Curtain of Courtesy

Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 19

Continued from “Fetishes of Fantasy”

At the break of dawn, Roopa awoke to the sound of the doorbell, and was surprised to find Sathyam at the threshold. Seeing the makeshift bed in the hall, he was surprised in turn, but before he could enquire from Roopa, he got the reply from Sandhya,

“I’m happy you’ve come.”

While Roopa took the briefcase from Sathyam’s hand, Raja Rao, who had joined them by then, observed her demeanor to discern her emotions, and having noticed a perceptible disappointment in her, he felt vindicated.

“Glad I’ve come back,” said a visibly delighted Sathyam.

“But what of your work?” said Roopa.

“I didn’t want to waste my time over there, as they weren’t ready with their paperwork. Had I got even a wink of your visit, I wouldn’t have gone at all,” said Sathyam.

Somehow Sathyam always felt that whereas Sandhya’s genuine warmth elevated his self-worth, Roopa’s constrained affection tended to undermine his self-esteem.

“We reached as you left and would be leaving as you came,” said Raja Rao in greeting, extending his hand to Sathyam.

“When is that?” said Sathyam

“By today’s Minar,” said Raja Rao.

‘Wish you’ve stayed a while,’ said Sathyam.  

“I would’ve loved that,” said Raja Rao, more for Roopa’s ears.

“I’ve asked him to extend his leave but,” said Sandhya.

“I know it’s not easy,” said Sathyam.

“I’d half a mind to skip Bombay but Sandhya was insistent,” said Raja Rao.  

“If not, your parents could think she has already weaned you away from them,” said Roopa in jest.

“You double up for her advocate, don’t you?” said Raja Rao to Roopa

“Be our first guests in Delhi,” said Sandhya to Sathyam, leaning on Roopa’s shoulder.

“Let Roopa fix the muhurtham,” said Sathyam as he went to freshen himself.

“I’ll wait for the call,” said Roopa dreamily.

“Don’t keep us waiting,” said Raja Rao smilingly.

“You’re a master at pushing the ball into others’ court,” said Roopa to Sandhya’s mirth.

Sometime later, as Sathyam and Raja Rao began chit-chatting, Sandhya assisted Roopa in preparing dosas and sambar for breakfast.

“With all that clout, it must be a heady feeling working in the department,” said Raja Rao to pep up Sathyam.

“True, it’s glamorous at the top, but it’s drudgery all the way down, more so for honest folks like us. The conscientious carry the burden, and the unscrupulous walk away with the spoils,” grumbled Sathyam.

“I always felt that there’s a similarity between a middle-class home and a government office; one earns for half-a-dozen, and a score gossip as one works,” said Raja Rao,

“If anything, the reservations ruined the work culture further; seeing the way the scheduled casts and scheduled tribes s are promoted out of turn, in double-quick time, others have come to doubt the virtue of hard work. The net result is that hardly anyone works in the departments these days,” lamented Sathyam.  

“It’s the way he cribs to whoever listens; either he makes you mad by narrating how he’s being ignored in spite of his worth, or bores you to death by enlightening how the reservations are ruining the nation,” said Roopa to Sandhya in consternation.

“Why don’t you see that as his criticism of the system?” said Sandhya.

“Could be but there must be a limit to one’s lament,” said Roopa, and added as though on a second thought, “more so in matters like these.”

“I can understand your feelings but I think that it’s a subject that needs to be viewed with a broader perspective,” they heard Raja Rao tell Sathyam.  

“I’m sorry if I’ve given you the impression that I’m unsympathetic towards them,” Sathyam said in clarification. “No, that’s not the case. What I feel is, and let me tell you, it’s the general perception, that the government could support them by extending all possible help to pursue their education. But let the job market be truly open for competition.”

“I don’t think that’s how we should approach this issue,” said Raja Rao. “Let me explain by way of an example. Would any father leave his plain daughter remain a spinster simply because none comes forward to marry her? You know that he would go round the globe to find her a match. When it comes to that, he would cough up the extra buck for her dowry. If her better endowed sisters were to grouse for that concern, won’t he say that he owed it to her to see her married as well?”

Raja Rao paused to see how Sathyam reacted, and finding no bad blood, he continued,

“In case a son doesn’t shine as well as his siblings, would the father bask in the glory of his glorious sons, leaving the sluggard to his fate? Why, he would certainly support him all through besides bequeathing a little more to him in his will. If his other sons were to cry foul, the father’s soul might as well wonder in the heaven, ‘Why do these guys, enjoying the fortunes of a bright birth, envy the props I provided for their poor brother?”

“It’s a peculiar feature of human nature that we love to see those close to us, climb up the staircase of success, but, behind us. If they happen to catch up with us, needing to share the space with them, we feel choked, and were they to overtake us, we feel morose, though they might remain friendly. It is because, used as we were to condescend to descend in our affections to them, we lose countenance, not counting our jealousy, that they too might seem patronizing from their altered stations,” articulated Raja Rao even as Sandhya brought for them some crispy dosas with spicy sambar to savour.

“By the same logic, is it unfair to expect the qualified from the scheduled casts to fend for themselves?” questioned Sathyam spiritedly.

“That’s comparing apples with oranges,” retorted Raja Rao. “After doling out some sops here and providing a few props there, were the government to wash off its hands, won’t that amount to a half measure? It has to support them at every stage until their faculties are developed, needing no more concessional crutches. If others feel aggrieved about that, it only amounts to grieving over the recompense to the unfortunates while themselves enjoying the benefits of a more fortunate birth. Not that I can’t understand the individual inequities these reservations bring about, but for the greater social good, we’ve got to put up with these aberrations. After all, it’s these reserved positions that enable them to hold their head high in the social milieu, which had spurned them all along.”

“But for how long and that too when they tend to misuse the sops?” said Sathyam

“Maybe, you’ve answered that yourself,” said Raja Rao. “Hasn’t the society, all along, ostracized them physically and suppressed them morally, thereby sinking their collective consciousness into a morass. Knowing well what it takes to regain one’s self-confidence after a reverse or two, would it be difficult to imagine what it takes for the so-called SCs and STs to start believing in themselves? Do you honestly believe that the climate today is conducive to their emotional integration with the social mainstream? It’s surprising that we fail to put ourselves in their sectarian shoes, knowing full well that birth, after all, is a chancy proposition.’

“But of what avail are the second-generation reservations?” questioned Sathyam.

“For that, let’s consider the affects of the withdrawal syndrome,” explained Raja Rao. “As can be expected, some among the newly-arrived won’t make the grade and go back to square one. If not propped up in their altered stations, won’t their fall from grace, besides demoralizing the affected individuals, dent the community confidence? So the key to their ennoblement lies in their caste confidence brought about by the individual advancement. It should be realized that those mandatory ministerial berths and the quota of secretaries would only help buttress their communal self-worth. More so, to better their lot, their general welfare is to be addressed while their community should be helped to build its economic base through tiny enterprises.”

“In spite of being the most favoured lot, won’t they still desert our religion?” said Sathyam.   

“That’s the irony of the Hindu society,” said Raja Rao sadly. “So long as they’re in our fold, we don’t feel that they are our own, but when they leave us in frustration, we blame it upon them! What’s the use of gloating over our great religion, when we bar them into our gods’ abodes? So, we never give them cause to believe that Hinduism is their religion, do we?”

“Maybe, that’s the way to look at these issues,” said Sathyam resignedly.

“So the moral of the story is to view the other side of the fence with sensitive eyes,” said Roopa, who brought some coffee for Raja Rao and milk for Sathyam.

The rest of the day turned out to be uneventful for Roopa and Raja Rao though it enabled Sathyam and Sandhya get closer to each other.

When they reached the Secunderabad Railway Station that late noon, as Raja Rao retrieved the luggage from the cloakroom, Sathyam volunteered to keep pace with the coolie ahead of them. Noticing that Raja Rao stopped at the Higginbothams, as Roopa slowed down, pretending to mend her chappal, Sandhya proceeded to catch up with Sathyam. Sensing Roopa’s gesture, Raja Rao quickly picked up the current ‘Sunday’ and reached her hurriedly.

“So,” he said.

She gave him a longing look.

“I miss you,” he said.

“I’m lost,” she said, without raising her head.

“Can I hope?” he said ardently.

Having kept quiet for long, as if lost for words, as she was about to respond, realizing that they neared Sathyam by then, as though to forewarn her, he called out to him.

In time, with the luggage secured in the coupe, as Sathyam and Sandhya were lost in their conversation, Raja Rao and Roopa lent their eyes to their love for its soulful expression. Thus, when the guard whistled, Roopa felt as though Raja Rao’s eyes whispered, ‘I love you.’

‘As his presence has set the narrative of my life in poetic prose, won’t his absence make it prosaic all again?’ Roopa thought as the Minar Express was about to move, and waving to them as the train chugged out of the station, she wondered, ‘Will I be able to make my life poetic in his passion? Am I destined for him?’

Continued to “Blueprint in the Offing”


More by :  BS Murthy

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