Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 8
Continued from “Roopa’s En Passant”
Back in Sathyam’s arms on her return, Roopa felt as though she landed in the lap of reality after her reign in the realms of fantasy.
‘Isn’t he lucky in a way?’ she thought that night, lying beside Sathyam, who was asleep by then. ‘While he airs his dreams freely, I’m forced to bury my fulfillment at the bottom of my heart. Oh, whom can I tell how happy I’m in our lesbian love? What a paradox! Wasn’t it he that triggered my libido to explode in Sandhya’s embrace. But for that weak moment, could I ever have tasted the sweetness of a woman’s love in lovemaking!’
‘Is the same-sex syndrome abnormal?’ she asked herself. ‘What’s the yardstick to judge it? Why, both of us have that innate want, and suffer when we can’t have it. And when we make it, don’t we go to the depths of sexual delight and reach the heights of sensual ecstasy? Won’t our souls merge with our bodies to communicate our mutual craving in lovemaking? Love is our life-force, isn’t it?’
‘That we’re able to enjoy sex without guilt makes it normal after all,’ she seemed to feel at ease with her libido. ‘Maybe, woman could truly experience the beauty of femininity in lesbian lovemaking! Whatever, my same-sex fondness in no way hampers my weakness for the male embrace, does it? It should be no different for Sandhya when she gets her man, so what’s the hitch in being bisexual? It’s a different matter though that Sathyam fails to inspire love in me. Am I not the loser as my life is devoid of all that goes with loving a he-man?’
The mysterious thought of man’s love mystified her soul. Her intimacy with Sandhya and her exposure to Sathyam enabled her to visualize what was lacking in her womanly life. The more she valued her mate’s fondness for her, the cure for her melancholy, she was even more dissatisfied with her husband, which insensibly increased her innate craving for an enticing man of her own, and that made her daydream about him.
Roopa didn’t wake up until Yadamma came at nine and as Sathyam was about to leave by then, she said, ‘Why didn’t you wake me up?’
‘Where was the need?’ he said affectionately. ‘Let’s go for a movie in the evening. I will ask Ramu and Meera to join us. Be sure you’re ready by the time I come home.’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said apologetically. ‘You’ve to do without the lunch-box today.’
‘Don’t be sentimental,’ he said as he left.
‘How are your people?’ enquired Yadamma after Sathyam was gone.
‘They’re fine,’ said Roopa. ‘But what’s wrong with you? You bunked yesterday and your sevens have become nines these days. Were you regular when I was away?’
‘Ask ayya, if you’ve any doubt,’ protested Yadamma. ‘Ayya is a good man, not like the others who have nothing but lecherous looks for the maidservants.’
‘How’s your Taraamma?’ enquired Roopa, and thought. ‘Why am I inquisitive about an unknown woman?’
‘She’s fine,’ said Yadamma. ‘Why don’t you meet her? I’ve already told her about you.’
‘What did you tell her?’ enquired Roopa as Yadamma didn’t blabber on her own, for once.
‘I’ve told her you’re good at heart and beautiful to look at.’
‘What did she say?’ Roopa couldn’t help but ask.
‘I would love to meet her, that’s what she said.’
By the time Sathyam returned, she was still lounging in the hall.
‘You had all the time in the world to get ready,’ he said in irritation, ‘I’m afraid we would be late. When I rang up Ramu he said he has a surprise for us.’
‘What else it could be but their wedding,’ she said as she went to the bathroom.
When they reached the Skyline in time, leaving Roopa at the portico, Sathyam went to park his Lambretta. However, Ramu, who came on his Royal Enfield with Meera, spotted Roopa and dropped his companion for her company.
‘How’s your trip?’ Meera greeted Roopa.
‘Okay,’ Roopa said in smile, ‘but you’re not to be seen even before the marriage,’
Soon Sathyam and Ramu joined them.
‘We heartily welcome you,’ Meera and Ramu invited the Sathyams in unison, ‘to lend your hand in ringing our wedding bells, the first of next month.’
‘Congrats,’ the Sathyams said in one voice. ‘We knew its coming.’
As she didn’t find the movie engrossing, Roopa got bored. When she chanced to see Ramu and Meera at footsie, and finding Sathyam glued to the screen, she thought, ‘romance is all about inclinations’ and in the same vein, she took Sathyam’s keenness for the formula movie by way of an explanation for his ungainliness. For the rest of the show, however, she found herself following the footsie on the floor more than the happenings on the screen as the betrothed anyway were too engrossed with themselves to be aware of her voyeurism. However, when the screen flashed ‘The End’, the rendezvous of the engaged had ended to Roopa’s peculiar disappointment.
‘Life without romance is like food that is stale,’ she thought, as she got on to Sathyam’s Lambretta. ‘What is left of life shorn of romance?’
That evening, a week later, the Sathyams were at the much-awaited wedding of Ramu and Meera that was well attended too. As Roopa looked gorgeous in her grey maroon Kanchi silk sari, finding her cut a figure in the gathering, Sathyam couldn’t help but gloat over his fortune. When in the end, after bidding adieu to the newlyweds, as they reached the parking space, Sathyam thought that it’s an irony that Roopa who should’ve adorned a palanquin had to ride the pillion instead. As her supposed deprivation made him feel guilty, he realized how much he loved his wife, and thought that he should acquire a four-wheeler one day.
When they reached home, Roopa could discern a change in his demeanor and attributed it to the satisfaction he might have derived from Ramu’s wedding. While she hit the pillow straight, for long he lay by her side looking at her as it dawned on him that they hover around different emotional planes in spite of their physical proximity.
Seems it is the weird fate of the unrequited love that even the physical possession of the loved one, wouldn’t lead to an emotional union.
Time was on its languid course in Roopa’s life until that winter afternoon, when Tara entered into it. Book-marking the Madame Bovary that she was engrossed in, an irritated Roopa opened the door to the sound of the buzzer, to be pleasantly surprised at finding a smart and beautiful woman across the threshold.
‘I’m Tara,’ said the visitor extending her hand to Roopa.
‘Oh,’ said Roopa taking Tara’s hand with a strange sense of excitement.
‘Hope I’m not disturbing you,’ said Tara, glancing at the book in Roopa’s hand.
‘I was just browsing through it,’ said Roopa placing Madame Bovary on the teapoy.
‘I’ve heard it’s a classic of infidelity,’ said Tara picking up the book.
‘It all depends,’ said Roopa without taking a stance, ‘how one looks at it.’
‘I wanted to see you for long,’ said Tara with a smile. ‘But I’ve got an excuse only now. Yadamma went to her native place and won’t turn up till the weekend.’
‘She’s a great fan of yours,’ said Roopa smiling.
‘I think,’ Tara said with her characteristic ease, ‘it’s the other way round. She says you’re the most charming woman ever. Now I realize she doesn’t exaggerate.’
‘You’ve a rare grace,’ said Roopa earnestly.
‘We need a romantic man’s judgment for that, don’t we?’ said Tara positing Madame Bovary back on the teapoy. ‘Well, to be beautiful is one thing and to beautify is another. Woman’s beauty could be a lovers’ fortune but more often, I suppose, it’s the husband’s routine.’
‘If only my dream-man were for the real,’ thought Roopa, nevertheless, keeping quiet.
‘What’s your husband?’ asked Tara appearing to sound casual.
‘He’s a Senior Assistant at the Secretariat.’
‘I guess yours is a love marriage,’ Tara said implying that but for the weakness of love, Roopa must have got a better match.
‘It’s a regulation match,’ said Roopa sounding mysterious in her own way.
While Roopa was too young and inexperienced in life to infer Tara’s innuendo, the latter for her part was puzzled to understand what was at the back of Roopa’s mind.
‘Why don’t you come,’ invited Tara enticingly, ‘and grace my place?’
‘Please excuse me for now,’ said Roopa eager to continue with Madame Bovary’s story, ‘I’ll present myself soon enough.’
‘You know, I’m a working woman but now I’m on leave all this week. If not now, come later, but don’t disappoint me,’ said Tara and left, without waiting for a reply, in the manner of a person who would leave as though the argument was over with that statement.
After Tara had left, Roopa found herself contemplating, ‘What a stylish carriage she has, backed by that confident manner! Won’t she make the hallmark of grace itself? Oh, there’s something casual about her remarkable beauty as well. What an impressive personality she has! Well, she symbolizes the modern woman.’
Though Roopa went back to Madame Bovary, it didn’t take her long to realize that Tara’s persona seized her mind, and unable to concentrate on the book she gave up in the end.
‘Is this fascination for Tara owing to my lesbian leanings?’ Roopa began contemplating. ‘Oh, am I bisexual by disposition? No, it can’t be, it was only my distress that triggered that union with Sandhya. Looks like Tara is no less enamored of me. Could she be a lesbian by any chance? If it ever the push comes to the shove, it won’t be an unwelcome development, would it?’
After lunch, the next day, Roopa set out to Tara’s place, and soon found herself pressing the door buzzer, though without a response from within. Realizing in time that there was load shedding in their area, she knocked at the door that Tara opened expectantly.
‘Grace my house,’ said Tara extending her hand to Roopa. ‘I began wondering whether you would make it at all.’
‘Who won’t want the pleasure of your company?’ said Roopa warmly grabbing Tara’s hand.
‘You seem to have a great taste,’ said Roopa as Tara took her around the well-appointed place.
‘Thanks for your compliment,’ said Tara taking Roopa’s hand. ‘But it takes more than good taste to adorn a home. One has to make adjustments for that.’
‘Why, don’t I know,’ said Roopa pressing Tara’s shoulder sympathetically, ‘that the working couples have to put up with a lot many inconveniences?’
‘Enduring inconveniences may lead one up to a point,’ said Tara as the power supply was restored, ‘but it’s the compromises that count in today’s world.’
‘I don’t quite get you,’ said Roopa going blank.
Before she got the answer, the buzzer was on.
‘What a surprise!’ Roopa found Tara welcoming someone at the door.
‘Your thought got me into the mood,’ Roopa heard an ardent male voice, and turned her gaze instinctively to find a handsome man of about thirty-five taking Tara’s hand as he came in.
‘I’ve a guest,’ said Tara withdrawing her hand tentatively as he turned his gaze towards Roopa who kept staring at them wide-eyed.
‘Apologies for the trespass,’ he said as he came up to Roopa.
‘Not at all, she is Roopa my neighbor,’ said Tara in introduction. ‘He’s Ravi, my cousin.’
‘What a persona-synchronous name!’ he exclaimed as Roopa was flabbergasted.
‘How come you failed to tell me,’ he complained to Tara, while ogling at Roopa, ‘that you’ve such a marvelous friend!’
‘I had the pleasure,’ said Tara looking at Roopa in embarrassment, ‘of meeting her only yesterday.’
‘How lucky it’s my turn today!’ he said, without taking his eyes off Roopa.
‘I think it’s reciprocal,’ said Tara seemingly prompting Roopa. ‘What do you say Roopa?’
Though his forthrightness tickled Roopa’s psyche, her modesty reined in her enthusiasm, making her dumb.
‘You won’t find many like Ravi,’ said Tara, not hiding her familiarity. ‘I call him the businessman with romantic wings.’
‘That’s Tara for you,’ he said turning to Roopa, ‘an expert at handing out left-handed compliments.’
‘It seems you lost your wits after seeing Roopa,’ said Tara as if to clarify, ‘Haven’t you heard it said that love is a hackneyed expression unless backed by money? I was implying that you’ve the means to fan love in any woman’s heart. Isn’t it a fulsome compliment for a handsome guy?’
As Tara’s characterization of Ravi thrilled Roopa’s romanticism, she found herself staring at him endearingly.
‘It’s the case of beauty and brains at work together,’ he said in mock exasperation, and sank into the sofa between the host and her guest.
‘You men always underestimate women, of course, only to go wrong,’ said Tara enlivening the conversation further, ‘Roopa has brilliant brains and is a judicious reader besides.’
‘Don’t believe her,’ Roopa inadvertently addressed him. ‘She’s exaggerating.’
‘Is it possible to exaggerate your beauty?’ Ravi addressed Roopa. ‘With no need for makeup, you’ve all the time for intellectual pursuits. Won’t that glow your persona all the more giving that special aura?’
‘You’re a difficult fellow,’ Tara patted him in admiration while Roopa couldn’t help feel flattered.
‘Tell Roopa,’ he said, mocking exasperation, ‘is it not another left-handed give.’
‘I had better prepare some tea for us,’ Tara got up from the sofa.
‘Let me also come,’ said Roopa, however, without attempting to get up.
‘Why leave our guest alone,’ said Tara to Roopa.
‘What large heartedness to make the lady guest your co-hostess,’ said Ravi to Tara, and as she left smiling, he turned to Roopa, ‘Do you think I’m a bore or what?’
‘Why no,’ she said eagerly, afraid that her silence would otherwise silence him depriving the excitement she was experiencing.
‘I’ve seen many a beautiful woman before,’ he moved closer to Roopa as he took out a pearl from his coat pocket. ‘I always entertained the idea of presenting this to the ‘Perfect Ten’, if ever I come across one. In terms of money it costs next to nothing, but it symbolizes beauty at its very best, seen through a connoisseur’s eyes. Though I’ve traveled the globe twice over, I didn’t find the woman who I thought deserved this. And the moment I’ve seen you, I felt as though this is yours by right for you’re more than perfect.’ As he finished mystically, he grabbed her hand and thrust the pearl into it. Looking into her enamored eyes, he closed the fist, fearing she might drop it in her overwhelmed state.
Before Roopa could gather her wits, Tara walked in with the Chinaware.
‘I didn’t notice before,’ said Tara to Roopa as they were having their tea, ‘that you’re left handed.’
‘Oh,’ said Roopa, involuntarily looking at her closed fist. ‘Not really.’
‘One doesn’t get tea like this served even in Darjeeling,’ said Ravi addressing Roopa. ‘And to have it in such a lovely company, oh, it’s divine.’
‘My dear man,’ said a pleased Tara, ‘you are exaggerating really.’
‘Am I not at a loss for words,’ he said, staring at Roopa, ‘to express even a fraction of my feelings?’ Though her eyes were downcast, Roopa could envisage the darts of his desire piercing her breasts.
Then the clock struck three as though to suggest that Roopa might comprehend the situation better in solitude.
‘I’ll make a move,’ said Roopa, rising.
‘I hope for the pleasure of meeting you,’ he said extending his hand, ‘again.’ Though Roopa failed to extend her hand for him, she grasped his stress on the ‘again’.
With an embarrassing look for a reply, Roopa departed in bewilderment. Having hurried home in time, she leapt over the steps only to realize that she had left her wallet behind. Swirling in confusion, she sank on the steps and dropped her head on her knees. When she recovered a little at length, she realized that her fist was aching and it was only then that she felt the accentuated sensation of the pearl, which she found herself gripping in her fist, and though she loosened her grip, yet she couldn’t bring herself to open the fist as her mind refused to comply.
‘Oh, what should I do with this?’ she wondered, opening up her palm at length and unable to come to a conclusion in her confusion, she tucked it inside her bra, and thought, ‘let me think about it later. Would he be at her place still! Wouldn’t he have left by now? Anyway, how long can I hang on here?’
She walked back to Tara’s place languidly as if to buy time, and reaching for the buzzer finally, she virtually leaned on it, having got sapped by then. However, it was a while before a surprised Tara opened the door, only after due enquiry from within.
‘I’ve left my purse here,’ muttered Roopa apologetically, still leaning on the wall.
‘Is it so?’ said Tara, and gave way to her, having recovered from her own embarrassment, ‘I didn’t notice it.’
Roopa sprang into the room and pounced upon her purse lying by the sofa.
‘Why, you look sick,’ said Tara who was composed by then.
‘I don’t know,’ murmured Roopa for an answer.
‘I was just laid up in bed,’ Tara seemed to explain her being in lingerie.
‘I am sorry.’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Tara. ‘Have some water and go.’
‘Do take care,’ said Tara herself putting on the nightgown lying nearby.
‘It should pass,’ said Roopa and began to move out.
‘I’ll see you later,’ said Tara accompanying Roopa up to the wicket-gate.
‘Thank you,’ said Roopa crossing the gate.
‘Bye for now,’ said Tara as Roopa hit the road, and thought. ‘Could there be a better way for me to seduce her than getting myself caught red-handed at that. Won’t Roopa, the platinum premium, go home and wonder about my double life? Won’t that portend well. Oh, if only we could hunt as a pair, what game that would fetch!’
‘Bye,’ said Roopa looking back at Tara, only to find her furtively glancing at the Impala parked near the gate.
Continued to “Sathyam’s Surrender”