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Curtain of Courtesy
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Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 19

Continued from “Fetishes of Fantasy”

At the break of the dawn, Roopa awoke to the sound of the buzzer, and was surprised to see Sathyam at the door. 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, ‘I didn’t want to waste my time there, as they weren’t ready with their paperwork. Had I known that you were coming, I wouldn’t have gone there at all.’ Somehow Sathyam always felt Sandhya’s genuine warmth elevated his self-worth whereas Roopa’s condescending love tended to undermine his self-esteem.

‘We came as you left,’ said Raja Rao in greeting, extending his hand to Sathyam, ‘and we would be leaving by the evening.’

‘Wish you stayed for a couple of days more,’ said Sathyam in disappointment.

‘We’ve planned to spend some time with my parents before we pack off to Delhi,’ said Raja Rao.

‘When will you come to Delhi?’ said Sandhya to Sathyam, leaning on Roopa’s shoulder, ‘at least in reciprocation.’

‘Let Roopa fix the muhurtham,’ said Sathyam as he went to freshen himself.

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

‘Do you really need one?’ said Raja Rao. ‘Don’t you know you’re always welcome?’

‘Oh, now I see,’ said Roopa joyously, ‘that it’s a two-way highway.’

After a while, having gone through ‘The Hindu’ in the meantime, Sathyam and Raja Rao began to chit-chat. In the kitchen however, Sandhya was assisting Roopa in the preparation of dosas and sambar for breakfast.

‘With all that clout,’ said Raja Rao, ‘it must be a heady feeling working in the department.’

‘True, it’s glamorous at the top,’ grumbled Sathyam, ‘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.’

‘I always felt,’ commented Raja Rao, ‘there’s a striking similarity between a middle-class home and a government office. One earns for half-a-dozen that sit at home, and at the office, one works and a score gossip.’

‘If anything,’ lamented Sathyam, ‘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.’

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

‘That only shows his frustration,’ said Sandhya.

‘That’s okay, 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,’ they heard Raja Rao tell Sathyam. ‘But, I for one think that it’s a subject that needs to be viewed with a broader perspective.’

‘I’m sorry if I’ve given you the impression that I’m unsympathetic to 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 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 because none comes forward to marry her? You know that he would search the earth to find her a match. If it comes to that, he would cough up the extra buck for 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 then paused to see how Sathyam reacted, and finding no bad blood, he said,

‘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? Won’t he support him all through while bequeathing a little more in the end. 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,’ continued Raja Rao even as Roopa brought some coffee for him and milk for Sathyam. ‘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, we lose countenance, not counting our jealousy, that they too might seem patronizing from the altered stations.’

‘Is it unfair,’ questioned Sathyam spiritedly, ‘to expect the qualified from the scheduled casts to fend for themselves?’

‘Should the government wash off its hands,’ continued Raja Rao, ‘after doling out some sops here and providing a few props there, won’t that amount to a half measure? It has to support them at every stage until their faculties are developed, needing no more 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,’ said Sathyam, ‘and that too when they tend to misuse the opportunities?’

‘Perhaps, you’ve answered that yourself,’ said Raja Rao. ‘Hasn’t the society ostracized them physically and suppressed them morally for centuries, 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 envisage 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 why we fail to put ourselves in their sectarian shoes, knowing that birth is a chancy proposition, after all.’

‘But where’s the need for 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 won’t make the grade and go back to square one. That would only dent the community confidence besides demoralizing the affected individuals. The key to their ennoblement lies in the caste confidence brought about by individual enrichment. It should be realized that those mandatory ministerial berths and the quota of secretaries would only help buttress their communal self-worth. Maybe, to better their lot, their general welfare is to be addressed while their community should be helped to build its economic base through tiny enterprise.’

‘In spite of being the most favored,’ Sathyam was critical, ‘won’t they still desert our religion?’

‘That’s the irony of the Hindu society,’ said Raja Rao sadly. ‘So long as they’re in our fold, we have nothing to do with them, but when they change their faith in frustration, we blame it upon them! What’s the use of gloating over our great religion, when we fail to make them feel at home even in our Gods’ abodes? Why we never give them cause to believe that Hinduism is their religion, do we?’

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

‘It seems sensitivity is all about the ability to see from the side of the deprived,’ said Sandhya who came to serve them breakfast.

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. In the end, reaching the Secunderabad Railway Station in the evening, they retrieved the luggage from the cloakroom. As Sathyam volunteered to keep pace with the coolie, Raja Rao stopped at Higginbotham’s. At that, Roopa slowed down, pretending to mend her chappal, even as Sandhya proceeded to keep company with Sathyam. Sensing Roopa’s gesture, Raja Rao joined her hurriedly, picking up the current ‘Sunday’.

‘I hope,’ he said, as he reached towards her, ‘you remember.’

‘Can I forget,’ she said, without raising her head.

‘I shall always cherish you,’ he said lovingly.

As she was about to say something, he realized that they were in the earshot of Sathyam, and so he hailed him as though to forewarn her.

‘While his presence has set the narrative of my life in poetic prose, won’t his absence make it prosaic all again?’ Roopa thought, and looked at Raja Rao longingly as they went up to Sathyam and Sandhya.

At length, when the guard whistled, Roopa felt as though Raja Rao’s eyes whispered, ‘I love you.’

Waving to them as the Minar Express chugged out, Roopa wondered, ‘Would I ever be able to make my life poetic in his passion? Am I really destined for that?’

Continued to “Blueprint in the Offing”

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