Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 24
Continued from “Playboy at Play”
‘Satisfactory, isn’t it?’ thought Prasad on his way back to his home. ‘Haven’t I played my cards with finesse? If anything, Sathyam’s dinner gesture is a sure pointer. But the proof of the pudding is only in the eating. Anyway, it’s still such a long way to get there, isn’t it? But then, the goddess willing, won’t I have it someday? Well, a good start might ensure the lead all the way.’
‘Sathyam is a simpleton as ever,’ he thought, trying to analyze his friend and his wife. ‘If a man of thirty were to remain that way, he must either be kind-hearted or dung-headed. It looks Sathyam is a bit of both. However, Roopa - what an appropriate name she has - remains a puzzle, and I should ensure that she doesn’t start quizzing me in time. What’s it that makes this fabulous woman so irresistible? Sure there’s much more to her persona than her oozing sex appeal. It looks as if the more one espies her; all the more he becomes obsessed with her. It’s as though her whole body is endued with a magnetic layer, isn’t it? If not, how can one explain her dusky complexion? Oh, some god could have turned horny while making her! Why else is she the femme fatale of the first order?’
So it occurred to him, ‘Unless I’m on guard, I might as well trip on the path of attraction, and fall in love with her even. But then, that would be an unwelcome development, wouldn’t it be? By the way, would sex become any more pleasurable if penetrated with love? Why at all this doubt, as if love would take that any deeper. Hah, hah! It’s the lust that vests the thrusts with power, and any woman would know that for sure, and Roopa should be had before I develop any emotional hiccups for her. Only by taking her to bed early could I feel at ease, and remain safe in her enchanting company for which I should patiently hasten her into my arms. It doesn’t seem easy though, and I should be prepared for a long haul even, but, once in bed, she would be worth her weight in gold, perhaps platinum, to be precise.’
Following his tested tactic to make women ponder a little over his absence, with Roopa in mind, he made it late to Sathyam’s place.
‘What happened, we’ve been waiting so long for you?’ greeted Sathyam.
‘Wait, I’ll explain,’ said Prasad dramatically. ‘First let me apologize to my sister.’
‘Oh,’ she said visibly embarrassed. ‘It’s all right.’
‘I won’t take anything less than your forgiveness,’ said Prasad looking straight into Roopa’s eyes.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ said Roopa all perplexed as Sathyam looked on amused.
‘I know how vexatious it is to wait,’ said Prasad to Roopa.
‘Okay my friend,’ smiled Sathyam, ‘you’re forgiven.’
‘You should know that I’ve skipped lunch,’ said Prasad, soaping his hands at the wash basin, ‘to savor my sister’s preparations.’
‘I too have a raakhi sister in her friend Sandhya,’ said Sathyam reminiscently. ‘What a sweet soul she is.’
‘Who can better my sister in any way?’ said Prasad looking into Roopa’s eyes, and turning to Sathyam, he added, ‘When does the next rakshaabandhan come up?’
‘That I’ll let you know,’ said Sathyam. ‘Though I regard Roopa no less, know that Sandhya is all too different.’
‘Maybe,’ said Prasad with apparent conviction, ‘but Roopa is Roopa.’
Struck by his direct manner, Roopa looked at him in awe, and thought in puzzlement, ‘Isn’t he showing an uncommon interest in me. What is he up to? Though he calls me ‘sister’, his demeanor doesn’t reflect any brotherly sentiment, does it really? Why won’t his manner betray lust? Oh, what a hypocrite he is to get into this sisterly mess. Isn’t it proving to be awkward for him and embarrassing for me as well? Anyway, for me, he’s just a handsome man and an interesting company, that’s all. He’s like any other man in my life, is he not?’
After a couple of visits, Prasad failed to turn up for a week, leaving Sathyam in jitters, even as Roopa felt that she was missing him as well.
‘Haven’t I got used to his company,’ she thought many a time, during that time. ‘Or am I craving for his flattery? Hasn’t he developed the knack of praising me without alarming Sathyam? And, it’s not at all brotherly really, when Sathyam is not around, how he takes my name, with a certain emotion attached to it even! How longingly he looks at me, all the while holding his gaze at my bosom. Isn’t his carnal bother troubling his brotherly candor? What hypocrisy, worse still, is it his strategy to hide his designs on me? Am I indulging in his character assassination by merely surmising? But then, isn’t his want for me crystal clear to me. Whatever it is, it’s his problem, and I’ve nothing to do with him anyway.’
‘But is it as simple as that?’ she felt as she developed second thoughts. ‘Am I not missing him? And willy-nilly, am I getting attracted to him? But, how’s that possible when I’m in love with Raja. Can anyone ever attract me that way? Am I then flirting with Prasad? Oh, no, I just happen to enjoy his company, bored that I am. That’s all there is to it.’
When Prasad finally arrived, Roopa was all alone in her home.
‘What’s this vanishing act, mister?’ Roopa found herself asking him.
‘Didn’t Sathyam tell you that I had to rush to Delhi?’ he said staring into her eyes. ‘And you know I had no way to personally contact you.’
‘By the way,’ she said avoiding his gaze, ‘Sathyam became a fish out of water.’
‘And I felt miserable all the while,’ he said, making no effort to mask his desire. ‘Need I tell you why?’
As she felt that she could discern an uninhibited desire in his demeanor, she thought, ‘So, he wants me. Does he not look lustful to the bones? But then, how Raja’s passionate gaze caresses my frame conveying his craving for my soul. Why, their eyes portray the contrast between lust and love, don’t they? Am I not imagining things, strung by my craving for Raja? How does it matter really, when I’m clear whom I want? And to be clear is to be real, isn’t it? Well, how could one grasp the reality of life without clarity of thought?’
‘What are you thinking about?’ he smiled.
‘Oh, nothing,’ she said embarrassedly.
‘Haven’t you heard it said that the attributes of woman’s utterances have reverse inferences?’ he said mischievously, and dwelled upon the proverb to probe the proclivities of the fair sex. ‘The perception that women are ambiguous by nature is not unfounded for they tend to dissemble. But then, why should they, anyway? Won’t the male dominated society seek to straightjacket them as role models to self-serve man’s interests, and judge them on the scale of conformity? Since the male tenets are at variance with the feminine instincts, don’t women come to pretend? And, unable to comprehend women, won’t the confounded men end up according the benefit of doubt to them, at every turn. It’s thus men come to hoist themselves on their own petard, and deservedly at that, so it seems.’
However, before he could get Roopa’s reply, he felt Sathyam’s pat on his back.
‘Why man,’ said Sathyam, ‘what took you so long?’
‘You know,’ said Prasad, ‘a businessman’s time is not his time.’
‘Had you given us some inkling,’ said Sathyam complainingly, ‘we should’ve given Sandhya’s address for you to call on them.’
‘I would be often going to Delhi often,’ said Prasad, ‘but now we’re all going to my place for dinner.’
‘What’s the hurry,’ said Sathyam. ‘Can’t we make it leisurely?’
‘Rani won’t let me be in,’ said Prasad smilingly, ‘unless you both come along with me.’
‘You know how I value women’s sentiments,’ said Sathyam goading Roopa to get ready.
‘Sentiment is the essence of love,’ said Prasad affecting a sneeze. ‘What do you say sister?’
As Roopa gave him a searching look, Prasad smiled in all conceit.
Though they readily headed towards Prasad’s bungalow in the Banjara Hills, however, it was well past eleven when the host dropped his guests back at their home.
‘What a time it was!’ said Sathyam in ecstasy as Prasad left.
‘It’s plain boring,’ said Roopa unlocking the door.
‘What do you mean?’ he protested. ‘Rani was so courteous and the kids took to us. You’re impossible at times.’
‘Better realize,’ said Roopa in exasperation, ‘that she just condescended to descend, that’s all.’
‘I think its other way round,’ said Sathyam, ‘I felt that she’s so affectionate.’
‘Didn’t you try to endear yourself to her,’ she said indignantly. ‘Stop courting her and you count for nothing to her. I can bet on that.’
‘At least concede that she’s a fine conversationalist,’ said Sathyam in all eagerness, as if to make Roopa see some merit in Rani.
‘Why not,’ said Roopa in all irritation, ‘if only the conversation is all about enlightening others about her father’s greatness, her husband’s smartness and her kids’ brightness? But the advantage is that you might rest your vocal cords while she goes on with her monologue.’
‘Isn’t that natural for women,’ he said grudgingly though. ‘But you hardly have a word of praise for me.’
‘Forget about me,’ said Roopa showing Sathyam his place, ‘would you ever let go an opportunity to have a dig at my people.’
‘Neither would you miss a chance at nitpicking,’ he said in disappointment.
Bothered by her bickering, Sathyam couldn’t sleep for a while, and disturbed by Prasad’s forthrightness, Roopa stayed awake for long.
‘Isn’t it a fortnight since I laid the trap for Roopa?’ Prasad tried to surmise his station in the route of seduction. ‘Still the prey is nowhere near coming. On the other hand, my ardor is on the gallop as though to enslave me to her charms, isn’t it? What progress is that? While jolly well enjoying my attentions, she shows no particular interest in me. Just the same, she has come to love my company, hasn’t she? Oh, as it looks, that’s the only thing to write home about. Could that be a cause for hope anyway? It’s as if she doesn’t abhor her married life altogether. Won’t that make her a bed-hedger in the arena of adultery? But courtesy the darling, haven’t I coined a new phrase for the flirting. Well, though only a few of them are beddable; all married women are bed-hedgers anyway, are they not?’
‘Never mind his dull demeanor, Sathyam must be good in bed,’ he contemplated in wonderment. ‘Come to think of it, given a good time in bed, won’t all women turn a blind to the faults of their men? How strange! But then, it’s all so different with Rani. Though she loves me, doesn’t she think by giving herself, she’s doing me a favor? Why, she couldn’t get rid of her Electra complex even after six years of sex life with me that made her mother twice over! Before her giant of a father, isn’t every man a contemptible midget for her? Short of being explicit, doesn’t she tend to imply that I owe my status and all that goes with it to her redoubtable father?’
‘No denying it, though,’ he went about drawing up the balance sheet of his married life. ‘After all, it’s our marriage that shifted my gear to the fast track of life from the middle-class morass that it was in. If not, I wouldn’t have been any better placed than Sathyam. Maybe, I would have been even worse off for all I know. Oh, how I would have got a wife like his! Instead of eyeing Roopa, I would have been envying Sathyam now. Supposing I got a winner for a wife, won’t it have been a tough ask to keep her wooers at bay, that too with my limited means.’
Then he recalled an incident that his wife had made him privy to. When someone made a pass at her, she told the bewildered dasher that he might hope for her favors after acquiring her father’s stature and her husband’s looks!
‘Looks like man’s status provides his woman the amour of fidelity against seduction,’ he began to think. ‘Isn’t it better than the chastity belt of yore that would have still left room enough for her deviancies. Well, fidelity apart, being sure about themselves, women of means lose their innate womanliness, don’t they? Isn’t it sad for the female persona, but none seem to care, even men! Is it not their vulnerability that makes women charming to men and sans a semblance of timidity, won’t femininity suffer? But for all her perfect features, doesn’t Rani lack that feminine grace that abounds in Roopa.’
‘Am I in love with Roopa then?’ he wondered. ‘What nonsense, leave alone the patience, do I have the inclination to love? I’m just impatient to take her to bed, at the earliest that is. No more and no less.’
He tried to believe what he assumed.
Shortly thereafter, in the wake of the Prasads’ return visit, Sathyam was disappointed. ‘How I wish they had stayed back for dinner,’ he told Roopa. ‘But then, she had a prior commitment, didn’t she?’
‘By now you should know it’s but an excuse,’ said Roopa indignantly. ‘But I won’t blame
her. Why, she got used to the posh living and so it’s not fair to expect her to feel at home in our middle-class home. And to make matters worse for the visitors, you harp on your childhood as if you’ve stopped living thereafter. I feel these days even Prasad is getting tired of your flogging of the dead horse of your childhood.’
‘Maybe you’ve read her right,’ he said turning defensive. ‘But I’m sure you’re off the mark with him. Besides, if it comes to that, you and Sandhya are no different.’
‘You should know that we don’t harp on our past, memorable though it was,’ she said turning nostalgic. ‘We feel the present and dream about our future.’
‘How I wish Sandhya visits us on her way to Kakinada,’ he said, sounding apologetic. ‘It’s a shame we couldn’t make it to Delhi in all these days.’
Recalling how their plans to go to Delhi went awry every time, Roopa thought dejectedly, ‘Leave alone letting me gatecrash into Raja’s life, fate keeps me out of Sandhya’s embrace even.’
As if to place Rani’s unease in their place in its contrast, that Sunday afternoon, Tara visited the Sathyams as they were having their tea after siesta, as Sathyam had developed a taste for tea, fed up giving an explanation for his abstinence.
Strange, indeed, is the way one tends to react to the differing peculiarities in others. None reminds the rotund about the obesity, for the fear of offending them, but when it comes to the lean, unmindful of embarrassing them, all tend to voice their anxiety.
‘Got scarce these days,’ Roopa welcomed Tara, ‘Why so?’
‘You know its all to with the kids’ studies,’ said Tara as Roopa led her inside. ‘I feel their exam time is more of a testing time for the parents. What about you?’
‘If its typing and shorthand in the mornings,’ said Roopa, ‘then, it’s the course material in the afternoons. The days are passing by.’
‘What of the nights?’ said Tara.
‘Nights follow days,’ said Roopa, ‘don’t they?’
‘Why not let days lead into nights,’ said Tara holding Roopa’s hand.
‘That way, my dreams roll my days and nights all into one,’ said Roopa dreamily.
‘Roopa,’ said Sathyam in high pitch, ‘some tea for Prasad please.’
‘Prasad is his childhood friend,’ said Roopa. ‘See if he interests you.’
‘Do you think he’s a prospect then?’ whispered Tara.
‘Why not find it out yourself?’
‘With you around,’ crooned Tara, ‘who would have eyes for me?’
‘I always wonder,’ said Roopa, in all admiration for Tara’s charms, ‘if your timepiece turns anticlockwise to prevent time from advancing your age.’
‘After I’m done with it,’ said Tara winking at Roopa, ‘I would present that to you.’
‘But for now,’ winked back Roopa, ‘what if he...’
‘Let me see if he’s hook-worthy after all,’ said Tara smilingly, ‘but I tell you, if only you choose, you could hit many a bull’s eye.’
‘Well, one hit could be too many for me,’ said Roopa reminiscently, and led Tara into the hall with tea for all.
‘She’s Tara, my friend,’ said Roopa to Prasad serving him some steaming tea.
‘He is my bosom friend and a leading industrialist,’ said Sathyam to Tara with a sense of pride attached to that.
It is a peculiar characteristic of people that for some inexplicable reason feel nice about themselves when they cite their acquaintance with the successful.
‘How do you do,’ said Prasad.
‘Fine, thank you,’ said Tara.
‘I was on my way to a businessman,’ said Prasad as he got up to leave, ‘I’ll be back in time.’
‘We’ll wait for you,’ said Sathyam a little puzzled, and thought aloud after had Prasad left, ‘Doesn’t he look confused?’
After a short while, Tara too left, leaving Sathyam pondering over Prasad’s predicament. But, Roopa felt that Prasad left fearing Tara might smell the rat from his manner, and resort to innuendoes that could alert Sathyam over time. And she knew he would come again to follow his seductive course. The longing she felt for her lover and the resistance she had to offer her seducer seemed to push Roopa to the brink.