Benign Flame: Saga of Love – 2
Continued from “Ramaiah’s Family”
After that summer recess, with the reopening of the PR College, Roopa and Sandhya joined in the Intermediate, and as though to signal the end of their schooling, they shed their skirts to switch over to saris. Looking all the sweeter in their sweet sixteen’s as they entered the campus that day, Roopa in her snuff chiffon sari and Sandhya in her Gadwal cotton one, they created quite a sensation.
The delectable contours of Roopa’s well-proportioned body of five feet five appeared accentuated by her narrow waist as her curvy figure in that velvet skin lent form to her sari meant for enhancing her modesty. Her robust breasts that dared the veiling, and the thick seat, which hugged it tight, made it seem that her genes strove hard to enhance her sex appeal. While her tapered arms that abutted on her flowing frame lent poise to her persona, swung by the swing of her seat in her tantalizing gait, her hair in plait pictured a pendulum that caressed her bottom. As the radiance of her face gave an aura to her charming manner, her self-belief was in consonance with her sensuality. Moreover, the imbibed sophistication in Sandhya’s company gave style to her substance that made her ravishing.
Sandhya’s rosy complexion, in congruence with her angelic soul, imparted pleasantness to her persona. While her slim figure and sharp features defined aesthetics, her sparkling eyes reflected the spirit of her lively nature. Even as the evocative features of her supple frame brought fluidity to her movements, the radiance of her silken skin ennobled her womanly assets. As her smooth brown bobbing hair added style to her demeanor, her sweet manner lent poise to her figure. Enhancing her appeal her gait was such that the fall of her sari acquired the rhythmic grace of the loom on which it was weaved. With her gaiety being in harmony with her youth, the alacrity of her mind conjugated with her sprightly nature making her gorgeous.
Whereas the effervescence of Sandhya’s ethereal beauty was apparent at espial, the magnetism of Roopa’s charm compelled for its conjuration in interaction. The friends became a great hit with the boys who tried to befriend them. However, whenever accosted by a lad, Roopa tended to turn into a bundle of nerves.
“You make such a heavy weather of the whole thing,” Sandhya was wont to tease Roopa. “The poor things might end up being dumb.”
‘When I could get on well with boys at school,’ wondered Roopa, ‘why am I ill at ease with them, now? Oh, won’t the way they look at me make me feel different and diffident too!’
However, the searching look she espied in the male eyes thrilled her in her vitals. As she tried to visualize herself through their perception, her body, in her own eyes, acquired a new dimension. The more she became mentally closer to the opposite sex; all the more she distanced herself from the boys. Sandhya, on the other hand, proved to be a cool customer known to unnerve the dashers. While her glamour gave her a rare aura that overawed the boys, her father’s position only confounded their confidence. Nevertheless, Chandrika, who by then was in B. Com., pre final, helped them in their initiation into the campus life.
When Chandrika got her degree and Roopa was through her Intermediate with flying colors, what with the recalcitrant Raju too seemed to mend his wayward ways, for the Ramaiahs it seemed time flew as if it developed wings. However, proving that good things won’t last forever came the jolt as Roopa revealed the cards that she so closely held to her chest all along.
“Don’t you know,” said a surprised Ramaiah, “what it takes to be doctor?”
“You know I’ve topped the class,” she said naively.
“Medical education costs a fortune,” he said helplessly, “and it’s beyond my means.”
“But I’m craving to be a doctor,” she said.
“Sorry, there’s no way,” he dismissed her in despair and left in dilemma for the Post Office
‘How I took it for granted!’ Roopa wondered all day, ‘Maybe when one is obsessed with a singular aspect of a situation, the attendant issues fail to get the focus they deserve.’
When a distraught Roopa approached her mother pleading for her support, affected by her daughter’s passion, Janaki promised to persuade Ramaiah. While Roopa hoped for a miracle as the condemned would to escape the noose, however, on Ramaiah’s return, she avoided him like the one who tends to hide himself from the one commended for the favor. When Ramaiah sent for her, after what appeared to be an eternity for her, she went up to him with her heart in her mouth.
“Now I recall that night on the train when you were just nine,” he said, patting her head as she squatted beside his easy chair. “Though I was pleased with your ambition, I never knew you were nursing it. Had I guessed it then, I would have cautioned you in time.”
“Naannaa, it became my obsession,” she sank into his lap. “I’ll be miserable otherwise.”
“You know we’re lower middle-class now,” he seemed to give an account of his helplessness. “The lands are all gone and I’m going to retire soon. Agreed there is some money in the bank but it would barely meet your dowries and your brother’s higher studies. This house, of course, is for your brother lest he should curse me for having left him nothing to inherit. As for your mother and I, the pension should see us through.”
“Pledge the house and raise the money,” she suggested with apparent hope. “I’ll redeem it in time.”
“Be realistic Roopa,” reasoned Ramaiah, “once you get married it would all be different. After all, your earnings would be your husband’s. Moreover, to marry you off as Doctor Roopa, I would have to cough up much more for your dowry.”
“What if I don’t marry at all,” she said with such a conviction that startled Ramaiah.
“I want to be a doctor and that’s all.”
“Don’t be silly,” he said, showing her the reality of life. “The essence of life lies in its wholesomeness. You would realize later on, that nothing is worth in life to the exclusion of all the rest that makes it what it is. Besides, marriage is the key that opens life alike for the boys and the girls.”
“It’s my only dream and the sole ambition,” she persisted, hoping against hope.
“Ambition is a double-edged sword,” he turned to philosophy to help her soul. “Possessed by the resourceful, it’s cut out for success and in the hands of the lesser souls it tends to hurt their peace of mind.”
Then he recounted his own disappointment; his inability to become an advocate, and advocated to his daughter to learn to take life as it came, ordained by karma. “If I were an advocate, perhaps, I would have been rich enough to fulfill your ambition. However, it was not to be, and therein lies our fate - yours and mine as well,” he concluded.
Roopa, though reconciled to her situation, resented her fate. As if she were revenging on her helplessness, she shunned the sciences and opted for commerce. However, as per her inclination, Sandhya went in for the humanities.
“Got tired of dissecting frogs and all or what!” said Sandhya in jest as Roopa filled in the admission form.
“Like to have a closer look at the commercial side of life,” said Roopa mystically.
“Jokes apart,” said Sandhya as they got into a rickshaw, “tell me what’s wrong. I know you always wanted to study medicine.”
Roopa just sighed for an answer.
“A friend is one with whom you could think aloud, I read once,” said Sandhya empathically. “You know I think with you, now it’s up to you.”
“Know I love you the most,” said Roopa earnestly, and blurted out. “But somehow I wasn’t frank with you. From now on I’ll think aloud.”
Moved, Sandhya enlaced Roopa, which brought solace to the latter and induced warmth in the former, making both of them feel loved and wanted by the other.
Chandrika, who graduated that year, didn’t think in terms of post graduation as la affair Roopa gave the clue to her father’s mind and the family’s finances, and so, thought of a job for an occupation.
“Sit still until we fix a match,” Janaki was dismissive. “It might help improve your complexion a bit,”
“What if I work?” said the daughter spiritedly.
“I don’t want any complications, that’s all,” Janaki appeared firm.
When Chandrika persisted, Ramaiah, however, relented and persuaded his wife, “You have to change with the changing times. Moreover, some boys have started preferring employed girls for their brides.”
After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, Chandrika got an assistant’s job in an export firm for a salary of two-fifty. Her first take-home pay, however, enabled her mother to appreciate the virtue of having another earning member in the family.
Hardly a year passed before the ‘changing times’ stared the Ramaiahs in their faces in their complexity as ‘the other earning member’ of the family turned out to be an erring soul of the household.
Chandrika declared that she would like to marry her colleague, though of a lower caste, and Janaki threatened to jump into the well to spare herself her daughter’s shameful alliance. Ramaiah though tried to reason it out with Chandrika by saying that if she married out of caste as none would marry Roopa Besides, it won’t be in her own interest either, to live with someone from a lower caste as adjusting to married life in an alien milieu will be all the more difficult. When the time comes for finding matches for her children, shunned by both the communities, she would realize that she had a cross to bear. Better she gave up the idea, for her own good.
Given her own disappointment, Roopa was empathic to her sister’s feelings and felt that she could understand the true import of Chandrika’s predicament.
“What to do now?” said Roopa to Chandrika having led her out into the backyard.
“I wish I weren’t in love,” said Chandrika stoically.
“That’s neither here nor there,” Roopa was solicitous. “After all, you’ve to decide, one way or the other, isn’t it?”
“I may end up being the Buridan’s ass, unable to decide whether to first drink water or eat oats and thus perish in the process,” Chandrika was melancholic.
“Why not try and forget him?”
“Of course, time would do that for me,” said Chandrika, “but life without him is not what I wanted.”
Roopa kept quiet as though inviting her sister to give vent to her feelings.
“I’m being pulled apart by the family sentiment on one side and the lure of love on the other,” said Chandrika melancholically. “Love seems to be the most compelling of human emotions as it combines in it the craving of the soul and the desires of the body.”
“I know your hurt,” said Roopa sympathetically.
“I don’t mind hurting myself,” said Chandrika dejectedly. “I am worried about him and concerned about our mother. Moreover, how can I compromise your interests? That’s my dilemma.”
That her sister should think about her welfare, even in her predicament, melted Roopa’s heart. ‘If only I could go to her rescue in the hour of need,’ thought Roopa. ‘What if, I get married first to save her love? Won’t my out of turn marriage save the day for us all?’
She felt she knew her parents well enough. They were conventional more for the society’s sake than out of personal conviction. Besides, they loved their children dearly. She was confident that all would welcome her idea. The prospect of her averting an imminent schism in the family appeared heroic to her.
‘How nice it can be,’ she thought excitedly, ‘if my sacrifice serves my sister’s cause besides solving my parents’ problem.’ She was pleased to perceive herself in the role of a martyr for the family cause. However, on second thoughts, she contemplated the implications of her marriage without a degree as she was just through the first year of what appeared to be a three-year ordeal. ‘How I nursed the dream of being a doctor,’ she thought melancholically. ‘Oh, have I not come to love myself in that role. Now that the bubble has burst, I couldn’t care less. Hasn’t life become humdrum, anyway?’
As she recalled her own disappointment, she remembered the cause of it all. ‘After all, your earnings would be your husband’s,’ as she recalled her father’s words of objection, she saw a ray of hope in the situation. ‘What if my husband helps my ambition to further the family income?’ she thought excitedly. ‘Who knows I may as well get an understanding husband. What a happy life I would lead then! Won’t I love him even more for that? Let me take a chance and see what lies in store for me. Anyway, I’ve nothing to lose, do I?’
It seems the feature of life that while darkness deprives man of his shadow; his hope lingers on in spite of the foreboding.
As Chandrika wept inconsolably, it seemed Roopa’s fear of the unknown was washed away in her sister’s tears. Having made up her mind, Roopa unveiled the contours of her plan of action, however, hiding the hope behind her apparent sacrifice and that about had the same effect on Chandrika, as sighting a boat in the high seas would have on a shipwreck; it raised her spirits. Chandrika was profuse in articulating her gratitude, and as if to convey her indebtedness bodily as well, she hugged her sister, while Roopa felt embarrassed as her own streak of selfish motive jarred with the purity of her sister’s outpouring. After all, the attributes our hypocrisy induces others to adduce to us would bring no value addition to our conscience.
As the sisters were confabulating without, Ramaiah had a tough time with his bitter half within.
“What went wrong with her brought-up?” Janaki said puzzled. “Nothing like this ever happened to anyone, even remotely related to us!”
“You know, women of the upper castes were insulated from men of the lower classes earlier,” he tried to explain to her. “Social intercourse between caste groups was limited to the persons of the same sex. Well, all that has changed now. The society is truly open to both sexes from all sections. The pull of man woman attraction being what it is, love has long since crossed the caste barrier causing marital trespasses. However, don’t get worried. For all that, her passion could be a passing phase, that can’t get past the first hurdle.”
Janaki prayed fervently for her daughter’s deliverance from that wretched affair. When Roopa showed the silver lining, just the same, Ramaiah remained unenthusiastic. “Inter-caste marriages would only lead to divorce as the couples tend to wind up the show at the first hitch,” he said. “Even otherwise, the inferior union would be ruinous in the end as they would be ostracized by the society for sure.”
‘Though high caste men would have no qualms having a fling with low caste women, they seek to shield their women from men of that very stock,’ thought Chandrika, but said. “I’m prepared for all that.”
“After all, it’s her life,” said Raju, who was particularly fond of Chandrika and Roopa. “Why not let her decide for herself?”
“Don’t oversimplify matters,” retorted Ramaiah. “What are the parents for if not to prevent children’s follies?”
“When you say everything in life is ordained by karma,” interjected Roopa. “Why not take this as her destiny?”
Ramaiah didn’t respond but remained unrelenting.
The sisters pressed the issue, and went on a hunger strike. The mother’s heart melted soon enough, and the father’s resolve dissolved, in due course. It was thus Ramaiah wanted to have ‘a look at the fellow’ and see for himself, ‘What he’s worth?’
Soon word went round that Ramaiah was on the lookout for a suitable boy for Roopa.
Continued to “Hapless Hope”