The Second Choice
By Lakshmi Menon
Pavithra was not in the habit of sleeping in the afternoons. Keeping the album open in front of her, Pavithra slept off until her daughter Anu came and called her.
“Mummy….., Mummy, are you sleeping?” Anu had entered the room with her school bag, at the back. Pavithra suddenly got up and rubbed her eyes. It was three O’clock. She made her way to the kitchen and warmed the milk, and after two minutes returned with Horlicks milk and some biscuits. She did not realise that she was again in her own world until Anu reminded her.
“Wait Mummy,” said Anu, “I haven’t even changed my uniform.”
Pavithra felt ashamed. She had never allowed her daughter to have anything before she had changed school dress and washed her feet and face.
As she was changing her school uniforum, she insisted that her mother show her the photos in the album and explain to her when and where they were taken, but Pavithra was not in a mood to say any such things. She knew that it would only open the old wounds again. She sent Anu to play after she had her milk and biscuits.
“I’ll show you some other time, my sweetie. Now you come and sleep for few minutes.”
“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 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 her 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.
Immediately after Pavithra’s return as a widow to her father’s house, he wanted to bring Meenamma 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 Pavithra 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. But the next day Meenamma was called back from the old age home in spite of her protests. Pavithra knew that her father would have already spoken to Meenamma about his intention of getting her married again.
“Pavithra, my dear daughter,” Meenamma began most affectionately. “You must make up your mind about this marriage. I know how difficult it will be for you to think of a second marriage. But remember, there’s no use of living in the past. You’re too young to remain a widow forever. Be practical, child.”
“Please stop…”, Pavithra shouted in anger, closing both her ears. “Don’t you have anything else to speak to me? Why do you want to hurt me like this, Meenamma?”
She did not look at Meenamma. Pavithra knew that the old lady 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.
Pavithra went to her room to finish the frock she was stitching 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 quiet 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 kept a long diary under his right armpit, which contained details, horoscopes and photographs of many prospective brides and bridegrooms 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 came back, he was after her father with 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 taken 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 friends in primary school.
“Venu also has been refusing to consider the idea of a second marriage like our Pavithra. But when I told him about Pavithra 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? 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 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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