Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 24
Continued from “Playboy at Play”
‘Satisfactory, isn’t it?’ thought Prasad on his way back to his home. ‘Haven’t I played my cards with finesse? Surely, Sathyam’s dinner gesture could be a pointer to what might portend. Yet the proof of the pudding is only in the eating, isn’t it? Anyway, it’s still a long way to get there. But then, the goddess willing, won’t I have it someday? Well, a good start could ensure the lead all the way.’
‘Sathyam is a simpleton as ever,’ he thought, trying to analyze his friend and his wife. ‘If a man of thirty were to remain that way, he must either be kind-hearted or dung-headed and / or both. It looks like Sathyam is a bit of both. However, Roopa - what an appropriate name she has - remains a puzzle, and I must ensure that she’s dazzled enough not to begin quizzing me. What’s it that makes this fabulous woman so irresistible? Surely, there’s much more to her persona than her oozing sex appeal. Well, the more one espies her; all the more he gets obsessed with her. It’s as if her whole body is endued with a magnetic layer to keep the male gaze glued to her, isn’t it? If not, how can one explain her dusky complexion? Oh, some god could have turned horny while making her! Why else is she the femme fatale of the first order?’
So it occurred to him, ‘Unless I’m on guard, I might as well trip on the path of attraction and even fall in love with her to my hurt. Surely that would be an unwelcome development, wouldn’t it be? By the way, would sex become any more pleasurable if penetrated with love? Why at all this doubt, as if love would take that any deeper into her. Hah, hah! But, it’s the lust that vests the thrusts with power and any woman would know that for sure. Whatever, Roopa should be had before I develop any emotional hiccups for her. Only by taking her to bed early could I feel at ease, and remain safe in her enchanting company for which I must patiently hasten her into my grip. It doesn’t seem easy though, and I should be prepared even for a long haul, but once in bed, she would be worth her weight in gold, nay platinum, to be precise.’
Following his time-tested tactic of making women ponder a little over his absence, with Roopa in mind, he made it late to Sathyam’s place.
“What happened, we’ve been waiting so long for you,” greeted Sathyam.
“Wait, I’ll explain; first let me apologize to my sister,” said Prasad dramatically.
“Oh, it’s all right,” said Roopa visibly embarrassed.
“I won’t take anything less than your forgiveness,” said Prasad looking into her eyes.
“What’s wrong with you?” said Roopa all perplexed as Sathyam looked on amused.
“I know how vexatious it is to wait,” said Prasad to her.
“Okay my friend, you’re forgiven,” said Sathyam smilingly.
“You should know that I’ve skipped lunch to savor my sister’s preparations,” said Prasad, soaping his hands at the wash basin.
“I too have a raakhi sister in her friend Sandhya. What a sweet soul she is,” said Sathyam reminiscently.
“Who can better my sister in any way?” said Prasad looking into Roopa’s eyes, and turning to Sathyam, he added, “When is the next rakshaabandhan coming up?”
“That I’ll let you know,” said Sathyam. “Though I regard Roopa no less, know that Sandhya is all too different.”
“Maybe, but Roopa is Roopa,” said Prasad with apparent conviction.
Struck by his direct manner, Roopa looked at him in awe, and thought in puzzlement, ‘Isn’t he showing an uncommon interest in me. What is he up to? Though he calls me ‘sister’, his manner doesn’t bear any brotherly mien, does it really? Why, won’t his demeanour betray lust? Oh, what a hypocrite he is to get into this sisterly mess. Isn’t it proving to be awkward for him and embarrassing for me as well? Anyway, for me, he’s just a handsome man and an interesting company. All the same, he’s like any other man in my life that’s all, is he not?’
After a couple of visits, Prasad failed to turn up for a week, leaving Sathyam in jitters, even as Roopa felt that she was missing him as well.
‘Haven’t I got used to his company,’ she thought many a time, during that time. ‘Or am I craving for his flattery? Hasn’t he developed the knack of praising me without alarming Sathyam? And, it’s not at all brotherly really for when Sathyam is not around, how he intonates my name in passionate tunes! How longingly he espies me, all the while holding his gaze at my bosom. Isn’t his carnal bother troubling his alleged brotherly candour? What hypocrisy, worse still, is it his strategy to hide his designs on me from Sathyaam? Is it that I’m indulging in his character assassination by merely surmising? But then, isn’t his want for me crystal clear to me. Whatever it is, it’s his problem, and I’ve nothing to do with him that way anyway.’
‘But is it as simple as that?’ she felt as she developed second thoughts. ‘Am I not missing him, and willy-nilly, getting attracted to him? But, how’s that possible when I’m head and heels in love with my Raja darling. Then, am I flirting with him? Oh, no, I just happen to enjoy his company, bored that I am. That’s all there is to it.’
When Prasad finally arrived, Roopa was all alone in her home.
“What’s this vanishing act, mister?” Roopa found herself asking him.
“You know I had no way to tell you,” he said staring into her eyes.
“Sathyam became a fish out of water all the while,” she said avoiding his gaze.
“I felt miserable throughout, need I tell you why?” he said, unmasking his desire for her.
‘So, he wants me. Does he not look lustful to the bones? But then, how Raja’s romantic eyes caress my frame conveying his craving for my soul. Won’t their eyes portray the contrast between lust and love? Surely they do. But am I not imagining things, strung by my craving for Raja? How does it matter anyway, when I’m clear whom I want to have? To be clear is to be real, isn’t it? Well, how could one grasp the reality of life without clarity of thought?’ she thought looking away from him.
“Where are your thoughts taking you to?” he said smilingly.
“Oh nothing of that sort,” she said embarrassedly.
“Haven’t you heard it said that the attributes of woman’s utterances have reverse inferences?” he said mischievously, and dwelled upon the proverb to probe the proclivities of the fair sex.
The male perception that women are ambiguous by nature is not unfounded for they tend to dissemble. But then, why shouldn’t they, anyway? Won’t men role model women to self-serve their vested interests, and judge them on the scale of conformity? Since the male tenets are at variance with the feminine instincts, won’t women come to pretend? So, unable to comprehend women, won’t the confounded men end up according the benefit of doubt to them, at every turn that is. It’s thus, men come to hoist themselves on their own petard, and deservedly at that, so it seems.
However, before Prasad could get Roopa’s reply, he felt Sathyam’s smack on his back.
“You know, a businessman’s time is not his time,” said Prasad.
“Had you sounded us, we would’ve given you Sandhya’s address,” said Sathyam.
“That’s next time but right now it’s to my place,” said Prasad.
“What’s the hurry, can’t we make it leisurely?” said Sathyam.
“Rani won’t let me be in unless you both come along with me,” said Prasad smilingly.
“You know how I value women’s sentiments,” said Sathyam goading Roopa to get ready.
“I say sentiment is the embodiment of love, what do you say sister?” said Prasad affecting a sneeze
As Roopa gave him a searching look, Prasad smiled in all conceit.
Though they readily headed towards Prasad’s bungalow in the Banjara Hills, however, it was well past eleven when the host dropped his guests back at their home.
“What a time it was!” said Sathyam in ecstasy as Prasad left.
“It’s plain boring, to say the least,” said Roopa unlocking the door.
“Rani is so courteous and the kids too courted us, what else. You’re impossible at times,” he protested.
“She just condescended to descend to us, no more about it,” said Roopa.
“I think its other way round, I felt that she’s so affectionate,” said Sathyam.
“I bet, stop courting her and you count for nothing to her,” she said indignantly.
“At least concede that she’s a fine conversationalist,” said Sathyam in all eagerness, as if to make Roopa see some merit in Rani.
“If enlightening others about her dad’s greatness, her man’s smartness, and her kids’ brightness, surely she’s a great conversationalist. And the advantage of her company is that you might rest your vocal cords while she goes on with her monologues,” said Roopa, and added, “but on the flip side, your tired ears lead to a headache.”
“That’s women’s natural trait but you hardly have a good word for me,” he said half in jest.
“It’s as if you let go an opportunity to have a dig at my people,” said Roopa showing Sathyam his place.
“Neither would you miss a chance at nitpicking,” he said in disappointment.
Bothered by her bickering, Sathyam couldn’t sleep for a while, and disturbed by Prasad’s forthrightness, Roopa stayed awake for long.
‘Isn’t it a fortnight since I laid the trap for Roopa?’ Prasad tried to envisage his station in his adopted route of seduction. ‘Though the prey is nowhere in the coming, yet my ardour is despairing for her possession, isn’t it? What progress is that anyway? While jolly well enjoying my attentions, she shows no particular interest in me. But then, hasn’t she come to love my company? Maybe, that’s the only thing to write home about. Could that be a cause for hope by the way? Though found wanting it’s as if she doesn’t abhor her married life altogether and that makes her a bed-hedger in the arena of adultery. Courtesy the darling, haven’t I coined a new phrase for her flirting ilk. Well, even as a few of them are beddable; all married women are bed-hedgers anyway, are they not?’
‘Never mind his dull demeanor, Sathyam must be good in bed,’ he contemplated in wonderment. ‘Come to think of it, given a good time in bed, women turn blind to the faults of their men, how strange! But then, it’s all so different with Rani. Though she loves me, doesn’t she think it’s her good turn in bed for me? Why, she couldn’t get rid of her Electra complex even after six years of sex life with me that made her mother twice over! Before her giant of a father, isn’t every man a contemptible midget for her? Short of being explicit, doesn’t she tend to imply that I owe my status and all that goes with it to her redoubtable father?’
‘No denying it, though,’ he went about drawing up the balance sheet of his marital life. ‘Of course, it’s our marriage that shifted my gear to the fast track of life from the middle-class morass that it was in. If not, I wouldn’t have been better placed than Sathyam; maybe, I would’ve been worse off for all I know. How would’ve I got a wife like his! Instead of eyeing Roopa, I would have been envying Sathyam now. Supposing I got a winner for a wife, won’t it have been a tough ask to keep her wooers at bay, that too with limited resources?’
Then he recalled an incident that his wife had made him privy to. When someone made a pass at her, she told the bewildered dasher that he might hope for her affection after acquiring her father’s stature and her husband’s looks!
‘Looks like man’s status provides his woman the fidelity amour against her possible seduction,’ he began to think. ‘Isn’t it better than the chastity belts of yore that would have still left room enough for the deviancies of the enterprising dames? Fidelity apart, won’t women of means, being sure about themselves, lose their innate womanliness? Isn’t it sad for the fair sex as such, but none seem to care, even men at that! Is it not their vulnerability that makes women charming to men and sans a semblance of timidity, won’t femininity suffer? But for all her perfect features, doesn’t Rani lack that feminine grace which abounds in Roopa.’
‘Am I in love with Roopa then?’ he wondered. ‘What nonsense, leave alone the patience, do I have the inclination to love? I’m just impatient to take her to bed, at the earliest that is. No more and no less that is.’
He tried to believe that he has assumed.
Shortly thereafter, in the wake of the Prasads’ return visit, Sathyam was disappointed.
“How I wish they stayed back for dinner, but then, she has a prior commitment,” said Sathyam to Roopa.
“By now you should’ve known that it’s just an excuse. But I won’t blame her for she got used to the posh living, it’s not fair to expect her to feel at home in our middle-class mess. And to make matters worse for the visitors, you harp on your childhood as if you’ve stopped living thereafter. I feel these days even Prasad is getting tired of your flogging the dead horse of your childhood,” said Roopa indignantly.
“Maybe you’ve read her right, but I’m sure you’re off the mark with him. For that matter, you and Sandhya are no different,” he said turning defensive.
“By now you should’ve known that we don’t harp on our past, memorable though it was. Well, we feel the present and dream about our future,” she said turning nostalgic.
“How I wish Sandhya visits us on her way to Kakinada. It’s a shame that we couldn’t make it to Delhi in all these days,” he said, sounding apologetic.
Recalling how their plans to go to Delhi went awry at every turn, Roopa thought dejectedly,
‘Leave alone letting me gatecrash into Raja’s life, fate even keeps me out of Sandhya’s embrace.’
As if to place Rani’s unease in their place in its contrast, that Sunday afternoon, Tara visited the Sathyams as they were having their tea after siesta. Meanwhile, Sathyam had developed a taste for tea, fed up with giving an explanation to all and sundry about his abstinence.
Strange, indeed, is the way one tends to react to the differing peculiarities in others. None reminds the rotund about the obesity, for the fear of offending them, but when it comes to the lean, unmindful of embarrassing them, all tend to voice their anxiety about his health.
“Got scarce these days, why so?” Roopa welcomed Tara.
“It’s all about kids’ studies as their exam time is a testing time for the parents. But what’s happening to you?” said Tara as Roopa led her into the bedroom.
“If it’s typing and shorthand in the mornings, then, it’s the course material in the afternoons. The days are passing by,” said Roopa
“What about the nights?” said Tara tentatively.
“Nights follow days, don’t they?” said Roopa dryly.
“Why not let days lead into nights,” said Tara holding Roopa’s hand.
“That way, my dreams roll my days and nights all into one,” said Roopa dreamily.
“Roopa, some tea for Prasad please,” said Sathyam in high pitch.
“Prasad is his childhood friend, see if he interests you,” said Roopa to Tara.
“Do you think he’s a prospect then?” whispered Tara.
“Why don’t you find it out?” said Roopa.
“But you spoil my chances with the prized one,” crooned Tara.
“I don’t get you,” said Roopa a little puzzled.
“Am I not constrained to hook up your fancied man?” said Tara winking at Roopa.
“Stay off from him or else,” Roopa said mockingly threatening Tara.
“All right, till you get him,” said Tara smilingly.
“Still it’s a threat as your timepiece could be turning anticlockwise to make you ever younger,” said Roopa, in all admiration for Tara’s charms.
“After I’m done with it, I would present that to you,” said Tara winking at Roopa,
“But for now, what if he...” winked Roopa back at Tara.
“I’ll see,” said Tara.
“Good luck,” said Roopa and led Tara into the hall with tea for all.
“She’s Tara, my friend,” said Roopa to Prasad serving him some steaming tea.
“He is my bosom pal and a leading industrialist,” said Sathyam to Tara with a sense of pride attached to that.
It is a peculiar characteristic of people that for some inexplicable reason they feel nice about themselves when they cite their acquaintance with the successful.
“How do you do,” said Prasad.
“Fine, thank you,” said Tara.
“I’ve just dropped in on my way to attend some business, I’ll be back soon,” said Prasad as he got up to leave.
“We’ll wait for you,” said Sathyam a little puzzled, and thought aloud after Prasad had left, “doesn’t he look a little confused?”
After a short while thereafter, Tara too left, leaving Sathyam pondering over Prasad’s predicament. But, Roopa felt that Prasad had left fearing Tara might smell the rat from his manner, and resort to innuendoes that could alert Sathyam over time. And she knew he would come again to follow his seductive course.
The longing she felt for her lover and the resistance she had to offer to her seducer seemed to push Roopa to the brink of her chastity.
Continued to “Device of Deceit”