Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 11
Continued from “Sandhya’s Soujourn”
Once in Delhi, Sandhya found the winter harsh and the rehearsals taxing. Nevertheless, the prospect of participating in the prestigious parade excited her no end. And to uplift her spirits further, her parents wired their coming to the capital to watch the grand spectacle.
Then came the Republic Day the nation is wont to celebrate with gusto. Marching on the Rajpath that 26th January morning, Sandhya envisioned Roopa glued to her TV set. Besides, she was conscious about the presence of her parents, somewhere in the crowd, waiting to see her march past them. The thought that her dear ones were savouring her every step enhanced her grace and enlivened her vigor in her smart gait.
Soon, a thrilled Sandhya, made it back to the camp, and waited for her parents in all eagerness.
When the delighted Kalmalakars came to pick her up, she was overcome with emotion in that joyful reunion.
“We’re proud of you, dear,” said her parents patting her.
“I’m glad you’ve come,” she nestled to her mother.
“Are you put up with Rao uncle?” Sandhya said getting into the Ambassador.
“Of course,” said Kamalakar.
“Oh, how he used to tease me in those days that if he had a son, he would’ve made me his daughter-in-law,” said Sandhya, as the Ambassador headed towards Chanakyapuri.
“He still remembers that,” said Damayanthi.
When the car came to a halt in the portico of the Madhava Raos’ bungalow, the hosts came out in welcome Sandhya.
“What a smarty!” exclaimed Madhava Rao.
“Charming too,” said Chitra Rao in all admiration.
“Oh, how I regret that we haven’t adopted a boy,” said Madhava Rao half in jest.
“We can still have her in our family if she’s married to Raja Rao,” said Chitra, who got a brainwave.
‘It’s an idea dear, they would make a fine pair,” seconded Madhava Rao.
“Is the search on for a suitable boy?” enquired Chitra
“Now that she’s in the final year, I think it’s time we began the hunt,” said Damayanthi in contemplation.
“What’s the hurry?” questioned Sandhya coyly.
“Bet you won’t say that after meeting my nephew,” said Chitra as though to put ideas into Sandhya’s head.
“It looks like you’re rooting for him,” said Kamalakar thoughtfully.
“That’s true, and his resume speaks for itself,” said Madhava Rao. “He’s a Civil Engineer from IIT, Powai, and did his MS in Architecture at Brooklyn. Now he is a Senior Architect at Pioneer Architects, the market leaders. It’s rare to come across someone with his talents. Above all, he has the ability to think. And that should make him a good captain to steer ashore the marital ship through troubled waters. However, he’s twenty-eight, if that’s an objection, as Sandhya could be barely twenty.”
‘I would say he’s handsome to the bone and romantic to the core,” said Chitra seemingly to tempt Sandhya.
“What about his family background?” said Kamalakar.
“Govinda Rao, his father is a GM in Larsen & Toubro’s Bombay Plant,” said Madhava Rao. “His mother Visala is a fine woman. His sister Hyma and her husband Ranga Rao are both doctors, and they run their Nursing Home in Bombay.”
“Are they propertied?” asked Damayanthi.
“Like us, they too hail from Konaseema. They have an old house and some coconut plantations still at Kothalanka, looked after by our uncle Thimmaiah. If not well heeled, they are more than middle-class. What’s more, they’re quite cultured and good-natured,” said Chitra.
“Your satisfaction is our satisfaction, what do you say Sandhya?” said Kamalakar.
“I still say what the hurry is unless you want to drive me away,” she said shyly.
“He usually drops in on holidays but still I’ll ring him up,” said Chitra, pleased at the welcome development
As Chitra was dialing his number, as though the aunt and the nephew were on telepathic terms, Raja Rao came in.
‘Auntie is sambar on the menu?” he said, unlacing his shoes in the ante-room.
“Oh, think about the devil,” said Chitra.
“Raja, we’ve a welcome guest for you,” said a delighted Madhava Rao,
When Raja Rao entered the drawing room, Sandhya’s inquisitive gaze greeted his eager look. She could discern his piercing eyes acquire a lively look in interaction, which she later realized was frozen in her mind’s eye. She found his masculinity, enhanced with that romantic face of his, irresistibly evocative. She felt that as his tall frame and broad shoulders made him look athletically handsome, his medium dark complexion imparted a rare virility to his persona.
The customary round of introductions over, Kamalakar asked Raja Rao,
“Why is architecture for an IITan?”
“As a child I had been to many temples in the South with my parents,” The temple architecture seems to have left a lasting impression upon me. Though, it’s much later that I realized the possibility architecture offers as a profession. As you know a well-designed dwelling contributes to the quality of living,” explained Raja Rao.
“He has an intellectual bent of mind,” thought Sandhya, while her parents seemed visibly impressed with his eloquence.
“What are your hobbies like?” Damayanthi took over as the interviewer.
‘He’s a jack-of-all-trades, including human psychology,” Madhava Rao complimented,
‘By inference, a master of none,” was the Raja Rao addendum.
“Given your ability to think that’s no handicap,’’ said Chitra as though to stress upon the obvious.
‘What about your chess?” enquired Kamalakar, an ardent chess player.
“Before I got into bridge, I used to concentrate on chess. These days, whenever I find myself at the chessboard, I play more with my hand than head,” said Raja Rao.
“Interesting, but how,” wondered Kamalakar.
“Like chess, bridge too is a scientific game. While chess is all about cold logic, in bridge, in spite of your grasp of the game, the element of uncertainty lends charm to it,” theorized Raja Rao.
Finding that Sandhya wasn’t taking her eyes off him, Raja Rao said,
“You seem to be a keen observer,” and added after a pause,
“How do you find Delhi?”
Seeing the smile in his eyes, she felt shy, but said nevertheless,
“Your economy of expression is admirable,” he said smilingly.
“You must be a well-read person,” said Sandhya in admiration.
“Whatever little I read, I read well,” said Raja Rao.
‘His reading includes hand-reading,” said Madhava Rao, as if for Sandhya’s ears.
“Would you let me read your hand?” Raja Rao asked Sandhya.
“I don’t know if it interests you,” she said trying to gauge his feelings.
“That we’ll find that out after dinner,” he said with a smile.
While all moved into the drawing hall after dinner, Raja Rao stayed back in the dining room as though to remind Sandhya about her engagement. Getting the cue, she rejoined him and without a word stretched out her left hand for his take.
“May I have your right hand,” he suggested as if to get her onto the right track.
“When did you take to palmistry?” she asked him, as he was feeling her palm all over.
“When I could imagine the possibilities,” he said, looking into her eyes.
“What do you mean?” she sounded suspicious.
‘The possibility of holding hands to read in between the lines,” he said tantalizingly.
“So, you’re cleverer by half,” she withdrew her hand
‘Never mind, you’ve a fine hand that’s promising,” he said.
‘This could be your stock prediction,” she said teasing him.
“Never before with the same conviction and feeling,” he said not to be outdone.
“You’re truly impossible,” she said in that mock frustration in which women look beautifully helpless.
“Honestly, let me see what it holds,” he said, reaching for her hand.
“Why are you so curious?” she said withholding her hand.
‘Just to ascertain your marital prospects,” he said looking into her eyes.
“But how does that concern you?” she said as though under the spell of his charm.
‘Don’t you think I’m an eligible bachelor?” he said, ardently looking into her eyes.
Dropping her eyes involuntarily, she let him take her hand consciously.
“Lucky is the guy who weds you,” he said tentatively.
‘You’re supposed to predict my future, but you’re speculating someone’s fortune,” she said to point out the faux pas.
‘Hi, Sandhya, the newscast is on. See if you figure in the visuals,” yelled Damayanthi.
‘Oh, she’s there, graceful really,” said Raja Rao spotting Sandhya in time.
‘Thanks for your compliment,” she said joyously, turning her head towards him.
“I think, it’s time I get going,” said Raja Rao as he got up after the newscast.
As he exited from the scene, he wished them all good night.
“Good night,” said Sandhya, inviting his attention.
At that, their eyes met to convey their disappointment at the impending separation.
“Make it for dinner tomorrow,” said Madhava Rao who had by then sensed the infatuation that gripped his nephew and the guest.
“I would love to,” said Raja Rao, looking at Sandhya, as her eyes seemed all of adoration for him.
“Don’t you Ok him?” Madhava Rao asked Kamalakar after Raja Rao had left.
“I feel he’s a capital fellow, what do you think?” Kamalakar pushed the ball into Damayanthi’s court.
“I put the ‘c’ in the upper case for Sandhya,” Damayanthi kept the ball rolling.
“We’ll know that from the horse’s mouth, right now,” said Madhava Rao with the exaggerated manner of a compère.
“If you all feel that he’s right for me, he’s fine for me,” said Sandhya coyly, sinking her head into The Illustrated Weekly of India that she was holding.
‘Leave the rest to me and contact your purohit for the sumuhurtham,“ said Madhava Rao in all excitement.
As the elders began recounting the like incidents of matchmaking they had heard of, none took note of Sandhya slipping into the guest room to be on her own.
Lay up in the bed, Sandhya tried to fathom the persona of the man that induced love in her heart.
‘But what about him?’ she thought at length. ‘Isn’t he’s enamored of me.’
She fondly recalled his disappointed look when he got up to leave, and the way his eyes glowed with life when Madhava Rao asked him to come the next day. ‘Was it not owing to the prospect of meeting me again,’ she thought endearingly. ‘Why, it’s clear that he’s fascinated by me.’
‘But would he like to marry me? Were it possible, for him it’s no more than a calf-love in the euphoria of our youthful interaction?’ she became doubtful and dispirited at that. ‘After all, he’s smart and is pretty sure of himself, isn’t he? For all that, he could be a ladies’ man and not the marrying type, who knows?’
‘Am I already in love with him? Of course, isn’t there something in him that is fascinating,’ she tried to fathom his persona. ‘Is it his face? Never have I seen a romantic face like that before. Won’t it compel women to admire him even as it evokes pity in their souls! Maybe, it’s that unique feature of his face that imparts a rare appeal to his persona.’
‘Well, there’s much more to his personality than his physicality,’ she contemplated. ‘There’s a flowing ease about his manner as well. Though he appears casual, he doesn’t look indifferent. With all his accomplishments, he doesn’t put on any airs. I wonder how he manages to look so confident without a semblance of arrogance! Wonder how can he sound so firm without appearing adamant? Above all, his persona personifies romanticism abetted by his maleness, doesn’t it? Why, he’s a real he-man if there was ever one.’
‘Haven’t I become a romantic in his thoughts! If only I become his wife, won’t I turn passionate as well?’ she thought coyly.
As her imagination surged into romanticism, her thoughts turned to Roopa. ‘Oh, I’m doomed. He’s a silly guy’ - she recalled Roopa’s words. Having met the man who excited the dormant romantic in her, Sandhya understood the true import of Roopa’s predicament. The exciting prospect of her marrying Raja Rao enabled her imagine the disillusionment of Roopa’s life as Sathyam’s wife.
‘Though I could always feel the state of her mind then, it’s only now that I’m able to visualize the pathos of her heart.’ she thought melancholically.
Caught in the conflict of hope for herself and despair of her mate, her heart seemed to have turned to love for solace much before sleep could provide it for her.
Continued to “Poignant Moment”