Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 6
Continued from “Moorings of Marriage”
‘7Up Godavari Express coming from Visakhapatnam will be arriving in a few minutes on No.2 platform’, the Secunderabad Railway Station echoed to the ill-modulated voice of a male announcer.
“Just late by two hours,” said Meera sarcastically, after checking with her watch.
“God speed the railways,” said Ramu, who by then had finished four cups of coffee.
Relieving them of their weariness, soon the train came into view. When in time, it decelerated into the station; their spirits soared to the skies. Spotting Sathyam standing at the exit, they waved at him furiously to be noticed and when the train came to a halt, they paced up to welcome the Sathyams.
“Couple in the making welcome the ‘made for each other’ couple,” said Ramu as he embraced Sathyam.
Soon, they moved out following the porters carrying the luggage, Sathyam and Ramu hand in hand and Roopa and Meera side by side, and once out of the railway station, they got into the waiting Fiat arranged by Ramu for the occasion.
“Sad we’ve missed your marriage,” Ramu addressed Roopa.
“It’s our loss,” Roopa replied.
“We’ll make up for all that,” said Meera chirpily.
“What if she locks Sathyam in their wedlock,” said Ramu in jest.
“You’ve said it,” jibed Meera with her beau.
“Let me see if you don’t tie him to your pallu,” retorted Sathyam on Roopa’s behalf.
As the Fiat stopped at the wicket-gate, propelled more by womanly instinct than any welcoming intent, Lalitha stepped out from the main one.
“We never had a more beautiful tenant, don’t hesitate to ask for anything from me,” said Lalitha sounding helpful.
Often, in human relations, one’s latent nature to help exudes in the face of a prospective friendship but when the acquaintance fails to cross the threshold of intimacy, inevitably the inclinations too go into hibernation.
Though Roopa stepped into the sparsely furnished penthouse, yet she felt readily at home.
“I can’t thank you enough,” said Sathyam in gratitude as Ramu and Meera had by then arranged the furniture and positioned the luggage.
“I think, to start with, the bridal couple should handle better things than household articles; moreover, it was not such a hassle thanks to your landlady’s prattle, it turned out to be great fun even. I wonder how women won’t get tired of talking! Isn’t it the irony of man-woman equation that the least exposed to the world should have a better say in life?” said Ramu heartily.
Ramu ran for cover as Meera advanced towards him menacingly and when she caught him by the collar, he said theatrically,
“Excuse me for snatching your privilege.”
As Meera cuddled him, pretending as though she were crushing him, Roopa couldn’t suppress her smile. The mirth around, though gladdened her heart, nevertheless, cast a shadow on her soul.
“What about lunch?” Sathyam wondered aloud.
“Meera will prepare some avial for us, but why we haven’t thought of coffee yet?” said Ramu.
“You know Sathyam won’t have coffee, and you’re busy abusing women,” said Meera, still smarting from his tease.
“What a coffee-like coffee!” said Ramu, as Roopa served them filter coffee.
“Where from you got the coffee powder?” said Roopa.
“The Coffee Shoppe is just up your lane; hope Sathyam too falls in line,” said Ramu.
“Let me see how marriage changes me,” Sathyam looking at Roopa.
“Looks like your fiancé is quite enthusiastic,” said Roopa to Meera as they went into the kitchen to prepare lunch.
“He’s good at heart but is obstinate like a child,” said Meera.
“May I know how it all began?” Roopa tried to sound casual though curious.
“He was my rude boss once, but later I realized he’s a committed and hard working disciplinarian. When I realized how soft he’s at heart, I developed a soft-centre for him in my heart. In time, he declared his love and I disclosed mine,” said Meera smilingly.
“I wish you all the best,” said Roopa extending her hand to Meera.
Soon they had a sumptuous lunch after which the betrothed left the newlyweds with a promise to meet at Liberty at 5.30 to watch Ryan’s Daughter.
On their way to the movie, after siesta, Sathyam took Roopa on his Lambretta to his old lodging to let her have a feel of his bachelor living, when riding pillion, she turned apprehensive as assorted vehicles whizzed past them. Moreover, she felt swamped in the traffic and worried about being hit from all sides, but soon, seeing those women, riding pillion, clutch at their men in a romantic fold; she ruefully recalled her own daydreams of yore. While Sathyam goaded her to get closer, holding the seat-handle for support, she sat erect, as though to distance herself from the reality.
As anticipated by Sathyam, they found Padmavathi in the verandah.
“Glad you’re married, but know I sorely miss you,” said the landlady after greeting them warmly.
“I told my wife that I’ve had a great stay here,” said Sathyam like the one freed from a necessary evil.
“Roopa, no woman ever justified her name as you do, and he’s the best behaved man I know apart from my poor man,” said Padmavathi, bowled over by her beauty.
While Padmavathi pressed them to stay on for dinner, they excused themselves to go to the movie, and she allowed them to leave only after Roopa took the blouse piece given by her to commemorate that first visit. When the Sathyams reached the Liberty Theatre, they found the engaged waiting for them.
Seeing Roopa engrossed in the movie, Sathyam didn’t disturb her with his witticisms. However, when it was intermission, he goaded her to go along with them into the lounge for refreshments. Overwhelmed as she was with the mystery of the love story, she preferred to remain in the auditorium as though to savor the setting.
“Have you liked it?” Ramu asked Roopa as they came out in the end.
“It’s all so touching,” Roopa replied melancholically.
“After all, it’s a David Lean movie,” said Ramu excitedly.
“All said and done,” said Sathyam sounding critical, “for me it appears odd that a married woman should fall in love with a stranger, that too, at the first sight. At that with a man who’s not even right in the leg! Maybe, seduction I can understand, but losing one’s head straight away and to part with the heart in a flicker is beyond me. Well, it could be the way in the West,”
“East or West human nature is the same,” said Ramu, “though it’s the cultural ethos that fashions our social mores. Openness could never be the sole cause of promiscuity and thus to picture the Western societies as loose is stupid, to say the least. On the other hand, our culture that frowns at the mixing of the sexes puts paid to the Cupid. If ever love is fuelled by furtive glances, the fear of a scandal straps the enamored to their respective seats. Even if some enterprising were to venture regardless, our way of life foils their bid to find a place for lovemaking. Yet, one hears, even here, of illicit relationships in spite of the hindrances. Of course, it all depends on the condition of one’s mind and the attendant circumstances of life.”
“You’ve the knack of winning arguments,” conceded Sathyam.
Roopa listened to Ramu with interest while Meera looked at him in adoration.
After dinner in a nearby restaurant, they parted with that exciting feeling associated with the flush of growing camaraderie among couples.
When the Sathyams reached home, they found that the landlord and his lady had already called it a day.
“It portends well for our landlady won’t be monitoring our nocturnal moves,” said Sathyam to Roopa,
‘Maybe, it’s a good omen for some eager couple but what value fate could ever add to my life-less life?’ thought Roopa.
Next morning, as Sathyam kick-started his Lambretta to make it to the office, Lalitha who waited at the gate to see his back, went up to Roopa.
“I’m sure you like the penthouse?” she said in a tone commonly assumed by all landladies while talking to their tenants.
“It’s a nice little one,” said Roopa, who took to the penthouse from the beginning.
“For eight-fifty, you can’t get anything like this, anywhere in the city,” said Lalitha.
“Maybe, but you know I’m a newcomer,” said Roopa.
“You can take my word for it,” assured Lalitha.
“I hope you don’t mind having some tea,” said Roopa.
“I don’t mind that if you mind my sugar,” said Lalitha as if in a repartee.
Over the cup of Lipton tea that Roopa served her, Lalitha enquired,
“How’re things otherwise?”
“I’ve nothing to complain about,” said Roopa.
“That’s the way it starts for a bride but come middle life and all that changes,” said Lalitha getting closer to Roopa as if to whisper in her ear. “Woman needs a large heart to put up with the problems that her mid-life poses. Having mooned away during the honeymoon, she finds her life souring well before she turns forty as by then her man would have developed a roving eye.”
“Lalithagaru you seem to generalize too much,” protested Roopa as Lalitha paused for her response.
“It’s stupid to think ‘it’s not for me’ way, and smartness lies in taking precautions,” began Lalitha in an undertone as though she were recanting some tantric mantra to Roopa. “Don’t fail to keep your man in your grip or else he would slip without your ever knowing it. Strong though he would seem, man has his weak spots and weaker moments besides. Though nature blessed him to make it a man’s world, when it comes to the crunch, it endowed women with what that matters most to him. Hold your own when he needs you the most and you’ll find him prepared to pay whatever is your due. That’s the time to fix him, and in time he won’t be bothersome, if only to reach the goal of his passion.”
While Roopa sat perplexed as that sounded alien to her ears, after more of the same, Lalitha said,
“Aren’t you looking for a maidservant?”
“I’ll be glad if you can find a reliable one,” said Roopa.
“I’ll get you a decent thing,” said Lalitha and left as a neighbour called for her.
The next day, true to her word, Lalitha fetched Yadamma, who looked twenty-five.
“Amma, pay me sixty,” the prospect quoted after ascertaining the nature of the chores.
“When can you join?” enquired Roopa as she found Yadamma quite decent-looking.
“If you’ve any work left, I’ll attend to it right now, but from tomorrow, it’s sharp at seven in the morning,” responded Yadamma.
“Today being sapthami, it makes an auspicious beginning,” said Lalitha.
So, as Yadamma reappeared with a broom, Lalitha took leave to leave the field wide open for Yadamma.
“I also work at Taraamma’s house, she too is beautiful, but you are better. She works in a star hotel and her husband in some private company; they have a boy and a girl. They live in a well-furnished house in the nearby 7th Lane. Unlike many she doesn’t dump work on the maidservants to make hunchbacks out of them,” said Yadamma volunteering information.
While Yadamma was at work, Roopa realized that she has a chatterbox for company. However, living as she was in an unenthusiastic mode, even the novelty of the city life failed to lift Roopa’s quality of life.
“I am getting sick idling all alone,” Roopa complained to Sathyam one night.
“I believe bookworms worm their way through life,” he said half in jest.
“Good reading helps us visualize the failings of others with a feeling heart but reading alone won’t make life,” she said a little stung.
“I’ve seen a lending library come up on our main road, it may keep you going till our offspring arrives,” he said in smile.
“I’ll find out, any way,” she said, and thought, ‘How come, I’m not craving to conceive?’
“I only hope your fictional characters won’t block your favors to this character,” he said as he took her into his arms.
“You won’t find me wanting in my duty,” she said dryly.
“I value your devotion but crave for your love,” he said.
“What else it is being wife?” she said evasively.
“Love of the wifely kind,” he said resignedly.
“Maybe, marriage lends scope to love and be loved,” she said in spite of herself.
“As the saying goes, an opportunity lost is something lost forever; I hope it won’t be the case with us,” he said meekly.
“Let’s see what opportunities come our way,” she said resignedly.
“Let me grab what’s on hand,” he said taking her into his arms.
It is the characteristic of the life’s curve that while hopes soar with its ascent, dreams nosedive in its descent.
The next day, when Roopa went down the steps, Lalitha, at the gate, invited her for a chit-chat. Promising to join her in time, Roopa went in search of the lending library that Sathyam said he had seen in the locality, but as she returned with ‘Good Earth’, not finding Lalitha at the gate, she felt, ‘after all the book might have something better to reveal than the good lady’s gossip.’ However, on second thoughts, she felt that Lalitha might take it amiss, were she to fail to peep in as promised.
As Roopa stepped in, introducing her warmly to her friend Sangeetha, Lalitha said,
“Didn’t I tell you Roopa that if let loose, men lean towards loose women. Get from Kusuma’s story how far down life could take us women.”
As if on cue, Sangeetha resumed the tale of the out-of-favor-woman from where she had left it:
Kusuma tried every trick that Vastayana postulated in the Kamasutra to lure her husband back into her bed but to no avail. However, she didn’t think of divorce as it would leave her fending for herself, hounded by men as an easy prey. So preferring the married plough in her mental furrow, she hit upon an idea to pin down the philanderer at home and approached her widowed cousin Purnima, who was above average and below thirty.
“See you’ve no male to fill the gap,” said Kusuma to her cousin without any prevarication, “and my man believes that by filling his belly at home, he’s satisfying my appetite as well.”
“That’s the irony of woman’s life,” lamented the widow, who was privy to Kusuma’s predicament.
“It’s the malady of our men that they won’t marry widows and spurn divorcees, leaving both to rot in their paternal homes,” Kusuma sounded sympathetic.
“That’s why it’s said, better be none than a woman,” Purnima’s lament continued.
“But to what avail is all that having been born?” Kusuma said driving home her point. “I’ve thought about a way out for both of us. With a little bit of give and take between us, we can make the best of it for the rest of our lives.”
“What has a poor widow like me got to offer you?” said Purnima.
“It’s your vulnerability,” said Kusuma, however, losing the irony of it all in her own stance. “When my hubby finds a hapless widow for a guest, why won’t he imagine the possibilities?”
“That will further complicate matters for me and you as well,” said Purnima unenthusiastically.
“Consider this,” Kusuma continued with her enticement, “as he would stay at home trying to seduce you, I would be able to allure him back into my arms. Once he behaves himself, I would let him have your favors for a bonus. I hope you will agree that in our situation, it’s better to share something than to have nothing at all.”
When Purnima came camping at her cousin’s place, though in apprehension, said Sangeetha drawing the tale to a close, the man of the house began to feel more at home. True to her word, Kusuma made it a menage a trois with Purnima, and they, as the story ends, lived happily ever after.
“You are too young to understand the intricacies of women’s lives. See how practical this Kusuma is!” said Lalitha to Roopa.
“Looks like anything can happen in life!” said Roopa in wonderment.
“When it comes to love life, nothing worthwhile can happen in a man’s life unless woman concedes,” said Lalitha as though to make Roopa privy to the ingrained characteristics of the feminine fecundity. “But let woman just wink, and men in scores line up to prostrate at her feet to cater to her every whim and fancy. Well, once she gives in, the man makes her dance to his tunes in turn, so if a woman is careless in choosing her lover, it could as well spell trouble for her.”
‘How come I’ve never heard of such things before?’ Roopa thought leaving them, as it was time for Sathyam’s return, ‘Maybe the exposure in the metros makes women more pragmatic. Books might educate, but it’s the life that teaches.’
“Sorry, I was held up at the office,” Sathyam grumbled as he came home late in the evening. “The minister wanted some statistics, of course the irrelevant sort, and it’s enough for the secretary to be after me. Though quick at extracting work, they’re slow in rewarding the deserving. Even otherwise, the burden of work is borne by the likes of me, but the loaves of office are reserved for the scheduled castes.”
“They too need a place under the sun, unexposed as they were to the light of life for so long,” she said as she thought about Anand.
“Not that I don’t feel for them but nothing should be done at the cost of merit. Anyway, there’s nothing that can be done about it so long as the politicians have an axe to grind with them,” he said stoically.
“Why feel frustrated when it’s beyond our control?” she said helpfully.
“Whatever, can anyone suppress his aspirations?” he said still smarting.
‘It seems life’s balancing act lies in reconciling its aspirations and the attendant limitations,’ she thought but didn’t offer any comment.
“Whatever, we would be having a gala time next Sunday. My colleagues came up with the idea of a picnic at Gandipet to felicitate us. As they insisted, I said yes, hoping you would agree,” said Sathyam as though in reconciliation.
“Have I ever spoiled your party?” said Roopa enthused herself, and. thought. ‘Maybe, it makes sense to go out at times than brooding at home all the time.’
Continued to “Roopa’s En Passant”