Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 22
Continued from “Enduring Longing”
That morning, alighting from the Dakshin Express at Secunderabad, Raja Rao headed towards the Ritz. Though the anxiety he felt all through the journey for Roopa wore him out, he felt rejuvenated upon landing with the thought that he was breathing the very air scented by her breath.
‘If only I could check into her house’ he thought dreamily. ‘How excited she would be if I knock at the door with my bag and baggage? Moreover, my stay there would have helped our flirtation, and even more, who knows? But then without Sandhya around, it would be highly embarrassing with Sathyam. Besides, how could I entertain the clients in their house?’
Checking into the hotel, he got busy to get ready. However, once in the cafe, he began to picture his prospective encounter with Roopa, ‘What would be her reaction to my unexpected presence? It has been five months since we’ve met but still it feels as though I’ve seen her only the other day! Why, hasn’t her persona got etched in my memory to the last nuance? How excited she would be upon learning that I’m planning to shift, to be near her. Why can’t I suggest that she might assist me as my secretary? Looks like, it’s now or never for our affair. If I fail to declare my love now, it might be too late later, if it’s not already the case. Well, let me see what fate has in store for us, and I have to meet her before Sathyam returns from his office.’
While he went on visualizing the possibilities of fruition of their love, as if to bring him back into reality, the bearer brought the bill for his signature.
Calling it a day early at Subba Reddy’s Sai Constructions, Raja Rao reached Roopa’s place by three-thirty. As he neared her house, he was overcome with apprehension, ‘How can I be sure that she loves me still. What if she’s having an affair with someone already?’
Greeted by the door lock that only lent substance to his surmise, nevertheless he decided to knock at Lalitha’s door to ascertain the position.
‘Where she might have gone,’ he wondered as he went down to enquire with Lalitha, ‘has she taken a lover?’
‘Last night Sathyam underwent appendectomy,’ said Lalitha with concern. ‘It was all so sudden, and there was no time even to inform his parents. It was only this morning that I sent them a telegram. However, Roopa is managing all, on her own. She’s really amazing! You can find them in the Gaganmahal Nursing Home, just nearby.’
‘How sad,’ he said, striving not to show his relief on Roopa’s account, and thought on his way to the nursing home. ‘Oh, the poor fellow, but isn’t his falling ill untimely for me.’
As he pushed aside the door-curtain, he saw Roopa administering some medicines to Sathyam. As his eyes met her husband’s, she turned to find Raja Rao to her delight.
‘How are you now?’ Raja Rao asked Sathyam.
‘What a surprise,’ said Sathyam feebly, ‘I feel much better now but it was awful last night.’
‘When did you come?’ Roopa asked Raja Rao at length.
‘This morning,’ he replied, looking at her intently to probe his standing in her affection.
‘Where are you put up now?’ she asked him visibly disappointed.
‘At the Ritz,’ he said as if explaining his action, ‘as I came on some official work.’
‘You should’ve stayed with us,’ she said nevertheless. ‘We wouldn’t have disturbed your work.’
‘Thank you,’ he said, ‘I shall take note of it for the future.’
‘You better do that,’ she said without taking her eyes off him. ‘How is Sandhya?’
‘She’s fine, but misses you as ever,’ he said, and added as he handed her an envelope, ‘It looks like she doesn’t trust my communication skills.’
‘Why, she’s right,’ she commented meaningfully as she opened the envelope, and having savored the letter, she told Sathyam later, ‘Sandhya sends her love and regards to you.’
‘It’s nice of her,’ said Sathyam to Raja Rao. ‘Please do convey my affection for her.’
‘Tell Sandhya,’ she said making no effort to hide her unhappiness, ‘I’m unhappy with her for letting you check into a hotel when I’m here.’
‘Won’t that add to my woes?’ smiled Raja Rao.
Sitting by the bedside, Raja Rao entered into a conversation with Sathyam befitting the occasion.
‘How long are you here?’ she said to Raja Rao interrupting them at length.
‘I’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow by the A P Express,’ he said, and having noticed a disappointed look on her face, he added, ‘If you find time to scribble something, I’ll pick it up tomorrow evening.’
After spending some time with them, he felt uneasy, and in time left in disappointment.
‘What an inopportune time to meet her when the opportunity itself came after such a long time,’ he felt let down as he came out of the room. Then it didn’t even occur to him to look back to check if Roopa came after him.
‘Oh, doesn’t his mere presence vibrate my soul,’ Roopa thought overwhelmed. ‘Surely, he is my man, if there’s ever one. But where have those searching glances of his gone. Was he not looking more at Sathyam than me? Why didn’t he bestow a few amorous glances to add to my memory bank? Well, what else could he have done in Sathyam’s presence than remain poker faced? How handsome he looked even with that morose look. What a rendezvous has fate chosen for my love!’
Roopa couldn’t help smiling dejectedly as she began to her failure to seek an avenue to let out her love to Raja Rao, ‘Why didn’t I take him out on some pretext, at least I should’ve gone out to see him off. But then, wasn’t it all so sudden, and lo, before I could gather my wits, he was gone!’
‘Anyway, next time when he comes, I shouldn’t slip up at any rate,’ she resolved at length. ‘Didn’t he suggest that I could scribble something, for him to pick up? Given the constraints for a dialogue of love, wasn’t it his innovation to let me bare my heart to him. Won’t he come up with his missive of ardor to be on par after all? Well, I’ll make it a memorable one for him, nay for us.’
‘Can I ever express my love to him in writing as I experience it?’ she felt as she sat down to write to her Raja that night. ‘Would a ream of paper do to picture the craving of my soul for him? Even otherwise, won’t borrowed feelings mar love letters, robbing them off their originality? How else can a woman let her man see her soul than in lovemaking? Why not I simply write, ‘Raja, just take me into your arms to know how you’re loved.’ Yes, that will tell all, where a million words might fail even.’
While she waited for her Raja Rao’s visit in all anxiety, for his part, back at the Ritz, he was pensive.
‘What rotten luck!’ thought Raja Rao, all again, ‘I couldn’t even have a proper look at her? But how could I, given the circumstances. Oh, she looks as ravishing as ever, doesn’t she? If anything, in her pensive mood she’s more bewitching than before. Doesn’t she appear ardent as well? But can I ever make her mine?’
However, as he recalled her longing look and furtive glances, his spirits revived, ‘It looks like she still loves me. Isn’t that clear from her amorous gaze? In a way, won’t her craving for me sustain my longing for her? If ever we could make it, then our unfolding passion would lead us into a whirlpool of eroticism, won’t it?’
As the room bell rang, he thought, ‘well, there’s always a tomorrow, but for now it must be Subba Reddy.’
‘I’ve dragged my friend Ranga Reddy along,’ stormed in Subba Reddy, ‘for the pleasure of your acquaintance.’
‘I believe in reciprocity,’ said Raja Rao in welcome.
‘Ranga Reddy owns half of Rayalaseema,’ said Subba Reddy, patting his friend.
‘You can take a trillionth of it for a realistic figure,’ said Ranga Reddy to Raja Rao. ‘But I’m sure he couldn’t be off the mark when he says that you’re an architect to watch.’
‘Let a peg or two make its way into his system,’ said Subba Reddy, pulling a Black Knight from his briefcase, ‘and we could savor Raja Rao’s unfolding versatility.’
‘Our friend is all praise for your ideas about the way buildings are to be built,’ said Ranga Reddy, sipping from his glass at length.
‘It’s only a better talent that could spot some talent in others,’ said Raja Rao heartily.
‘Let’s divert the topic to the fair sex for any way its all bricks and cement all day long,’ said Subba Reddy, pouring another for himself, ‘Of course, it’s a different matter altogether if Ranga Reddy too wants to turn into a realtor.’
‘You seem to be putting ideas into my head,’ said Ranga Reddy.
‘Why it’s not a bad idea at all,’ said Raja Rao. ‘But let’s first finish with women as Subba Reddy won’t get started otherwise.’
‘What’s the latest,’ asked Subba Reddy, ‘in the capital’s grapevine?’
‘A man could have murdered his wife for gain,’ said Ranga Reddy dismissively, ‘or else a bored housewife could have taken a paramour. Isn’t it all that is grapevine? What’s there to the scandals but for the change of characters, the plot being the same?’
‘But the thrill of it never wanes,’ said Subba Reddy. ‘Does it?’
‘That’s true,’ said Raja Rao. ‘Whether we admit to it or not, all of us savor scandals involving paramours. At the back of it could be our innate desire to be the lover of every desirable dame that is born. In order to savor the details, we convert these private affairs into public scandals. If the involved were to be rich and famous, then we have them in the tabloids. It’s as if we try to supplant the woman’s lover in our dreams.’
‘Anyway,’ said Subba Reddy, ‘it’s well settled by now that all men are promiscuous though some claim to be romantic, whatever that may mean.’
‘Promiscuity is man’s nature,’ said Raja Rao, ‘while romanticism is one’s culture.’
‘Oh, isn’t it just semantics?’ said Subba Reddy dismissively.
‘I think,’ said Raja Rao, ‘unrestrained urge is promiscuity while passion refined is romanticism.’
‘That sounds very much true,’ said Ranga Reddy glancing at his watch. ‘Now I’ve something up my sleeve. Raja Raogaru, I’m doing nothing worthwhile at present, though I’ve means to take up almost anything. Why not we join hands to rebuild Hyderabad, or rather more of it?’
‘I’m planning to shift here soon to set up shop,’ said Raja Rao. ‘I won’t like to turn a realtor but love to be your consultant in case you take the plunge into the real estate.’
‘Done,’ said Ranga Reddy. ‘Let’s schedule it for this vijayadasami. Meanwhile, I would tie up the loose ends.’
‘Three cheers,’ said Subba Reddy. ‘When you come down, you can count on my account too.’
The next afternoon, when Raja Rao was all set to leave for the Gaganmahal Nursing Home to meet Roopa, he got a message from his boss that he should join him for a crucial meeting next day at Bangalore. As he hardly had any time to catch the Bangalore Express, he rushed to the reception to checkout.
‘Roopa would be terribly upset,’ he thought dejectedly. ‘But how can I help her now. What if I wire my resignation and sort out things with her. No, that’s not fair even for the sake of love, is it? After all, it’s a matter of my credibility. Let me try to get her on phone and explain my position and hint at my love even.’
As the telephone operator at the Nursing Home told him that Roopa was not to be found, Raja Rao left the message of his departure for her and headed half-heartedly towards Nampally Railway Station.
While the news dashed her hopes no end, as a jolted Roopa sank on her knees, alarmed, the receptionist guided a distraught Roopa into a chair to be attended by the duty nurse in time. ‘Oh, I shouldn’t have gone home at all,’ Roopa began to think as others thought that she was down with exhaustion. ‘But then, hadn’t my mother-in-law insisted that I rest for a while. How I wanted to hang around till he came. Well, it’s as if I had a premonition! What’s the sense in living if hard luck were to trick me at every turn? Had I been around when he rang up, wouldn’t I have expressed my feelings to him? Well, haven’t I prepared myself for all eventualities? Even if I were to develop cold feet in the end, I could have still cried over the line to convey my love to him. After all, why didn’t he peep in, before leaving? Oh, why did he leave me in the lurch? How could he be so cruel to me?’
‘Well, he could have come, if only he cared,’ she continued in her depression. ‘Maybe, as feared, has he lost interest in me? Were it possible that he came yesterday only at Sandhya’s behest. Was he friendly with me only for the old times’ sake? Hadn’t I noticed that his looks lacked passion? How I deluded myself then, all along thinking that he could have been inhibited in Sathyam’s presence. Did his passion dissipate in our separation? Don’t I count for him anymore?’
Feeling miserable and unable to steady her thoughts, she went home for contemplation.
‘Oh God, is it possible that his passion was no more than a passing interest in me?’ she felt nervous as she lay in her bed. ‘Am I destined to be disappointed in love as well? If only he cared to tell me about it, I would have reconciled to my fate. Can I really? No, I can’t live without him. Don’t I want him at any cost? What am I to do now to make him mine? What if I beg him for love? Well, did ever begging beget love? Isn’t it a cold welcome that awaits the fate of unrequited love? If not, Sathyam would have had the warmth of my love for so long now. Why it’s so clear that my destiny is linked to Raja’s passion for me, I’ll be blessed if he takes me and if not, I would be doomed forever. Does he or doesn’t he love me? Oh, isn’t this suspense killing me.’
‘Surely, I was cheated by fate to air my love to him,’ she thought as she pulled from her blouse her missive for him and the letter she wrote to Sandhya, ‘but won’t my destiny let me have the last laugh in our liaison.’
Roopa reached that stage in love when a woman feels obliged to keep her love alive so as to sustain her belief in her ability to love and be loved.
Continued to “Playboy at Play”