Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 9
Continued from “Threshold of Temptation”
Sinking into the sofa on reaching home, Roopa closed her eyes as if to eliminate the environs, and began to focus her thoughts on the object of her agitation. ‘This is yours by right,’ she recalled Ravi’s words as she felt for the pearl on her breast. Finding it in the left cup, she retrieved it like a treasure and posited it on her palm in adoration. Then gazing at it lovingly, she recalled his complement, ‘In terms of money it costs next to nothing, but it symbolizes beauty at its very best, seen through a connoisseur’s eyes.’
‘Those were the words of a confident man who is handsome as well,’ she thought endearingly. ‘How his eyes glowed the moment they fell on me! Didn’t his demeanor evidence the conviction his compliment carried.’ While the alluring praise endeared the pearl to her receptive mind, her innate vanity was catered to by the accomplishments of the man who presented it thus. She bowed her head, as though in reverence to it, and kissing the thing with affection, she held it by her lips while reclining like the reigning queen.
‘What he should’ve thought of me, for accepting it?’ as it occurred to her at length, she recoiled at that. ‘Haven’t I given him scope for hope? Oh yes, I did.’ It was only time before she was distressed that she had compromised her honor, and terrified, she dropped the pearl. ‘That’s why he stressed that we meet again. But, why did I allow him to take me for granted?’ She felt ashamed. As she got vexed with herself, she resented the very thought of him.
It’s the character of man woman chemistry that feminine tendencies catalyze male proclivities. Carried away by the euphoria of her coquetry, man begins to woo woman with hope. With her vanity thus addressed by his advances, she turns flirtatious, furthering his passion for her possession. In the excitement of the moment, should he transgress the threshold of her sensitivity, fearing she had compromised her honor, she sinks in shame. Thereafter, she withdraws from him to brood over her infirmity, and in the end, as though to atone for her moment of weakness, she cold-shoulders him altogether, making him wonder what went wrong in the midst of his conquest.
Picking up the pearl from her lap, she flung it through the window as though to sever her humiliation. ‘It must be his device to entice women,’ she cursed herself for having given a poor account of herself to him. ‘Why did I fail to fling the thing at him, then and there? Had I done that, it would have given him the real measure of my true worth. Instead of showing him his place, I gave him cause to think in terms of conquest. What a shame! But why did I allow myself to get carried away? Surely he would have taken me for a flirt or a slut even for all that. Oh, how I compromised myself.’
As she was smarting under her perceived humiliation, it occurred to her shock that Tara was a witness to all that. And that pulled her even more. ‘What might she have thought of me? Won’t she take me to be a flirt? What a disaster that a fellow woman should be privy to my waywardness. How can I face her ever?’
‘For all I know, he could be her convenient cousin,’ as her thoughts insensibly turned to Tara’s relationship with the visitor, Roopa’s bitterness began to wane, ‘They seem to be on familiar terms after all. Her disheveled look and the time she took to open the door, that too in lingerie! Didn’t that give her up? It’s obvious that they were in the thick of it when I went there. Of course, her furtive glance at that Impala was a kiss and tell, wasn’t it? Obviously, he’s her paramour, oh, Tara!’
As the possibility of Tara’s infidelity inexplicably brought tranquility to Roopa’s mind, she began to review her own views about Tara. ‘It’s her affair any way, but what should be my stance? She appears to be good-natured and there is Yadamma’s word for that. Maybe, she has her own compulsions to take a lover, and why should it bother others, save her husband. Won’t he be in the know of it, after all?’
While the idea induced curiosity in her, Roopa tried to apply her mind to it, ‘Why, they seem to be making use of his nuptial bed for their illicit sex. Who knows, her man might be ignoring her whoring though privy to her peccadilloes. Maybe, that’s the compromise Tara was hinting at.’
‘Where would her friendship lead me to?’ thought Roopa trying to take stock of the situation. ‘Won’t Tara try to mould me into her fold, for company? Hasn’t she dropped enough hints already at that? Is it possible that I may as well be tempted in her infectious acquaintance? But am I hankering for any thrills by the frills? No, never! Am I not clear about that! Well, I’m not up for grabs for some playboy like this guy. Temptations may come and go but surely I would stick to my goal. Let there be no mistaking that.’
‘But how to go about with Tara?’ she thought at length. ‘Well, she is refreshingly intelligent and ineffably attractive and what’s more I have come to enjoy her company, haven’t I? Then what sense does it make to forsake the pleasure of her friendship when I’m steadfast in my resolve? But, can I avoid the peril that Tara poses? Why not I take it as a challenge for the true test of fidelity is coming up trumps in the face of temptation by a seducer, as my craving is for romancing with that elusive he-man of my dreams and not to lust as the mistress of some moneyed. That’s for sure.’
However, baffled by her own sympathy and understanding for Tara in spite of her questionable character, she thought, ‘one is supposed to be critical in these matters, isn’t it?’
She was still lost in her reverie when Sathyam came home in the evening. As the sight of him brought back Ravi into her mental focus, her perceived humiliation at the hands of the trespasser made her feel disdainful about her man.
“Are you ill?” enquired Sathyam anxiously, seeing her distraught.
“I’ve a headache,” she said holding her head.
“I’ll prepare some coffee for you,” he moved into the kitchen.
“Don’t bother,” she followed him.
Aided by her resolve to bury the past, Roopa soon enough got over that nightmarish experience.
That afternoon, Roopa was daydreaming about Sandhya’s amour, when Tara came calling evoking mixed feelings in her - while her presence irked Roopa for its association with her humiliation, her persona tickled her own visualization of lesbianism with her.
“Ravi is all praise for you,” said Tara at length, with an eye for Roopa’s reaction.
“Well,” said Roopa.
Having noticed a subtle change of expression in Roopa’s face, the result of her effort to be indifferent, Tara continued,
“He swore that he didn’t come across a more charming woman than you.”
“Would you mind some tea for us now,” Roopa changed the topic.
“Why not we have it a little later, if you please,” said Tara not wanting to lose the momentum.
“When are your kids back from school?” said Roopa showing her indifference.
“Around four,” said Tara eager to get over the nice talk.
“Yadamma says they’re lovely, like you,” said Roopa
“Why not you see for yourself, shall I send them to you?” said Tara laying the trap.
“Why trouble them, I’d come sometime,” Roopa was forced to say.
‘Welcome but just out of curiosity, are you thinking of taking up a job?” said Tara.
“I haven’t graduated,” said Roopa.
“Never mind that, Ravi is keen having you as his personal secretary and the salary shouldn’t be a constraint, that’s what he said,” Tara began tentatively,
“It’s nice of him but I’m not for it,” said Roopa.
“I think it’s too good an opportunity to let go. I tell you his business is growing by leaps and bounds, so you can take your advancement for granted,” said Tara in her attempt to lure Roopa.
‘I told you that I’m not qualified,” said Roopa to dissuade Tara
“Your assets and abilities are qualifications enough. Frankly, any boss would love to have you under his wings and that makes it a smooth sailing for you all the way up,” said Tara not giving up.
“It’s true that I’m not experienced in life but I guess his offer won’t further my idea of life, and as for us, I’m sure, we can have many meeting points to keep meeting,” said Roopa as though to bring that to an end.
“Ok, leave it but do count me as a well-wisher,” said Tara resignedly.
Then the conversation turned general, and Tara left after quite a while, leaving Roopa to ponder over her double life. At length, pleased with herself for having resisted the seducer as well as the seductress, Roopa felt vindicated. But she was unmindful of the fact that in overcoming the temptation, she allowed her resolve for fidelity to get dented.
Feeling lazy that spring day, Sathyam bunked office, and as was her wont, Roopa went out to pick up some book from the library to the refrain of the librarian that “Madam does justice to her subscription.”
When she came back, she found Sathyam reading a letter that she thought was from her in-laws.
“How’s everyone?” enquired Roopa.
“It’s from Chandrika,” he said, having read it by then.
As he gave it to her, she went through that expectantly.
‘My dear Roopa,
I hope this letter finds you and my brother-in-law in fine spirits.
We got married this morning at the Registrar’s Office. Only our parents as well as his were present as witnesses. We both missed you to say the least. As you know, if not for your accommodation, we would not have made it at all. However, I did not insist on your presence, as it would be embarrassing to you in your in-laws’ house.
The first thing I am doing after reaching home is to pen down my gratitude to you. Whatever happiness life affords me from now on, I know that I owe it to you.
We will be leaving for Madras next week as he got a job there. After going there, I will try to find a placement for me.
Meanwhile with love,
PS: Sandhya called on us yesterday and says she misses you as ever.’
“You should’ve left it for me to read,” said Roopa softly, folding the letter.
“I thought there may not be any secrets between spouses,” he said, taking offence to her statement, which, given the nature of the news the letter contained, she took it as a taunt.
“It’s not about secrets but about courtesies, moreover, it’s not my secret either. Whatever, you shouldn’t have read my letter,” she said coolly.
“Don’t teach me manners; I don’t see anything wrong with it, as your husband, I’ve every right to know about your affairs,” he tried to defend himself, aggressively though.
“I don’t think that by being your wife, I’ve lost my identity. I hope you would respect my privacy in future,” she said firmly.
“Are you suggesting that I am uncouth?” he said volubly.
“I stated a fact, that’s all,” she said vexed herself.
‘Are you afraid that I may catch some more skeletons?” he said provocatively.
It’s the behavioral pattern with many, in that having committed an indiscretion in the first place; they tend to assume an aggressive posture to provoke an argument, as though to obliterate the origins of their misdemeanor that led to the ordeal.
“It’s not fair at all,” she said trying to be composed.
“So, you talk about fairness and all, now I know why you were married off in such haste, dropping you from the college mid-course,” he said raising his voice.
‘There’s Ramu’s parallel, isn’t it?” she said defiantly.
“His affairs won’t affect us as your sister’s would,” he mouthed words for an argument.
“If that bothers you, you’re free to divorce me,” she said tersely as she went into the kitchen.
The unexpected turn of events shocked Sathyam, and he realized that it was all of his own making. He thought of apologizing but his pride came in the way of compromising with his wife. As a way out of his predicament, he went out, as though to give her time to cool down.
When he came back, he found food was laid on the table but saw Roopa lying in the bed.
“Oh, come, let’s have dinner,” he said going her.
“I’ve no stomach for food now,” she said curtly.
“Leaving you starving, do you think I would fill my belly?” he said, sitting beside her.
She got up without a word, and he followed her to the table. After that silent dinner, seeing her make a bed for herself in the hall, he said persuasively,
“Let’s forget about it.”
As she didn’t respond, he repeated himself, if only more earnestly.
‘Maybe, it’s easy for you,” she said as she laid a makeshift bed for her.
“I am sorry,” he said sitting beside her.
“By now I know your sorriness is meant only to obtain bedtime favors,” she said pushing him away.
“It’s not so, I am really sorry,” he pleaded holding onto her.
“Every time you say the same thing?’ she reminded him.
“Never again,” he said submissively.
“Then, swear that you won’t misbehave with me,” she stretched her hand with the palm outstretched.
“I, Sathyam, the once obedient son of Pathrudugaru, but now the devoted husband of Roopa Devi, solemnly affirm not to hurt my better half in any manner whatsoever, etc., etc.,” he said taking her hand.
“If ever you hurt me again, you can write me off forever,” she said as though she were cautioning him even as he pulled her into his arms to affect her surrender.
“Could I ever forgo your favors?” he said as she coyly sank into his embrace.
In surrendering herself thus, she ensured his surrender forever. It’s the irony of woman’s life in that she tends to turn her assets to her own detriment in that while her psyche seeks to see her man strong; her instinct tries to weaken him.
Continued to “Sandhya’s Sojourn”