Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 26
Continued from “Device of Deceit”
That April evening, Roopa impatiently waited for Sathyam’s return from the office. As though to keep irritation at bay, she was rereading Sandhya’s letter delivered that day.
‘When it’s time for their coming, what do I get to hear from her,’ she thought at length, folding her mate’s missive. ‘Isn’t it about the postponement of her exams? Why not rename India as Postponeland? How something or the other comes in my way to Delhi. Come what may, I should go now to know where I stand on the ladder of Raja’s love.’
Having realized that it was already ten, she felt worried and thought, ‘What could have held him up? Why, the homebody that he is, he comes home straight, doesn’t he? Is it possible that he’s in some trouble? Or, is he gossiping with Prasad? Why don’t I find out from Prasad? Anyway, let me wait for a while.’
When Sathyam didn’t turn up even by eleven, she called Prasad, from a nearby P.C.O.
‘You shut up.’
‘Oh, don’t joke.’
‘Is Sathyam there?’
‘Has he gone missing or what?’
‘Don’t be silly,’ she said, ‘I was only checking up.’
‘Okay, let’s be serious,’ he said. ‘Can I check-in dear?’
‘Don’t bother, mister,’ she hung up amidst his loud laughter.
‘Some welcome development at last,’ thought Prasad, still holding onto the receiver. ‘Well, she would never ever get wind of my game plan.’
On her return however, finding Sathyam sitting drowsily on the staircase, Roopa said in vexation, ‘I had to ring up Prasad for you.’
‘I think it’s time,’ he said giving way to Roopa, ‘I apply for a connection.’
As she opened the door morosely, he followed her drowsily. However once they went in, trying to take her into his arms, he said, ‘I couldn’t say no at the party. The leading contractor arranged it, after all. Now, isn’t it your turn to say yes.’
‘Oh, how you stink in your mouth,’ she reproached him.
‘How does that matter,’ he said trying to grab her, ‘as you’re not given to kissing.’
‘You should realize that I was scared to death,’ she said pushing him away, still cut up with him.
‘Though I’m sorry for you,’ he said taking her hand all the same. ‘I’m happy that you care for me.’
‘And this is how you pay me back,’ she said as she pulled her hand from him. ‘Enough of it, let’s have dinner.’
‘I’m full any way,’ he said fondling his belly. ‘Let me serve you for a change.’
‘Go have bath and I’ll get you some buttermilk,’ she said. ‘It will make you a little steady at least.’
‘Once in your arms,’ he said winking at her, ‘won’t that be pole ready.’
‘What happened to you!’ she said a little surprised.
‘Have a peg or two,’ he said merrily. ‘And see how you get lifted all ends up.’
As Roopa gave him a sharp look, pleased with himself, Sathyam slipped into the bathroom, but before Roopa could figure out what was happening to him, he came storming into the bedroom. Surprised at his gusto that night, she wondered, ‘When a man on high has it so different for women, how come then that drinking became a taboo with them?’
‘Oh, how nice it felt,’ he said, as he got up at length.
‘Don’t make it a habit for that,’ she said coyly. ‘Why don’t we go to Delhi now? Sandhya wrote again wanting us to make it soon.’
‘You know it’s not even a month since I took over the Section,’ he said putting on airs. ‘I can only think about it a little later.’
‘It appears that we’ll never make it at this rate,’ she said. ‘I better go on my own now.’
‘Don’t worry, we’ll make it very soon,’ he said cajoling her. ‘If ever Raja Rao sets up shop here, I think I can be of help to him. You know, now I am getting to know some well placed people.’
However, as the idea of her mediocre husband helping her marvelous lover didn’t appeal to her sensitivity, she thought, ‘My Raja is too smart to need his help.’
She began to wonder at the new sense of confidence in her husband, ‘Oh, what a difference a little recognition did make to his self-confidence! Why not? When a peg or more betters man in bed, won’t a step or two up at the workplace, buttress the feel good of his?’
But in time, as he got hardened at drink, she found him a hard nut to crack in bed. This new feature in her marital life depressed Roopa as her husband’s nocturnal abstinence made her daydream ever more passionately about her lover, the excitation of which brought her deprivation to the fore, making her craving to possess her Raja the mission of her obsessed life.
All the while heady with his newly found power, however, Sathyam had no thought for his wife’s predicament. As if to add insult to injury, he thought it fit to bring the bottle home so as to give a face-lift to their middle-class home. Thus that late summer evening, he asked Prasad to feel at home over a bottle of Glenfiddich.
‘You know it is Scotch, a present at that,’ said Sathyam to Roopa. ‘And Prasad would be here to celebrate.’
‘Celebrate what?’ she said in surprise.
‘What else it is but my progress in life,’ he said shrugging his shoulders.
At that before a nonplussed Roopa could respond to Sathyam, Prasad had stormed in.
‘But why at home?’ exclaimed Prasad as if to ingratiate himself with Roopa.
‘Isn’t it better than coming home dead drunk?’ she said to Prasad’s disappointment.
‘How I wish you’re more sensitive to her feelings,’ Prasad admonished Sathyam as though to put a wedge between them, all by himself.
‘I too wish she shares my excitement a little,’ said Sathyam filling the glasses. ‘I feel I was a mere file pusher earlier. Now I see the faces of those whose cases I handle. And it’s quite satisfying that way.’
‘I hear there’s money to make over there,’ said Prasad in undertone. ‘I mean, under the table.’
As she happened to come with some roasted papads for them then, Roopa overheard him, and said, ‘I warned him not to fall for all that. Set aside morals, who knows what might be the fallout of it?’
‘Sitting at home, it’s easy to sit in judgment over others,’ said Sathyam. ‘It’s not as if I’m dying for the bribe money. But what does she know about things as they stand in today’s world. Anyone in business would jack up his bid to take care of the folks. Even if I were to decline my share of the mark-up, still that won’t bring any discount to the table. It’s another matter though that project costs are overestimated everywhere, to accommodate one and all. The choice thus boils down to picking up your share of the loot or gaping at those pocketing it. Understand. Now tell me, by taking my cut, am I not just robbing the robbers.’
‘When it’s not your due,’ she said spiritedly, ‘why hanker for it, never mind the others.’
‘Isn’t coveting the part of being,’ said Prasad, imagining an innuendo.
‘It’s all about individual orientation towards the value system,’ said Roopa seemingly answering him.
‘Of what avail are the old world values anymore,’ said Sathyam in exasperation. ‘Besides, who cares for them these days? Now, it’s the money that measures man’s worth. No one bothers how one comes to make the buck. What matters is how much moolah one has. One could choose values for company but prosperity seeks the pliable.’
‘So what,’ she said indignantly, ‘of what worth is money without virtue?’
‘Oh, don’t I know,’ said Prasad looking ardently at Roopa. ‘Without peace of mind, money is mere burden.’
‘That’s what all the moneyed say, while making more of it all the time,’ said Sathyam in irritation. ‘The only attribute of man is his wealth and you very well know about that.’
‘I won’t fault you for your feelings,’ said Prasad solicitously. ‘But it’s the sore foot that knows where the shoe pinches, does it not?’
‘Show me the currency,’ said Roopa thoughtfully, ‘that could be exchanged with happiness.’
‘How true,’ said Prasad ardently. ‘If there’s one, won’t my lot be a lot better.’
‘I’m sure you won’t part with a paisa ever more than needed,’ said Sathyam, serving himself another large. ‘That is, even for curing your ailment, whatever it is.’
‘Well, for a late starter,’ said Prasad playing up to Sathyam’s ego, ‘you seem to have covered a lot of ground.’
‘Capacities do differ, my boy,’ said Sathyam. ‘Well, I can stand on a bottle even.’
‘Because my sister is able to stand you,’ said Prasad. ‘What do you say, Roopa?’
‘If only I lose my patience,’ she said in half jest, ‘then you would know.’
By then, as he felt that it was wiser for him to leave the scene before he was forced to take sides, said Prasad joking, ‘I had better left before that happens.’
When Prasad was all set to leave, Sathyam insisted that he stayed on for dinner. However, the guest excused himself to review the situation as he drove home.
‘Oh how does one go astray when exposed to things that he was deprived of for years!’ thought Prasad getting into his Benz, ‘Sathyam is eyeing money as much as I ogle at his wife. Sure he won’t let go an opportunity to grease his palms to the hilt. Left to himself, he might soon acquire the vice for making money, and could end up being a hoarder as well. And that might suit his progeny, if they ever arrive, but what of me. But wouldn’t that jeopardize my plans of making it with her?’
‘It’s about time that I had activated the second string of my bow,’ he resolved, answering his question all by himself. ‘As Sathyam makes those extra bucks, I should enable him to part with some of them to the sex workers and as they give and take as well, are there any that deserve better than them. Besides, even if the last vestiges of hesitancy were to prevent him from going the whole hog at extortion, then the need to foot the bed bills and all would ensure a vice like grip on his corrupted psyche. Well, it’s time that Sathyam got hooked onto the whores. All said and done, only the charms of the call-girls could wean him away from his wife, to make way for me as her paramour. And the craftier they are, the better it is for me, isn’t it?’
‘But then, is this gambit worth the gain?’ he wondered at length. ‘Wouldn’t I have laid a couple of randies in their couches by now, that too with much less bother? Whatever, Sathyam is bound to have a time of his life, what with wine, women and all coming his way. If not for my obsession for his wife, he would have remained a frog in the marital well after all. It looks like it pays to have a smart wife, in more ways than one! That is because, I love Roopa as much as I could and crave for her more than I should.’
‘What a fool I was, being a one-woman man all these years,’ thought Sathyam, as he headed home in pouring rain that June night. ‘Does it augur well that the monsoon too has set in today? Won’t that portend women pouring in into my bed as it were? True, this Kantha cannot hold a candle to Roopa, but didn’t she set the whole bed on fire, many times over. How promising it is that the pimp told me to expect better fare in future. Didn’t he say his top drawer was empty by the time he had my requisition on hand. How nicely he had put it, in his own pimpish manner. Isn’t it time that I had my fill, having missed the fare all along? It would cost money for sure though it shouldn’t be a problem managing the moolah. Well, if only I sit a little tight on their files, won’t they cough up enough for me to maintain a harem? As Appa Rao has his guest-house all for me, can’t I look forward to having horny rides on silken curves? That is for sure.’
‘Having heard about the flesh trade all along, how I have failed to venture into it so far,’ imagining what he might have missed all through lamented Sathyam. ‘Well, in Kakinada, the Mirror House was just a stone’s throw away from my place. Besides, all swear that the bogamollu of Peddapuram are apart, with the required skills to please, acquired from the past masters. Isn’t a visit there overdue after all? Why don’t I go there in August when the climate too would be cozy? And for home consumption, can’t I give an official color to my absence?’
Thus whetted by the anticipated escapades, Sathyam made light of the accompanying impediments, ‘What if Roopa gets wind of my doings? After all, she might cry in the beginning, only to quieten down in the end, won’t she? Well, what else could she do, as it’s the way with all women? Besides, what’s her complaint about, she herself being half-hearted in bed? All said and done, don’t I owe something to myself as well?’
All along, as his libido craved for sex, Sathyam was shy at courting women. However, with no need to be dashing with the whores and having found them willing on their own, he felt vindicated in the brothels he came to frequent. So, as he became closer to them, he moved away from his wife, and the more he felt comfortable with the Kanthas, his discomfort with Roopa increased even more. Of course, it had as much to do with the psyche of the sex workers as with the state of his mind.
Women in prostitution tend to perceive the male as the root cause of their fall. And the rudeness of those who frequent them further deepens their antipathy towards men. Besides, having lost their inhibitions through constant exposure, the whores become coarse to settle scores even with those they solicit. But with a considerate man, the innate woman in them comes alive, inducing them to shower themselves on him. It is thus they make such feel at home even in their brothels.
When, Roopa had reasons to suspect his philandering, she was more surprised than shocked. In time, however, as his brothel mania became a menace, she felt humiliated that he should prefer harlots to her. At length, having been disgusted with him, she thought of confronting him.
‘He would only confirm it, demeaning me all the more, wouldn’t he?’ she felt on second thoughts, ‘Maybe, it’s my fault for having driven him into alien arms. Oh, how I gave him a cold bed, in spite of his passion for me. Thus, having been uncaring all along, why am I so cut up with him now? Is it a case of wounded vanity then? No, it’s not so. But isn’t the very thought that he sleeps with all and sundry that’s bothersome. I’m simply unable to bring myself to take him. That’s all there’s to it.’
‘But what could I possibly do now?’ she began to deliberate coolly. ‘Well, precious little, so it seems. In one-way, it’s a welcome development, isn’t it? I needn’t feel guilty when I make it with Raja in the end. It’s as though the last vein of his moral rein on my heart got sapped. Haven’t I always seen love as the only justification for infidelity? And if required, even that qualification could be waived now for adultery. Why am I not a free bird now, though caged in marriage?’
Experiencing an indescribable relief at that thought, she felt that she couldn’t care less, but her philosophic indifference couldn’t come in handy in her daily regimen. Moreover, finding her situation humiliating, she continued to be confounded no end.
‘Hasn’t Prasad started pressing his suit further?’ Roopa reviewed her position that evening. ‘Why should not he? After all, finding me all alone, all the time, wouldn’t he have guessed that something is amiss in my life? Who knows, for all that Sathyam could have bragged about his lustful conquests. Whatever, aware that Sathyam is ignoring me; he could be licking his lips in anticipation, wouldn’t he? Why can’t he be hoping that I might as well warm up to him? Why, what’s my complaint against him? If not for his attentions, wouldn’t have Sathyam’s neglect been even more humiliating. Don’t I owe him on that count at least? Why not I let him have me? By that, won’t I be rewarding him for his perseverance while paying Sathyam back in the same coin? And as and when Sathyam discovers our liaison, won’t he get the taste of his own medicine?’
As though the crassness of the proposition didn’t appeal to her sensitivity, she reviewed her position all again, ‘But then, how does all that help me. All my longing for belonging would have no meaning if I were to bed with Prasad out of spite for Sathyam. Well, when it comes to Raja, it’s not any pique that drives me towards him, isn’t it? Why, having stirred my heart, hasn’t he earned the rights over my life, leave alone my body? Oh, I would give myself to him and him alone, body and soul. Next time around, won’t I gatecrash into his life; whatever that’s what I am going to do.’
In time, unmindful of the risk she ran on account of Prasad’s fixation for her possession, Roopa went on daydreaming about Raja Rao.
Continued to “Tara’s Theory”