By Lakshmi Menon
Pavithra was not in the habit of taking an afternoon siesta. Keeping her wedding album open in front of her, she drifted into slumber until her daughter Anu came and called out to her.
“Mummy….., Mummy, are you sleeping?” Anu had entered the room with her school bag, at the back. Pavithra woke up startled and rubbed her eyes. It was mid afternoon. She made her way to the kitchen and warmed the milk, and after two minutes returned with a glass of Horlicks milk and some biscuits. She did not realise that she was in her own world with her memories until Anu reminded her.
“Wait Mummy,” said Anu staring at her mother, “I haven’t even changed my uniform.”
Pavithra felt ashamed. She had never allowed her daughter to have anything before she had changed her school dress and washed her feet and face.
As she was changing her school uniform, she insisted that her mother must show her the photo album and explain to her when and where they were taken, but Pavithra was not in a mood for such things. She knew that it would only open the old wounds again. She sent Anu out to play after she had the milk and biscuits.
“I’ll show you some other time, my sweetie. Now you come and sleep for sometime.” She cajoled her.
“No, mummy. I want to see the photos now itself.” Pulling her sari pallu, Anu clung to her persistently.
That night, at the dining table, neither her father nor Pavithra spoke for a long time. Breaking the long silence, her father said, “I’ve decided to bring old Meenamma back home.”
She was aghast and looked at him in surprise. Meenamma was their old maid servant under whose tender and loving care she was brought up. She was a distant relative of her father and had been staying with them since Pavitra's childhood. Being an old spinster and having no one to care for her, she wanted to stay with them all her life. After Pavithra’s wedding, Narayan Nair had felt lonely in the big house. Locking up the house, he had gone to Madras to stay with his only brother and his family, leaving Meenamma in an old age home.
Soon after Pavithra’s return as a widow to her father’s house, he wanted to bring Meenamma back home to give his daughter company, but Pavithra had refused. She thought that by keeping herself busy with the household chores, she would have very little time to brood over her fate. At that time, Narayan Nair had not wished to do anything that would upset his daughter further.
“Tomorrow I’m going to bring Meenamma from the old age home,” he repeated.
Pavithra was still of the opinion that Meenamma need not be brought back. Ignoring her protests, Narayan Nair went ahead with his idea and brought Meenamma back home. Pavithra knew that her father would have already spoken to Meenamma about his intention of getting her married again.
“Pavithra, dear, ” Meenamma began most affectionately. “You must agree to this proposal. I know how difficult it will be for you to think of a second marriage now. But remember, there’s no use of living in the past. You’re too young to remain a widow forever. Be practical, Pavi.”
“Please stop…”, cried Pavithra in anger, closing her ears. “Don’t you have anything else to talk to me? Why do you want to hurt me like this, Meenamma?”
She did not look at Meenamma. She had never lost her temper with the old lady any time before. Pavithra knew that Meenamma was badly hurt by her response, though it was not intended. Pavithra felt sorry for her. But she couldn’t help it. She hated anyone talking to her about getting married again.
"I'm sorry Meenamma," she said gently without looking at her.
Pavithra went to her room to finish the frock she was sewing for her daughter. She was very upset. She could not concentrate on her work. Putting all her efforts into it, she tried to finish her work when she heard gentle footsteps from the veranda.
The window of her room overlooked the road. She saw Ram Pillai walking towards her house hurriedly. He was a marriage broker who brought suitable alliances for young girls and boys in the village. He had arranged many marriages in the village. He always had a diary tucked under his arm, which contained details, horoscopes and photographs of many prospective brides and grooms given by their parents. Most of the marriages he had arranged were successful, though not all. Ram Pillai had some disappointment in Pavithra's case earlier since she had found her own partner, which ultimately made him lose his chance of getting a commission from her father for bringing a marriage proposal. Since the time she returned home, he was after her father with suitable proposals for her. Narayan Nair had asked him to wait for a year and only then he could talk to his daughter about another marriage.
“It was drizzling when I got down from the bus. I hadn’t carried an umbrella with me today. So I had to take shelter in a tea shop.” Ram Pillai explained his reason for being late by half-an-hour, as soon as he saw Narayan Nair’s anxious face at the door.
Holding her breath, Pavithra stood there like a statue. She was sure that father would call her at any moment now to get her consent for the marriage proposal Ram Pillai had brought last week. He had known her father for a very long time. They were school friends.
Ram Pillai's face was lit up.
"Venu also has been refusing to consider the idea of a second marriage like our Pavithra. But when I told him about our girl he was quite touched and has shown his interest,” said Ram Pillai showing his pan-stained teeth. His khadi jubba sleeves were folded neatly and his white dhothi was brighter than usual.
Narayan Nair had already spoken to his daughter about the thirty-two year old young man, Venu. From what she understood from her father, both Venu and Pavithra were in the same boat. He was more or less a widower, with a seven year old daughter. After childbirth, his wife was fully paralysed and was still living as an invalid in her mother’s home. All these years he stayed single not thinking of another marriage, for the sake of his daughter. Now since he believed that a woman of her sort could understand him and his daughter better than an unmarried woman, who would naturally dream of a fresh married life, he said “yes” to this marriage proposal with Pavithra.
It was disheartening for her to appear before the marriage broker. How could she escape from this meeting? She sent Meenamma to serve tea to Ram Pillai.
But even while she disliked the idea of a second marriage, there was a sudden flush of feeling inside her that said, “Why don’t you agree to this marriage, for the sake of your daughter at least? How are you going to bring up your daughter without a man’s support, and without any income of your own?”
The next moment she saw her late husband’s smiling face swinging in front of her eyes like a pendulum. Few drops of tears shed from her eyes, wondering whether he would be watching her plight now from the unseen world and silently asking her to agree to this proposal, for her own sake and for their daughter’s sake.
................. to be continued ...
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