Crossing the Mirage – Passing through Youth, Chapter 22
Continued from “Stooping to Conquer”
As Prema broke down in the midst of her narrative, Chandra was compelled to caress her hand to solace her and as the warmth his gesture reached her heart, wiping her tears of dejection, she looked at him with affection. Thanking him for his concern, she resumed the saga of her disaffection.
“It was then that Vasu got closer to me. While my father warned me not to entertain him, I made light of his caution saying that I knew which side of my bread was buttered and believing that I was judicious, he took my word though he had a poor opinion about Vasu. What a silly idea it was that I could keep my boredom at bay in Vasu’s company though he did all he could to keep me in good humor. Whatever, I found it amusing trying to distract myself in his company though my man’s thought never left me even for a moment. Sadly for me, and as it seems with hindsight, naturally with him, Vasu having mistook my interest in his company for my love began pestering me. But still, I couldn’t reveal my mind to him for fear of compromising my lover. Putting Vasu at bay, I waited for my darling to come home for the holidays.
When he came during Christmas holidays, I told him about Vasu’s pestering, and suggested that he too up the matter with him. But he felt that, as it would be a delicate subject for a man-to-man talk, it was better that I broke the news to Vasu and be done with him. That gave me hope as I thought it revealed the pulse of his heart. After giving me a lovely time, he left after the vacation.
Left to fend for myself against Vasu’s advances, when I tried to shun him, he stunned me in turn. Do you know how? Oh, by shaming my lover! He said that I was being double-crossed by the man I loved, as his real affections lay elsewhere. When I protested, he maintained it was an open secret at college and it was stupid of me to shun the true lover and run after a deceiver. When I asked for the proof, he brought in a witness to vouchsafe for his statement.
As I recalled the vacillations of my lover in shock, they seemed proof enough of his perfidy. And that convinced me that something was amiss after all. I felt as if all my dreams fell apart as a derivative of the domino theory. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, and, how devastated I was by the development! I couldn’t bring myself to blame my lover for he never wooed me on his own, why, it was I who tried to induce in him love for me with my love. Well, I couldn’t blame myself either, for I believed it was no fault to fall in love and thus trapped in a vacuum of hope, how I prayed for my lover to come and save the day for me.
“Oh, how pathetic you would've been!” Chandra said moved no end. “Accursed be the love that afflicted your life.”
“Oh, you don't realize that by cursing love you are cursing my lover,” she said, “I tell you though I was hurt and cut up with him, still I didn't curse him for I knew he had a heart of gold.”
“Thanks for showing me the trueness of love.”
“Well, with no way to hear his version and unable to dismiss Vasu’s allegation,” she began recounting the poignant saga of her love. “it was a dilemma that wrenched my heart so much that I felt I had a stroke. How I wished all these years that better I had died that day, as I would’ve been saved of all that followed! Somehow, I can't make out how, a sense of revenge was born from my sense of helplessness and I was seized with the idea of hurting him by paying him back in the same coin.”
“Maybe it's in the nature of love that when scorned it becomes mundane to afflicts us in human ways.”
“Oh, it could be true though it never occurred to me,” she said stoically, “otherwise why did I do what I did. When Vasu proposed, I agreed out of spite but when he took me into his embrace, I felt neither hope nor any despair and not even spite for the one who spurned me, maybe having done the mischief it had left the scene, but when Vasu pressed for sex, I gave in as though to acquire a weapon to hurt my lover. What an irony! Whatever, I had no reason to deny Vasu, as I had no desire left my lover, why I felt like I had lost interest in my life itself. Maybe to cement his position, Vasu never left my bed and I too didn’t push him out of it as if I needed his sex to blunt my lover’s romanticism that came to haunt me even though I remained stoic all the while.”
“Why blame Vasu for what he wrote there,” she continued after a pause. “When he was about to come home for the summer recess, I became nervous while being steady with Vasu and though I had surrendered to him, yet he was afraid of losing me to the one from whom he had snatched me. Well, Vasu planned to put everything into his ears the moment he landed and I knew he would be hurt but, surprisingly, I felt, I couldn’t care less. But the day before he arrived, the thought of seeing him feel jilted wrenched my heart recalling how I had frustrated him once before.”
She stopped as though she was going through that moments all again.
“Well,” she resumed, “that was owing to a silly misunderstanding, but though we made it up, I held on to my girlfriend on purpose and as I prolonged the tease, he left in a huff. While I invited him the next day, he coolly told me to fetch my friend for myself and I told him I wouldn’t get from her what he had to give me. Oh, romantic it felt as he enjoyed my comment and complimented me in kind! It’s so thrilling even as I recall that now. But that was just a tease. Getting involved with another man was no joke. While I waited for him in trepidation, he called me in exasperation and I managed to be with my father to gain time for the encounter.”
As she began crying like a child at the loss of its favorite toy, Chandra's eyes too turned moist. But composing herself she continued.
“Have you seen, Ave Kallu?” he asked me, after talking to my parents for a while.
“It’s a nice movie,” out of turn, my father answered for me. ‘We’ve all seen it.’
“Do you think it's worth repeating?” he asked me again.
“Maybe,” I almost murmured
By the time he managed to find me alone, I prepared myself.
“Why that question?” I asked him tentatively.
“Don’t you know the answer?” he asked, sounding like he knew it as well.
“Vasu took me on a date,” I replied, looking for his reaction.
“How come?” he said affected by my betrayal.
“Why should it bother you?” I taunted him, feeling bitter.
“What do you mean by that?” he said puzzled.
“Anyway, you don’t love me, do you?”
“Who told you?” he said clearly on the defensive.
“Are you not in love with your classmate, whatever her name?”
Oh, having said that, how I hoped he would deny that but he said instead, “Is it Vasu who told you?”
“How does it matter to you?” I said enjoying his predicament.
“I had a crush on her,” he said lovingly, “that was before you revealed your heart to me and as your love opened my eyes, I lost my hear to you and closed my eyes on her.”
I was so stunned by what he said that I was unable to comprehend our situation. Oh, how I regretted having jumped into the imposter's bed without giving my lover a fair hearing. But then, didn’t Vasu’s idea to get even with my lover appealed to my jilted mindset then? When I could see that it was to gain me that Vasu had spurred me on to err, it was neither here nor there, well, by then, it was beyond redemption.
“Let bygones be bygones,” he said coming closer to me as I stood benumbed. ‘Let’s make it up.’
Maybe pulled by guilt, I stepped back involuntarily, leaving him dejected.
“It’s late anyway,” I said as if clarifying my rebuff.
“It’s never late in love,” he said trying to hold me.
“I don't love you any more,” I said resignedly, “and I’m not worthy of your love anymore.”
Oh, how it wrenched me seeing his face turn ashen.
“I know you’re cut up with me,” he said, trying to persuade me, “Believe me, it was just a crush on her, and nothing more than that.”
“Maybe, but I’ve given myself to Vasu,” I said helplessly, ‘and so I'll marry him.”
“Why do you hurt yourself to spite me,” he said in agony.
“When I was in love with you,” I said reminiscently, “I loved myself. You can't even imagine how I imagined my life then. Now that I don’t love you, I don’t even love myself and I’ve no interest left in life to bother about my fate. Nothing matters to me anymore and I know nothing would change my attitude to life. Well, I’ve lost all, once and for all, and that is what is there to my life now, believe it or not, but it’s true.’
“I’m sorry Prema,” he said in pain, and left in anguish as I was hell-bent on pushing myself into a life of nothingness.
Chandra was lost thinking that Prema and Sathya have an uncommon feel of love beyond even its own impulse but as she began crying inconsolably, he was compelled to hold her in a manner of offering his shoulder for her to cry over.
“Oh, if only I had not spurned him, maybe, I would've shed enough tears in his embrace to let him wipe out my past with them,” she said as she withdrew herself from Chandra's hold. “But it was not to be and what else could he have done as I closed my heart to him even as he craved to get back into it? You don't know how I cursed myself that day for having undone myself that I couldn’t ethically accept his love, which had been the goal of my life. I hated Vasu and I hated myself more so and I was tempted even to go back to him, but how could I, after having fouled my soul and polluted my body? I fell down in my own esteem, and suffered in Vasu’s embrace ever since. And so I became frigid to the charms of life thereafter.”
“Wonder how did you let your sentiment sway to mar your life!”
“Maybe, that's the hold sentiment has on unexamined life,!” she said, “and placed in the same position, I tell you, I'll keep sentiment at arms length. Well, when Vasu’s father sought my hand for his son, my father was taken aback. Though my father didn’t make any fuss, he swore against the match. When I tried to checkmate him by refusing to marry another, my father forced a stalemate by restricting my movements. At last it took ‘him’, you know who I mean, to bring my father around by telling him that one can live with a broken heart but it would be hard to carry on with a troubled conscience. Oh, how he captured my feelings! When he told him I got too far with Vasu, my father married me off in style befitting his status to begin my run of the mill.”
She paused as if to come out of her past disappointment freshened by her memory.
“True to my father’s prophecy,” she continued, “Vasu showed his true colours soon enough by beginning to supplant my father’s money as if to improve my quality of life. While my father gives in, thinking he has a cross to bear, Vasu believes that as the jungle belongs to the lions and tigers, this world is for the rich and the powerful and it’s for the smart to get rich by hook or by crook. That’s the man who finds me cold in bed, and you need not be surprised about it.”
“Sorry for fishing in troubled waters,” said Chandra visibly upset. “Believe me, had I known I would’ve sorted out with him myself.”
“Maybe, it’s good that you’ve alerted me,” she said thoughtfully. “Well, you should’ve shut the door on him and be done with it. But still, I would've been left with a man who tries to philander with my money. I think it serves him right to cut off at his source. It’s time I left him.”
“Don’t act on the rebound,” he said concernedly, “as you did then.”
“Thanks for saying that,” she said. “I don’t want to cry over my father’s shoulders now. As I told you, I spurned my lover on hearsay and messed up my life, and when I had the chance to rectify the mistake, I let my sense of chastity ruin me. I should’ve known better that woman’s character is sourced in her heart and not in her hymen. Oh, how vanity and sentiment took turns to ruin my life! Now, let me apply my mind and see.”
“What of him?”
“Oh it is years since we last met,” she said reminiscently. “But I do hear about him now and then.”
“Is he married?”
“Not when I last heard.”
“Why not get in touch with him?”
“What are you suggesting?”
“Why not make a real beginning?”
“Wouldn’t have his flame been doused by now?” she said as she sighed. “What's the point in dreaming for its warmth then?”
“That’s true,” said Chandra sympathetically, “and it pays to be pragmatic.”
“Is it pragmatic for me to count on your affection?”
“Nithya’s included,” he said extending his hand. “You know how she loves you. Getting to know your remarkable story she will empathize with you even more.”
“Thank you,” she said taking his hand, “but don’t fail to congratulate her for me, for her great escape that was.”
“She might wish you would fare no less.”
“Let’s see what’s in store,” she said as Chandra got up to leave.
On his way back home, Chandra felt sorry for her lost love but just the same, he was conscious about a new dawn in his heart for Prema. He couldn’t help hoping that she too might feel the same way about him. When he narrated the operative part of ‘The Operation Desert’ to Nithya, she derived a peculiar sense of satisfaction associated with the feeling of revenge. And they awaited the next move from Prema to checkmate the trespasser.
Continued to “Poetic Justice”