Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 37
Continued from “Threesome Sail”
Some six months later, the trio’s destiny made a course correction in Roopa’s life.
After Sathyam had his breakfast that Sunday morning, she herself feeling lazy, Roopa sent him to fetch some vegetables. On his way back from the nearby sabzi mandi, remembering her indent for matchboxes as well, he stopped at a pan shop and chanced to read the headline of the Eenadu on sale there. Though he couldn’t believe his eyes, the caption there shook him to the core. Jeopardized by the news, he picked up a paper in anxiety, and rushed home in fright. Racing up the steps, he sank into the sofa to go through the item with premonition.
‘SCANDALOUS WORLD BANK TENDERS’ the headline stared him in the face all again, making him numb. However, goaded by the fear of his future, he started reading the copy – In a late night press note, Divakar Reddy, the leader of the opposition, alleged that the contracts of the World Bank Projects were fraudulently awarded to the benami firms of the Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister, Rajanna Choudhary, and demanded that the matter be probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation…..’
What with his eyes welled up by then, Sathyam could go no farther.
Meanwhile having goaded herself into the kitchen, Roopa wondered why he was taking so long to come to her, and so, in time, she herself went into the hall.
Seeing him as white as a sheet in the sofa, she asked him anxiously,
“What’s wrong with you?”
Still in a trance, he looked at her vacuously.
“Tell me, what happened?” she shook him.
He gave her the newspaper for a reply.
“Tell me, please,” she said, flinging the paper on the teapoy.
“Read the headline,” he mumbled.
“I can’t make head or tail of it,” she said, having read it.
“That headline might cost me my head,” he said nervously.
“What!” she said in shock.
“I’m involved in all that,” he said with mixed feelings.
“I just can’t believe it!’ she said, and read the news in detail.
‘I was the mastermind of that scam,” he said, looking at her confounded.
“Maybe you’re imagining things,” she said, as she gathered her wits.
“Believe it or not, I scripted that plot to the last detail,” he said seemingly lost.
“Oh, really, but why didn’t you tell me before?” she said in exasperation.
Then he narrated the contours of the conspiracy and the details of its execution with a sense of excitement, and added,
“I wonder how anyone could’ve smelled a rat as that was foolproof,” he said ruefully.
“No denying that it’s brilliant though wicked. If only you had put your brains for better use,” she said, making no effort to hide her admiration for his brainchild.
“Do you know what my idea is worth?” he said mysteriously.
“The crumbs of the corrupt cake,” she said feeling sad.
“Hold your breath; now you’re a millionairess without your knowing it. I’ve made two millions from that single deal and another half a million for the assorted favours done over the time. All the money is there for you, safely tucked away in the attic,” he said proudly.
“Who cares for your millions, I’m worried about this mess,” she said, unmoved.
‘More than the loss of my face, I’m worried about its confiscation, making you poor all over again,” he said dejectedly.
“You know that I don’t care even if it were a billion. I’m only worried about you,” she said, trying to calm him.
“I never imagined things would come to this pass, I only thought that money might make you feel secure, and would earn me your love. It looks like, now I’m ruined in every way,” he said morosely.
“It’s my fault for being cold to you then but now you know I love you,” she said with a sense of remorse.
“I know that but do you still love me?” he said with his heart in his mouth.
“Now I love you even more for the way you feel for me,” she said, taking his hand.
“Roopa, you don’t seem to understand the value of money and the humiliation the lack of it could cause,” he said, pushing the import of the calamity onto the back burner, as the sentiment of his love came to the fore. “Though it hurt me deeply, it was Prasad’s ogling of you that had opened my eyes. If only I were a man of status, he wouldn’t have dared even to daydream about you, leave alone wooing you. From then on, I strived to prepare a sheath of wealth for you to ward off the lecherous folks.”
“Oh, how you love me!” she embraced him.
“More than you could ever imagine,” he said holding her.
“I feel blessed; but why this mess?” she said, overwhelmed by love for him.
“It’s a consolation that you love me still, but how can I show my face to my father?” he said ashamedly.
‘Don’t worry, he would understand,” she said trying to cheer him up.
‘You don’t know him, for him, our surname is paramount; he would die of shame for my misdeed,” he said in all remorse.
“Why not plead guilty and be done with it?” she thought it was a way out.
“Maybe, the court could be considerate but Choudhary’s mafia won’t take kindly to that, oh, how hopelessly I’ve compromised myself!” he lamented.
“We all make mistakes, yet, we deserve to be sympathized for the motive behind our moves. After all, it’s for love that we both erred on the sly,” she said to him as much to herself.
Having said that, she realized that she got carried away to blurt out her secret and looked at him horrified. But overwhelmed by his own predicament, Sathyam failed to note the oddity of her averment, and so didn’t press her for any clarification on that count, and merely said,
“Your sentiment gives me hope.”
“We better talk to Raja Rao,” she suggested in relief, having recovered in the meantime.
“We’ll think about it later, but I want to be alone now. Now, solitude seems to be my best company,” he said, as he got up to go into the bedroom.
“I understand,” she said.
“Why not I have a little drink to lighten my burden?” he thought aloud.
“As you please,” she said going to fetch him some ice and water.
Drinking out of a bottle of Chivas Regal, of the three sent by Nagaraju the other day, thought Sathyam,
“What a paradox it is that the grief and the relief should come from the same source!”
‘Am I not responsible for all this?’ felt Roopa, all alone in the hall. ‘Of course, having made him feel insecure all through, haven’t I caused his eventual fall? If only I had made him feel wanted from the beginning, would things have come to such a pass? Well, wittingly or unwittingly, I brought him to this ugly stage but he won’t even have one harsh word for me! Why have I devalued him and his love all along? Oh God, how I have come to wrong him!’
Overwhelmed by his new found virtues, and ashamed of her own insensitivity, Roopa resolved to stand by him through thick and through thin.
‘Even if the world belittles him, I’ll value him more than anything else,’ she resolved.
As Sathyam went on drinking, she reproached him at lunchtime,
“You better stop it now for your own good.”
‘I can’t stand it in my right senses,” he said pleadingly.
“You’re making me helpless,” she said.
“Am I not helpless myself?” he said.
“At least, do have a bite,” she said persuasively.
“Ok, I shall join you,” he said, emptying the glass.
After lunch, exhausted by fear, he slept for long and as he got up at five, he asked her to go to Sandhya’s place lest they should come visiting them.
“How am I to leave you now?” she protested.
“Honestly, now I’m uncomfortable even with you,” he said embarrassedly.
“I’ll stay in the hall, call me if you need anything,” she said.
‘At least, he drinks to lighten his burden, and he deserves it as well. But what about me?’ she felt, reclining in the sofa, and began to picture her future. ‘What could be the possible outcome of the scandal? He’s sure to lose his job, and may even find himself behind the bars. Oh, how that would ruin him and ridicule me. What have I done to deserve all this? Oh God, what’s wrong with my life? How long I have lived in a void for want of love, and then, that yearlong pining in passion. At long last, when I’m happy, here’s this tragic turn.’
‘Won’t high connections help?’ she thought at length. ‘Can Ranga Reddy come to our rescue? Isn’t he known to be close to the Home Minister? Even otherwise, won’t the case be hushed up, as the bigwigs are involved, no less than the Finance Minister? Perhaps our fears could turn out to be liars.’
At that, she went up to Sathyam to show him the silver lining, and found him still at drink.
“How I wish it comes to that,” he said, even a little relieved.
“I’m sure all this is bound to fizzle out in the end. Don’t we see, the reports of enquiry commissions whitewashing the scandals involving politicians. I’m sure this won’t be any different,” she said, sounding music to his ears.
‘God willing, if we get out of this hell, we’ll go to Tirupati, and I get tonsured,” he said feeling a little easy.
‘Whatever may be the itch, never ever grease your palms,” she ruled for the future.
‘I’ll resign my job and get into some business with that money,” he said taking her hand.
‘Leave aside morals, I think you deserve to keep the booty, if only for your motive behind grabbing it. And no less, for the way you’re suffering. Now let me call them so that you too can divert your mind,” she said, thoughtfully.
‘As you’ve given me hope, let me relax over a large. Why not you spend some time with them,” he said.
“I better do that, but do mind about your drink,” she said, getting up to change her sari.
In time, as he drank out that large, it dawned on Sathyam that the calamity of the moment had brought Roopa emotionally closer to him than ever before. With his spirits having soured thus, as if to steady himself, he made one more ‘large’.
Having dragged her feet all the way to Sandhya’s house, finding it locked, a disappointed Roopa, nursing hopes of their early return, clung on to the gate for long. However, at length, caught between hope and despair, she felt as if her head was splitting into half and in the end as her weary legs took the homeward path, she thought,
‘What a miserable day.’
Thus reaching home in disappointment, she sank into the sofa in exhaustion. However, in time, gripped by an impulsive need for company, to shed her melancholic overburden, she went up to Sathyam, and found him emptying the bottle into his glass.
“Why don’t you stop that god-damn drink and start showing some concern for me?” she said in irritation in spite of herself.
‘There’s no way I can help you now, why don’t you too help yourself with a drink or two?” he said invitingly.
“Why not, if that makes it a little better?” she said without second thoughts.
When she returned with a glass, he looked at her amusedly, and as she poured for herself from the fresh bottle, he stared at her wide-eyed.
“Haven’t I failed you all these years!” he said.
“Better late than never, isn’t it well said?” she smiled, as she sipped that Scotch.
“You’re a sport really and I love you for that. I knew that, the moment I saw you,” he said in all admiration.
“Don’t I know that?” she said, turning coy.
“How did you turn into a hot chick from a cold fish?” he said, at length.
“Why rake up the past now?” she smiled.
“Tell me what has caused it,” he said, suddenly seized with curiosity.
“As one can’t drink from an empty glass, one can’t love with a lifeless heart,” she said.
“Show me the other half of your glassful life,” he said.
“Know that it’s for my eyes only?” she said, rolling her eyes.
“As that spices up my life tell me about its recipe,” he persisted nevertheless.
“Take it, the essence of my love is flavoured by cupid’s passion,” she said, as she winked at him.
“You’re a hard nut to crack anyway,” he said, giving up his probing.
“What about your dinner” she said, extending her hand to him.
“I haven’t space even for a morsel,” he said, feeling his tummy.
“I’m too tipsy to even eat; I wonder how you can drink like a fish, and yet remain steady!” she said drinking to the dregs.
“Isn’t it the best compliment ever from you,” he smiled heartily.
“Then pay back with a peg,” she held her glass.
“You’re game, really,” he said, obliging her.
“Only to those who raise the bar,” she said in a drawling way, remembering her lover’s averment.
“Soon, you may beat me at my own game,” he said in awe; as she gulped half from the glass at one go.
“Wait and see,” she winked at him.
“I’ve always felt that I could’ve won your love had I obliged you then,” he said holding her hand.
“Why rake up the past; as we’re happy anyway,” she smiled.
“But still, we wouldn’t have lost what we’ve lost in those three years,” he said melancholically.
“Let bygones be bygones,” she said dreamily.
“You don’t know how I crave for your love; sadly you’ve never really known me,” he said ruefully.
‘”I was beside myself then but I value your love now,” she said taking his hand.
“Why not you study medicine now,” he suggested in hope.
‘It’s too late, anyway, but your consent that night could’ve made all the difference,” she said resignedly.
“I’m sorry, what else I can say now,” he said feeling bad.
“Any way, that’s life, full of ifs and buts,” she said.
“Can you ever pardon me?” he said taking her hand.
“I think all of us, in spite of our faults, are pardonable,” she said, pressing his hand.
“I always felt guilty on that score and that inhibited me with you,” he said withdrawing his hand, overcome by remorse all again.
‘I was aware of that, but I couldn’t help it, anyway it’s all different now, right,” she said reaching for his hand again.
‘You’re the life of my life,” he said, pressing her hand.
‘Thank you, but stop it now, at least for my sake,’ she tried to dissuade him, as he was mixing some more for him.
‘Why don’t you sleep in the hall tonight, I like to drink a little longer,” he said pleadingly.
“Ok, good night then, but if you feel hungry wake me up,” she said yawning, and picking up her pillow, she went into the hall.
Having had some curd rice with a mango pickle, she took to the makeshift bed, and as soon as she hit the pillow, she fell asleep.
Soon however, Sathyam in excitement woke her up saying,
“I’ve a brainwave Roopa; with that booty, you can open a nursing home and serve the sick. That way the bad money would serve a good cause, and above all, it will help me get rid of my guilt. Please don’t say no.”
“Oh, what a love, I’ll do anything for you now,” she said, hugging him tightly.
“Let’s move away the money to safety tomorrow itself; who knows, there could be a raid soon,” he said excitedly.
“Lie down here,” she moved away to accommodate him.
“Let me celebrate my Eureka moment, three cheers,” he kissed her good night.
Having bid him good night all again, an intoxicated Roopa fell into an exciting slumber.
Continued to “Subdued Beginning”