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Chat at the Bar
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Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 32

Continued from “Living the Dream”

On the day of Saroja’s barasala, Sathyam arrived to Sandhya’s delight. Thanking him for coming, she hoped that he and Roopa would soon give her an opportunity for reciprocity. What with his dormant desire coming to the fore as he took Saroja, Sathyam looked at Roopa in hope.

‘Write down her name,’ said the purohit to Raja Rao, handing him the rice slate he made in a silver plate.

As that raised the curtains for the naming ceremony, Raja Rao went through the exercise, watched by Sandhya by his side and even as the purohit announced that Saroja was the name chosen, Sathyam said in excitement, ‘a lovely name.’

‘Thank you,’ said Sandhya affectionately. ‘But don’t run away, I want to talk to you.’

When she closeted with Sathyam after the function, Sandhya briefed him about the idea to rope in Roopa in Integral Architects, the name Raja Rao had chosen for their enterprise.

‘I take it as a brotherly duty to concede to you?’ said Sathyam genuinely.

‘I’m glad,’ she took his hand, and said, ‘Roopa was doubtful about your agreeing to it.’

‘Well,’ he said ruefully, ‘I’ve learned from my mistake. Had I obliged her then, perhaps, we wouldn’t have missed what we had missed all along.’

‘Why rue over the past,’ she said, pressing his hand, ‘let’s hope for happy times.’

‘I’m happy,’ he said seemingly happy, ‘slowly she’s warming up to me.’

‘I heard you’ve been drinking like a fish,’ she sounded dissuading.

‘But I’m trying to cut down now,’ he said.

‘Nice to hear that, let’s go and congratulate her,’ she said leading him to Roopa and Raja Rao who were engaged with Saroja.

As Roopa was visibly happy at the development, Sathyam felt as though he could shed

part of his burden of guilt, and when Raja Rao said he would like to spend some time with him, he proposed a discourse over drinks.


At the gates of the Eagle Bar that evening, Sathyam was impatient for Raja Rao’s arrival. When he spotted him, he went halfway in welcome, and as Raja Rao apologized for making him wait, Sathyam turned boisterous.

‘You’re not late but I was early,’ said Sathyam, taking Raja Rao’s hand that was extended for him, ‘Isn’t drink known to beckon its addicts ahead of others?’

‘Why should I grudge that fact at all?’ said Raja Rao smiling.

‘I’m glad you’re soon joining us,’ said Sathyam, having in the meanwhile ordered one large Bag Piper each for them. ‘Roopa is delighted to say the least.’

‘They say girls’ friendship suffers in their marriage,’ said Raja Rao. ‘But they seem to prove the proposition false.’

‘Yet, they are so unlike,’ said Sathyam, gulping the drink that the bearer mixed for them by then. ‘Are they not?’

‘But alike at heart, I think?’ said Raja Rao, sipping from his glass. ‘It looks like their childhood affection took strong roots to grow into deep adult attraction.’

‘But, let me tell you,’ said Sathyam. ‘I used to be jealous of their closeness but now it feels divine watching them together. But I’m sore that I didn’t have a like childhood.’

‘Thankfully, I’ve had a great childhood,’ said Raja Rao dreamily, ‘though the memory of it is hazy.’

‘It seems happiness loses its focus in memory, even as unhappiness remains vivid in our minds,’ said Sathyam in all bitterness. ‘Unfortunately for me, I was handed out a bad childhood, what with my father believing in placing it in the locker of his experience. What’s worse, he didn’t grant me the freedom of an adult either. Left to myself, I would have been a better child and a less bitter man.’

‘But as it appears, there is no right kind of bringing up children, though there are many wrong ways of spoiling them,’ philosophized Raja Rao, as was his wont. ‘Having said that, I might add, the mediocrity of man gets reflected in the bringing up of children. You may know, Jean Paul Satre feels that but for a few, men are mere fools, and it’s not hard to imagine how such shape up their progeny. The problem with most parents is that they reduce their children to the toys of their joy. It’s sad they forget that their kids would be better off, if only they’re groomed to face the roughs and toughs of life.’

‘Why, it’s every bit true,’ said Sathyam, animated by the discourse. ‘My father all but treated me as his favored possession. When I wanted to study engineering at Manipal, he said I was too young to fend for myself. Oh how he ruined my career and all! Mind you, I wasn’t a bad student at all.’

‘I can understand your feelings,’ continued Raja Rao, to Sathyam’s solace. ‘But we can’t grudge our parents for having failed to come up to our expectations. The very fact that they hadn’t reduced us to child labor was in itself a favor. If they chose so, being hapless at that age, there was no way we could have resisted them in anyway.’

‘Whatever, my life would have been much different being an engineer,’ said Sathyam, gulping his drink in all bitterness.

‘That’s life - full of ifs and buts, isn’t it?’ said Raja Rao, sipping the dregs.

‘But then,’ said Sathyam, ‘don’t parents end up blaming their children for the perceived neglect of them? Sulking in bitterness, they push their children into the vortex of guilt.’

‘If only we had discussed this aspect of life before Saroja’s birth,’ said Raja Rao, even as Sathyam found his face lighting up, ‘I’m sure, I wouldn’t have had anything meaningful to say. But now I can tell you, it’s we who owe our children for having made us parents, and the fulfillment that goes with it. Maybe, it’s this subconscious sense of gratitude that tends parents to fend their children into adulthood, and beyond. But, it would be injurious for parents to imagine that their children owe it to them for having tended them all the way to their adulthood, and once the children are helped by the parents to be on their own, it amounts to the full and final settlement of the filial account. Then, how does the question of parents withdrawing from their children’s account arise?’

‘No doubt, it’s a sound premise,’ said Sathyam, and after shouting for the bearer, added mysteriously, ‘Are you a moralist by any chance?’

‘It’s the context that holds, isn’t it?’ said Raja Rao tentatively, a little taken aback though.

‘Well, about the so called kickbacks,’ said Sathyam in an undertone as though the under-table thing owes that from the world.

‘I was never exposed to its temptation,’ said Raja Rao in relief, ‘so I can’t pass any judgment.’

‘Oh, come on,’ smiled Sathyam, ‘don’t be diplomatic.’

‘Well, if I’ve to take a philosophical view of it,’ said Raja Rao, applying his mind, ‘the insidious corruption harms the economy while the incentive bribing bedevils the society. While the kickbacks bankrupt the nation, the bribe mongers pester its people.’

‘Why don’t you see the positive side of it,’ said Sathyam with apparent conviction. ‘Doesn’t corruption place more money in more hands? It’s only in the Utopian Republic of Uprightness that the nice guys remain straight and yet strike it rich. But, left to it, the world we live in warms up to the unscrupulous, all the while leaving the decent in the cold. But in the Commonwealth of Corruption, the resourceful are forced to part with part of their booty to bribe seekers. And won’t that put more money into more hands?’

‘What I can say,’ said Raja Rao perplexed by the proposition.

‘Won’t bribe money honey society as well?’ said Sathyam, pleased with his rhetoric. ‘One has only to remove his hypocritical blinkers and view the social scenario to see that. Don’t you find the bribe money coming in handy for the average in bettering their lives and improving the education of their children? But, if India were to be a Republic of Fairness, then we may have a few accumulating wealth ‘disproportionate to the calling of luxuries’, even as the rest struggle to make both ends meet. Well that would have ensured that we had more coolies in our country than we have professionals today.’

‘All this should make one think,’ said Raja Rao, ‘not about justifying corruption but about developing the right climate for equitable growth.’

‘Does that mean, you have contempt for the corrupt?’ said Sathyam, and inexplicably feared Raja Rao’s response.

‘What right I have to judge others since I haven’t gone through it myself?’ said Raja Rao to Sathyam’s utter relief. ‘Perhaps, one should try to desist from it as far as one could earnestly avoid it. However, it’s the truly ambitious that won’t compromise, for they think in terms of greater glories.’

‘Well said,’ said Sathyam tentatively. ‘But what if I confess that I’m a corrupt guy?’

‘Set aside my views?’ asked Raja Rao a little surprised, ‘but what’s the matter with you?’

‘My friend, sincerity could occasionally fetch an accolade or two at the office,’ said Sathyam spiritedly, ‘which anyway won’t get added to the pay cheque, would it? It’s a fast buck that counts these days, and not being down to earth, you can’t make any. Oh, six years of honesty left me hand-to-mouth, but three months of worldliness, call it dishonesty if you must, got me all those goodies you might have noticed at my home. That was during your last visit, when I was out.’

‘How does your wife take it?’

‘In many ways, my wife is very unfeminine,’ began Sathyam, and finding Raja Rao looking at him in surprise, he added. ‘Let me explain. Haven’t you found her lacking in vanity, jealousy and curiosity in true feminine measures? That being the case, can’t you guess what might be her philosophy of life about bribe monies? She’s dead against this greasing of the palms mess, or lining the pocket chore, as some would call it. Anyway, it’s all one and the same, isn’t it? Since she won’t poke her nose into my finances, I’m not hard pressed to explain the source of my new life-style to her. Haven’t you heard the jargon of the incometax wallahs, assets disproportionate to the known sources of income? Let them catch me if they can. By the way, your wife whom I made my raakhi sister is also unfeminine that way, though she’s more pragmatic than my wife. Above all, Sandhya is an angel really.’

‘I’m glad you value my wife as well,’ said Raja Rao extending his hand to Sathyam,

‘Honestly, I think very highly of your wife. Since Roopa is a contented character, why do you want to acquire what she doesn’t value?’

‘That’s a good question,’ said Sathyam. ‘And I’ll answer you frankly. Anyway, keeping secrets is not the right way to promote friendship. Though you haven’t met Prasad, surely you could have heard about him, isn’t it?’

‘Sandhya told me about him,’ said Raja Rao, thinking about how he almost lost Roopa to him.

‘I don’t know what Roopa told Sandhya about him, but that’s beside the point,’ said Sathyam, gulping all that there was in his glass, as a prelude to emptying his heart. ‘We were quite thick during our childhood days. When I met him this January, that too after fifteen years, I believed we could pick up the threads of our friendship all again. But, as I came to know later, in the guise of our friendship, he wanted to get closer to my wife. Oh, while I was a first ranker at school, he used to just scrape through, that too with my help. Well, when the topic was about studies, he never looked at me straight. Imagine such a fellow eyeing my woman now!’

Finding Raja Rao’s demeanor empathic, Sathyam continued after he ordered a fresh round of drinks for them, ‘Do you know what had brought about this change in him? What else man, money, plentiful money. Why, he was lucky to marry a rich dame, and so he thought it fit to lure the wives of the not so rich too into his life. What is worse, he seems to think that wives of the middle-class are but whores in their own homes. All the same, gullible that they are, how these silly women lose their heads when wooed by the moneyed. But I’m proud of my wife, for she proved her worth, though that rascal tried his best.’

‘I’m happy for you,’ said Raja Rao, hiding his mixed feelings, ‘and her as well.’

‘As you know, earlier a man’s worth went by his talent,’ Sathyam continued spiritedly. ‘That was all there was to it. Let’s take a potter for example. If he made a pot right, he got the price, and if it were misshapen, then he was in for a discount sale. But were it to leak altogether, oh, he had nowhere to go. And these days, money is the only resource needed to make more of it, isn’t it? If only you have money, no one is going to ask you how you got it and where from. That’s for sure. With that as capital, you can get into the business of making money. Can’t you hire the best of talent, never mind, your own capacity may be of questionable quality. But then, won’t the guys pool their skills to fill your kitty. And you bask in false glory as a whiz kid of sorts, don’t you?’

‘I can understand your hurt,’ said Raja Rao, moved by Sathyam’s intensity. ‘But then it had always been that way. Didn’t Shakespeare aver that reputation is the most idle and false imposition, often got without merit, and lost without deserving?’

‘Oh, sadly, how true it is,’ said Sathyam excitedly, drinking to the dregs. ‘But isn’t it galling that these guys go about seducing the women of the honest, flaunting the money so made. Coming to this scoundrel of a friend, having vouched for a brotherly affection towards Roopa, he eyed her in a mean manner. Can it get any worse, morally speaking that is? As you know, even Ravan didn’t stoop so low in snaring Seetha.’

‘I agree with you,’ said Raja Rao, driven by his own conviction. ‘Seducing a woman is one thing and deceiving the friend is another. Are we through now?’

‘Let’s have one more round,’ proposed Sathyam, as the waiter came around, and as Raja Rao excused himself, he ordered one large for himself.

‘You know, thanks to my wife,’ said Sathyam with an air of satisfaction, ‘I’ve had the last laugh at him. When in the end, she exposed him to me; I took him to task really. This is what I told him - my dear fellow, money and looks are okay to an extent to lure women, but better realize it’s the luck that enables one to lay them. Why, you can’t screw even a whore if you’re not destined to have her, your visit to the brothel would have coincided with her periods, and the next time you’re eager, she could have shifted out of the town itself. That’s what I told him.’

‘Oh, how true,’ said Raja Rao, even as he recalled that Ganga-Kaveri girl.

‘Now I’ll tell you why I want to get rich,’ said Sathyam, gulping from his glass, ‘in double quick time that is. I don’t want someone like Prasad ogle at Roopa in the hope of winning her, simply because she’s a poor man’s wife. I want to make her rich so that she can keep the lechers all at bay. You don’t know how I love her. How can you, when she herself fails to delve into my heart.’

‘Honestly, one cannot hope to be understood really,’ said Raja Rao enigmatically, ‘even by the spouse.’

‘Maybe, but I adore her and no less crave for her love,’ said Sathyam, as he lost all his inhibitions by then. ‘To be frank with you, our marriage was stymied from the beginning. Somehow, she was unenthusiastic about me. Maybe, she could have felt she deserved someone better than me, and how can I blame her for that, as she deserves a superman, if there’s one. If you don’t mind my being boastful, I was a philanderer myself. But that is beside the point, coming back to my wife, she’s a fantastic dame. All said and done, I’m sure no one can ever love her more than I do. Oh, how I find that song from that film, Ghazal, so poignant - Naively thought I’ve right to love, whom you love, hath right on you.’

‘You haven’t completed the stanza, I suppose,’ said Raja Rao. ‘Why not tell me whom you love, so that I can fetch him now.’

‘It’s all well for poetic imagination. But how can it be a practical proposition?’ said Sathyam dismissively. ‘And to be fair to my wife, she is a faithful one.’

‘In some hearts like Sandhya’s, love would reach such poetic proportions,’ thought Raja Rao, and at that, he was gripped by an urge to be with her,

‘They may be expecting us,’ said Raja Rao, goading Sathyam to rise, ‘So better we call it a day.’

‘Tell me frankly,’ said Sathyam, as they came out, ‘what do you make of me?’

‘Honestly,’ said Raja Rao, hugging Sathyam, ‘I wish I had your capacity to love.’

‘I’ll cherish your words all my life,’ said Sathyam, as Raja Rao released him.

‘How come Roopa inspires so much love and passion in men?’ wondered Raja Rao as he headed home. ‘And devotion in women as well. Isn’t Tara too an obvious fan of hers?’

Buoyed by sentiment, Sathyam reached home excited, and in all pride, made Roopa privy to Raja Rao’s praises. At that, she reflected how her lover’s empathy for her, gave rise to sympathy for her husband in his heart. It was thus, the glare of her paramour’s goodwill blinded her man’s vision to gaze at her liaison.

Continued to “Amour on Rein”

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