Serial Novel
The Second Choice

Part III
By Lakshmi Menon

Gradually, she started thinking positively. “Why don’t I say ‘yes’? As father said, how would I live in this wicked world without a man’s help? How could I bring up my darling daughter without a father? As long as my father lives, he would support me. But, what will happen after his days? He often complained of his rheumatic pain, which she knew sometimes would be very severe and unbearable. Moreover, he suffered from high blood pressure too.”

Suddenly, the thought of Venu’s daughter came to her mind. “What will I do if she disapproved of me?” Pavithra pictured her living with her father, happily enjoying all his love. Would she like another woman with a daughter to come and share her father’s love?

Thinking of her own daughter, Pavithra wondered, how would Anu be able to live with another man, and call him Daddy? Would she like this new sister? Would Anu approve of these strangers?

Questions one after another, came up in her mind like mushrooms. If she made up her mind, can’t she give a mother’s love to the little girl who had been deprived of her mother’s love at a tender age?

When her mind was oscillating like a swing, her father’s call interrupted her thoughts.

She tried to compose herself and walked to the drawing room. This time she was not shy like any bride. She was anxious about two girls’ lives. They depended on her affirmative answer.

“Ram Pillai has come”, father said, in his usual soft voice, “to get your final answer. Venu has to return to Bangalore by next Saturday.”

She flushed at the question and stood before him with her face turned down.

Both her father and Ram Pillai were gazing at her sympathetically, and with a hope in their eyes.

Pavithra pictured her father’s disappointed face in her mind if she replied in the negative.

“Oh, Anand. Please come to my rescue”, she cried for her departed husband’s soul, silently.

What must be her answer? Positive or negative? Just one word from her mouth or even just one tiny nod with her head would change her life now.

Anu was enjoying the biscuits Ram Pillai presented to her. When she saw her mother she went to her. Grabbing the little girl in her arms, Pavithra said, “I’m …….I’m………. ready, father”. She felt there was a lump in her throat, the size of an apple, as she gave her consent.

All she wanted at that moment was her father’s happiness and that he shouldn’t worry about his young widowed daughter any more. And she wanted her daughter to have a father and have a normal life, which she knew; she wouldn’t be able to give her without a proper job and protection.

After a minute or so she looked at her father. There was a look of extreme joy and fulfillment in his eyes. He thanked her with a smile for giving her a positive reply. Ram Pillai heaved a sigh of relief. He looked at her in disbelief, and a minute later he got up from his seat joyously as if he heard something which he had thought was impossible.

Pavithra felt her voice sounded queer. Her own words seemed harsh up to her ears. Tears came to her eyes as she thought of her life partner Anand, who left her suddenly to her fate immediately after starting the life.

When she buried her memories temporarily, she wondered, “Did I really say these words? Was I fully aware of what I was speaking?” She could not believe her own ears.

“Sure…?” asked her father for a reassurance, “You won’t change your mind later, will you Pavi?”

“Yes, Daddy. I agree for this marriage. I don’t want you to worry about me anymore.” Pavithra assured her father after a moment’s thought and wiped her tears which she had controlled till then. Because of her cruel fate, her father had also suffered along with her. She wouldn’t want to hurt him anymore. It was possible only through her affirmative answer. She stared out of the window, thinking about her future with another man whom she had not known at all.

All along she was thinking only about the past. Now she must see life with a different outlook. Was it possible for her? Otherwise, she must prepare herself for the inevitable.

Anu was made to sleep by eight O’clock. Every day she had to tell her a story to make her sleep. Usually listening to her mother’s amusing stories, she would fall asleep within a few minutes. After some time Pavithra would also sleep lying her hand on Anu. But that night she did not get a wink of sleep. She peeped through the half-opened window at the next room where she saw her father sleeping soundly in dim light, after many days.

The night was dark as a grave, not a star nor a glimmer of moonshine. Pavithra stood for sometime gazing into the darkness, wondering whether she had taken the right decision.

The clock in the wall had struck twelve times. She suddenly realized that her mind was filled with thoughts of the past and the unknown future, all this time. They were racing in her disturbed mind like uninvited guests. Unwillingly, she closed her eyes tightly and lay in the bed, apologizing to Anand for having taken such a decision.

A little wind went bustling and eddying among the tree tops outside. Somewhere at a distance she heard the moaning of a dog which captured her attention in the complete silence, and slowly sometime she fell into sleep.

The dawn was already beginning. The hollow of the sky was full of essential day light; colourless and clean. The cocks began to crow from the neighbouring houses. It was a bright Monday morning.

When Meenamma entered with a steaming cup of coffee, Pavithra was still lying awake on the bed. The old lady had a happy smile on her lips. She would have expected Pavithra to ask her something.

Venu was supposed to come by ten O’clock. Till then she had not seen him. Only her father had seen him once. She had not bothered to see him then. She did not want to see him before making up her mind for the marriage. This time she left everything to her father’s choice. She wanted it that way. After all, she had no sweet dreams like last time. This marriage was purely a matter of necessity to live. If she had a career of her own she wouldn’t have agreed to this marriage at all. There was no room for another man in her life now. She preferred to live with the precious memories of her late husband unless and until she felt the need of a man in her life at a later date. Pavithra was certain that right now she was not looking for the company of a man for herself.

Soon after ten O’clock, a tall and handsome man with good physique, came with a pretty-looking little girl. She assumed them as Venu and his daughter. Her father went and opened the door. She saw them coming through the window. If Pavithra had seen him before, perhaps she wouldn’t have agreed to marry him. She was not bothered how he looked. She was not bothered whether he looked young or old. She was not bothered whether he was handsome or not. This time she had no personal interests of her own.

But a glance at him made her feel comfortable about him. He was slightly taller than Anand. His eyes explained the endless tension he had gone through in his life. She hoped he would be a man who could understand her and her child.

After the formal talk, Narayan Nair called Pavithra to the drawing room and introduced her to Venu and his seven year old daughter. Indu sat next to her father. She wore a red frock and her short hair was done with two ponytails. She had accompanied her father to get to know her future step-mother and step-sister, who were going to be a main part of her life.

“Look Indu, meet aunt Pavithra. She’s now going to be your new mother and will look after you like your own mother. Do you like her?” patting her shoulder, Venu introduced the new lady who brought tea and snacks for them, to his darling daughter.

One look at Indu showed that she was not happy with her new mother. “Hello, Indu. I love you, darling.” Pavithra tried to build up a relationship with her from the beginning. She reluctantly returned her greeting and gave her a jealous look. Though Pavithra was disturbed at her response, she preferred to ignore it at that moment.

When Venu enquired about her daughter, Pavithra called Anu who was playing inside with Meenamma. She was feeling very shy to appear before the strangers. Pavithra went inside and brought her with some persuasion and introduced her to Indu. She lifted her eyes hesitantly and saw the strangers. Anu’s face went pale with shyness. Her mother had already told her about the prospect of getting a new father and a sister soon.

When Venu asked her name, Anu raised her head and looked at him suspiciously. Then making some circles on the floor with her right foot Anu answered.

Venu and Pavithra talked for about half-an-hour and parted. A week later, on a Friday, in the presence of a few close friends and relatives they were married in a quiet temple ceremony. Altogether they numbered less than twenty. As it was a second marriage for both of them they wanted no celebrations.

Tears came to Pavithra’s eyes, as she could not help but think of the auspicious moment of her wedding with Anand. She was then clad in a bright red Kancheepuram silk sari, with a thick zari border and sandal paste on her forehead, decorated by heavy ornaments and lead by friends and relatives. She came and stood bashfully as a shy bride before her sweet heart, in the Krishna temple with her head turned down, flushing with the joy of having satisfied her greatest desire, which she was nursing for the past two years. The jokes and comments of their friends and relatives had caused ripples of happy laughter.

Today, as she followed Venu after their marriage, holding her daughter’s hand, there were still traces of fear on her face, but there was the extreme joy of fulfillment in her father’s eyes. From the temple they went straight to Venu’s house where his old mother was standing to welcome them. She was very sweet and affectionate. For a moment, Pavithra found her own mother in her, who would have been somewhat like this had she lived.

After a small tea party, her new mother-in-law came and sat next to Pavithra. “We never thought Venu would ever agree for a second marriage. We have been cajoling him for the last six years and finally had given up. I really don’t know how he changed his mind now.” There was a look of satisfaction on her face too.

Pavithra wanted to tell her about herself too. But she suddenly thought silence was better at this moment. She only responded with a warm smile. As it was a new place, Anu was clinging to her mother refusing to mingle with her step-sister.

Night fell swiftly.

Pavithra fed her daughter and put her to bed. When she finally fell asleep Pavithra carried her to the next room and left her there.

It was time for dinner. Venu inquired, “Where’s Anu?”

“She is sleeping.” Pavithra drew a deep breath.

“Did she have anything before going to bed?” asked Venu with much concern of a father.

“Yes, she had her food.”

“There was milk in the kitchen.” Venu paused for a moment and said, “If you had asked mother she would have given it to you. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier about it.” A look of guilt crossed his face and he was silent for a while.

“It’s okay, Venu. She has eaten enough.” Pavithra said with a yawn. She had already developed a regard for her new husband and fervently hoped to see a good father in him for her daughter.

He made Indu sit next to her new mother for dinner. They had dinner together.

After dinner, they sat and talked for some time, each one struggled for words. He went along with Indu into his room to put her to sleep. Not finding Anu in the bed he asked, “Where’s Anu sleeping?”

When Pavithra told him that she was in the next room he was annoyed. “Why, next room? She should sleep with us in the same room.”

He immediately went to the next room and carried her on his shoulder and put her next to Indu to sleep, without waiting for Pavithra’s answer.

For a minute she wished he were Anand, her dear husband.

..............to be continued

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