Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 37
Continued from “Threesome Sail”
Some six months later, it seemed, destiny was making 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 bhindi. On his way back from the nearby sabzi mandi, remembering Roopa’s 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 copy in anxiety, and ran home in fright. Racing up the steps, he sank into the sofa to go through the item with premonition.
‘World Bank Tenders Rock Assembly’ the headline stared him in the face all again, making him numb. However, goaded by the fear of his future, he read the copy that read - Divakar Reddy, the leader of the opposition, alleged in the Assembly that the contracts of the World Bank Projects were fraudulently awarded to the benami firms of the Finance Minister, Rajanna Choudhary. Though the minister, who was present in the House, denied any irregularity, demanding an enquiry, the opposition staged a walk out and sat in dharna outside the legislature. Fearing a deadlock in the house, the Chief Minister agreed to hand over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation.’
Sathyam could go no further, what with his eyes welled up by then.
Roopa, who meanwhile pulled herself into the kitchen, was at a loss as to why he was taking so long to return. At length, however, as she came into the hall, she saw him as white as a sheet in the sofa.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ she enquired anxiously.
Still in a trance, he looked at her vacuously.
‘Tell me,’ she shook him anxiously, ‘what happened?’
He gave her the newspaper for a reply.
‘Tell me, please,’ she asked, flinging the paper on the table.
‘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.
‘Believe it or not,’ he said, looking at her confounded, ‘I was the mastermind behind it.’
‘I think you’re imagining things,’ she said, as she gathered her wits, ‘Are you not assuming undue self-importance these days?’
‘How can I convince you,’ he said helplessly, ‘that it’s my idea to the last detail?’
‘Oh, really,’ she said in exasperation. ‘But why didn’t you tell me before?’
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 have smelled a rat. Unbelievable really, for that was all so foolproof.’
‘No doubt, it’s brilliant,’ she said, making no effort to hide her admiration for his brainchild, ‘though wicked. Oh, if only you had put your brains to better use.’
‘Do you know,’ he said mysteriously, ‘what my idea was worth?’
‘Why, the crumbs of the cake,’ she said feeling sad. ‘And now we land in this mess.’
‘Hold your breath,’ he said proudly, ‘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 favors done over the time. The money is there for you, safely tucked away in the attic.’
‘To hell with your millions,’ she said, unmoved. ‘I’m worried about your future.’
‘More than the loss of face for me,’ he said dejectedly, ‘I’m worried about its confiscation, making you poor all over again.’
‘You know that I don’t care,’ she said, trying to calm him, ‘even if it were a billion that is at stake. I’m only worried about you.’
‘I’ve never imagined things would come to this pass,’ he said morosely. ‘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.’
‘Oh me!’ she said with a sense of remorse. ‘It’s my fault indeed. How I was cold to you! Don’t you know that I love you now?’
‘I know that,’ he said with his heart in his mouth, ‘but do you still love me?’
‘Oh, for the way you feel for me, I love you even more now,’ 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, my darling,’ she embraced him, ‘how you love me!’
‘More than you could ever imagine,’ he said.
‘I’m blessed, really,’ she said, overwhelmed by love for him, ‘but how do we get out of this mess now?’
‘It’s a consolation that you love me still,’ he said. ‘But how can I show my face to my father?’
‘Don’t worry, he would understand,’ she said trying to cheer him up. ‘After all, he loves you above all else.’
‘You don’t seem to know him,’ he said in all remorse. ‘For him, our surname is paramount. He would die of shame at this misdeed of mine.’
‘Why not plead guilty and be done with it?’
‘Maybe, the court could be considerate at that but Choudhary’s mafia won’t take kindly to that,’ he lamented. ‘Oh, how hopelessly I’ve compromised myself!’
‘We all make mistakes don’t we?’ she said to him as much to herself. ‘Yet, we deserve to be sympathized by others for the motive behind our moves. After all, it’s for love that we both erred on the sly.’
Having said that, she realized that she got carried away to blurt out her secret and looked at him horrified. Being 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.
‘Your sentiment gives me hope,’ he said.
‘We better talk to Raja Rao,’ she suggested in relief, having recovered in the meantime.
‘We’ll think about it later,’ he said, as he got up to go into the bedroom, ‘but I want to be alone now. At times, solitude is the best company, don’t you think it is?’
‘True,’ she said with understanding, ‘I won’t disturb you.’
‘Why not I have a little drink to lighten my burden?’ he thought aloud.
‘I can understand,’ she said, and went 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 grief and 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 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 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, won’t I value him now, more than anything else.’
‘You better stop it now,’ she reproached him at lunchtime, finding him at drink all morning.
‘Roopa, please,’ he said pleadingly, ‘don’t try to stop me today. I can’t stand it, if I come to my senses.’
‘You’re making me helpless,’ she said.
‘Am I not helpless myself?’
‘At least, do have a bite,’ she said pleading.
‘Okay,’ he said, emptying the glass, ‘I shall join you.’
After lunch, exhausted by fear, he slept for long. At length, 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.
‘Right now,’ he said embarrassedly, ‘to be honest, I’m uncomfortable with you even.’
‘I’ll be in the hall,’ she said, ‘call me if you need something.’
‘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 possibly come of the scandal? He’s sure to lose his job, and might find himself behind the bars even. 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,’ she said, sounding music to his ears. ‘Don’t we see, the reports of enquiry commissions whitewashing the scandals involving politicians. I’m sure this won’t be any different.’
‘God willing, we would get the hell out of time,’ he said excitedly. ‘We will go to Tirupati and I’ll get tonsured.’
‘Whatever may be the itch,’ she ruled for the future, ‘never ever grease your palms.’
‘It’s a promise,’ he said taking her hand, ‘I won’t undergo all this for anything. I’ll resign my job and get into some business with that money.’
‘Leave aside morals,’ she said, thoughtfully, ‘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.’
‘As you’ve given me hope,’ he said, ‘let me relax over a large. Why not you to their place and spend some time with Sandhya.’
‘I better do that,’ she said, changing her sari ‘But do mind about your drink.’
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 himself one more ‘large one’.
Having dragged her feet all the way to Sandhya’s house, finding it under lock and key, a disappointed Roopa, nursing hopes of their early return, clung on to the gate for long. At length, however, caught between hope and despair, she felt as if her head was splitting into half.
‘Oh, what a miserable day,’ she thought in the end, as her weary legs took the homeward path.
At length, as she reached 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,’ she said in irritation in spite of herself, ‘and start showing some concern for me?’
‘There’s no way I can help you now,’ he said apologetically, ‘why don’t you help yourself with a drink or two?’
‘Why not,’ she said without second thoughts, ‘if that makes it a little easier for me?’
When she returned with a glass, he looked at her amused, and as she poured for herself from the fresh bottle, he stared at her wide-eyed.
‘Oh, haven’t I failed you all these years,’ he said, clinking her glass for ‘cheers’. ‘Besides, it would have been a great fun drinking together. Oh, how we wasted our time!’
‘Better late than never,’ she smiled, as she sipped that Scotch. ‘Isn’t it well said?’
‘You’re a sport really,’ he said in all admiration. ‘And I love you for that. Oh, how I knew that, the moment I saw you.’
‘Don’t I know that?’ she said, turning coy.
‘Having been a cold fish all along,’ he said, at length, ‘I wonder how you turned into a hot chick overnight.’
‘Why rake up the past now?’ she smiled.
‘What had brought about the change in you?’ he said, suddenly seized with curiosity.
‘As one can’t drink from an empty glass,’ she said tilting her glass, ‘one can’t love with a lifeless heart.’
‘Won’t you let me see,’ he said, ‘the other half of your glassful now.’
‘Well, it is for my eyes only,’ she said, rolling her eyes. ‘By the way, why you want to drain it to the dregs?’
‘As I love the taste,’ he persisted nevertheless, ‘won’t I like to know its recipes as well?’
‘Oh, it’s the spice of my heart,’ she said, as she winked at him, ‘flavored by the Cupid.’
‘Oh,’ he said, giving up his probing. ‘You’re a hard nut to crack.’
‘Come on,’ she said, extending her hand to him, ‘let’s have dinner.’
‘I haven’t space,’ he said, feeling his tummy, ‘even for a morsel.’
‘In that case,’ she said drinking to the dregs, ‘why should I cook?’
‘What about your dinner?’
‘I’ll manage with the leftovers,’ she said. ‘Moreover, I’m too tipsy to light the stove even. I wonder how you can drink like a fish, and yet remain steady!’
‘Isn’t it the best compliment ever from you,’ he smiled heartily.
‘Pay back then,’ she held her glass, ‘with a peg at least.’
‘You’re game, anyway,’ he said, obliging her.
‘But with those,’ she said in a drawling way, remembering her lover’s averment, ‘who raise the bar.’
‘In time, 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,’ he said holding her hand, ‘I could have won your love had I agreed that night.’
‘Why rake up the past now,’ she smiled. ‘Are we not happy anyway?’
‘I know that, but still,’ he said melancholically, ‘we wouldn’t have lost what we lost in those three years.’
‘Let bygones be bygones,’ she said dreamily.
‘You don’t know how I crave for your love,’ he said ruefully. ‘You’ve never really known me, in spite of everything.’
‘Well, I was beside myself then,’ she said. ‘But I value your love now.’
‘Now,’ he suggested in hope, ‘why not you study medicine.’
‘It’s too late, anyway,’ she said resignedly. ‘But that night I was desperate. Your consent could have made our life heavenly. And that’s the reality.’
‘Any way, that’s life,’ she said, ‘full of ifs and buts, isn’t it?’
‘Can you ever pardon me?’
‘I think all of us,’ she said, taking his hand, ‘in spite of our faults, are pardonable.’
‘I always felt guilty on that score,’ he said withdrawing his hand, overcome by remorse all again, ‘and that made me feel uneasy with you.’
‘I was aware of that, but I couldn’t help it,’ she said reaching for his hand again. ‘But you know it’s all different now.’
‘You’re the life,’ he said, pressing her hand, ‘of my life.’
‘Thank you, but stop it now, for my sake,’ she tried to dissuade him, as he was mixing some more for him, ‘I’m feeling sleepy.’
‘Why don’t you sleep in the hall tonight?’ he said pleading, ‘I like to drink a little more.’
‘Good night then,’ 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 fell asleep, even as she hit the pillow.
I’ve a brainwave,’ said Sathyam excitedly, waking her shortly thereafter. ‘With that booty, you can open a nursing home and serve the sick. That way the bad money would serve a good cause, won’t it? Above all, it will help me get rid of my sense of guilt. Roopa, don’t say no.’
‘Oh, what a love,’ she said, hugging him tightly. ‘I’ll do anything for you now.’
‘Let’s move away the money to safety tomorrow itself,’ he said excitedly. ‘Who knows, there could be a raid soon.’
‘Lie down here,’ she moved away to accommodate him.
‘Why not I celebrate my brainwave,’ he kissed her good night. ‘Three cheers.’
Having bid him good night, at length, an intoxicated Roopa fell into an exciting slumber.
Continued to “Subdued Beginning”