Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 27
Continued from “Software of Detour”
On his way to Roopa’s place that evening, Prasad began to review his position in the waiting game he was forced to play with her.
‘Left to herself, she would let my passion remain in hibernation, wouldn’t she?’ he deliberated in desperation. ‘Oh me, it’s six months since I’ve been wooing her, and isn’t that a record of failure for me? All the same, being coy to my attentions, she makes it appear as if it’s only time, before she grants it to me. It seems she’s retaining her option for a liaison without taking my tearing passion into account. It’s as if she had put my lust in her mental loft, to retrieve it for use, just in case. But why so in spite of it all?’
‘What is it that could be holding her up even now, after all that?’ he racked his brains as he raced to her place, ‘Of course, to start with, it could be the fear of desertion that is common to all women. But didn’t I promise to make her my second wife, as and when she chooses to divorce Sathyam, it looks like her mental apathy lies in the fear of the unknown, which is common to all humans. But what is there for her to lose any more? Thanks to Sathyam’s peccadilloes, isn’t her married life in a shambles now? Perceiving herself a martyr, were it possible she’s deriving some pleasure in her suffering?’
‘Since the mental siege didn’t help to break her resolve,’ he concluded as he crossed the Secretariat, ‘is not the physical ambush the only recourse left for me. After overwhelming her, I could use subtle force to pin her down to her bed. Won’t my passion then ensure that she’s subdued in her very vitals? Of course, that would help her explode on her own in time. What a rape by consent it makes, that too in her own den! It looks like there’s no other way to gain her final favor. Why delay, let me have her right away.’
Buoyed by his resolve, he leaped up the steps, and as expected, he found Roopa alone in the sofa. As she got up to greet him when he neared her, he went down on his knees, as if in supplication. And before she could come to terms with herself, he enlaced her bottom with passion and buried his head there in hope. But as she tried to withdraw in panic, he tightened his grip with urge. While she turned dumb in fright, he declared his love with emotion, ‘I’m dying for you. If you can’t have me, kill me at least.’
‘Oh, get up,’ Roopa said confusedly, ‘Tara would come.’
‘I don’t care,’ he said, and buried his head back into her crotch.
‘Don’t be mad,’ she pushed him with all her strength while pulling herself in consternation.
While he landed on all fours, Tara came out of the toilet.
‘I’m sorry,’ said an embarrassed Prasad repairing from his awkward posture.
‘I better leave,’ said Tara, herself overwhelmed at the development.
‘Oh, no,’ Roopa clasped Tara’s hand in desperation, ‘don’t leave me now.’
‘Why should I be the odd man out here,’ he grinned, having meanwhile composed himself, and left.
‘I hope,’ said Roopa, still in shock, ‘you haven’t got it wrong.’
‘It’s your private affair, anyway.’
‘Believe me,’ said Roopa pleading for Tara’s understanding, ‘there’s nothing of that sort between us.’
‘I believe you,’ said Tara smiling mysteriously, ‘but what comes later.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Roopa in all nervousness.
‘Don’t try to tell me that he just walked in and took you by your seat,’ said Tara in all concern for Roopa. ‘I’m sure he came for a fling on an invitation drafted by your flirting mind. Though he retreated for now, in time, he would be back to do your bidding. Take my word for that.’
‘Oh, God,’ Roopa nearly swooned into Tara’s arms.
‘It’s time you know some home truths about us women,’ said Tara making Roopa sit in the sofa. ‘The radars of male eyes are sure to pick up the unmistakable signals emanating from unhappy women. In her married life, a woman is either satisfied or dissatisfied, that’s all there is to it, and if someone persists with a married woman for some time, it’s a sure sign of her own vacillation.’
‘Maybe,’ Roopa said, in spite of herself, ‘you’re right.’
‘But every situation portends an opportunity as well,’ said Tara with seeming conviction. ‘The art of living lies in capping opportunities and not whining over problems. It’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in the arms of a paramour, be it Prasad or some other. Either way, you better be prepared to be trapped in a man’s seductive web sooner than later. Realize that the novelty of male sexuality manifests itself in the conquest of women. And it would ensure that someone is not going to rest until he beds with you. But when the novelty wears off, he’s prone to cross over to fresher pastures, leaving you languishing for sexual love. Do you know what’s going to be your likely response then? As if to prove to yourself that your sex appeal hasn’t lost its gloss, you’ll take on another lover to sing the same praises of you.’
‘I know nothing about all that,’ said Roopa, beside herself, ‘all I crave for is a soul mate.’
‘Who doesn’t despair for one,’ said Tara affectionately, ‘but there’s no way of getting to know the man before giving in to him. And that means starting an affair, with all the associated risks, isn’t it?’
‘Isn’t it the bane of being a woman then?’ sighed Roopa.
‘Can you alter the fact, having been born,’ said Tara spiritedly. ‘As you can’t do that anyway, it’s sensible to accept the handicap to start with. Man loves his time with woman more than her as a person. For all we know, females of the animal world are worse off for that. While the male would walk away, having had his fill, the female waits haplessly for the next mate for a like treatment. That’s about the qualms of the male of the species. And it’s the lot of the females to satiate the male, never mind her self-gratification.’
‘Yet, all is not lost for us women,’ continued Tara after having some water. ‘Since cultures tend to underscore the male ego with the marker of virility, our grumbling on that score is sure to pull him down. Try dropping a hint or two that he’s found wanting, and he’s bound to submit to you in shame.’
‘That’s Tara’s thesis of henpeckedness,’ said Roopa laughing.
‘It’s no laughing matter though,’ said Tara assuming a serious tone. ‘Be it her man or her paramour, woman either remains vulnerable to him, to her hurt, or enslaves him, to her benefit. And it’s for you to choose.’
‘And end up being empty either way,’ said Roopa sighing.
‘Maybe,’ said Tara, ‘but still it is thrilling exploiting the exploiter.’
‘Is there no mid-course for woman,’ said Roopa, ‘to go about her life without suffering from qualms?’
‘It’s the feature of nature that it didn’t lay any mid-path on the earth,’ said Tara to a baffled Roopa. ‘While on the subject, it pays to know the proclivities of the sexes. Never count out a man as aged, since man never turns weary of woman’s charms. It’s stupid of woman not to realize, past her prime, she’s no game for any man. Woman has a limited time for men to dote upon, and what a time they give us women in our time! If a woman chooses to remain a marital frog in her dried up well, she would wither away anyway. Even if a woman ventures out of her cold nuptial bed for warming up in her paramour’s nest, still she would gain nothing in the end. Well, having had his fill, it’s only time before her favored man leaves her in the lurch. So it pays for a woman to barter her favors.’
‘Isn’t it an unethical outlook,’ said Roopa, for once upset with Tara.
‘Ethics, my foot,’ Tara became animated. ‘Don’t we women have an innate weakness for successful men? If merit alone were to bring success in this world, that might still justify our preference. But don’t you know the mettle of many of these successful men? What all it takes to succeed is a mediocre mind to serve the system and a slavish tongue to praise the powerful. Isn’t it a sad commentary of our times that mediocrity is eulogized as dependability and buttering is sanctified as good PR?’
‘How true,’ said Roopa, ‘but can anyone change that?’
‘It’s not the question of changing the world but of how to meaningfully live in it,’ said Tara, as Roopa was all ears. ‘It’s high time that women realized that they run behind these mediocre minds, masquerading as successful men. As for their wealth, the less said the better, for its mostly ill-gotten. As the social dice is loaded against the straightforward, it’s seldom that you see an honest man prosper. Anyway, the righteous cut a sorry figure and we fancy them in no way.’
‘But why this feminine weakness for the wealthy?’ exclaimed Roopa.
‘What can be done when we are made that way?’ continued Tara, ‘It’s as well that these rouges hoard the gold, leaving us to live with the coppers. But if they eye our assets, why shower our favors on these with bladder egos, acquired on their shameless climb up on the social ladder? Ironically, it’s to these pseudo successful that we give in, and won’t that give away our poor IQ. That being the case, what’s wrong if we put a price tag on our favors?’
‘What’s that but sex toll to get even with men,’ said Roopa disquieted further. ‘Is that your feminism?’
‘What’s wrong with that anyway?’ said Tara not giving up. ‘One needn’t be an Amartya Sen to grasp that it’s their black-money that skyrockets the real estate beyond our middle-class reach. Those positions, to which they butter their way through, might have gone to our men by merit, wouldn’t they? And what gadgets they bestow upon their kids! Are we not forced to match those with our limited resources, lest our children should suffer from an inferiority complex? As the unscrupulous enrich themselves without a hitch, how is it immoral for us to filch them a bit, if they seek our favors?’
‘Leave alone the merit or the lack of it,’ said Roopa as though pleading for a review, ‘I’m sure it’s not your clarion call for woman’s liberation.’
‘There’s a great deal that’s funny about advice, though the halfwits too feel they have a great deal of advice to offer,’ said Tara reminiscently. ‘But on occasion, a naive suggestion might turn out to be the shrewdest advice. Well, when my father died, we were penniless, and my mother had no clue as to how to arrange for my dowry. Then someone came up with the suggestion that I could use my body to raise my dowry. Though my mother cried foul, finding it sensible under the circumstances, I went along with it. As you can see, I haven’t lost a wee bit for that weird advice.’
‘It reminds me of that Shakespearean quote,’ said Roopa in apparent awe. ‘Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied, and vice sometimes by action dignified.’
‘It’s for you to decide what to do with your virtue under siege now,’ said Tara gravely.
‘Let me see what fate has in store for me,’ said Roopa melancholically.
‘But the irony is that others believe you’ve caved in already,’ said Tara to Roopa’s discomfiture, ‘Once, I overheard Lalitha’s sleazy remark that you could be barren, owing to the dilemma of your ovum, whether to let in Mr. Sperm X or Mr. Sperm Y.’
‘Oh, God,’ exclaimed Roopa in exasperation, ‘how people let their imagination run after absurd propositions! To tell you the truth, I’m in love, though not the fulfilled type.’
‘How I wish vice becomes virtue in your passion,’ said Tara, extending her hand to Roopa, ‘as and when it leads to possession.’
‘I can tell you that the one I’m eying,’ said Roopa dreamily, ‘has all the intellect for that.’
‘I always suspected that,’ said Tara affectionately, ‘and now I know the secret of your strength. But who’s that lucky guy, by the way?’
‘Can’t you guess?’ said Roopa joyously.
‘Maybe, yes,’ said Tara recalling the infatuation she herself felt for Raja Rao when they first met, ‘but won’t it sound sweeter hearing from the horse’s mouth.’
‘That’s for another day,’ said Roopa turning all the coyer, ‘and thank you for saving the day for me.’
‘That too to the hurt of my client,’ said Tara with a smile.
‘Oh, really,’ said Roopa, taking Tara’s hand. ‘Don’t I owe you even more for that?’
‘Well, I won’t insist on having your lover for a client for compensation,’ said Tara winking at Roopa.
‘Thanks for that as well,’ said Roopa, all smiles.
‘Godspeed to your liaison,’ said Tara kissing Roopa’s cheek, ‘but take care meanwhile. I don’t know why, but I always liked you.’
‘Now you’ve made me fall in love with you,’ said Roopa hugging Tara.
‘Why don’t you preserve all your ardor for him,’ said Tara affectionately. ‘Good bye for now.’
The fact that she made Tara privy to her innermost feelings enabled Roopa feel as though she had shared the secret of her life with the world itself. The feeling that Tara could have rightly guessed the identity of the man of her dreams made Roopa even more ecstatic. It was in that state of mind Roopa bade good-bye to Tara at the wicket-gate.
As Tara walked down the road, Roopa found herself staring at her all the way. While taking a turn at the main road as Tara looked back, Roopa waved at her as if propelled by a sense of gratitude for that love-saving gesture of hers. Well after Tara went out of her sight, Roopa stayed put at the wicket-gate, reminiscing about the fascinating closeness that developed between them.
When Roopa was closing the wicket-gate, as Lalitha had opened the main door, recalling her sleazy comment, Roopa felt embarrassed in her presence and extricated from the tête-à-tête that Lalitha began. Once in, as if to fully grasp the import of the incident, Roopa sank in the sofa, and reliving the moment, she began to see Tara’s character in a fresh light.
‘Wasn’t she in a position to abet Prasad’s cause and then blackmail me into her calling,’ thought Roopa in all admiration for Tara. ‘What a noble woman Tara is, in spite of everything.’
And in contrast, as the brotherly mask worn by Prasad to hoodwink Sathyam to seduce her appeared ever more mean to her, she despaired, ‘But in the man’s world, Tara is a loose woman and Prasad a gentleman. That’s the paradox of perceptions, isn’t it?’
She tried to figure out Prasad’s future moves to enable her to come up with appropriate responses, but as she failed to come up with a game plan, the postman came up with Sandhya’s letter as though to show her the way.
All along, Roopa had hoped that on their way to Kakinada, Sandhya and Raja Rao would come to Hyderabad. That letter of Sandhya’s helplessness conveyed that her father hijacked her when some work took him to Delhi the week before. The unexpected development depressed Roopa for it meant she wouldn’t meet Raja Rao in the near future.
‘Fate seems to be playing hide and seek with my love,’ she thought at length. ‘Now the least I can do is to go to his wife to hear her talk about him. Besides, that would keep me away from Prasad’s designs, if any. More so, I could consult Sandhya for a way out of this mess, couldn’t I?’
‘Oh, how she got away! The slippery slut,’ Prasad thought in irritation, as he recovered from the embarrassment. ‘If not for Tara’s unexpected presence, it should have been a different story to tell, well, instead of biting the dust myself, I should’ve made her eat the humble pie, wouldn’t I have? Oh, if only I withdrew when she cautioned me. Wouldn’t that have saved the embarrassment for both of us? Anyway, she would be damn cut up with me for having compromised her before Tara. Besides, haven’t I lost my face as well? It is better that I lie low for now so that Roopa might feel pity for me in time. Why, isn’t pity a surer way to a woman’s heart than man’s chivalry? What’s the doubt about it? Well, I should wait for the right moment to strike it back.’
But how were he to know that soon Raja Rao’s love would seal the oyster of Roopa’s heart to his lust for ever.
Continued to “Night of the Mates”