Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 21
Continued from “Blueprint in the Offing”
That morning as the Minar reached Dadar, Raja Rao and Sandhya were all set to alight, and exiting from the railway station, with a couple of porters, who carried their luggage, they hired a cab to Chembur. And in time, Sandhya stepped into a spacious flat to the warmth of her in-laws’ greetings.
“Any complaints about my son?” said Gopala Rao in jest, taking himself away from The Times of India.
As Sandhya smiled coyly, enquired Visala,
“How’re your parents?”
“I brought their pranaams to all of you,” said Sandhya.
“How’re the Thimmaiahs?” enquired Gopala Rao.
“They’re evergreen as ever,” said Raja Rao.
“How’s our house by the way?” asked Visala.
“Sandhya may tell you,” said Raja Rao.
“Was it all funny Sandhya?” Visala smiled.
“Oh, no, it’s vintage” said Sandhya reminiscently.
“How’s Roopa?” asked Visala.
“She’s fine,” said Sandhya.
“We all took to her a lot, more so Hyma,” said Visala.
“She too holds you all very highly,” said Sandhya, and felt, ‘it’s good that his family has taken to her, and that helps, just in case.’
“How’s Hyma and my B-I-L?” enquired Raja Rao.
“They’re all so eager to spend some time with Sandhya,” said Visala.
After having a good time at her father-in-law’s house, towards the evening, Sandhya accompanied Raja Rao to his sister’s place at Andheri.
“We should’ve received you at the railway station but my brother was not for it,” said Hyma apologetically to Sandhya.
“Obviously Raja wanted to go the extra mile alone with his bride,” said Ranga Rao making Sandhya blush to the roots.
“You look exquisite,” said Hyma hugging Sandhya.
“It’s all your affection,” said Sandhya clasping Hyma.
“How’s Roopa?” asked Hyma still holding Sandhya.
“She is fine and is all praise for you,” said Sandhya withdrawing herself.
“She’s quite impressive,” said Ranga Rao.
“Had she had her way, she would’ve been well on her way to join your profession,” said Sandhya reminiscently.
“So the medical fraternity is deprived of a charming lady doctor,” said Ranga Rao mimicking sadness.
“This is MCP syndrome, the inability to value women other than for their beauty,” said Hyma in mock anger.
“Raja, sorry I couldn’t make it to your marriage but am glad that you got a nice wife,” said Perindevi, Ranga Rao’s mother, after taking a close look at Sandhya.
“You look fifty at your seventy,” Raja Rao greeted her while Sandhya bowed at the old woman’s feet.
“Thank my grand children for that,” said the old woman affectionately as Prem and Preeti, aged five and three, flocked to her.
“Don’t you remember me?” asked Sandhya, inviting them into her arms.
“You’re our beautiful Sandhya auntie,” said Preeti while Prem remained shy.
“Raja, I’ve heard that your father-in-law performed your wedding in grandeur; by the way, how much dowry did your wife fetch?” said Perindevi.
“It’s a case of Archimedes Principle applied to matrimony, the more a groom is taken to the bride all the more he loses on the dowry. So my father-in-law weighed me light on that count,” said Raja Rao in jest.
After a mirthful time, followed by dinner, as they stepped out of the house, said Raja Rao to Sandhya,
“It’s great fun with relatives if wife is around.”
“More so, if her father is made fun of,” she said trying to be sarcastic.
“You know all that was in jest,” he said cajoling her.
“Have I asked for your clarification?” she said rather curtly.
“So you want to hang me without a hearing,” he said tying his handkerchief to his neck.
“I only thought you’ve the gift of the gab, now I see that you’ve theatrics to boot,” she said in the same vein.
“Even in your kaali avatar, you look angelic,” he said endearingly.
For once, she seemed not pleased, and, in time, they boarded the city bus that barged in to the bus stop. After that long ride of silence, when they reached home, Sandhya headed to the bed straight, though after greeting her in-laws.
“Why this fuss over some lighthearted banter?” said Raja Rao, who followed suit.
“Who prevented you from finding a father-in-law who could’ve weighed you in gold?” she said turning her back on him.
“You’re God’s own gift to me, let’s forget about it,” he said taking her into his arms.
“Let’s forget about it, good night,” she said nudging him away.
“Sandhya, do realise that sex is the nature’s gift for both the sexes. If you mistake that you’ve more to give than receive in it, then the woman in you would lose as wife for you won’t be able to experience the joy of being a female. So don’t ever demean lovemaking as an instrument of sexual blackmail. It pays you to know that sex is not about male satiation alone but it is as much a womanly fulfillment,” he said persuasively.
“I’m really sorry, I’ll never make that mistake again,” she said, and moved into his outstretched arms.
“It’s not entirely your fault though; I should’ve known that any bride would be sensitive when it comes to her parents. You may know that I value your parents as much as I do mine,” he said, as he reached for her lips to savour the flavour of their first reconciliation.
“Now I love your mind too, I’m proud of you, really,” she said, and initiated their deep kissing.
It’s in the realms of man’s vision to ennoble his woman by enabling her to taste the fruits of femininity rather than know towing to her fallacies to possess her womanliness for the satiation of his carnal cravings.
After grappling with Bombay’s gripping humidity for a week, the Raja Raos had to encounter New Delhi’s sweltering heat that June-end.
When Sandhya stepped into the drawing room of modest two-bedroom apartment in Karol Bagh, she experienced a rare sense of belonging though she knew that it was a rented one, and as if to cement her sentiment, Raja Rao lost no time to take her into his arms.
“Sorry, I’ve been a spendthrift,” he said, in explanation of lack paraphernalia therein.
“Surely it’s a bachelor’s prerogative,” she said smilingly.
“I’m sure you would induce in me a married man’s responsibilities,” he said.
‘Why not I take up a job,’ she said enthusiastically.
“A thousand or more that you could earn may not be needed now, but won’t be sufficient later if need be. So better you improve your qualification and acquire skills for a paying career,” he said.
“I’ve an aptitude for interior design; I like to take a diploma course in that,” she said excitedly.
“When we go on our own, you can complement my architectural pursuits,” he said shaking her hand.
“I love to contribute in all your endeavours,” she said kissing his hand.
Then following him into other portions, she felt the place was her very own, and as though to express her gratitude to him for having given her that feeling, she enlaced him from behind, and said fondling him,
“As I’ve a home to call mine, I feel I’ve an identity of my own,” she said feeling fulfilled.
“So, I’m left out?” he said in jest.
“Even if I want to, I know you won’t let me,” she said clinging to him closely.
“Though it’s a bit premature, a little lecture may not be out of place,” he said as they began having samosas they picked up on the way.
“I’m sure you would’ve shined as a lecturer as well,” she said admiringly.
“It’s as well that we all need some space on which we’ve the lien; while man protects his workplace, woman clings on to the kitchen. Try asking a clerk to move his table to an obscure corner, though he might not oppose, but yet he would be resentful. The mother-in-law syndrome, to some extent, is rooted in woman’s compulsive need to reign in her home. When she is forced to share it with her daughter-in-law, she shows it in not-so-subtle ways, and when it comes to a woman’s equation with her man, it’s said that she might even suffer a rival in his bed but wouldn’t like share her kitchen with any, strange though it may seem!” he said meaningfully.
“I hope to mature by then,” she said.
“Given your sweet nature, I’m sure you would,” he said affectionately.
‘Smart that he is, he’s preparing me for sharing him with Roopa, as if I need any preparation for that, and when it comes to sharing the kitchen, it’s altogether different with the lesbians,’ she thought.
Shortly before noon, they went to the Machala Rao’s place, where it all began, for lunch, and stayed there till the evening, from where; they reached the Malhotras, members of Raja Rao’s bridge circle.
“So, you’ve a dealt yourself a GS of a wife,” said Malhotra, obviously impressed with Sandhya.
“Welcome to the new member,” said Mrs. Malhotra.
“But I say, we sorely missed you at Panaji,” said Malhotra.
“How did it all go?” asked Raja Rao.
“It’s more memorable off-the-table than on-the-table,” said Malhotra. “In the Swiss League, we failed to make it to the final round by just three VPs. I’m sure your presence would’ve seen us through.”
“What’s with the progressive four?” Raja Rao enquired.
“I’m only coming to that, it’s better forgotten but for MV Rao’s classic comment,” laughed Malhotra boisterously, and continued mirthfully. “Surely you remember the ‘Queens of Trumps’, the ladies team from Bombay. As it happened, they overbid LS against Sinha and Uday and went three shy. Yet, as they eventually won the event, Sinha got ecstatic, as you know he would often, and for no good reason. So, he went on praising them, though reminding them that he give them a zero on his table. Amused by Sinha’s raving, MV Rao pulled him aside and said,
“Sinha saab what’s so exciting in giving a zero to women; had you taken ‘zeros’ from them and given them a ‘one’, it would’ve been the time to gloat over.”
As Malhotra joined Raja Rao afresh to laugh their hearts out, their women looked at each other in embarrassment.
“You men and your party jokes,” snarled Mrs. Malhotra.
“Sexual colour provides fillip to good humour like nothing else,” retorted Malhotra.
“What else?” said Raja Rao.
“Mrs. Rajan was enquiring about you. She still remembers the way you squeezed her hand at Madras last year,” said Malhotra.
“Mrs. Rao may wonder what this squeezing is all about,” said Mrs. Malhotra in all smiles.
“That’s why I say, let’s initiate the bride into bridge right away,” said Malhotra, reaching for a couple of new packs.
As the novice partnered the expert then, they had a long session at the table, followed by the North Indian culinary that satiated their palates as well.
“With Mrs. Rajan, it should’ve been a pleasant experience for the ladies’ man, even in bridge terms,” said Sandhya admiringly, as they left the Malhotras only to reach a nearby Ice-cream Parlour.
“It’s more interesting if seen from the angle of human proclivities,” said Raja Rao. “In Madras, last year, Malhotra and I chanced to play against a team from the Gymkhana Club. In the open room, we had for our opponents Mrs. Rajan and her partner. Introductions over, I asked her whether she knew Hema, my cousin, a regular at their club. Though she acknowledged their acquaintance, yet she didn’t enquire further, apparently treating me as a poor cousin of her club mate,” he said.
“Really!” said Sandhya.
“But during the course of play, I chanced to execute a squeeze on her hand that changed her attitude towards me; for the rest of the tournament she sought my company at every turn, enquiring about my further exploits in the meantime,” he said reminiscently.
“It’s obvious that she valued the player in you,” said Sandhya, and added, “but still I wonder why she wasn’t impressed with you to start with!”
“Because she didn’t have your eyes,” he smiled.
“Enough is enough, if only I’ve the power, won’t I blind all your women prospects?’ she said heartily.
“You may know that it’s not uncommon for people to lack equanimity in their interactions - either they turn obedient to those they imagine as superior to them in their station or remain indifferent to those they perceive as inferior to them, of course, going by mere appearances. But if circumstances were to remove their mental blocks, then some of them may warm up to the deserving. You know the one thing that appealed to me in Roopa’s persona is her sense of equanimity; not that you lack any, but it’s remarkable with her, given her background,” he said.
“You’ve read her well; wonder how the poor thing is; she promised that her letter would receive us in Delhi, but,” she said in vexation.
“Won’t she have her own things to attend? You can’t afford to let such things upset you. I wish you develop a hobby, as your involvement with it provides you the necessary diversion from the disappointments of life. The wider your interests are, the lesser would be the time left for worrying,” he said persuasively.
“But still, hope you would stick to your promise to shift,” she said stretching her hand.
“How do you expect me to forget that when it promises so much to us, let me see how to go about it, and sooner at that,” he said taking her hand.
As Roopa’s aura came into his focus at that, Raja Rao too turned melancholic as he kick started his Bullet.
Try as she did, Sandhya couldn’t feel at home in the country’s capital as its social ethos, dominated by ostentation offended her sensitivity, nursed in refinement. Added to that, her longing for Roopa and her brooding over their reunion mostly confined her to home, precluding any possibility of socializing, save her regular interactions with the Madhava Raos and the Malhotras. It was in that state of mind that she felt the place a transit camp, and failed to get involved with the life and times of New Delhi.
When the Institute of Interior Design, as though to drag her out of her hibernation, had granted her admission, Raja Rao, who came home early that day, excitedly told her,
“I’ve great news for you.”
“So do I,” she smiled.
“Let me guess,” he felt her belly.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” she caressed his head.
“You know I’ve a double stake in that, as man and as a palmist. What’s the news you’ve for me?” he said, continuing to caress her.
“You tell me yours,” she said.
“Ladies first, if you please,” he said.
“Yes, to listen,” she said, smilingly.
‘How smart of you, congrats, you’ve got the admission,” he said visibly pleased.
“Thank you but what a coincidence it is that Roopa too has taken up the correspondence course, in Personnel Management, of Annamalai University. She wrote that she started learning typing and shorthand as well,” she said kissing him.
“It’s nice to hear all that,” he said, wondering whether it was a sign of his continued influence on Roopa.
“Don’t you want to know how you figure in her mind?” she said as though to tease him.
“Isn’t it full of regards and all that?” he said pretentiously.
“She wrote that as her friendly half, you’ve immensely influenced her; I too believe you deserve all her praises,” she said heartily.
“It’s really a relief that she’s on the right track; but why such a long hiatus?” he said.
“She wanted to write to us only after making some progress, why not you read it yourself,” she said handing him the letter.
“A beautiful hand,” he said, as he gave the letter back to her.
A few days later, said Raja Rao to Sandhya,
“Someone sounded me out about an assignment in the U.S., and I told him that I will get back after talking to you.”
“Is that good for your career?” she said with mixed feelings.
“You know I had been there before. Now I’ve to look at that more as an opportunity for your exposure,” he said casually.
“You know the direction of my destiny,” she said coyly.
“Don’t I know,” he said as he felt relieved himself.
“What’s this Western lifestyle all about?” she asked.
“In the West, they’ve a deep-rooted work culture, while the philosophy of life is better evolved here. For all their application of mind over things material, in matters of emotion, resilience seems to be conspicuous by its absence in their lives. While psychic care is the order of the day for every disorder of life, it may not take more than getting the boot at the office for one to start fearing about losing his woman as well!” he said as if he were summarizing the essence of his observations.
“Sadly for us,” he resumed with a tinge of distress, “our ineptitude at work tells upon our standard of living as well as the quality of life that is appalling in comparison. But our culture enables us to take the vagaries of life in our strides; why, a novice of a friend could double up for a psychiatrist to set things right for a jilted lover. So also, even a man in the thick of adversity often comes unscathed to look forward with fortitude.”
“The fundamental features of the two cultures, as I see them are - while the Western thought probes the nature of man, Indian philosophy delves deep into his soul,” he said in conclusion. “It’s the tragedy of our society that an evolved culture coexists with the worst of prejudices, hindering the outlook of our people. If only we could temper our social rigidity with the western individualism, it would do us a world of good, but sadly, in the West too, over time, the individualism insensibly degenerated into rank selfishness.”
As shortly thereafter, to the delight of all, as Sandhya found herself in the family way, to her amusement, Raja Rao got into the habit of fussing about her diet and all. When they were in the seventh heaven of marital bliss, as he was required to go to Hyderabad, disturbing his equanimity, his dormant desire for Roopa came to the fore.
“Take me along,” said Sandhya excitedly as he broke the news.
“You know that it’s still the initial stages?” he said, feeling her tummy.
“I know, but still,” she couldn’t hide her disappointment.
“On your way for delivery, you can be with her till she drives you away,” he said to cheer her up.
“Won’t she play midwife to me if needed,” she said, and added mischievously. ‘Don’t fail to meet her, but before you start looking at her, see her with my eyes.”
“Send me blindfolded then,” he said, amused.
“Never mind, she would bare your eyes to see my reflections in them,’ she said, and thought, ‘and hers as well.’
“Shall I bring her to you as the captive of my eyes,” he said, striking a chivalrous pose.
“How I wish you could do that,” she said closing her eyes.
“What a friendship!” he said taking her into his arms.
“It’s more of love,” said Sandhya dreamily.
“The true test of love lies in its ability to endure the longing,” he said, and wondered about the longevity of Roopa’s infatuation for him.
Sinking into Raja Rao’s embrace, Sandhya could sense the feeling behind his comment, and hoped that Roopa’s love for him would endure in spite of everything.
Continued to “Villainy of Life”