Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 22
Continued from “Enduring Longing”
Alighting from the Dakshin Express that morning, Raja Rao headed towards the Ritz Hotel in Hyderabad. Though the anxiety he felt all through the journey for Roopa wore him out, on his way to the hotel, he felt rejuvenated with the thought that he was breathing the very air scented by her breath.
‘If only I could stay with her,’ he thought dreamily in the auto he hired. ‘How surprised she would be if only I could knock at her door right away? And seeing my luggage, how excited she would be at the prospect of hosting me for woman loves nothing more than tending the man she loves. Besides, won’t she know that my staying there would afford opportunities for our flirtation, and even more, who knows? But then without Sandhya around, it would be highly embarrassing for me with Sathyam. Also, how could I entertain my clients in their house?’
However, having checked into the hotel, he was engrossed in adjusting his plan to meet the client’s last minute changes, but, once in the café for breakfast, he started picturing his prospective encounter with Roopa later, ‘What would be her emotions in our interactions? It has been five months since we’ve last met but still it feels as though I’ve seen her only the other day! 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 be on my own here, 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 so. Well, let me see what fate has in store for us, but for now, I’ve to meet her before Sathyam returns home from his office.’
While he went on visualizing the possibilities of their future liaison, as if to bring him back into the present reality, the bearer brought the bill for his signature.
By calling it a day early at Subba Reddy’s ‘Sai Constructions’, Raja Rao reached Roopa’s place in high spirits, by three-thirty, but as he began ascending the steps to her penthouse, as though his hopes got into a descending mode, he was beset with doubts, ‘How can I assume that she still loves me?’
Though greeted by the door lock that only lent substance to his surmise, nevertheless, he decided to knock at the landlady’s door to ascertain the situation.
‘What if she’s already into some affair?’ he wondered as he went down the steps to enquire about her. ‘Has she gone for a rendezvous with her lover?’
However, Lalitha, the landlady, after ascertaining his credentials, told him,
“Only last night Sathyam underwent appendectomy. It was all so sudden, and there was no time for her even to inform his parents. It was only this morning that my old man sent them a telegram. Poor Roopa is managing it all, on her own; but she’s really amazing! You can meet them in the Gaganmahal Nursing Home, it’s 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, ‘the poor fellow, but how untimely it is.’
When he pushed aside the curtain of that cabin, he saw Roopa administering some medicines to Sathyam, and as his eyes met Sathyam’s, she turned around to find him to her perplexing delight.
“How do you feel now?” Raja Rao asked Sathyam.
“I’m much better but what a surprise,” said Sathyam feebly.
“When have you come?” Roopa asked Raja Rao at length.
“Only in the morning,” he replied, looking at her intently to probe his standing in her affection.
“Where’re you put up?” she asked him.
“At the Ritz Hotel,” he said, echoing her disappointment.
“You should’ve stayed with us,” she said not hiding her vexation.
“I would’ve but I came on some official work,” he said sounding apologetic.
“So what, we wouldn’t have disturbed your work,” she persisted.
“I agree; I shall take note of it for the future,” he said.
“You better do that,” she said without taking her eyes off him. “What about Sandhya?”
“She’s fine, but misses you as ever,” he said, and added as he handed her an envelope, “she doesn’t trust my communication skills.”
“She’s right,” she commented meaningfully as she opened the envelope, and having savoured the letter, informed Sathyam, “she sent her love and regards for you.”
“It’s very nice of her, don’t forget to convey my affection for her,” said Sathyam to Raja Rao.
“No way, you would be the second person she enquires about,” said Raja Rao and turning to Roopa added smilingly, “Need I tell who the first one is.”
“Tell her that I’m unhappy with her for allowing you check into a hotel,” she said.
“Won’t that add to my woes?” smiled Raja Rao forcing a smile on her lips.
Thereby, sitting by the bedside, Raja Rao entered into a conversation with Sathyam befitting the occasion.
“How long are you here?” she asked Raja Rao interrupting them at length.
“I’ll be leaving the day after tomorrow morning 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 uneasy time with them, in time, he departed in disillusionment.
‘What an inopportune time to meet her when the opportunity itself came after such a long time,’ he felt as he came out of the room. Feeling let down by the dame luck thus, it didn’t even occur to him to turn back to see if Roopa came after him.
‘Oh, doesn’t his mere presence vibrate my soul,’ thought Roopa as if in a trance. ‘Surely, he’s my man, if there’s ever one. But where have all his searching glances gone? Why has he failed to bestow at least one amorous gaze to add to my memory bank? Instead, he was absorbed with Sathyam nearly neglecting me, didn’t he? Well, what else could he have done in Sathyam’s presence than keep a poker face for me? Yet, how handsome did he seem even in his morose look. But what a queer rendezvous has fate chosen for me with my beloved!’
Soon, as she began realising her failure in finding an avenue to lead him to her love, she couldn’t help but think dejectedly, ‘Why didn’t I take him out on some pretext; at least I should’ve accompanied him till the gate; surely that wouldn’t have seemed odd to Sathyam or even compromised me with the hospital staff. But then, wasn’t it all so sudden and unexpected, and lo, before I could gather my wits, he was gone!’
‘But when he comes tomorrow, I shouldn’t slip up at any cost,’ she resolved. ‘Hasn’t he suggested that I could scribble something, for him to pick up? Given the constraints for a dialogue of love, isn’t it his innovation to let me bare my heart in writing. Won’t I make it a memorable one for him, nay for us? Surely, he would exchange his own note of ardour to be on par after all.’
‘But can I ever express my love to him in writing as I experience it?’ she thought as she began figuring out how to pen her maiden love letter. ‘Can a ream of paper carry the craving of my soul to him? Besides, won’t borrowed phrases mar love letters, robbing them off 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, those dozen words will convey more than a million can carry.’
At that, while she felt excited, back in the Ritz, he remained pensive.
‘What rotten luck! I couldn’t even take a proper look at her. But how could I have, given the circumstances. Oh, but even in her glimpses, she looks as ravishing as ever, doesn’t she? If anything, in her pensive mood, she’s more bewitching, and ardent than ever before. Yet can I ever make her mine?’ thought Raja Rao, all again.
As if to reassure himself, of her possible possession, he recalled her longing look and furtive glances, ‘It looks like she still loves me. Isn’t that clear from her amorous gaze? Why, it’s her craving for me that sustains my longing for her, isn’t it? If ever we could make it, then our unfolding passion could lead us into a whirlpool of eroticism, won’t it?’
What with his spirits revived thus, as the room bell rang, he thought, ‘Well, there’s always a tomorrow, but for now, it must be Subba Reddy.’
“I’ve dragged Ranga Reddy along for the pleasure of your acquaintance,” stormed in Subba Reddy with his friend.
“I believe in reciprocity,” said Raja Rao in welcome.
“Ranga Reddy owns half of Rayalaseema,” said Subba Reddy, patting him.
“You can safely reckon a trillionth of it for a realistic figure. But I’m sure he couldn’t be off the mark when he says that you’re an architect to watch,” said Ranga Reddy to Raja Rao.
“Let a peg or two make way into his system and then we can savour Raja Rao’s unfolding versatility,” said Subba Reddy, pulling a ‘Black Knight’ from his briefcase.
“Our friend is all praise for your ideas about the way dwellings are to be built,” said Ranga Reddy, sipping the whisky.
“It’s only a better talent that can spot some talent in others,” said Raja Rao heartily.
“Let’s divert the topic to the fair sex for any way it’s all bricks and cement all day long. If Ranga Reddy too wants to turn into a realtor, so be it,” said Subba Reddy, pouring another for him.
“You seem to be putting ideas into my head,” said Ranga Reddy.
“It’s not a bad idea at all, but let’s first finish with women as Subba Reddy won’t get started otherwise,” said Raja Rao mirthfully.
“What’s the latest in the capital’s grapevine?” asked Subba Reddy.
“A man could have murdered his wife for gain, or else a bored housewife could’ve taken a paramour. That way, what’s there to the scandals but for the change of characters, the plot being the same? As for the grapevine, isn’t it all that is there to it?” said Ranga Reddy dismissively.
“But the thrill of it never wanes, does it?” said Subba Reddy.
“That’s true, whether we admit to it or not, all of us eye the scandals involving illicit sex. At the back of it could be our innate urge to be the lover of every desirable dame that is there, and so it’s as if we supplant those paramours in our daydreams. So as to savour the sleaze, we convert private affairs into public scandals and if the involved were to be rich and famous, then we publicize their liaisons in the tabloids,” said Raja Rao.
“Whatever, it’s well settled by now that all men are promiscuous though some claim to be romantic, whatever that may mean,” said Subba Reddy.
“Promiscuity is man’s nature while romanticism is one’s culture,” said Raja Rao.
“Isn’t it mere semantics?” said Subba Reddy dismissively.
“I think unrestrained urge is promiscuity while passion refined is romanticism,” averred Raja Rao nevertheless.
“That sounds very much true,” said Ranga Reddy glancing at his watch. “Now, I’ve something up my sleeve. Raja Rao garu, I’m doing nothing worthwhile at present, though I’ve the 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 though not to turn into a realtor, and in case you take the plunge into the real estate, I would love to be your consultant,” said Raja Rao.
“Done, let’s schedule it for this vijayadasami. Meanwhile, I would tie up the loose ends,” said Ranga Reddy.
“Three cheers, as and when you set up shop here, you can count on my account too,” said Subba Reddy.
The next afternoon, when Raja Rao was all set to leave for the Gaganmahal Nursing Home to meet Roopa, he got a call from his boss, asking him to join him for a crucial meeting next day at Bangalore. As he had not much time left to catch the Bangalore Express, he rushed to the reception to checkout.
‘Roopa would be terribly upset, but how can I meet her now. What if I wire my resignation and sort out things with her. No, that’s not fair even for love’s sake though it’s said that everything is fair in it, is it? It’s a matter of my professional credibility that I can ill-afford to lose, even for her sake. So, I shall talk to her on phone and hint my love and devotion,’ he thought dejectedly.
Soon, as the telephone operator at the Nursing Home told him that Roopa was not to be found there, Raja Rao left the message of his departure for her, and half-heartedly headed towards the Nampally Railway Station.
Thereafter, when Roopa reached the hospital in anticipation, as the unexpected development devastated her, she sank on her knees, alarming receptionist to summon the doctor on duty. At length, having been recuperated by the timely care, a distraught Roopa began to lament, ‘I shouldn’t have gone home at all, but then, how my mother-in-law insisted that I rest for a while. Oh, how I wanted to hang on here till he came; it’s as if I had a premonition! What’s the sense in living if hard luck were to trick me at every turn in my life? Had I been around when he rang up, wouldn’t I have blurted out about my love for him? Why doubt, haven’t I prepared myself for every eventuality? Even if I were to develop cold feet in the end, I could’ve still cried over the line to convey my love. But then, why didn’t he just peep in, before leaving? Shouldn’t he have, if he really cared; why did he leave me in the lurch? How could he be so cruel to me?’
‘Surely he could’ve come, if only he cared,’ she continued in her depression. ‘Has he, as feared, lost interest in me? Did he call on us yesterday only at Sandhya’s behest? Was all his courtesy only for the old times’ sake? Hadn’t I noticed that his looks lacked passion? How I deluded myself then, thinking that he could’ve been inhibited in Sathyam’s presence? Has his passion dissipated in our separation? Do I count for him anymore?’
Feeling miserable, and unable to steady her thoughts, she went home, as though to remove herself from that unlucky setting.
‘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’ve reconciled to my fate, but can I really? No, I can’t live without him; don’t I want him at any cost? But what am I to do now to make him mine? What if I beg him for love, but, did ever begging begot love? It’s cold end that’s in store for an unrequited love, if not, Sathyam would’ve been enjoying its warmth in his hearth for so long now. So be it but my destiny is linked to his passion for me; I’ll be blessed if he takes me, and if not, I would be doomed forever. Will he or won’t he, oh, how this suspense is killing me?’
‘Surely, I was cheated by fate to air my love for him, but won’t my destiny let me have the last laugh in our liaison,’ she thought as she pulled her missive for him and the letter she wrote to Sandhya from her blouse.
Stirred by what she had written to him, she began reviewing her situation, all again, ‘won’t anxiety consume me before all else? It might as well, so, why not I post it to him forcing fate to reveal its hand? But what if Sandhya reads it by mistake; in her longing for my letter, surely, she might not notice its belonging, and won’t that seal my fate. If only I knew his office address! But how am I to procure it now without giving rise to unwarranted suspicions? So, is it that I’ve reached the dead end of love; well time only would tell if my life keeps me alive for him to rescue me.’
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”