Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 32
Continued from “Living the Dream”
On the eve of Saroja’s barasala, Raja Rao’s clan, including the Thimmaiahs, made it to Kakinada in drove that is not to speak of Sandhya’s relatives. However, as Sathyam arrived only on the appointed day, thanking him for coming, Sandhya said 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.
At length, the elaborate ceremony got underway in the sprawling hall.
“Christen her with your ring,” said the purohit to Raja Rao at length, handing him a silver plate in which he fashioned a rice-slate.
As that raised the curtains for the naming ceremony, Raja Rao went through the exercise with Sandhya by his side with their baby in her lap, and even as the purohit announced that Saroja was the chosen name, Sathyam said in excitement,
“What a lovely name.”
“Thank you, please do stay, I want to talk to you,” said Sandhya affectionately.
After the function, even as Roopa was cloistered by Hyma and family, closeted with Sathyam, Sandhya briefed him about the idea to rope in Roopa in Integral Architects, the name Raja Rao has chosen for their enterprise.
“I take it as a brotherly duty to concede to you?” said Sathyam genuinely.
“I’m glad but Roopa was doubtful,” she said taking his hand.
‘‘I’ve learned from my mistake. Had I obliged her then, perhaps, we wouldn’t have missed what we had missed all along,” he said ruefully.
“Why rue over the past, let’s hope for happier times,” she said, pressing his hand.
“Now I’m happy as she’s warming up to me,” he said seemingly happy.
“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 congratulate her,” she said leading him to Roopa.
As Roopa was visibly happy at the development, Sathyam felt as though he could shed part of his burden of guilt, and later 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 at last, 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 for Bacchus tends to beckon his devotees ahead of others?” said Sathyam, taking Raja Rao’s hand that was extended to him.
“I won’t I grudge his partiality?” said Raja Rao smiling.
“I’m glad you’re soon joining us, Roopa is delighted to say the least,” said Sathyam, having in the meanwhile ordered one large Bag Piper each with soda for them.
“Generally speaking, marriage constrains girls’ friendship, but they make it an exception,” said Raja Rao.
“Let’s toast their camaraderie?” said Sathyam, raising a glass, as by then the bearer brought then the drinks.
“Three cheers for them,” said Raja Rao, raising his glass.
‘To be honest, I used to be jealous of their closeness but now it feels divine watching them together. But I feel bad that I didn’t have a like childhood,” said Sathyam.
‘Thankfully, I’ve had a great childhood though the memory of it is hazy,” said Raja Rao dreamily.
“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 attic of his experience. What’s worse, he didn’t grant me the freedom of adulthood 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 turn their children into their joyous toys. 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.”
“It’s every bit true; my father all but treated me as his favoured 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,” said Sathyam, animated by the discourse.
“I can understand your feelings, 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,” continued Raja Rao.
“Whatever, my life would’ve been vastly different being an engineer, I’m certain about it,” said Sathyam, gulping his drink in all bitterness.
“That’s all about life, full of ifs and buts, isn’t it?” said Raja Rao, sipping the dregs.
“The irony of it all is that parents tend to blame their children for the perceived neglect of them? Sulking in unwarranted bitterness, they push their children into the vortex of guilt,” said Sathyam.
“If only we had discussed this aspect of life before Saroja’s birth,” said Raja Rao, even as Sathyam saw 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 and once done, it amounts to the full and final settlement of the filial account. That being the case, the question of parents’ further withdrawals from their children’s account does not arise. Thus, it would be injurious for parents to presume that their children owe it to them for having been tended into their adulthood, as that entails untenable expectations that presumption occasions.”
“No doubt, it’s a sound premise,” said Sathyam.
Then, having hailed for the bearer, Sathyam, said to Raja Rao 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.
“Say, 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, so I can’t pass any judgment,” said Raja Rao in relief.
“Oh, come on, don’t be diplomatic,” smiled Sathyam.
“Well, if I’ve to take a philosophical view of it, 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,” said Raja Rao, applying his mind.
“Why don’t you see the positive side of it,” said Sathyam with apparent conviction. “Get it right, 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. So, corruption places more money in many more hands, right,”
“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 multitudes for bettering their lives and improving their children’s qualifications? 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.”
“What you say makes food for thought, not to justify corruption but to evolve a system of equitable growth,” said Raja Rao apparently impressed.
“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? Maybe, 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,” said Raja Rao to Sathyam’s relief.
‘Well said, but what if I confess that I’m a corrupt guy?” said Sathyam tentatively.
‘Set aside my views, but what’s the matter with you?” asked Raja Rao a little surprised.
“My friend, sincerity could occasionally fetch an accolade or two at the office that anyway won’t accrue to the pay cheque. It’s the fast buck that counts these days, and without being down to earth, you can’t make any. 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 in my place. That was during your last visit, when I was out of town,” said Sathyam spiritedly.
“All said and done how your wife takes it?” asked Raja Rao.
“In many ways, Roopa 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? However, as 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 income tax 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 rakhi 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 also.”
“I see that my wife idolizes you but I’m not jealous as I too have come to admire you,” said Sathyam a little high by then.
“Thank you for your goodness, but as Roopa is a contented character, why do you want to acquire what she doesn’t value?” said Raja Rao as if he was imploring Sathyam to change tack.
“That’s a good question 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, haven’t you?” said Sathyam
“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. You may know that 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 wife!”
Finding Raja Rao’s demeanor empathic, Sathyam continued after he ordered a fresh round of drinks for them,
“Do you know what brought about this change in him? What else man, money, plenty of it? Why, he was lucky to marry a rich dame, and so he thought it fit to lure the wives of the have-nots into his grip perceiving them as a sort of whores in their own homes. All the same, gullible that they are, how these silly women lose their heads if wooed by the moneyed. But I’m proud of Roopa, for she proved her worth, though that rascal tried his best.”
“I’m happy for both of you,” said Raja Rao, hiding his mixed feelings.
“Earlier a man’s worth went by his talent,” Sathyam continued spiritedly. “That was all there was to it. Take a potter, if he made a pot right, he got the price, and if it were misshapen, then it’s a discount sale. Were it to leak altogether, well that was that. But these days, even a bad potter with money can make money by hiring some good potters. So never mind, your own capacity may be of questionable quality yet, if you have money, you can hire the best of talent, and as they pool their skills you can fill your kitty. That is besides basking in false glory as a whiz kid of sorts, isn’t it? It’s thus, now money is the only resource needed to make more of it and no one is going to ask you how you got it and where from. That’s the reality.”
‘I can understand your hurt, but then, more or less, it had always been like that. Didn’t Shakespeare aver that reputation is the most idle and false imposition, often got without merit, and lost without deserving?” said Raja Rao, moved by Sathyam’s intensity.
“But how sad it is, 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,” said Sathyam, drinking to the dregs.
“I fully agree with you, seducing a woman is one thing and deceiving the friend is another. Are we through now?” said Raja Rao, driven by his own conviction.
“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.
“But you know, thanks to my wife I’ve had the last laugh at him,” said Sathyam with an air of satisfaction. “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 Ok to an extent to lure women, but better realise that it’s the luck that enables one to lay them. Why, you can’t even screw a whore if you’re not destined to have her for your visit to the brothel would’ve coincided with her periods, and the next time you’re eager, she could’ve 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, in double quick time that is,” said Sathyam, gulping from his glass. “I don’t want someone like Prasad ever ogle 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 can’t hope to be fully understood, even by the spouse,” said Raja Rao enigmatically.
“Maybe, but I adore her and 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 as 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 certainly 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 and coming back to my wife, she’s a fantastic dame. But all said and done, I’m sure no one can ever love her more than I do. Well, the song from the film Ghazal captures the poignancy of my situation - Naively thought I’ve the right to love, the one you love, hath right on you.”
“But you haven’t completed the stanza - Why not tell whom you love, so that I can fetch him now,” said Raja Rao.
“It’s in the realms of poetic imagination but how it can be a practical proposition, and to be fair to my wife, she is a faithful one,” said Sathyam.
‘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; better we get moving,” said Raja Rao, goading Sathyam to rise.
“Tell me frankly, what you make of me?” said Sathyam, as they came out.
‘Honestly, I wish I had your capacity to love,” said Raja Rao, hugging Sathyam.
“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 and devotion in women as well. Isn’t Tara too fond of her?’ wondered Raja Rao as he headed home.
Buoyed by that sentiment, Sathyam reached home excited, and in all pride, made Roopa privy to Raja Rao’s praises. At that, she reflected upon how her lover’s empathy for her gave rise to his sympathy for her husband without realizing that the glare of her paramour’s goodwill blinded her man’s vision to gaze at her liaison.