shy. Nevertheless, as the worthy women eventually won the event, Sinha got ecstatic, as you know he would often. Then, he went on praising them, at the same time reminding that it was he who managed to give them a zero. Amused by Sinha’s raving, Rao garu pulled him aside and said, ‘Sinhasaab what’s so exciting about giving zeros to women? Had you conceded a ‘One’ to them or took ‘zeros’ from them, it would have been a cause for celebration, wouldn’t it have been?’
As Malhotra and Raja Rao laughed their hearts out, their women looked at each other in embarrassment.
‘How I have missed the fun of seeing Sinha’s face then,’ said Raja Rao as he calmed down.
‘You men and your filthy jokes,’ snarled Mrs. Malhotra.
‘Why, it’s the sexual subtlety that gives a cutting edge to party jokes,’ retorted Malhotra.
‘What else?’ said Raja Rao.
‘Mrs. Rajan was enquiring about you,’ informed Malhotra. ‘She still remembers the way you squeezed her hand at Madras last year.’
‘Mrs. Rao may wonder what this squeezing is all about,’ said Mrs. Malhotra in smile.
‘That’s why,’ said Malhotra, reaching for a couple of packs, ‘let’s initiate the bride into bridge right away.’
As the novice partnered the expert then, they had a long session at the table, followed by the North Indian culinary that satiated their palates as well.
‘With Mrs. Rajan,’ said Sandhya, as they left the Malhotras, ‘it should’ve been a pleasant experience even in bridge terms.’
‘It’s much more interesting from the human angle,’ said Raja Rao. ‘At Madras, last year, Malhotra and I chanced to play against a team from the Gymkhana Club. In the open room we had for our opponents Mrs. Rajan and her partner. Introductions over, I asked her whether she knew Hema, my cousin, who’s a regular at their club. Though she said she knew Hema, yet she didn’t enquire how I happened to know her. It was apparent that she shunned me for being a small fry and not for any lack of regard for my cousin.’
‘Later, during the course of play, I executed a squeeze on her hand that changed her attitude towards me,’ he said, after a pause. ‘And for the rest of the tournament she sought my company at every turn.’
‘It’s obvious that she recognized the player in you,’ said Sandhya, and added in surprise, ‘In the first place, I wonder how come she didn’t get impressed with you!’
‘Because she didn’t have your eyes,’ he smiled. ‘You may know it’s not uncommon that people fail to maintain equanimity in their social interaction - either they turn obedient to those they perceive as superior to them in their station or remain indifferent to those they think are inferior to them in rank, of course, going by the appearances. However, if circumstances were to remove their mental blocks, then some of them may warm up to the deserving. You know the one thing that appealed to me in Roopa’s character is her sense of equanimity. Not that you lack any, but it’s remarkable with her, given her circumstances.’
‘You’ve read her well,’ she said and added in vexation, ‘Wonder how the poor thing is. Oh, how I’m waiting for her letter.’
‘Won’t she have things of her own on her hands,’ he said. ‘You can’t afford to let such things upset you. I wish you develop a hobby, as your involvement in it would provide you the needed diversion from the disappointments of life. The wider your interests, the lesser would be the time left for worrying.’
‘Hope you would stick to your promise to shift,’ she said smug in his embrace.
‘How do you expect me to forget that when it promises so much to us,’ he said in smile. ‘Let me see how to go about it, and sooner at that.’
As Roopa’s aura came into his focus at that, Raja Rao too turned melancholic in time.
Try as she did, Sandhya couldn’t feel at home in the country’s capital. The ethos of the society dominated by the concept of ostentation offended her sensitivity steeped in a refined taste. Her longing for Roopa and her brooding over their reunion confined Sandhya to her home, precluding the possibility of her socializing. It was in that state of mind that she felt the place a transit camp, and failed to get involved with the life and times of New Delhi.
When the Institute of Interior Design, as though to drag her out of her hibernation, granted her admission, Raja Rao who came home early that day said excitedly to Sandhya, ‘I’ve great news for you.’
‘So do I,’ she smiled.
‘Let me guess,’ he felt her belly.
‘Why are you in such a hurry?’ she caressed his head.
‘You know I’ve a double stake in that,’ he said, continuing to caress her, ‘as man and as a palmist. Well, what’s the news you’ve brought me?’
‘You tell me,’ she said.
‘Ladies first,’ he said, ‘if you please.’
‘Yes, to listen,’ she said, smiling.
‘How smart of you,’ he said visibly pleased. ‘Congrats, you’ve got the admission.’
‘Thank you,’ she kissed him. ‘What a coincidence it is! Roopa too has taken up the Annamalai University’s correspondence course in Personnel Management. She wrote that she started learning typing and shorthand as well.’
‘It’s nice to hear all that,’ he said, wondering whether it was a sign of his continued influence on Roopa.
‘Don’t you want to know how you figure in her mind?’ she said as though to tease him.
‘Isn’t it full of regards and all that?’ he said pretentiously, though characteristically.
‘Roopa writes that as her friendly half, you’ve influenced her immensely,’ she said heartily. ‘I think you deserve all her praises.’
‘It’s a relief really that she’s on the right track,’ he said feeling happy. ‘But why the long silence?’
‘It seems she wanted to write only after making some progress,’ she said, ‘why not you read it yourself.’
‘Oh, she has a beautiful hand,’ he said, as he gave the letter back to her.
A few days later, said Raja Rao to Sandhya, ‘Someone sounded me out about an assignment in The States, and I told him I would think it over, as I wanted to know your mind.’
‘Is that good for your career?’ she said with nixed feelings.
‘You know I had been there before,’ he said casually. ‘Now I’ve to look at that more as an opportunity for your exposure.’
‘You know,’ she said coyly, ‘the direction of my destiny.’
‘Don’t I know,’ he said as he felt relieved himself.
‘What’s this Western lifestyle is all about?’ she asked.
‘In the West,’ he said as if he were summarizing the essence of his observations, ‘they’ve a deep-rooted work culture, while the philosophy of life is better evolved here. For all their application of mind over things material, in matters of emotion, resilience seems to be conspicuous by its absence in them. Why, psychic care is the order of the day for the jilted lovers in their tender teens. Or it may not take more than getting the boot at the office for one to start fearing about losing his woman as well!’
‘Sadly for us,’ he resumed with a tinge of sadness, ‘our ineptitude at work tells upon our standard of living that is appalling in comparison. But the culture here enables us to take the vagaries of life in their stride. A novice of a friend would double up for a psychiatrist to bring solace to the jilted. Here even a man in the thick of adversity comes unscathed to look forward with hope.’
‘The fundamental features of the two cultures, as I see them are - while the Western thought probes the nature of man, Indian philosophy delves deep into his soul,’ he said in conclusion. ‘It’s the tragedy of our society that an evolved culture coexists with the worst of prejudice, hindering the outlook of our people. If only we could temper our social rigidity with the western individualism, it would do us a world of good. On the other hand, in the Western ethos, over time, individualism insensibly degenerated into rank selfishness.’
Shortly thereafter, to the delight of all, as Sandhya found herself in the family way, to her amusement, Raja Rao got into the habit of fussing about her diet and all. When they were in the seventh heaven of married bliss, as he was required to go to Hyderabad, disturbing his equanimity, his dormant desire for Roopa came to the fore.
‘I’ll also come with you,’ said Sandhya excitedly as he broke the news. ‘Oh, how I’m longing to see Roopa.’
‘Don’t you know that it’s still the initial stages?’ he said, feeling her tummy.
‘I can understand, but still,’ she couldn’t hide her disappointment.
‘Well, on your way for delivery,’ he said to cheer her up, ‘you could go to her and stay till she drives you away.’
‘Why, won’t she play midwife to me if it were needed,’ she said, and added mischievously. ‘Don’t fail to see her, but see her with my eyes before you espy her.’
‘Send me blindfolded then,’ he said, amused.
‘Won’t she bare your eyes to see my reflections in them,’ she said, and thought smiling, ‘and hers as well.’
‘Should I make Roopa the captive of my eyes,’ he said, striking a chivalrous pose, ‘and bring her to you.’
‘How I wish it were possible,’ she said closing her eyes.
‘What a friendship!’ he said taking her into his arms.
‘It’s more of love,’ said Sandhya dreamily.
‘The test of love is its ability to endure the longing,’ he said, and wondered about the longevity of Roopa’s infatuation for him.
Sinking into Raja Rao’s embrace, Sandhya could sense the feeling behind his comment, and hoped that Roopa’s love for him would endure in spite of everything.
Continued to “Villainy of Life”