Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 38
Continued from “End of an Innings”
Roopa, with a hangover, woke up to Yadamma’s buzzer, at seven the next morning, only to realize that Sathyam was still in bed. At that, as she began to brush her teeth, Yadamma set out to wash the staircase. Soon, as Roopa was at preparing coffee decoction for them and Sathyam, for he started having bed coffee for sometime then, Yadamma began sweeping the hall. At length, while Roopa in the kitchen was keeping watch over the boiling milk Yadamma went into the bedroom. Shortly thereafter as Yadamma, taking ayya to be dead, raised an alarm, Roopa spilt the strong coffee she was preparing for Sathyam on herself. Then, rushing to him in pain, she felt his pulse, and finding it still, she fell unconscious over him. At that, fearing the worst, Yadamma rushed with the news to the Raja Raos in bed.
Reaching her home post-haste, the nonplussed couple found their benumbed lover lay on her husband’s body. However, readily realizing that Roopa was breathing still, Raja Rao hurried Sandhya to fetch some water to splash her into senses. In time, as Roopa opened her eyes, Sandhya took her mate endearingly into her lap, even as Raja Rao caressed the bereaved in assurance. Even in her state of shock, Roopa found their touch reassuring and began to feel solaced by that. There could be moments in life when a mere touch of a dear one conveys more empathy than a score of sympathetic words.
‘What’s this tragedy?’ sobbed Sandhya, inducing a flood of tears from Roopa’s eyes.
‘He was upset the whole of yesterday, and went on drinking till midnight,’ cried Roopa inconsolably. ‘And he was no more by the morning. Oh, I can’t believe it.’
‘Maybe, he died of excessive drinking,’ said Raja Rao gravely, looking at the two empty bottles of Chivas Regal lying near the cot. ‘But why didn’t you stop him at some point?’
‘What do you mean?’ Roopa said, perplexed, ‘Why, was he not dead drunk so often? Can one die of drink, really?’
‘As it appears,’ said Raja Rao, staring at Sathyam’s body, ‘sadly, he drank himself to death.’
‘But why didn’t you send for us all day?’ said Sandhya.
‘You were not at home when I came in the evening,’ said Roopa ruefully. ‘And in the end, unable to bear the tension, I myself had a couple of drinks, and slept off. Oh, if only I knew, wouldn’t I have stopped him in time.’
‘How I wish you did,’ said Sandhya bogged down with tears. ‘And that would have saved a fine soul for us. But as they say, God won’t keep Himself away from good souls for long. Wonder why it doesn’t occur to Him that the world needs such, even more!’
‘What else we can do now,’ said Raja Rao, consoling Sandhya, ‘than braving the cruelty of fate?’
‘Oh, how fate had chosen me,’ said Roopa melancholically, ‘as the villain in his life. What an irony our life has turned out to be! While I slighted him all through, he died burdening me with his magnanimity.’
‘Stop feeling guilty dear,’ said Sandhya cajolingly. ‘After all, he died with a feeling of being loved by you. That’s what matters to his soul and to your conscience as well.’
‘Perhaps,’ said Roopa, staring at Sathyam’s body, ‘that’s the saving grace of my life with him.’
‘It’s time,’ said Raja Rao to Tara who came by then, ‘we informed the police.’
‘Leave all that to me,’ said Tara, though beside herself, ‘and take care of her.’
At that, as Roopa realized that the police would come to take away the body for post-mortem, the irony of the tragedy dawned on her.
‘Oh, how he feared he would be arrested,’ she thought feeling sad about it all. ‘But they would be here soon, to take away his body. What if they revisit to confiscate his booty as well?’
Then, having recalled how relieved Sathyam was at his brainwave, she resolved, ‘No, I can’t let that happen, if only to see his soul rest in the Sathyam Memorial Clinic.’ Thus, closeting with Raja Rao and Sandhya, she narrated all that happened, and concluded, ‘He told me that he kept that money on the loft. We shall remove that before they start looking for it.’
As Raja Rao and Sandhya shared her sentiment and volunteered to shoulder her burden, the prospect of her immortalizing Sathyam’s name through the clinic enabled her to face the calamity with equanimity. Shortly thereafter, Tara came back, and Sandhya went home to tend to Saroja. And as the Police began investigating into Sathyam’s death so to assist them Raja Rao left Roopa to Tara’s care.
‘You know that I look life straight in its face,’ said Tara in undertone to Roopa. ‘You should welcome his death though in a weird way. Well, he lived believing you’re faithful to him and died before knowing you’ve a lover. Don’t you fool yourself; it was only a matter of time when he would have got wind of your ways, and how hard that would have been on him you can imagine. How he would have suffered all his life for that hurt and death seems to have saved him that fate. And that’s life!’
‘Oh, I haven’t seen it from that angle,’ said Roopa, even as she began to contemplate on that.
At length, as Tara’s outlook insensibly gave her a new perspective of her life, Roopa began to see Sathyam’s death in a fresh light. And late that night, to retrieve the treasure that Sathyam had left behind, Raja Rao, helped by his women, had crouched into the loft. ‘If not for the sentiment attached to it,’ he thought disconcertingly, ‘how mean all this could be!’ ~*~
The mourners’ number had swelled by the next day, what with the arrival of relatives and friends from far and wide. While Ramu helped Raja Rao to keep things moving, Raju ran errands for his brothers-in-law and others.
When the body was brought back from the mortuary, while a shocked Pathrudu tried to console Durgamma, she went delirious over it.
‘Why instead of him, didn’t God take me away?’ she cried inconsolably, ‘how could He be so cruel to my son in the midst of his life? Did he ever harm even a flea, all his life?’
But while Janaki cried herself hoarse that her daughter got widowed so young, Ramaiah found himself burdened by guilt, ‘Had I not then brainwashed her into marrying him, I might be busy now searching matches for her. Oh, what a fate it is.’
It was left to the Kamalakars, together with Sandhya, to console Roopa, as Chandrika was yet to arrive.
‘No doubt it’s sad,’ said Kamalakar, patting Roopa, ‘but you need to be brave.’
‘How sad, it’s all over for Sathyam,’ said Damayanthi, taking Roopa into her lap, ‘but you shouldn’t lose heart, knowing we’re always with you.’
‘That’s true,’ said Kamalakar, overwhelmed by Roopa’s plight at such a young age, ‘we would treat you like our second daughter.’
‘‘I love you all the more for your love and understanding for her,’ said Sandhya moved by her parents’ empathy for her friend.
‘We’re proud of you darling for your commitment to friendship,’ said Kamalakar, patting Sandhya,
‘Not to speak of yours as well,’ said Damayanthi to Roopa.
‘I never experienced a like moment,’ said Roopa, shedding tears of sorrow and joy in equal measure. ‘Your love lightens as well as burdens my soul.’
‘That’s what makes your life so unique,’ said Sandhya, ‘
‘And your friendship so singular,’ said Damayanthi.
By the mid-day, when everything was in place for Sathyam’s last rites, Roopa’s eyes were left with no tears to shed and when Sathyam’s body was lifted on a bamboo stretcher, Pathrudu, with a pot of embers, led the funeral procession. As the corpse was thus taken away, leaving the females behind, Sandhya held a benumbed Roopa from collapsing.
Consigning his son’s body to the flames on the funeral pyre, Pathrudu felt the quirk of destiny, ‘How our roles have got reversed by fate!’, and as he saw Sathyam’s body engulfed in flames, thought Raja Rao, ‘How tragic it is that the triumph of love was snatched away by the hand of death!’
One by one, the kith and kin, with heavy heart, took leave of the bereaved, leaving Roopa, her family and her in-laws to fend for themselves. Then came the twelfth day, the before the closing rituals, when Ramaiah took it upon himself to sort out the matters concerning Roopa’s future.
‘Sad though it is for the departed,’ Ramaiah addressed the assemblage, ‘life must go on for the living, as s we all know, without means, life is but a plight. Though it may seem inappropriate, since our minds are governed by magnanimity, and as our hearts overflow with sympathy to the survivor, it is the right moment to sort out the mundane issues.’
‘You couldn’t have said better,’ said Pathrudu approvingly.
‘As we lost our son, we would treat her as our daughter.’
‘I’ve never doubted about that,’ said Ramaiah to Pathrudu, ‘but don’t you think that she would be better off in her parental house?’
‘Well, it’s up to her,’ said Pathrudu thoughtfully, ‘but wherever she stays, she inherits our property.’
‘I can never thank you enough for your affection,’ Roopa tentatively told Pathrudu. ‘I would have loved to serve you both, but I’ve a mission for his memory and that keeps me here.’
‘What do you mean?’ said Janaki, taken aback. ‘How can we leave you alone?’
‘When I’m around, how can she be alone?’ said Sandhya spiritedly. ‘Moreover, it’s far easier for her to recover from her tragedy staying with me, and she needs our support to accomplish her mission.’
‘Don’t we know, how you love her,’ said Janaki, ‘but still, it won’t be appropriate that she stays with you.’
‘Whatever it is,’ said Roopa as though pleading for their understanding, ‘I need them to fulfill his last wish.’
Fearing that the discussion might take an ugly turn, not wanting to embarrass themselves and the others as well, Raja Rao and Sandhya slipped out, fully aware that, in spite of all the persuasions and dissuasions of others, Roopa would remain steadfast to fulfill the dictates of her life which fate had fused with theirs.
‘No cause is a right cause for a widow to stay away from her family,’ said Durgamma indignantly, ‘moreover, it would scandalize all of us.’
‘What she says is true,’ said Janaki, seconding Durgamma’s stance.
‘Whatever it is,’ said Chandrika spiritedly, ‘let’s see what serves her interests and not which suits your prejudices.’
‘Why do you want to rub your quirk ideas on her,’ said Janaki frowning upon her rebellious daughter.
‘It’s her life so let her decide about it herself’ said Raju.
‘You’re too young to air your views,’ Janaki was dismissive.
‘Why, he represents the future while you’re all but the past,’ said Chandrika in support of her sister’s cause, ‘and his views are only going to count in the days to come.’
‘Know we’re dealing with the present,’ said an exasperated Janaki.
‘But her life is about her future,’ said Raju, ready to take up the cudgels for Roopa, ‘and none could cater to it better than Sandhya-akka.’
‘What is to be done when children don’t heed our word anymore,’ said Janaki, as though relenting. ‘What to do than to come down and stay with her.’
‘Is that to jail her?’ Chandrika sounded sarcastic. ‘What’s her crime, than being born a woman whom fate widowed when young? It’s time you give up your jailer mind-set when it comes to your daughters’ lives.’
‘Oh, now the children don’t want to stay with their own parents!’ said Janaki, playing her trump card. ‘In that case, let Raju stay with her, it may help him in his studies as well.’
‘Why didn’t you think of it when my brother-in- law was alive?’ countered Raju spiritedly.
‘Enough of it now, for she heard us all,’ said Ramaiah, wanting to bring all that to an end, fearing the discussion might turn acrimonious in the end. ‘Isn’t she old enough to understand what’s best for her? Let’s leave it to her, for she’s the worst affected of all.’
‘I’ll stay with them,’ said Roopa with a sense of conviction that surprised all, and at that, as Durgamma wanted to protest, Pathrudu signaled her into silence.
‘So be it,’ said Ramaiah in a way that drew no further comment from those present, in spite of their reservations about her scandalizing proposition.
‘What is happiness and unhappiness all about?’ Roopa began reminiscing, struggling to sleep that night. ‘Haven’t I experienced them both in equal measure? After all, everything in life has to do with one’s state of mind. But then, don’t social constraints couple with individual proclivities to shape our attitudes? Oh, poor Sathyam, what a victim he was, of his psyche, shaped by the circumstances of his life. Why, his parents stunted his growth to begin with, and with my denying him the wifely hype, he went wayward in the end and then, how the vicissitudes of life victimized him.’
‘That’s the guilt with which I’ve to learn to live,’ she thought, as she recalled her role in Sathyam’s fall. ‘Was he not a victim of human dishonesty as well, including mine and the inequity of life in general? Are not the Prasads of the world having the cake and eating it too? Do they really, in a way? Why, for all that, I’m no less a beneficiary of deceit, although by default, is it not so? Is it possible that Tara’s life is the radical answer to make it equal to all? But is it really? Well, it appears that life tends to manifest itself only in ironies, doesn’t it? Oh, while I married Sathyam in the hope of becoming a doctor, didn’t he bequeath me a fortune to build a clinic! How fate has taken off at a tangent in my life.’
As if to ease herself from the burden of guilt, she turned her thoughts to the gift of her life - love, ‘Oh, won’t I be shifting to their place tomorrow, to start life afresh as their woman in a live-in. Well, it’s only a matter of time before the world gets used to our arrangement, isn’t it? But would I be content with the menage a trois forever, won’t I want to be Mrs. Roopa Rao at some point of time? Would Sandhya then object to his bigamy? Oh no, never, life in the offing would be thrilling and vibrant, with Saroja too propping it up. God willing, won’t I beget her sibling? How we both crave to have a child of our own. And my degree too would be on hand soon as if to underscore my changed status. Oh, so much pain and as much pleasure, even before I turn twenty-three! But then, that’s life, as Tara said on Sathyam’s death.’
‘Am I not being mean to envision bliss in my condition?’ she felt as her line of thinking perturbed her. ‘Won’t all this amount to coveting life when my man is just dead? What if I renounce the world and turn into a sanyasin? But of what avail is life in a vegetable existence? Besides, won’t my move keep alive the age-old prejudices against young widows that much longer? And what about them, without me, can life ever be the same for them? Moreover, haven’t I led them into believing that I would never desert them, whatever it takes for that?’
Then guided by her innate instincts, she tried to reason her situation all over again, ‘Oh is it fair to expect the living to lead a life of gloom in the shadows of the dead? Doesn’t life impose its own compulsions on the living, regardless of the sentiment to the departed? But then, how can I ever reconcile my own craving for life with the memory of Sathyam? Why, in keeping his memory alive in the Sathyam Memorial Clinic.’
As she began feeling easy with her line of thinking, on second thoughts she felt that she was being hypocritical but resolved her position in the end, ‘Whatever it may be I’m human, and a woman at that, with all that goes with it. Well, let me live normally and lead life like a woman. That’s all, no more, and no less.’
While she sank into a reconciled sleep at that, all that night, her parents and the in-laws had a troubled time on her account.
The next day, after everyone had left, some upset by her conduct, and others apprehensive about her future, Sandhya and Raja Rao led Roopa to the assigned place of her destiny.
Leaving this narrative behind, in time, Roopa’s mourning would have ended, enabling her to begin a life of subdued bliss.