Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 38
Continued from “End of an Innings”
At seven the next morning, Roopa woke up to Yadamma’s buzzer, with a hangover, only to realize that Sathyam was still in bed. At that, as she began to brush her teeth, Yadamma set out to sweep 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 to sweep it as well. Shortly thereafter as Yadamma, taking ayya to be dead, raised an alarm, Roopa rushed to him in panic and felt his pulse in vain, and at that, as she fell unconscious over him, fearing the worst, Yadamma rushed with the news to the Raja Raos still in bed.
Reaching 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 her senses. Thus 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 one can feel empathy in a feeling touch of the concerned than a score of sympathetic words from them.
“What’s this tragedy?” sobbed Sandhya, inducing a flood of tears from Roopa’s eyes.
“Yesterday he was upset and went on drinking till midnight, oh, I can’t believe he is no more in the morning,” cried Roopa inconsolably.
Looking at the two empty bottles of Chivas Regal lying near the bed, said Raja Rao gravely,
“Maybe, he died of excessive drinking; perhaps you could’ve stopped him at some point.”
“What do you mean? Can one really die of drink?” Roopa said, perplexed.
“As it appears, sadly, he drank himself to death,” said Raja Rao, staring at Sathyam’s body gravely.
“But why didn’t you send for us all day?” said Sandhya.
“You were not at home when I came in the evening, and unable to bear the tension, I myself had a couple of drinks, and slept off. Oh, if only I knew,” said Roopa ruefully.
“That might’ve 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!” said Sandhya bogged down with tears.
“What else we can do now than braving the cruelty of fate?” said Raja Rao, consoling them.
“Oh, how fate has chosen me 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,” said Roopa melancholically.
“Stop feeling guilty dear, 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,” said Sandhya cajolingly.
“Maybe that’s the saving grace of my life with him,” said Roopa, staring at Sathyam’s corpse.
“It’s time we call the police,” said Raja Rao to Tara who came by then.
‘Leave all that to me, and take care of her,” said Tara, though beside herself.
At that, as Roopa realised that the police would come to take away the body for post-mortem, the irony of the tragedy dawned on her.
‘How he feared he would be arrested, but they would be here soon, to take away his body. What if they revisit to confiscate his booty as well?’ she thought feeling sad about it all.
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 in the attic. 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 a clinic enabled her to face the calamity with equanimity.
Shortly thereafter, Tara came back, and Sandhya went home to tend to Saroja. Soon as the Police began investigating into Sathyam’s death, so as 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. Understand that he lived believing that you’ve been faithful to him and died before realising that he was cuckolded that too by Sandhya’s husband. Don’t fool yourself; it would be only a matter of time before he would’ve got wind of your peccadillo and how that, coming after Prasad’s hurt could’ve shattered him you can well imagine. No less, can’t you visualize the shame of it would’ve made you three insane; so take it that death saved him that fate and served your love. And that’s life!”
“Then you saved my love and now it’s my soul, oh, how I owe you Tara,” said Roopa sinking into her lap.
Soon, as Roopa comprehend the import of Tara’s second theory, she readily rose from her lap and impulsively kissed her in her mouth as if to savour the tongue that uttered those words. Though taken aback at that but having got the taste of Roopa’s love, Tara herself was impelled to give her the measure of her own affection to her.
Soon, as Tara’s outlook of it all insensibly gave her a new perspective of Sathyam’s death, Roopa began to see her life in a fresh light. And late that night, to retrieve the treasure that Sathyam had left behind, Raja Rao, looked by his women, had crouched into the loft and thought disconcertingly,
‘But for the sentiment attached to it, how disheartening all this could be!’
The mourners’ number had swelled by the next day, what with the arrival of the 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? 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?” she cried inconsolably.
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.’
Thus, it was left to the Kamalakars, together with Sandhya, to condole Roopa, as Chandrika was yet to arrive.
‘No doubt it’s sad, but you need to be brave,” said Kamalakar, patting Roopa.
“Sadly, it’s all over for Sathyam but as we’re all with you, you shouldn’t lose heart” said Damayanthi, taking Roopa into her lap.
“That’s true, we would treat you like our second daughter,” said Kamalakar, overwhelmed by Roopa’s plight at such a young age.
‘‘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 her,” said Kamalakar, patting Sandhya,
“Not to speak of yours as well,” said Damayanthi to Roopa.
“I never experienced a like moment, your love lightens as well as burdens me,” said Roopa, shedding tears of sorrow and joy in equal measure.
“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!’
As Raja Rao saw Sathyam’s body engulfed in flames, he thought,
‘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. Came the twelfth day, the penultimate day of the rituals, and 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, and we all know about life’s plight without means. Though it may seem inappropriate, as our minds now are governed by magnanimity and our hearts overflow with sympathy to the survivor, it is the right moment to sort out the mundane issues.”
“I couldn’t have said better, as we’ve lost our son, we would look after her as our daughter,” said Pathrudu approvingly.
“I’ve no doubt about that, but you may agree that she could be more at home in her parental house?” said Ramaiah to Pathrudu.
“It’s up to her but wherever she stays, she inherits our property,” said Pathrudu thoughtfully.
“I can never thank you enough for your affection, normally I would’ve loved to serve you both, but I’ve a mission for his memory and that keeps me here,” Roopa tentatively said to Pathrudu.
“What do you mean? How can we leave you alone?” said Janaki, taken aback.
“When I’m around, how can she be alone? Moreover, it’s far easier for her to recover from her tragedy staying with me, and she needs our support to accomplish her mission,” said Sandhya spiritedly.
“We all know how you love her but still, it won’t be appropriate that she stays with you,” said Janaki.
“Whatever it is, I need them to fulfill his last wish,” said Roopa as though pleading for their understanding.
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, moreover, it would scandalize all of us,” said Durgamma indignantly.
“What she says is true,” said Janaki.
‘What serves her interests is what matters to her life and not what goes with your prejudices,” said Chandrika spiritedly.
‘Why do you want to rub your quirky 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,” said Janaki dismissively.
“Why, he represents the future while you’re all but the past and only his views are going to count in the days to come,” said Chandrika in support of her sister’s cause.
“Know we’re dealing with the present,” said an exasperated Janaki.
“But her life is about her future and none could cater to it better than Sandhya-akka,” said Raju, taking up the cudgels for Roopa.
“What is to be done when children pay no heed to our word anymore, what else we can do than to come here to stay with her,” said Janaki, as though relenting.
“Is that to jail her? What’s her crime, other 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,” said Chandrika.
“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 and she’s old enough to understand what’s best for her. Let’s leave it to her, for she’s the worst affected of us all,” said Ramaiah, signaling the end fearing the discussion might turn acrimonious in the end.
“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, isn’t it? But then, won’t social constraints dictate one’s proclivities to fashion individual attitudes? Oh, poor Sathyam, what a victim he was, of his psyche, shaped by the circumstances of his life. Why, to begin with, his parents stunted his growth, and with me too 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 his 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 of life 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 example to make it equitable to one and all? But is it really? Whatever, I owe her my ease of conscience to her way of looking at my life, don’t I? By the way am I in love with her too even as she has a crush on our man. God knows what comes out of that. Well, it appears that life tends to manifest itself mostly in ironies, won’t it? While I married him 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,
‘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 way in life? 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 I’ve been craving to have a boy from him. Soon, my degree too would be on hand 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 often puts it.’
‘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? Does it mean that I should renounce the world and turn into a sanyasin, but of what avail is life in a vegetable existence? That besides, won’t my move keep alive the age-old prejudices against young widows that much longer? Above all, what about them, without me, can life ever be the same for them? 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.
‘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 him? Well, by keeping his love 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 yet she resolved her position in the end,
‘Whatever it may be, after all, I’m a 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 to it.’
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.