Dec 10, 2023
Dec 10, 2023
by BS Murthy
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? It’s 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,’ she thought at length, folding her mate’s missive.
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.
“It’s Prasad here.”
“Say, your darling.’
“You shut up.”
“Oh, don’t joke.”
“Is Sathyam there?”
“Has he gone missing or what?”
“Don’t be silly, I was just checking up,” she said.
“Okay, let’s be serious, can I check-in dear?” he said.
“Don’t bother, mister,” she hung up amidst his loud laughter.
‘Some welcome development at last,’ ‘Well, she would never ever get wind of my game plan,’ thought Prasad, still holding onto the receiver.
On her return, however, finding Sathyam sitting drowsily on the staircase, Roopa said in vexation,
“I had to ring up Prasad for you,” she said by way of an explanation.
“I think it’s time, I apply for a telephone connection,” he said giving way to Roopa.
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. After all, the leading contractor arranged it. Now, isn’t it your turn to say yes.”
“Oh, how you stink in your mouth,” she reproached him.
‘How does that matter, as you don’t kiss anyway,” he said trying to grab her.
“Know that I was scared to death,” she said pushing him away, still cut up with him.
“Though I’m sorry for you, I’m happy that you care for me,” he said taking her hand all the same.
‘So, this is the reward, let’s have dinner,” she said as she pulled her hand from him.
“I’m full any way, let me serve you for a change,” he said fondling his belly.
“Go have bath and have some buttermilk at least,” she said.
“Ok, I’ll be pole-ready by then,” he said winking at her.
“What happened to you all of a sudden!” she said a little surprised.
“Have a peg or two and see how you get lifted all ends up,” he said merrily.
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.
“Oh, how nice it felt,” he said, as he got up from the bed.
“Don’t make it a habit for that,” she said coyly.
“Won’t I make you habituated for that,” he winked.
Surprised at his unusual gusto in bed, she wondered,
‘When a man on high has it so different for women, how come then that drinking became a taboo with them?’
“So,” he said as they refreshed.
“Why don’t we go to Delhi now? Sandhya wrote again wanting us to make it soon,” she said coyly.
“You know it’s not even a month since I took over the Section, I can only think about it a little later,” he said putting on airs.
‘At this rate we’ll never make it, I better go on my own now,” she said.
“Don’t worry; we’ll make it very soon, 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 very well placed people,” he said cajoling her.
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,
‘What a difference has a little recognition made 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. So, insensibly the mission to posses him more and more became the obsession of her life.
Heady with his newfound power, Sathyam, however, 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 its Scotch whisky, I invited Prasad to celebrate,” said Sathyam to Roopa.
“Celebrate what?” she said in surprise.
“What else it is but my progress,” 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, 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,” said Sathyam filling the glasses.
“I hear there’s money to make over there, I mean, under the table,” said Prasad in undertone.
As she happened to come with some roasted papads for them then, Roopa overheard him, and said,
“I’ve warned him about that. Leave alone morals, who knows about its fallout?”
“Sitting at home, it’s easy to sit in judgment over others. It’s not as if I’m dying for the bribe money though I know the project costs are jacked up to accommodate one and all. So, even if I were to decline my share of the mark-up, still that won’t bring any discount to the government table. The choice thus boils down to picking up your portion of it or gaping at those pocketing it all for themselves. That being the reality, by taking my cut, I would be only robbing the robbers a little,” said Sathyam.
“Why hanker after what’s not due, never mind what others do,” she said spiritedly.
“Isn’t coveting the part of being,” said Prasad, imagining an innuendo.
“It’s about one’s orientation towards the value system,” said Roopa seemingly answering him.
“Of what avail are the old world values anymore, by the way, tell me who cares for them these days. Now, it’s the money that measures man’s worth never mind how one acquires it, what matters is how much moolah one has. One could choose values for company but prosperity seeks the pliable,” said Sathyam in exasperation.
‘So what, of what worth is money without virtue?” she said indignantly.
‘Don’t I know money is no guarantor of happiness,” said Prasad looking ardently at Roopa.
‘That’s what all the moneyed say, while making more of it all the time; the only attribute of man is his wealth and you very well know about that,” said Sathyam in irritation.
“No faulting you but only the affected knows about the affliction,” said Prasad solicitously.
‘Yet I’m sure you won’t part with a paisa ever more than needed, that is even for curing your ailment, whatever it is,” said Sathyam, serving himself another large.
‘But for a late starter, you seem to have covered a lot of ground,” said Prasad playing up to Sathyam’s ego,
‘It all boils down to capacity, my old boy, well, I can stand even on a bottle,” said Sathyam proudly.
‘Because my sister is able to put up with you, what do you say, Roopa?” said Prasad.
“If only I lose my patience, then you would know,” she said half in jest.
By then, as he felt that it was wiser for him to leave the scene before he was forced to take sides, said Prasad jokingly,
“I better leave 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 long!’ thought Prasad getting into his Benz. ‘Sathyam is eyeing money as much as I ogle his wife. Sure he won’t let go an opportunity to grease his palms to the hilt and left to himself, he might soon acquire the vice for making money, maybe ending up being a hoarder as well. Well, that might suit his progeny, if they ever arrive, but what of me; won’t that jeopardize my idea of having his wife?’
‘It’s about time that I activate 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 money 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. So, 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 the contractors 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 time with whorish frames? That is for sure.’
‘Having heard about the flesh trade all along, how I have failed to venture into it so far,’ lamented Sathyam, imagining what he might have missed all through. ‘In Kakinada, the famed Mirror House was just a stone’s throw away from my place, yet it remained too far for me. Won’t all swear that the bogamollu of Peddapuram are apart, with the required skills to please, acquired from the past masters of the flesh trade? 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 colour to my sexventure?’
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? What else could she do, as it’s the way with all women, moreover, what she could complain as she herself is half-hearted in bed? All said and done, don’t I owe something to myself as well?’
All along, though his libido craved for sex, he was shy at courting women but 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. Well, 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 if anything the rudeness of those who frequent them further deepens their antipathy towards men. Besides, having lost their inhibitions through constant exposure to assorted males, the whores become coarse to settle scores even with those they solicit. Yet with a considerate man, the innate woman in them comes alive, inducing them to shower themselves on him and it is thus they make such feel at home even in their brothels.
When, Roopa had reasons to suspect Sathyam’s sexual forays, 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, and 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. Haven’t I offered him a cold bed, in spite of his passion for me? So, having been uncaring all along, why am I cut up with him now? Is it a case of wounded vanity then? No, it’s not so, it’s the very thought that he sleeps with all and sundry that’s bothersome. Now 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. ‘Precious little, but in a 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? But now, if required, even that qualification could be waived now adultery. Why am I not a free bird now, though caged in marriage?’
Thus 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 be? Why can’t he be hoping that I might as well warm up to him, sooner than later? For all that, 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? As and when Sathyam discovers our affair, 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. When it comes to Raja, it’s not any pique but my innate love that drives me towards him, isn’t it? Besides, having stirred my heart, hasn’t he earned the right of possession over my body? So, I would give myself to him and him alone, body, and soul. Next time around, won’t I gatecrash into his life; whatever it takes me 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.
More by : BS Murthy